Today, the 30th July 2019, marks the 201st birthday of Emily Brontë. This time last year great celebrations were under way in her beloved Haworth, and she was being remembered in her maternal homeland of Penzance too – I was lucky enough to be there and invited to a celebratory screening of ‘To Walk Invisible‘ shown in her honour.
Emily is the author of one of the greatest novels, perhaps the greatest, the world has even seen, Wuthering Heights of course, and she has also left us a brilliant body of verse that places her among the finest poets of the nineteenth century. She can also seem quite an enigmatic character, as she left us all too few letters or diary entries. From those who really knew Emily however, it seems that she may have been rather different from the austere image many have of her today. Emily was very kind hearted, had a mischievous sense of humour, and an innate charm (when it wasn’t hidden by her powerful reserve). Let’s take a look at what her family, friends and those who actually knew Emily said about her:
Charlotte Brontë on Emily Brontë:
“I have never seen her parallel in anything. Stronger than a man, simpler than a child, her nature stood alone.”
“My sister’s disposition was not naturally gregarious; circumstances favoured and fostered her tendency to seclusion; except to go to church or take a walk on the hills, she rarely crossed the threshold of home. Though her feeling for the people round was benevolent, intercourse with them she never sought; nor, with very few exceptions, ever experienced. And yet she knew them.”
“In Emily’s nature the extremes of vigour and simplicity seemed to meet. Under an unsophisticated culture, inartificial tastes, and an unpretending outside, lay a secret power and fire that might have informed the brain and kindled the veins of a hero.”
John Greenwood on Emily Brontë:
“Patrick had such unbounded confidence in his daughter Emily that he resolved to learn her to shoot too. They used to practice with pistols. Let her be ever so busy in her domestic duties, whether in the kitchen baking bread at which she had such a dainty hand, or at her studies, rapt in a world of her own creating – it mattered not; if he called upon her to take a lesson, she would put all down. His tender and affectionate “Now, my dear girl, let me see how well you can shoot today”, was irresistible to her filial nature and her most winning and musical voice would be heard to ring through the house in response.”
Patrick Brontë on Emily Brontë:
“Oh! She is a brave and noble girl. She is my right-hand. Nay the very apple of my eye!”
Miss Evans (Superintendent of Lowood) on Emily Brontë:
“A darling child… quite the pet nursling of the school.”
Martha Heaton (Maria Brontë’s nurse) on Emily Brontë:
“There never were such good children… they were good little creatures. Emily was the prettiest.”
Ellen Nussey on Emily Brontë:
“Emily had by this time [1833, when she was 15] acquired a lithesome, graceful figure. She was the tallest person in the house, except her father. Her hair, which was naturally as beautiful as Charlotte’s, was in the same unbecoming tight curl and frizz, and there was the same want of complexion. She had very beautiful eyes, kind, kindling, liquid eyes; but she did not often look at you: she was too reserved. She talked very little.”
“She and gentle Anne were often seen twined together as united statues of power and humility – they were to be seen with their arms lacing each other in their younger days whenever their occupation permitted their union.”
“A spell of mischief also lurked in her on occasions. When out on the moors she enjoyed leading Charlotte where she would not dare to go of her own free will. C. had a mortal dread of unknown animals and it was Emily’s pleasure to lead her into close vicinity and then to tell her of what she had done, laughing at her horror with great amusement.”
Let’s finish this birthday tribute with a closing appraisal by Ellen Nussey, as her thoughts turned once more to that remarkable woman she had known. She was perhaps Emily’s only real and lasting friend outside of her family, and she made it clear that when you were in Emily’s company, even if she was merely silent, you knew that you were in the company of something very powerful and special indeed. Emily was a unique genius, the likes of which we shall not be blessed with again, so let’s read Ellen’s words and raise a glass to say ‘Happy Birthday, Emily Brontë’:
“I have at this time before me the history of a mighty and passionate soul, whom every adventure that makes for the sorrow or gladness of man would seem to have passed by with averted head. It is of Emily Brontë I speak, than whom the first 50 years of this century produced no woman of greater or more incontestable genius.”
On Tuesday I will be marking the 201st birthday of Emily Brontë with a special post, so today I give you a post that is longer in length than most, but shorter in my contribution.
You may have heard of, or even read, Charlotte Brontë’s unfinished novel ‘Emma’, but in fact this wasn’t her only unfinished work, and certainly not the most remarkable. In 1853, after the completion of Villette, Charlotte began work on a novel entitled ‘The Story Of Willie Ellin’. Five fragments are all that we have of it, but together they give us more words than we have in Emma. It’s a Brontë work unlike any other. You shall see how fragments three and four follow on from each other, and how fragment five seems to be an alternative version of fragment four. It is a tale of sibling cruelty and abuse that wouldn’t be out of place in a Dickens novel, or even Wuthering Heights.
What I love most about Willie Ellin, however, is the second fragment which seems to deal with a supernatural element – a spirit who ‘came to consciousness within the rim of twilight’ and seems to have haunted the spot ever since. It’s a unique edition to the Brontë canon, if only we had more of it! You can read more about the story and its significance in this wonderful blog by Nicola Friar, an expert on Brontë juvenilia. The work itself is difficult to find, but as it’s out of copyright I feel it’s right that more people should be able to see it, so I present to you here Charlotte Brontë’s:
THE STORY OF WILLIE ELLIN
I will not deny that I took a pleasure in studying the character of Mrs. Widdup, nor that to me she seemed to possess a good deal of worth of a particular kind. Thirty years ago (our acquaintance dated its commencement thus far back) I had believed very heartily in her worth without studying her character. She then ruled me as one of a flock of four nurslings. Of this flock I was not her favourite; indeed my place was lowest in her grace. Even through boyhood and adolescence she held me for a riddle rather than a model. After two decades of separation and more than half a generation’s change beheld us again under the same roof, still the housekeeper of Ellin Hall, while respecting its master, revolved him day and night as an unsolved conundrum. It was and must be so: habit and circumstances attached us, but nothing could combine, nothing quite unfold.
