Revival For Charlotte Brontë’s Beloved Red House

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, thank you, you may remember a post from a few years ago that included a petition to stop Kirklees council closing the historic Red House in Gomersal, West Yorkshire. Unfortunately, whilst there was huge public support for the Red House, the council decided to close it anyway, and it’s remained unused, but not unloved, ever since.

The good news is that an enthusiastic group of people are determined that the Red House should re-open. The aim is for the council to lease the building to this community group, after which it could become an important building for Brontë and history buffs and the wider community alike. Its potential really is huge, this historically important building could be a public museum again but it could also be an arts and retreat venue, a place for literary talks and festivals, a wedding venue, as well as a perfectly beautiful host for a wide variety of community groups and events.

Red House main bedroom
The Red House main bedroom when it was open to the public

Stage one is to convince Kirklees council to let this group address them and present their plans for a Red House revival. Once again, there’s a petition – this time set up by the brilliant Caz Goodwill, as good a friend and advocate as the Red House could hope for. Please take just a moment to click this link to the petition and sign it. It only takes a moment, but do remember to also click the email you’ll receive to confirm your signature.

There are many reasons that the Red House is important, many of which can be found in this excellent article by Dr. Stephen Caunce which featured recently in the Huddersfield Examiner. As you’d expect, in today’s blog I’m going to concentrate on just why it’s so important to Brontë lovers. The Red House in Gomersal was for many years the home of Mary Taylor, one of a great trio of friends alongside Charlotte Brontë and Ellen Nussey. They met at Roe Head school at Mirfield, just four miles from Gomersal, the school where Anne Brontë later excelled as a pupil.

Charlotte grew very close to Mary Taylor, and to her younger sister Martha, and as well as Mary’s visits to Haworth Parsonage, Charlotte visited them at the Red House. So important was the house to Charlotte that she gave it a central role in her second published novel ‘Shirley’, where it can clearly be identified as Briarmains. Here in the book is Charlotte’s moving introduction to Briarmains and the Yorke family, for which we can read the Red House and the Taylors.

Mary Taylor
Mary Taylor in old age, she was described as beautiful when young

“But if Briar Chapel seemed alive, so also did Briarmains, though certainly the mansion appeared to enjoy a quieter phase of existence than the temple. Some of its windows too were aglow; the lower casements opened upon the lawn; curtains concealed the interior, and partly obscured the ray of the candles which lit it, but they did not entirely muffle the sound of voice and laughter. We are privileged to enter that front door, and to penetrate to the domestic sanctum.

It is not the presence of company which makes Mr. Yorke’s habitation lively, for there is none within it save his own family, and they are assembled in that farthest room to the right, the back parlour.This is the usual sitting-room of an evening. Those windows would be seen by daylight to be of brilliantly-stained glass, purple and amber the predominant hues, glittering round a gravely-tinted medallion in the centre of each, representing the suave head of William Shakespeare, and the serene one of John Milton. Some Canadian views hung on the walls—green forest and blue water scenery—and in the midst of them blazes a night-eruption of Vesuvius; very ardently it glows, contrasted with the cool foam and azure of cataracts, and the dusky depths of woods.

The fire illuminating this room, reader, is such as, if you be a southern, you do not often see burning on the hearth of a private apartment. It is a clear, hot coal fire, heaped high in the ample chimney. Mr. Yorke will have such fires even in warm summer weather. He sits beside it with a book in his hand, a little round stand at his elbow supporting a candle; but he is not reading—he is watching his children. Opposite to him sits his lady—a personage whom I might describe minutely, but I feel no vocation to the task. I see her, though, very plainly before me—a large woman of the gravest aspect, care on her front and on her shoulders, but not overwhelming, inevitable care, rather the sort of voluntary, exemplary cloud and burden people ever carry who deem it their duty to be gloomy. Ah, well-a-day! Mrs. Yorke had that notion, and grave as Saturn she was, morning, noon, and, night; and hard things she thought if any unhappy wight—especially of the female sex—who dared in her presence to show the light of a gay heart on a sunny countenance. In her estimation, to be mirthful was to be profane, to be cheerful was to be frivolous. She drew no distinctions. Yet she was a very good wife, a very careful mother, looked after her children unceasingly, was sincerely attached to her husband; only the worst of it was, if she could have had her will, she would not have permitted him to have any friend in the world beside herself. All his relations were insupportable to her, and she kept them at arm’s length.