In a certain sense Mrs. Widdup was spotlessly honest; she had the fidelity of a consistent and steady nature; she was a partisan in friendship, an unflinching foe; she was usually humane and cheerful. She was narrow minded, loved money, and by natural instinct still leant to the guidance of interest. Fidelity, partisanship, interest, all counselled her to attachment to the Ellin family, and accordingly she was attached to me, that family’s surviving representative.
Ellin Hall had for five ages been the home of the Ellins. In my youth it passed out of their hands. My eldest half-brother sold it. He died suddenly, leaving neither will nor direct heir; his fortune fell to me, and I purchased back the ancient homestead. That eldest half -brother of mine was a stronger man in body and a tyrant in heart. I would advert to his deeds, but they are such as we suffer Death to cancel from memory.
In other countries, and in distant times, it is possible that more of my kind might have been attracted to human dwellings – hut or mansion – and secretly taken them in lease, than for these hundred years past have been known to make their home in such abodes. Yet we were always few, our presence rare, its signs faint, and its proofs difficult to seize.
My house was not picturesque: it had no turrets, no battlements, no mullioned or lozenged windows. From the first, however, I believe its stones were grey, dug from a grey quarry on a grey waste. They who planned it had loved fresh air, and had chosen a raised site, building it where the green ground swelled highest. Its outlook was free and four-fold: it commanded both sunrise and sunset, and viewed an equal and a wide expanse north and south. These builders, too, preferred solitude to convenience: the village was distant – near enough, perhaps, in summer weather, but remote for a winter’s day walk. As to a sentimental peculiarity of the vicinage, I believe the first owners had not known nor reckoned it in their choice of ground. The short, green, flower-bearing turf around covered an ancient burying-ground – so ancient that all the sleepers under the flowers had long ago ceased to be either clay or bone, and were become fine mould, throwing out violets in May, and a carpet of close silken grass all spring, summer, and autumn. These violets were white, and in their season they gathered thickly in a· bleached wreath about what seemed a deep-sunk and iron-grey rock – the sole left foundation stone of a forgotten chapel, or the basement of a cross broken away. A quiet gable of the house looked upon this mossy bit of mead. In the lower story of the gable was no aperture, in the upper a single window, having before it a balcony of stone, a peculiarity rare in that neighbourhood, forming indeed the distinctive feature of the house and originating its name – Ellin Balcony.
Who am I? Was I owner of the house? No. Was I its resident tenant, taking it perhaps on lease, and paying the rent? No. Was I a child of the family? No. A servant? No. Ask me no more questions for they are difficult to meet. I was there, and it was my house.
I recollect the first hour that I knew it. I came to consciousness at a moment within the rim of twilight. I came upward out of earth – not downward from heaven, and what first welcomed and seemed to aid me to life was a large disk high over me, a globule, clear, cragged, and desolate. I saw the moon before I could see the sky; but that too, night-veiled and star-inspired, soon opened for me. A sweet silence watched my birth-hour. I took affection for this mossy spot, I stole all through building and nook of land. In the mild beam and pure humidity of a midsummer night I found my seal and sign printed here in dew and there in moonbeam on roof and lawn of Ellin Balcony.
I do not know that ever I was knit with humanity, or was mixed with the mystery of existence as men or women know it. Yet had no mortal relic slumbered near the Balcony, should I have risen? Would Night, my mother, have borne me, unwedded to a certain vital, mortal essence ? Tears had watered this ground; great sorrows and strong feelings had gathered here. Could a colder soil, drenched only with rain and visited only by airs and shadows, have yielded me as its produce? I even think that some one sleeper threw me out of a great labouring heart which had toiled terribly through his thirty, or sixty, or fourscore years of work, had lived and throbbed strongly, stood still while yet in vigour, and buried, yet warm and scarce arrested, had thrown forth its unslackened glow and ill-checked action in an essence bodiless and incomplete, yet penetrative and subtle. I believe this because my relations to men were so limited. To millions I felt no tie, found no approach; to tens I might draw gently. Whether units existed that could more actively attract it, yet lay with time and chance to show.
Whoever in my early days were the inmates of Ellin Balcony, on me they made no impression. I knew every stone in the walls. I knew the neighbourhood – the knolls, the lanes, the turfed wastes, all vegetable growth, field flowers, hedge plants, yellow gorse and broom, foxglove springing bright out of stony soil, ivy on ground or wall. I distinguished and now remember these things very well. I knew the seasons, the faces of summer and winter. Spring and autumn were familiar in their skies; night, day, and the hours were all acquaintances. Storm and fair weather complete my reminiscences. I cannot recall anything human, and yet humanity was in the house. Experience now tells me that it must have been busy, bustling humanity, an alert current of life flowing out after to towns and thickly peopled scenes, returning thence with accessions – life circulating in a free, ordinary channel, never stealing slow under the banks of thought, never winding in deeps, but coursing parallel with populous highways. At last, I suppose, this practical daily life forsook retirement and went permanently away to the towns which were its natural sphere. This departure made no difference to me, except that I remember looking at the sun and listening to the wind with a new holiday feeling of unconstraint.
About this time I first added a cognisance of the individual human being to a vague impression of a human race existing. A solitary old woman became housekeeper of Ellin Balcony. She used to feed a great dog chained in the now empty yard, to close and open shutters, to knit a great deal, and read and think a little. I believe it was because she did think, however little, that I had the power to perceive her presence. Those who had lived here before her never thought, and into an existence all material I could not enter.
Old Mrs. Hill, the solitary housekeeper of Ellin Balcony, was sitting one day, in her kitchen reading a pamphlet-sermon as old as herself, when, just as her kettle began to simmer for tea, she thought she heard a noise like the jar of the iron gate opening from a bridle road which approached the lone house. She held her hand, checked her clicking needles and listened. Was it an arrival? It was no more than the wind, which, when it blew as it now did from the south, could rattle that gate like a hand. Sedately superstitious, Mrs. Hill, every day and ·every night, heard noises about this deserted place which scared her, but, firm-nerved, her fears never passed her lips or affected her movements.
She passed the jar over and resumed her stocking. True, there blew a south wind, but in a low key. It shook nothing; it sighed only along the natural avenue which darkened above a path conducting upward from the gate. At this moment the shadow fell not on the path only, but on a small wayfarer – a child’s figure – perhaps a little rustic venturing through this gate and up this tree-dark way as a short cut to the bourn of some errand. Is his garb coloured like the path? Does it make a concord with gravel, moss, tree, stem? Are his cheeks and hands berry-brown and red?
Not at all; the shape is less picturesque. It is civilised and slender, a contrast with adjuncts, not a harmony. The dress was made in a town; the hair is long and waved, the face is fair, the countenance is informed. This seems to be a gentleman schoolboy, perhaps ten years old. He must have walked far to-day; he is footsore, pale, and with a few more miles of pilgrimage would become exhausted. He carries a knapsack, a light burden, but his weary shoulder aches under it. Emerging from the avenue, he halts on the little lawn, and looks at Ellin Balcony. He has measured the house, surveyed the enclosed ground, glanced ,down into the wooded valley and up at the barer and greyer hills towards which the Balcony fronts. He approaches the door.
The old lonely knitter was winding the worsted round her ball, and folding her knitting, preparatory to taking off the fire the kettle, which now boiled, when the house thrilled to a knock, a loud though brief knock at the front door. She started – and might well start, for it was the first time she had been thus summoned since she kept the Balcony. She ran amazed, she opened, and saw on the step a boy, well clad but dusty, viewing her from under light-complexioned brows with direct clear blue eyes.
“They call you Mrs. Hill? ” said he.
He was answered affirmatively.
“And this place is Ellin Balcony?”
“If you please, then, let me pass. I should like to come in; I should like well to come in. I’m tired.”
“But, master” – Mrs. Hill paused astonished, as if a sudden light broke on her. She quickly pursued-
“Surely you are not an Ellin of Golpit, surely not the little one – the baby?”
“I’m Willie, that is William Ellin, and I came this very day from Golpit- fifteen miles, a long way. I’m tired.”
Mrs. Hill let him pass. She took him to the kitchen, and he sat down in a chair that stood on the hearth.
“You are the baby, then? ” cried the housekeeper.
“Perhaps I was a baby when you saw me. I hope I’m a boy now.”
“How old, Master Ellin? ”
“Ten and a half, but I’m a thin boy.”
“You are thin and white. Have you good health?”
“Capital – when they let me.”
“You are like your mother.”
“Am I like mamma? I’m glad of it!”
” You have her mouth, you speak like her. But what, Master William, brought a child like you alone from Golpit? ”
“Several things, Mrs. Hill. I can’t tell you all in a minute – only here I am, and very hungry and tired.”
“Hungry!” echoed Mrs. Hill: “I’m afraid he is hungry,” and she hastened to get a tray and cups.
Before the boy took his tea he asked his hostess to fasten both outer doors of the house. When this was done he said, “Now I’m safe,” and proceeded to eat with appetite. The meal over, he lay down on a kind of settle. He folded both hands under his head, but did not close his eyes; he was pale but had no look of langour.
“Mrs. Hill,” he resumed, “you knew my mother?”
“I stayed with her in her last sickness, Master Willie.”
“Had she much pain when she was ill ? ”
“Sometimes she suffered greatly.”
“Was she patient, or not? ”
“She was silent when she suffered, and bore wonderfully.”
“She cared for me, didn’t she, Mrs. Hill?”
“Beyond words,” said the housekeeper. “And we all used to think you took greatly to your mamma.”
“Well, I suppose it was so. I was not much more than three years old when she died, but I remember her. I have wanted her always.”
“You must have something of her nature in you,” was the reply, “and I see you have. But I am afraid you have not found many friends, or your mind would not dwell in this way.”
“No more it would, I daresay,” replied the lad.
“Do they treat you well at Golpit, Master Willie? ”
“I have run away, Mrs. Hill.”
“Child, where do you mean to go to, and what will you do?”
“I shall think about it. You must hide me here for a day or two.”
“What has happened wrong? Do they starve you? ”
“Oh no, I get enough to eat, but Edward’s hand and stick are so heavy.”
“Ah! Mr. Ellin never liked either you or your mother.”
“I believe he was a cruel stepson, Mrs. Hill – he still speaks so savagely about mamma at times.”
“And does he strike you, child? ”
“If he thinks me slow in the business, which I find dry and hard enough to learn, he knocks my head about till it aches. It is very seldom that I cry, but if I look dull after punishment, he calls me a disaffected rebel, and strikes again. Last night he had been making bargains, and had taken some brandy and water. He knocked me down with a stool, for no particular reason that I know of, unless it is that in some moods he hates the sight of me. My temple was cut with the sharp corner of the stool. I wish, Mrs. Hill, you would give me a little warm water to wash it. It is sore and burning now, after my long walk.”
The housekeeper soon brought him a basin of water. She wished to aid him, but he took the sponge himself, and pushing aside his fair brown hair, discovered in the blue-veined temple a rough laceration and dark bruise – it was now darkened with blood – but he soon washed it clean, and then Mrs. Hill bound it up carefully.
“My lamb,” said she, compassionately, “this is wicked work.”
“Old lady, I am not a lamb,” replied the boy, while his eyes laughed. “And after all it is not so much the knock I think about. I did not runaway on that account.”
“What could it be for? ”
“Because Edward threatened me with something I really should dread. It seems I am quite in his power, as my parents left me no money.”
“I know, child. Your stepbrother’s property came to him in his mother’s, your father’s first wife’s, right. You are dependent on him, as they say.”
“Yes, and he tells me he will bring me up as becomes a beggar – he will make me a shop apprentice. I can’t bear it, Mrs. Hill.”
The old lady shook her head, and looked somewhat at a loss for a response.
“I can’t bear it. I don’t want to live with shop boys, and stand behind a counter. My mother was a lady – I ought to be a gentleman.”
“But you’ve no money; you can’t choose. You must learn a trade.”
“We have never had traders in our family for I don’t know how long till Edward out of greediness went into business. My father and grandfather and great-grandfather lived here at Ellin Balcony and farmed their own land, and were squires.”
“Yes, and lessened their income little by little. Ellin Balcony would have had to be sold if your brother had not removed into premises at Golpit, and gone, as you say, into business.”
“Would it? ”
“Aye; and mind me, you can’t do better than follow his example. Would he take you into his own counting house?”
“I should be so miserable.”
The poor lad groaned.