Red House bedroom
A bedroom used by Mary Taylor, in the former Red House Museum

Mr. Yorke and she agreed perfectly well, yet he was naturally a social, hospitable man, an advocate for family unity; and in his youth, as has been said, he liked none but lively, cheerful women. Why he chose her, how they contrived to suit each other, is a problem puzzling enough, but which might soon be solved if one had time to go into the analysis of the case. Suffice it here to say that Yorke had a shadowy side as well as a sunny side to his character, and that his shadowy side found sympathy and affinity in the whole of his wife’s uniformly overcast nature. For the rest, she was a strong-minded woman; never said a weak or a trite thing; took stern, democratic views of society, and rather cynical ones of human nature; considered herself perfect and safe, and the rest of the world all wrong. Her main fault was a brooding, eternal, immitigable suspicion of all men, things, creeds, and parties; this suspicion was a mist before her eyes, a false guide in her path, wherever she looked, wherever she turned.

It may be supposed that the children of such a pair were not likely to turn out quite ordinary, commonplace beings; and they were not. You see six of them, reader. The youngest is a baby on the mother’s knee. It is all her own yet, and that one she has not yet begun to doubt, suspect, condemn; it derives its sustenance from her, it hangs on her, it clings to her, it loves her above everything else in the world. She is sure of that, because, as it lives by her, it cannot be otherwise, therefore she loves it.

The two next are girls, Rose and Jessy; they are both now at their father’s knee; they seldom go near their mother, except when obliged to do so. Rose, the elder, is twelve years old; she is like her father—the most like him of the whole group—but it is a granite head copied in ivory; all is softened in colour and line. Yorke himself has a harsh face—his daughter’s is not harsh, neither is it quite pretty; it is simple, childlike in feature; the round cheeks bloom: as to the gray eyes, they are otherwise than childlike; a serious soul lights them—a young soul yet, but it will mature, if the body lives; and neither father nor mother have a spirit to compare with it. Partaking of the essence of each, it will one day be better than either—stronger, much purer, more aspiring. Rose is a still, sometimes a stubborn, girl now. Her mother wants to make of her such a woman as she is herself—a woman of dark and dreary duties; and Rose has a mind full-set, thick-sown with the germs of ideas her mother never knew. It is agony to her often to have these ideas trampled on and repressed. She has never rebelled yet; but if hard driven, she will rebel one day, and then it will be once for all. Rose loves her father: her father does not rule her with a rod of iron; he is good to her. He sometimes fears she will not live, so bright are the sparks of intelligence which, at moments, flash from her glance and gleam in her language. This idea makes him often sadly tender to her.

He has no idea that little Jessy will die young, she is so gay and chattering, arch, original even now; passionate when provoked, but most affectionate if caressed; by turns gentle and rattling; exacting, yet generous; fearless—of her mother, for instance, whose irrationally hard and strict rule she has often defied—yet reliant on any who will help her. Jessy, with her little piquant face, engaging prattle, and winning ways, is made to be a pet, and her father’s pet she accordingly is. It is odd that the doll should resemble her mother feature by feature, as Rose resembles her father, and yet the physiognomy—how different!

Mr. Yorke, if a magic mirror were now held before you, and if therein were shown you your two daughters as they will be twenty years from this night, what would you think? The magic mirror is here: you shall learn their destinies—and first that of your little life, Jessy.