“But, remember,” said Mrs. Hill, with much sympathy, but also with deep warning in her tone, “you are without friends, Master Willie. Edward is your only chance: displease him as little and obey him as much as you can.”
“Can’t I go to sea, or be a soldier? ”
” You can’t – indeed you can’t.”
“But Edward is cruel, Mrs. Hill; he persecutes me, I think. I don’t complain much, I don’t tell you all, but indeed I hardly know how to go on living as I have lived for some years.”
“You must look to God – you must, my poor child. It is all that sufferers, whether grown up or little ones, can do in this weary world.”
“I wonder if mamma knows about me, Mrs. Hill? I sometimes hope not, lest she should be unhappy in Heaven.”
“Do you say your prayers at night? Have they ever taught you to pray?”
“Yes,” said he briefly. “They never taught me – that is, Edward and his wife never taught me my prayers, but I learnt them of mamma, and remember them yet.”
“Don’t forget them. Will you go to bed now? ”
“Yes, if you please. I’m tired.”
After Mrs. Hill had taken the child upstairs and shown him his room, containing a spare bed she always kept dry and aired, he came to the staircase head, and called out anxiously, yet quietly:
“Lock the doors fast, Mrs. Hill. Let nobody in, and tell nobody there is a strange boy in the house.”
She promised accordingly.
Worn out with fatigue, he slept till late the next morning. He had not yet risen when the iron gate clashed back and a gig drove furiously up the avenue. In an instant a man athletic and red-whiskered bounded to the yard pavement, entered the kitchen door, and seemed to take house and housekeeper by storm.
“Where is the cub? I tracked him here by sure marks, so let us have no lies. Where is he?”
“Mr. Ellin, what can you mean?”
Mr. Ellin held up a clenched fist in the old woman’s face, shook it between her two eyes, pronounced an oath, and dashed upstairs.
There were seven bedrooms. He tried the doors of six – they yielded. He entered, and found empty rooms. Testing the seventh door, he found that it resisted his hand – a drawn bolt opposed him.
“Run down!” said he. “I have him now. William Ellin!”
“Yes, Edward,” said a child’s voice.
“Open this door!” (Oath accompanying).
“I would open it directly if you would promise not to strike – at least, not hard.”
For answer the great athlete vigorously shook the slight door.
“I promise!” he yelled, “I’ll see you,” etc.
Silence within. Again the door was made to quiver.
“If you will not promise,” recommenced the treble organ, uttered in an awe-pierced yet not timid key, “I must defend.”
“Defend? What do you mean? Open if you value your life.”
“I do value my life, so I shall make a barricade,” was answered, and a dragging sound followed as of furniture moved. The child seemed quietly planning to resist this terrible besieger. Hereupon Goliath foamed at the mouth. Strong hand and heavy shoulder were both made to bear upon the door. It heaved, creaked, swayed. Below knelt Mrs. Hill on the landing praying for pardon
and forbearance. She might as well have implored stone. Ere long hinge, lock, panels yielded, the whole door crashed in, and thrusting aside an interposed chest of drawers, Edward Ellin sprang upon his young brother. Down went the child before the onslaught, but he got up soon on one knee, and his blue eye did not fall – it rose. Over him flourished the gig whip. He looked at the lash.
“Not too hard this time,” said he in a low voice, inexplicably quiet and steady. “I have considered, and mean to do my best at a trade.”
The wicked man’s arm stiffened its muscles; the cruel lash vibrated, but it did not fall. There was a Providence watching over that poor little Samuel kneeling on the floor in his scant night-shirt.
A voice spoke behind.
“Ellin – not so. I’ll not see that done,” declared accents manlier and mellower than those of the husky ruffian. “Whatever the lad may be, he is not strong enough for the discipline of a gig whip. Let him go.”
The speaker was the second occupant of the gig. Mrs. Hill’s cries and the breakage of the door had called him upon the scene of action. He looked at this moment a capable protector. He was a handsome man, as powerful as Ellin; and his face, his eye, his voice, attested that by him power would never be abused to cruelty. There might be a certain command about him, but it was unmixed with any propensity to oppress. Many a murderer has owned the light savage eye, the sensual traits, the strong jaw, massive neck, and full red whisker of Edward Ellin. No criminal ever displayed in a dock the countenance, bearing, feature and glance of Mr. Bosas.
“Come, Ellin, be calm,” said this last. “Give me that whip; I’ll take care of it.”
The person addressed looked ready to pour out oaths, and indeed forth they rushed, but not on his dark-eyed, pleasant opponent. Little Willie bore the brunt of the storm, or would have borne it had not Bosas stepped between.
“Dress yourself,” said he to the boy, speaking sharply but not unkindly. He was obeyed in haste. William meantime still eyed with dread, but no poltroonery, the bull kept at bay by the man. He washed his face and hands too, and as he wiped them on a towel, he looked up at his friend, and said, with a curious kind of resigned endurance, “After all, sir, do not give yourself too much trouble. I’ve had that whip before, and shall have it again when you’re gone.”
“I hope not,” said the gentleman gravely. “Come, Ellin, promise me you’ll let him off this time.”
Ellin made no promise and gave no answer for some minutes; then, as if his mood had changed suddenly, he burst out laughing, and said – “Pooh, pooh! I’m only in joke; I’ll not touch him.
Willie knows me well enough. I’m a passionate fellow but good-natured.”
“You forgive him, then?” said the mediator.
“Oh, to be sure. I owed the little booby no grudge. Let him play truant no more, and come home quietly now – that is all.”
“Very well. You agree, don’t you, my little fellow?” said the dark-faced but kind man. He spoke without turning to the child. If he had seen him at that moment perhaps the current of his own thoughts might have changed, perhaps an intention might have entered his mind which for the present did not occur to him. But Fate sat in the air invisible at her cloudy wheel. She span on impassive, unravelling no knot in her wool. It was in vain that Willie turned sheet-white, and, for an instant, heart-sick. No man regarded, or could read what a lot the child foresaw. He put neither his thoughts nor his forebodings into words. Prescient but long-suffering, he went back to Golpit that morning.
Mr. Bosas was no resident at Golpit. He lived, indeed, a great way off in a capital city. Notwithstanding his foreign-sounding name, he was English born, but report ascribed to him a Hebrew origin. There was nothing, indeed, of the Jew in his countenance or eye, yet in his features some of the handsomer lines of Israel’s race were perhaps traceable, and might he have worn a beard, curls, rich, dark, and Eastern would have graced his chin.
Between Bosas and Ellin existed mercantile relations, for the former was in business too; and as he was the merchant who bought Ellin’s manufactured goods for export, and possessed besides, in his superior wealth and commercial standing, the power of either obliging or injuring to an important extent, Ellin held him in respect, and treated him almost with subservience. Hence the ready concession to his will in the matter of Willie; and for this reason, too, during the two days Mr. Bosas continued a guest at Golpit, his protege remained unmolested.
Perhaps Willie expected this respite would last no longer than the kind merchant’s stay; perhaps he wished to express as much; but if so he never found his opportunity to put in a quiet word, nor had he the chance of renewing or conforming an awakened interest at parting. Shortly before Mr. Bosas’ departure Willie. had been sent out on an errand, and when he returned his advocate was gone.
The lad had a small room he called his own. It was only a kind of garret, and contained but a crib and a stool. Yet, such as it was, he preferred it before the smart drawing-room, two floors below. If his poor tossed life numbered any peaceful associations, they were all connected with this cold, narrow nest under the slates. Hither he retired early, on the night after Bosas’ departure – rather wondering to himself that nothing had yet befallen him, even dimly conceiving a hope that perhaps his brother for once had sincerely pardoned. It was half-past eight of a summer evening, not yet dusk, consequently Willie had brought a book with him, and sitting near the little window he could read. A year ago some love of reading had dawned in his mind. The taste had not been much cultivate, but it throve on scant diet full as much as was healthful. At present he liked “Robinson Crusoe” as well as any book in the world. “Robinson Crusoe” was his present study.
His thoughts were all in the desolate island, when he heard a step mounting the ladder staircase to his room. It pressed almost the last round ere any more disturbing idea struck him than that it must be wearing late, as the maids who also lodged in the attics were coming to bed. Suddenly he felt a weight in the tread which forbade the supposition of a female foot. The wooden steps shook, his door shook too; it opened, and a shape six feet high, broad and rather corpulent, entered.
Willie had never, till now, seen his brother enter his chamber alone by night. In all his trials he had never been visited thus in darkness, and in secret. I should not, perhaps, say in darkness,. for the hour was shared between two gleams – twilight and moonlight. It was a very pleasant night, quite calm and warm, and only a few faint clouds, gilded and lightly electric, curled mellow round the moon. The door was shut, the thin child sat on his stool, the giant man stood over him.
“I have you safe at last, and I’ll very nearly finish you now,” were the first words, spoken in rough adult tones. None must expect qualified language or measured action from Mr. Edward Ellin. He stood there strong, brutal, and ungovernable, and as an ungoverned brute he meant to behave.
The boy pleaded only once. “Wait till to-morrow,” said he. “Don’t flog me here, and in the night-time. Do it to-morrow in the counting house.”
But his step-brother answered by turning up the cuff of his coat, showing a thick wrist not soon to be wearied. He had brought with him the gig whip. He lifted and flourished it on high. This was the rejoinder.
“Stop,” said the expectant victim earnestly – so very earnestly that the executioner did stop, demanding, however,
“What am I to stop for? It’s no use whining, sooner or later you shall have your deserts – you’ve run away and you shall pay for it.”
“But mind how you make me pay, Edward. A grown-up man like you should be reasonable. That whip is heavy, and I am only moderately strong. If you strike me in great anger you may cut deeper than you think.”
“What then? Who cares? ”
“If I were to be more hurt than you think of? If you had to be taken before a magistrate and pay a fine or be transported?” suggested Willie.
The idea was an unlucky one. The whole bearing of the boy was antipathetic because incomprehensible to the gross nature under influence. Mr. Ellin growled fury in his throat.
“Insolent beggar!” said he; “so you. threaten me with fines and magistrates? Take that! and that !”
He had fallen to work. It seemed he liked his business, for he continued at its exercise what seemed a long, a very long time. The worst of it was, Willie would not scream, he would not cry. A few loud shrieks, a combative struggle, a lusty roar, might probably have done wonders in abridging Mr. Ellin’s pleasure; but nothing in the present case interrupted or checked him, and he indulged freely. At last there came a gasp – the child sunk quite down-the man stopped. Through the silence breathed some utterance of pain – a moan or two, the slightest sound to which suffering Nature could be restricted; but in its repression only too significant. It induced Mr. Ellin to say, “I hope you have had enough now.”
He was not answered.
“Let me see you play truant again, or wheedle Bosas, and I’ll double the dose.”
No reply – and no sob – perhaps no tear.
“Will you speak?”
The flogger seemed half-frightened, for Willie’s exhausted attitude proved that he had indeed received enough; possibly he might have swooned, which would be troublesome. But this was not the case. He spoke as soon as the severe pain of that last cut permitted him.
“I cannot bear any more to-night,” said he.
Ellin believed him – told him to go either to bed now or to another place, whistled and walked off. By and by, after Willie was left alone, he gathered himself up. It would have been sad to watch him undress and creep painfully to his crib, and sadder to read his thoughts. Scarce an interjection and not a word passed his lips; for some time scarce a tear wet his eyelashes. He had lain sleepless and suffering for over an hour ere there came any gush that could relieve; but at last the water sprung, the sobs thickened, his little handkerchief was drawn from under his pillow – he wept into it freely – then he murmured something about his life being very, very hard and difficult to bear. At last, and after a long pause, he slowly got on his knees – he seemed to be praying – though there were neither lifted eyes nor .clasped hands nor audible words to denote supplication – nothing indeed but the attitude and a concentrated, abstracted expression of countenance, denoting a mind withdrawn into an unseen sphere preoccupied with viewless intercourse. As he returned to earth, his eyes, hitherto closed, slowly opened. He lay down; probably he believed his petition heard; composure breathed rest upon him; he slumbered. Willie cannot take rank as a saint – his patience was constitutional, as his religion was instinctive. Temperance in his expression of suffering was with him an idiosyncrasy. Prayer was a need of his almost hopeless circumstances. Oppressed by man, Nature whispered him, “Appeal to God,” and he obeyed.