Do you know this place? No, you never saw it; but you recognize the nature of these trees, this foliage—the cypress, the willow, the yew. Stone crosses like these are not unfamiliar to you, nor are these dim garlands of everlasting flowers. Here is the place—green sod and a gray marble headstone. Jessy sleeps below. She lived through an April day; much loved was she, much loving. She often, in her brief life, shed tears, she had frequent sorrows; she smiled between, gladdening whatever saw her. Her death was tranquil and happy in Rose’s guardian arms, for Rose had been her stay and defence through many trials. The dying and the watching English girls were at that hour alone in a foreign country, and the soil of that country gave Jessy a grave.

Now, behold Rose two years later. The crosses and garlands looked strange, but the hills and woods of this landscape look still stranger. This, indeed, is far from England; remote must be the shores which wear that wild, luxuriant aspect. This is some virgin solitude. Unknown birds flutter round the skirts of that forest; no European river this, on whose banks Rose sits thinking. The little quiet Yorkshire girl is a lonely emigrant in some region of the southern hemisphere. Will she ever come back?”

This is beautifully written of course, as we’d expect from Charlotte, but it shows an exact portrait of the Red House and the family within it. It’s especially moving for two reasons, the portraits of Jessy Yorke and Rose Yorke show the autobiographical elements to this novel.

Jessy was in fact Martha Taylor, the younger sister who was deeply loved by Charlotte, and who died in a time of promise when Mary, Martha, Charlotte and Emily Brontë were all at school in Brussels. So much did this loss affect Charlotte that she also included a depiction of it in her first written novel ‘The Professor’. Charlotte’s words of love and loss are now depicted on the Martha Taylor memorial at the foot of Mary’s grave in Gomersal churchyard (alas, Martha’s grave in Brussels has long ago been concreted over – a Kirklees-like move): ‘Much loved was she, much loving.’

Martha Taylor memorial
The Martha Taylor memorial at the foot of her sister’s grave

Rose Yorke is Mary Taylor, and we see the second Taylor tragedy as far as Charlotte was concerned: ‘the little quiet Yorkshire girl is a lonely emigrant in some region of the southern hemisphere. Will she ever come back?’

By this time, Mary Taylor had indeed emigrated to New Zealand, where she launched a successful business. Charlotte wrote at the time of this loss of her friend: ‘to me it is something as if a great planet has fallen out of the sky.’ By the time Mary returned to England, and to Gomersal, Charlotte Brontë was dead, as were all of her siblings that Mary had once known.

Mary Taylor was an incredible woman in her own right: a proto-feminist, a novelist in her own right, an adventurer and traveller. In many ways her life bears striking similarities to that of Anne Lister. Mary too preferred female company in later life, living with a succession of Swiss maids, and, just like Anne, she was also a pioneer of female mountain climbing in the Alps – as can be seen in this remarkable photograph.

Mary Taylor mountaineering 1874
Mary Taylor (far left) in Switzerland 1874 (from the Red House Museum collection)

Of course there is one big difference: Anne Lister’s home of Shibden Hall has been cherished by Calderdale Council, the neighbouring council to Kirklees, and it is now a major tourist attraction and a jewel in the cultural crown of Halifax. It’s not too late for Kirklees to do the same for the Red House, but it nearly is. The interior so beloved of Charlotte Brontë is now empty, where once it held glorious exhibits. The stained glass window of Shakespeare mentioned above has now been removed and is in the Brontë Parsonage Museum.

Milton and Shakespeare stained glass
Milton and Shakespeare stained glass, once of the Red House and featured in Shirley

I’m proud to have been asked to help the Red House Revival community group, and this weekend I’ll be setting up a website for the group and the house – www.bronteredhouse.co.uk. Let’s do the decent thing and open this beautiful treasure of a house to the public once more. We can’t afford to let it rot. A Kirklees spokesman said that closing the Red House was part of their program to ‘improve museum facilities in Kirklees.’ Improving them by closing them down, at a time when we need culture and community facilities more than ever before. Please sign the petition.

Reading The Bumps: The Brontës And Phrenology

How is your head feeling today? No, I’m not implying that you overindulged on Saturday evening, I’m talking about the bumps on your head and the swelling of your skull? Still none the wiser? Today we’re discussing phrenology and why the Brontës were so fascinated with it, and we’ll then take a look at the rather revealing things a leading phrenologist had to say about Charlotte Brontë herself.