Some think prayers are rarely answered; and yet there have been penetrating prayers that have seemed to pass unchallenged all gates and hosts and pierced at once within the veil.
The man of bad propensities withdrew. William was left kneeling at his cribside, his face and hands pressed against the mattress. He had been severely flogged, and for a time felt sick, but he was not maimed or dangerously hurt – not corporeally maimed. How his heart fared is another question.
It might seem that the watchful care of God had temporarily been withdrawn from this orphan, as he shrank powerless to resist under a tyrannic hand – as he afterwards moaned alone, pale, faint, miserably though not passionately weeping, compelling himself, according to the bent of his idiosyncrasy, to a sort of heroic temperance of expression,. even in extremity of grief. In man’s judgment it might be deemed that this child was forgotten where even the fledgling dropped from the nest is remembered. William himself feared as much. There was great darkness over his eyes, and a terrible ice chilled his hopes – his very hearing was suspended. He did not now catch an ascending step on the ladder, nor notice the door once more opening. It required the near glare of candle-light to snatch him even transiently from himself and his anguish.
The hand which brought the candle placed it on the narrow window-sill. Some one then approached Willie, sat down beside him on the edge of the crib; an arm passed round him, another arm drew him towards a warm shoulder, lips kissed his forehead, and eyes wept on his neck.
“Poor boy! Poor wronged child! ”
The voice uttering these words belonged to an age not many years beyond Willie’s own: the speaker seemed a girl of seventeen, blooming, and with features which, if they borrowed at this moment interest of pity, gave back in return beauty distinct, undoubted, undenied. Fine indeed were the eyes which dropped tears on Willie, and all lovely the arms, the hands, the lips by which he was protected and soothed.
“I heard what has happened-heard it from my room below. I fear you are terribly hurt? “said she.
“I don’t care for the pain – my mind suffers the most,” the boy declared with a groan. This sudden transfer from terror to tenderness relaxed for one instant the power of self-control.
“Hush, my love, my child! Hush, Willie, forget him: he shall never hurt you more,” said the young comforter, rocking the sufferer in her arms and cradling him on her breast.
Softened even while relieved, Willie wept fast and free and was soon easier. By gentle hands he was helped to bed, he was lovingly watched till he slept, he was kissed in his slumbers; and then the guardian withdrew, only to think of him through the night, to listen against molestation, and to be prepared at one menacing symptom to come out resolved to defend.
This weekend we remember a remarkable human achievement that happened exactly 50 years ago – the moon landing and mankind’s first steps on the moon. Thanks to the brave crew of Apollo 11 we have a greater understanding of our nearest neighbour in the solar system, our only satellite which has kept us all enraptured since the dawn of time.
You may know that there’s a golf ball on the moon (possibly as a result of a Rory McIlroy tee shot on day one of this year’s Open) but did you also know that there’s a Brontë on the moon? Here it is, helpfully marked with a green dot:
Craters on the moon are traditionally named after people of historic significance; it is said that astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt, who drove along the 200 meter crater in 1972, named it after Charlotte Brontë, but I like to think that it honours all of this fabulous family.
The Brontë lunar crater (and by the way, there’s also a larger Brontë crater on the planet Mercury) is on an area of the moon known as the Taurus-Littrow Valley, and rather fittingly the crater to the northeast of it is called Horatio. I say fittingly, because one of the reasons that Patrick chose to change his surname from Brunty (or Prunty) to Brontë is that his hero Horatio Nelson had been made Duke of Brontë in Sicily.
One of the things most apparent in the writing of Anne, Charlotte and Emily is their deep love of nature, so we can be sure that they loved to stare up at the night sky at the moon and constellations. Without the light pollution that’s so ubiquitous today, gazing at a dark sky from the Haworth moors must have been a truly magical experience, with the lights of the stars standing out in stunning detail.
Can we doubt that on a calm, warm, cloudless night, with a full moon in the sky, the Brontës would have sat together on the moors looking up with hearts filled with awe and love? Little did they know that in the next century humans would walk on the moon, or that their name would be immortalised upon it. I close with a poem by Anne Brontë entitled, ‘Call Me Away’. It was written in 1845 as Anne neared the end of her service at Thorp Green Hall, and its notable because it includes mention of the moon not once, but three times, and we are left in no doubt of how much Anne loved to gaze upon it. Whether it’s full, new, waxing, or waning, looking up at the moon is always a magical experience, and the next time we do it we can try (in our minds at least) to pick out the Brontë crater:
Call me away; there’s nothing here,
That wins my soul to stay;
Then let me leave this prospect drear,
And hasten far away.
To our beloved land I’ll flee,
Our land of thought and soul,
Where I have roved so oft with thee,
Beyond the world’s control.
I’ll sit and watch those ancient trees,
Those Scotch firs dark and high;
I’ll listen to the eerie breeze,
Among their branches sigh.
The glorious moon shines far above;
How soft her radiance falls,
On snowy heights, and rock, and grove;
And yonder palace walls!
Who stands beneath yon fir trees high?
A youth both slight and fair,
Whose bright and restless azure eye
Proclaims him known to care,
Though fair that brow, it is not smooth;
Though small those features, yet in sooth
Stern passion has been there.
Now on the peaceful moon are fixed
Those eyes so glistening bright,
But trembling teardrops hang betwixt,
And dim the blessed light.
Though late the hour, and keen the blast,
That whistles round him now,
Those raven locks are backward cast,
To cool his burning brow.
His hands above his heaving breast
Are clasped in agony —
‘O Father! Father! let me rest!
And call my soul to thee!
I know ’tis weakness thus to pray;
But all this cankering care –
This doubt tormenting night and day
Is more than I can bear!
With none to comfort, none to guide
And none to strengthen me.
Since thou my only friend hast died –
I’ve pined to follow thee!
Since thou hast died! And did he live
What comfort could his counsel give –
To one forlorn like me?
Would he my Idol’s form adore –
Her soul, her glance, her tone?
And say, “Forget for ever more
Her kindred and thine own;
Let dreams of her thy peace destroy,
Leave every other hope and joy
And live for her alone”?’
He starts, he smiles, and dries the tears,
Still glistening on his cheek,
The lady of his soul appears,
And hark! I hear her speak –
‘Aye, dry thy tears; thou wilt not weep –
While I am by thy side –
Our foes all day their watch may keep
But cannot thus divide
Such hearts as ours; and we tonight
Together in the clear moon’s light
Their malice will deride.
No fear our present bliss shall blast
And sorrow we’ll defy.
Do thou forget the dreary past,
The dreadful future I.’
Forget it? Yes, while thou art by
I think of nought but thee,
‘Tis only when thou art not nigh
Remembrance tortures me.
But such a lofty soul to find,
And such a heart as thine,
In such a glorious form enshrined
And still to call thee mine –
Would be for earth too great a bliss,
Without a taint of woe like this,
Then why should I repine?
This weekend I visited Halifax to see their Gentleman Jack weekend celebrations. Suffice to say they did this excellent series proud, and Shibden Hall was filled with fans from across the world. I’ve reported previously on Emily Brontë’s possible visit to Shibden, the once home of Anne Lister, and of the many Brontë connections to the beautiful town of Halifax, but I was pleased to see that one of Shibden Hall’s very knowledgeable guides is also a guide at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth; now there’s a woman who goes the extra mile to support Yorkshire’s cultural and literary heritage!
For reasons of time, today’s post may be a little shorter than usual but I’ve decided to dedicate it to a review of a series that I’ve just finished watching: ‘Jane Eyre’, produced by the BBC in 1983. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology we can now watch many different versions of Charlotte Brontë’s brilliant tale and I’d been given this particular version as a well selected Christmas present.
I’m a huge fan of the BBC’s 2006 version of ‘Jane Eyre’ starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens (who has fine form as a Brontë actor, as he also played Gilbert with aplomb in an earlier ‘The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall‘), so when I first sat down to watch 1983’s offering, it had a lot to live up to.
The first thing that caught the attention was the theme music, slow, melodic, plaintive and beautiful it perfectly prepares us for the drama ahead. The second thing a modern viewer can’t help but notice is that many of the sets look ‘stagey’ in a way that we wouldn’t expect today, so that it has an air of a theatrical production rather than relying on special effects or big budget location shots.
Another thing that grabs the viewer from the off is how faithful the script is to the words that Charlotte Brontë herself set down on the page, with the dialogue lifted almost entirely from the original novel. I’m very much in favour of this, as after all a screenwriter would have to be superb at their craft to be able to write as well as Charlotte did – although it has to be pointed out that the screenwriter on this occasion, Alexander Baron, was a master of his craft!
Two characters above all others dominate ‘Jane Eyre’ in both book and dramatised form; we are, of course, talking of Jane herself and Rochester, so these have to be correct. Some have found fault in key aspects of both of these characters in the 1983 adaptation, saying that Zelah Clarke is too old to play Jane, and that Timothy Dalton is too handsome to play Rochester. Certainly, we can scoff when Zela’s Jane keeps saying that she is in her late teens (when the actress was ten years older) or when Rochester says that he is twenty years older than Jane, or when it is pointed out that he is ugly – the two characters appear to be the same age, and nobody in fairness could say that the future James Bond was lacking in the looks department.
These could be faults that hole this adaptation below the water line, but they don’t because of the superb directing and superb acting constantly on display. Even when he’s supposedly disfigured from the fire at Thornfield Hall (oops, spoiler alert), Dalton still looks like he’s been carved very effectively and rather flawlessly out of a lump of granite, and yet when he opens his mouth I was completely taken in by his portrayal of Rochester. Gruff, bluff, argumentative, and hugely charismatic, at times frightening and at others fragile – if you’ve only seen Dalton as Bond, you’ll be amazed at the power of his performance on display here.
Zelah on the other hand, may look less like an unworldly teen than Charlotte intended, but yet again this fails to detract from her excellent performance. She delivers her words with precise pronunciation, but in her pauses we can feel the pounding passion and fierce intelligence within Jane. By the end of the series I completely believed in this Jane and rooted for her, and it is easy to see why Rochester would become so enraptured by her.
Here are all the scenes you would expect to see in a TV ‘Jane Eyre’; the cruelty at Lowood, Jane extinguishing the fire, the halted wedding and the death of Bertha. These are all done faithfully and well, but there are two scenes in particular that stand out, both of which simply see Jane and Rochester sat side by side. Firstly we see Jane’s protestations to Rochester when she thinks she is being dismissed from his service (of course he actually proposes to her): “Do you think because I am poor, obscure, plain and little that I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! I have as much soul as you, and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you!”. The tension in the night air is palpable at the start of this same scene, as Rochester proclaims, “Are you anything akin to me, do you think, Jane? I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you, especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous channel, and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapped; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.”
Finally, as the eleven part series ticks into its last minutes we see Jane agree to marry Rochester once more:
“Jane, will you marry me?”
“A poor blind man, whom you will have to lead about by the hand?”
“A crippled man, twenty years older older than you, whom you will have to wait on?”
“Most truly, sir.”
These scenes have practically no scenery, little action, but a profusion of beauty that still tugs at the heartstrings long after you’ve seen them – it is at these moments that you realise that Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke are actually perfect for their roles.
Zelah is more than suitable physically in one aspect as she is diminutive in stature, with others on screen towering over her, which is maybe why I found myself thinking she would have been perfect to portray Charlotte Brontë herself in a drama of her life. For all the fine acting, and the supporting cast is excellent as well, with particular credit I feel going to Andrew Bicknell as the obsessive St. John Rivers, it is Charlotte Brontë’s words that take centre stage and hold the spotlight brilliantly. That’s how it should be, which is why this has now firmly taken its place as my very favourite ‘Jane Eyre’ adaptation and I recommend it to you all.
This week was a particularly exciting one for two members of the Brontë household in 1847, for on 4th July of that year Emily and Anne Brontë sent the manuscripts of their first novels to their publisher. The novels were ‘Wuthering Heights‘ and ‘Agnes Grey‘ respectively, and the publisher was the London firm of Thomas Cautley Newby, but just who was he and was he reputable?