Caricature of Franz Gall
A caricature of Franz Gall, the father of phrenology

It may sound strange in our highly scientific age, but phrenology was very popular, and widely believed, in the early nineteenth century. It rapidly gained popularity in England after the 1819 work ‘Essays On Phrenology’ was published by George Combe. In it he expounded Franz Gall’s theories that each part of the brain corresponded to different characteristics, emotions and moral values, meaning that by feeling someone’s head, and feeling which parts of their skull were particularly pronounced, they could find a person’s true personality and fate.

At the time it was considered a cutting edge scientific discipline, with people having phrenological busts in their homes to help them read the heads of visitors – modern examples of which can be seen in the fabulous ‘The Cabinet of Curiosities‘ shop in Haworth, which was once the village apothecary.

Cabinet Of Curiosities phrenology
Phrenology skulls can still be bought at Haworth’s Cabinet of Curiosities

References to phrenology can be found in the writing of great Victorian authors such as Dickens and George Eliot, but they occur particularly often in Charlotte Brontë’s novels.

For example, in Jane Eyre, Blanche Ingram tries to turn attention away from the fortune telling she’s just received (by a disguised Rochester) by telling her questioners: ‘really your organs of wonder and credulity are over excited.’

The organs of wonder and credulity were just two phrenological areas, and Charlotte references more of them in ‘The Professor’ when she writes: ‘what good can your bumps of ideality, comparison, self-esteem, conscientiousness, do you here?”

It seems that Charlotte was keen on putting her knowledge of phrenology to the test with people she met, so we can be sure she’d felt the heads of Anne and Emily. We know this as her great friend Mary Taylor told Elizabeth Gaskell of this practice, and that ‘Charlotte said she could get on with any one who had a bump at the top of their heads’ – this, it should be noted, to phrenologists is the bump of conscientiousness referred to in ‘The Professor’.

Doubtless Charlotte told her publisher and friend George Smith of her beliefs, and probably felt the shape of his head too, for in his memoirs he gives a delightful and detailed account of taking her with him to see a professional phrenologist called Dr. Browne. They posed as brother and sister, Mr and Miss Fraser, and the doctor later gave him a typed account of his assessment. It should be noted that Dr. Browne had no idea who ‘Miss Fraser’ really was (although the difference in social standing and accent between the grand London gent Smith and the shy and retiring Yorkshire woman Charlotte may have led him to realise that they weren’t related, something he no doubt discretely ignored), and yet he makes some very acute observations. Browne records that ‘in its intellectual development this head is very remarkable’, and ‘if not a poet her sentiments are poetical, or are at least imbued with that enthusiastic glow which is characteristic of poetical feeling.’

George Smith
George Smith who posed as Mr Fraser for a phrenology reading with Charlotte

It should be noted as well that the doctor did not give such glowing reports to everyone, as Smith himself was disappointed with the mundane reading that his head produced. I will leave you with the full reading of the bumps on Charlotte Brontë’s head. It really is a remarkably accurate reading in parts, so whilst phrenology is looked down upon today, maybe the Victorians were right to consider things that might not be explained by science alone:

A Phrenological Study Of The Talents And Dispositions of A Lady.

Temperament for the most part nervous. Brain large, the anterior and superior part remarkably salient. In her domestic relations this lady will be warm and affectionate. In the care of children she will evince judicious kindness, but she is not pleased at seeing them spoiled by over-indulgence. Her fondness for any particular locality would chiefly rest upon the associations connected with it. Her attachments are strong and enduring — indeed, this is a leading element of her character; she is rather circumspect, however, in the choice of her friends, and it is well that she is so, for she will seldom meet with persons whose dispositions approach the standard of excellence with which she can entirely sympathise. Her sense of truth and justice would be offended by any dereliction of duty, and she would in such cases express her disapprobation with warmth and energy; she would not, however, be precipitate in acting thus, and rather than live in a state of hostility with those she could wish to love she would depart from them, although the breaking-off of friendship would be to her a source of great unhappiness.