Anne and Emily must have been delighted to receive an offer from Newby, after receiving a succession of terse rejection notes from other publishers, but their immediate joy would have been tempered for two reasons: firstly, Charlotte had failed to find a publisher for her work, ‘The Professor’, and secondly Newby had stated that the sisters would have to pay him an upfront sum of £50. This was a considerable amount of money, two years salary on a typical governess wage, but, using money left to them by their Aunt Branwell, they paid and on that July day sent the completed and corrected manuscript proofs to him.
After this they waited, and waited, but there seemed little sign of the books actually being released. So slow was the process that Charlotte not only managed to write another book but have it published before the works of ‘Ellis’ and ‘Acton’ Bell saw the light of day. It seems that it was the success of Charlotte’s book, Jane Eyre of course, that spurred Newby into finally releasing the novels that he held, realising that he could cash in on the overnight success of what he presumed was a brother of the two authors he’d signed up. Newby was a shrewd marketer with an eye for a profit, for himself at least, but what else was he?
Founding his firm in 1843, Newby became known for discovering and publishing debut novels by new authors, and the Brontës weren’t the only ‘find’ of his that has gone on to take a place in the literary pantheon, as in this same year 1847 he also published a first novel called ‘The Macdermots of Ballycloran’; its author? Anthony Trollope.
Newby finally published ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Agnes Grey’ in December 1847, but when they received their six author copies, Emily and Anne were dismayed to see that the errors they had diligently corrected in the proofing process had remained in the finished and printed works.
By November 1847 it was already clear that all three sisters were concerned about Newby’s methods as we see in a letter from Charlotte to W. S. Williams who worked for her publisher:
‘A prose work by Ellis and Acton will soon appear: it should have been out, indeed, long since; for the first proof sheets were already in the press at the commencement of last August, before Currer Bell had placed the M.S. [manuscript] of ‘Jane Eyre’ in your hands. Mr. Newby, however, does not do business like Messrs. Smith and Elder, a different spirit seems to preside at 72 Mortimer Street to that which guides the helm at 65 Cornhill. Mr. Newby shuffles, gives his word and breaks it… my relatives have suffered from exhausting delay and procrastination… I should like to know if Mr. Newby often acts as he has done to my relatives, or whether this is an exceptional instance of his method?’
The ever perceptive Charlotte already had the measure of her sisters’ publisher, for this was indeed his method – along with his other favoured tactic of obfuscation and downright lies, as the family were to find out to their cost in July 1848.
The story is now well known of how Newby had been telling an American publisher that all three ‘Bell’ brothers were the same person, and that his new work for sale, Anne’s second novel ‘The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall’ was actually by the author of the acclaimed ‘Jane Eyre’. When Charlotte’s publisher Smith, Elder & Co. heard of this they wrote to ‘Currer’ for clarification and this led to Charlotte and Anne travelling to London to clear up the mystery, finally revealing their true identity. The terrible downside of this was that on their return to Haworth it seems likely that one of them brought back a strain of tuberculosis then endemic in London, and which would reduce the four siblings to one within a year.
Newby’s other con tricks involved bringing out sub standard ‘sequels’ to best selling books, fooling the public into wrongly thinking the original author had produced a new work. One such author insulted in this way was George Eliot who protested strongly when Newby announced that he was about to publish ‘Adam Bede, Junior, A Sequel’. Newby, in the manner of habitual liars before and since, broke out in indignant anger, writing to the Evening Mail of London to defend his name on 5th December 1859. This letter is particularly interesting to us, for in it he gives direct comments on his relations with Anne Brontë, as he saw them at least:
‘Sir – my attention has just been called to a letter in your paper to-day, signed “George Eliot”, which charges me, untruly, with asserting and desiring to have it thought that Adam Bede, Jun., a Sequel, is the work of the individual bearing that name. My announcement contains no such suggestion, nor have I wished that “George Eliot” should be supposed to be the author of the work.
With respect to “George Eliot”s’ allusion to the Life Of Miss Brontë, the misrepresentation made there was quite as great as some others in the same work which became more notorious. I published all the novels of Acton and Ellis Bell. No disagreement ever took place between those ladies and me, and long after the publication of Jane Eyre, Miss Anne Brontë brought me a work, The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall, which I published in due course. If “George Eliot” had confined himself to describing truly the terms of of my announcement of Adam Bede, Jun., a Sequel, he would neither have required to trouble you with a protest against what never happened, nor to reproduce a most palpable misrepresentation levelled at a publisher whose name the author of Miss Brontë’s life [Elizabeth Gaskell] declined to give, but whom “George Eliot” for the first time identifies with me. I am, Sir, your obedient servant, Thomas Cautley Newby, 30, Welbeck-Street, Cavendish-square’
As always we do well not to take Newby at his word, especially as he seems to labour under the impression that George Eliot, real name Mary Anne Evans, is a man. I think it’s fair to say that his dealings with Anne and Emily were rather less honest than he implies too, although it remains a mystery as to why Anne published her second novel with him rather than switching to Charlotte’s exemplary publisher, as the elder sister had suggested.
Trollope received no money from Newby for his debut novel, and that fate would surely have befallen Emily and Anne too, if Charlotte’s publisher George Smith hadn’t spoken directly to Newby about it, resulting in him finally sending a cheque of £90 for royalties – alas too late, the authors by that time were dead.
Despite his protestations of innocence, Newby also had to admit defeat in his battle against George Eliot, and the Adam Bede sequel was never published. He continued to follow the same antics with other big names, however, including Anthony Trollope, and he was as notorious and untrustworthy a publisher as could be found until he finally stopped his presses in 1874. Anthony’s mother Fanny Trollope was a hugely popular novelist at the time (although Charlotte once called her books a ‘ridiculous mess’) and she too fell victim to Newby’s ways after he brought out a series of books by an in house novelist called simply ‘F. Trollope’ – no doubt, as in his letter addressing George Eliot above, Newby would have protested that he was making no suggestion that the books were by Fanny.
He was a scoundrel and a cad, but it seems to me that if he hadn’t decided to make an easy fifty pounds from Ellis and Acton Bell, the likelihood is that the sisters would have exhausted all of their contacts and become finally discouraged; without Thomas Cautley Newby, then, and all his insincerities, cons and tricks, it seems highly possible that there would be none of the Brontë novels we love today.