The careless and unreflecting, whom she would labour to amend, might deem her punctilious and perhaps exacting; not considering that their amendment and not her own gratification prompted her to admonish. She is sensitive and is very anxious to succeed in her undertakings, but is not so sanguine as to the probability of success. She is occasionally inclined to take a gloomier view of things than perhaps the facts of the case justify; she should guard against the effect of this where her affection is engaged, for her sense of her own importance is moderate and not strong enough to steel her heart against disappointment; she has more firmness than self-reliance, and her sense of justice is of a very high order. She is deferential to the aged and those she deems worthy of respect, and possesses much devotional feeling, but dislikes fanaticism and is not given to a belief in supernatural things without questioning the probability of their existence. Money is not her idol : she values it merely for its uses; she would be liberal to the poor and compassionate to the afflicted, and when friendship calls for aid she would struggle even against her own interest to impart the required assistance – indeed, sympathy is a marked characteristic of this organisation.

Is fond of symmetry and proportion, and possesses a good perception of form, and is a good judge of colour. She is endowed with a keen perception of melody and rhythm. Her imitative powers are good, and the faculty which gives manual dexterity is well developed. These powers might have been cultivated with advantage. Is a fair calculator, and her sense of order and arrangement is remarkably good. Whatever this lady has to settle or arrange will be done with precision and taste. She is endowed with an exalted sense of the beautiful and ideal, and longs for perfection. If not a poet her sentiments are poetical, or are at least imbued with that enthusiastic glow which is characteristic of poetical feeling. She is fond of dramatic literature and the drama, especially if it be combined with music.

In its intellectual development this head is very remarkable. The forehead is at once very large and well formed. It bears the stamp of deep thoughtfulness and comprehensive understanding. It is highly philosophical. It exhibits the presence of an intellect at once perspicacious and perspicuous. There is much critical sagacity and fertility in devising resources in situations of difficulty, much originality, with a tendency to speculate and generalise. Possibly this speculative bias may sometimes interfere with the practical efficiency of some of her projects. Yet since she has scarcely an adequate share of self-reliance, and is not sanguine as to the success of her plans, there is reason to suppose that she would attend more closely to particulars, and thereby present the unsatisfactory results of hasty generalisation.

This lady possesses a fine organ of language, and can, if she has done her talents justice by exercise, express her sentiments with clearness, precision, and force – sufficiently eloquent but not verbose. In learning a language she would investigate its spirit and structure. The character of the German language would be well adapted to such an organisation. In analysing the motives of human conduct, this lady would display originality and power; but in her mode of investigating mental science she would naturally be imbued with a metaphysical bias; she would perhaps be sceptical as to the truth of Qale’s doctrine. But the study of this doctrine, this new system of mental philosophy, would give additional strength to her excellent understanding by rendering it more practical, more attentive to particulars and contribute to her happiness by imparting to her more correct notions of the dispositions of those whose acquaintance She may wish to cultivate.

T. P. Browne, M.D., 367 Strand, June 29, 1851.”

The Brontës, Family And Friends In Colour

The time that the Brontës lived in was one of rapid technological innovation that helped to drive (for good and bad) the industrial revolution, and which completely changed how, and where, we lived. Perhaps the most revolutionary invention of them all at this time was the railway, opening up the country as never before whereas previously many people spent their whole lives within a few miles of the place in which they were born.

Another invention that must have seemed like wizardry was photography. The existence or not of Brontë photographs is, I know, very contentious, so I won’t get into that here. We know for certain that there was at least one photograph of Charlotte Brontë at some point, however, in the form of an early glass plated image known as a daguerreotype. We hear of this in an interview with Nancy Garrs, in her home, carried out by the Leeds Mercury in March 1893 in which she proudly took down photographs of Patrick and Charlotte to show the reporter:

‘Round this certificate of character were suspended photographs of Mr. Brontë, Miss Brontë, Haworth Church, etc., and these she also brought for our inspection. The expression of the features in Miss Brontë’s portrait, which is taken on glass, are altogether pleasanter than that in Mrs. Gaskell’s book, which always seems to to have something weird and uncanny about it.’

Photography was in its infancy at the time the Brontë siblings died, but just a decade later it had become commonplace. That means that we have undisputed photographs of many of the people who were in the Brontë story, from relatives to servants and friends. Technology is still advancing rapidly, of course, and now we can even attempt to ‘colourise’ old black and white photographs – it’s also referred to as ‘de-oldifying’ by some. I tried this with a couple of pictures of Ellen Nussey this week, and the results were astonishing – it really seemed to bring her to life. Buoyed by this I’ve colourised some more people with Brontë connections, and I present the results to you below – but please remember that this is just a bit of fun, and the results can be variable.

Ellen Nussey

Ellen was described as a very pretty young woman, and although these two colourised photographs show Ellen in her later years we still see her pleasant character shine through.

Ellen Nussey

Ellen Nussey

Mary Taylor

Mary Taylor was, if anything, regarded as even more of a beauty than Ellen in her youth, although the only photograph of her shows Mary in old age. When young, her teacher Miss Wooler (a central figure in much of the Brontë story) described Mary Taylor as ‘too pretty to live’, but in fact she attained the ripe old age, for the time, of 76.

Mary Taylor

Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell was the first biographer of Charlotte Brontë, and although her work caused controversy then and now she was a close friend of Charlotte, and she became an acquaintance of Ellen Nussey’s too.

Elizabeth Gaskell

Nancy Garrs

Nancy, along with her sister Sarah, was a servant to the Brontë family in Thornton and Haworth, helping to nurse and raise them through their infant years. Incidentally, there’s a very worthy campaign to buy a headstone for Nancy’s grave in Undercliffe cemetery near Bradford, with some special Nancy Garrs events taking place in September. You can find out more via this link.

Nancy Garrs

Martha Brown

Martha was the daughter of sexton John Brown, Branwell’s close friend, and she herself became a very close friend of Charlotte after the death of Emily and Anne. She served in the Brontë Parsonage for twenty years from the age of 12 until Patrick Brontë’s death in 1861.

Martha Brown

Constantin Heger

Monsieur Heger was first Charlotte Brontë’s tutor in Brussels, and then a colleague at the school run by his wife, but he also broke her heart. The unrequited love had a huge influence on all Charlotte Brontë’s novels, but again the photograph of him in later years may not do justice to the man Charlotte fell in love with.

Constantin Heger

Arthur Bell Nicholls

The path to romance finally flourished with Arthur Bell Nicholls, who after a fraught courting married her in 1854. He was also renowned for being handsome, with a Haworth villager later remembering him as ‘a tall, dark, well-made man.’

Arthur Bell Nicholls

Patrick Brontë

The Brontë patriarch was a striking figure in his youth, and even in his old age he still possessed an innate strength and charm, as this 1859 witness describes: ‘Very handsome he must have been in his younger days, for traces of beauty most refined and noble in expression, even yet show themselves in his features and in his striking profile. His brow is still unwrinkled; his hair and whiskers snowy white: lines very decided in their character are impressed about the mouth; the eyes are large and penetrating.’

Patrick Bronte

Charlotte Branwell

This is the woman after whom our Charlotte was named. Charlotte Branwell was the younger sister of Maria, the mother of the Brontë siblings, and their Aunt Branwell, and the youngest of the Branwell family of Penzance, Cornwall. She married her cousin Joseph Branwell and kept her last name.

Charlotte Branwell

And finally…

Now do remember that this is a bit of fun. Whatever you think of the provenance of this picture, whether you believe it’s Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë or not, I think it looks rather splendid with a dash of colour added. If you want to do the same to any black and white pictures you have, simply head to https://colourise.sg/ – you don’t need to give any details, and all it takes is the click of a button to bring the past, once more, vividly to life.

the Bronte sisters

The Influence Of Percy Shelley Upon The Brontës

This day, the fourth of August, in 1792 saw the birth of one of the foremost poets of English literature, and one whose influence upon the Brontës is clear to see: Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Shelley is often associated with those other great masters of the second wave of Romantic poets George Gordon Byron and John Keats, and ‘Adonais’, his tribute to the ill starred Keats, is one of the greatest elegies ever written:

‘The breath whose might I have invok’d in song
Descends on me; my spirit’s bark is driven,
Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng
Whose sails were never to the tempest given;
The massy earth and sphered skies are riven!
I am borne darkly, fearfully, afar;
Whilst, burning through the inmost veil of Heaven,
The soul of Adonais, like a star,
Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are.’

These closing lines are prophetic, as in July 1822, just a year after Keats’ death, Shelley was drowned in a tempest upon the waters of Italy’s Gulf of Spezia. In a further twist his body was identified by a copy of Keats’ poetry found in his pocket, bringing an echo of the epitaph that Keats had written for himself: ‘Here lies one, whose name was writ in water.’ He now lies in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, where literary pilgrims still flock to see the graves of both he and John Keats.

Percy Shelley's grave in Rome lies near that of John Keats
Percy Shelley’s grave in Rome lies near that of John Keats

Percy Shelley was undoubtedly a brilliant poet, but he was also a controversial figure in his day, chiefly because of his outspoken atheism and his radical political beliefs in support of the working class. His ‘The Mask Of Anarchy’ was composed in response to the Peterloo Massacre, and he exhorts the masses to:

‘Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number –
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few.’

It is little surprise then that Shelley had a large influence upon Chartism and later upon the work of Karl Marx, but perhaps more surprising to find him influencing Charlotte, Anne and especially Emily Brontë.

We see evidence of Shelley’s presence within Haworth Parsonage in the Brontë writing, and the fact that Patrick Brontë allowed his daughters free access to his books shows his enlightened approach to his daughter’s education and entertainment. Most early nineteenth century fathers would not have dreamed of letting their daughters near this blasphemous, seditious man (the prevailing opinion of the time), but Patrick let them read what they wanted to, for which the world can be thankful.

Percy Shelley
Percy Shelley, a controversial read for the Bronte girls

In a draft version of Charlotte Brontë’s youthful work ‘Caroline Vernon’ set in the world of Angria, she writes:

‘In what an obscure, dim, unconscious dream Miss Vernon was enveloped! How little she knew of herself! However, time is advancing & the hours – those ‘wild-eyed charioteers’ as Shelley calls them – are driving on.’

This description of galloping time has obviously made an impression upon Charlotte, showing that it was perhaps recently that she had read the source of them – Percy Shelley’s ‘Prometheus Unbound.’

Shelley’s poetry is full of such expressions that linger long in the memory; it is brilliantly written and often dwells upon the power of nature, and in this it clearly influenced Emily and Anne Brontë. Emily’s poetry is a force of nature in its own right, and stands alone amongst the verse of its time, but Shelley’s poetry seems the closest to it thematically and in terms of its elegance of phrase. Surprisingly, however, Percy Shelley’s influence upon Emily can most clearly be seen in her only novel, ‘Wuthering Heights.’

It is a work of towering genius, but like Shakespeare, that other genius before whom us mortals can only stand and bow our heads, Emily took influences from books she had read and loved. Thus we can see echoes of the likes of James Hogg in ‘Wuthering Heights’, and we can also see a source for perhaps the most famous quote of all from this most quotable of books:

‘He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.’

Emily Bronte necklace
Emily Bronte’s quote can be found on mugs, t-shirts, necklaces and more

The brilliance of Emily is such that she makes these lines even more powerful than when a similar expression appeared in Shelley’s ‘Epipsychidion’:

‘How beyond refuge I am thine. Ah me! I am not thine: I am a part of thee.’

Shelley, like all great writers influenced writers that came in the generation after him, like the Brontës, and continues to influence writers. This too he shares in common with Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë, for as long as books are read there will be those who are inspired to take up the pen for the first time themselves by the likes of ‘Jane Eyre’, ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall.’

The Funeral of Shelley by Louis Fournier
The Funeral of Shelley by Louis Fournier