A new year has dawned and I suppose that most of us will be glad to wave goodbye to the pestilent 2020. Many people see the turn of the year as a time to make resolutions, or a time to take a blank canvas and finally put into action the plans we’ve long thought of.
I’m generally an optimistic sort of chap, and there is definitely light and hope at the end of this tunnel, thanks to the vaccines that are just starting to be delivered. Maybe this year will see Anne Brontë 200th birthday events that should have taken place last year finally spring into life? I also believe that we may see some new Brontë television this year too, although I don’t know how Covid has affected the plans I heard about. Certainly the pandemic has delayed the release of my Charlotte Brontë and Ellen Nussey book, but I’m confident that it too will see the light of day in the months ahead.
One thing which is beyond doubt is that we will still have the Brontë books to turn to, so whatever’s happening in the world without the world within can be a happy place. There’s lots of new year motivation and January wisdom to be found in the words of Anne, Emily and Charlotte Brontë, so that’s what we’re going to look at today.
“I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward. This is not the time to regret, dread or weep.”
Letter to Ellen Nussey, January 15, 1849
These very wise words from Charlotte Brontë were part of a doleful letter written at a very distressing time, but they show that even in moments of darkness Charlotte was always clinging onto that Pandoran gift – hope. Charlotte also wrote of the powerful force of forgiveness:
“Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs”
Charlotte Brontë was not a person who suffered fools gladly; she had high standards and could be cutting about those who failed to match up to them. Nevertheless, she was at heart a very kind woman and she was always ready to forgive and forget. Emily Brontë was feted for her kindness by all who knew her, yet her writing is often dark and brilliantly challenging. Nevertheless in her masterpiece Wuthering Heights, Emily reveals how the pleasures of the natural world brought brightness and joy into her life – a lesson we can all learn from:
“He said the pleasantest manner of spending a hot July day was lying from morning till evening on a bank of heath in the middle of the moors, with the bees humming dreamily about among the bloom, and the larks singing high up overhead, and the blue sky and bright sun shining steadily and cloudlessly. That was his most perfect idea of heaven’s happiness: mine was rocking in a rustling green tree, with a west wind blowing, and bright white clouds flitting rapidly above; and not only larks, but throstles, and blackbirds, and linnets, and cuckoos pouring out music on every side, and the moors seen at a distance, broken into cool dusky dells; but close by great swells of long grass undulating in waves to the breeze; and woods and sounding water, and the whole world awake and wild with joy.”
The climax of the novel sees old wrongs righted, and the feuds of the past laid to rest forever. This is Emily’s lesson for the new year, one repeated in the following lines of poetry written when she was 18: forget the painful past, and move on to a better future:
“But this is past and why return
O’er such a past to brood and mourn?
Shake off the fetters and break the chain
And live and love and smile again
The waste of youth the waste of years
Departed in that dungeon’s thrall
The gnawing grief the hopeless tears
Forget them – O forget them all -.”
One reason that Anne Brontë’s novels are both so powerful is that they are optimistic in nature. Anne was determined to depict the perils of life with truth and honesty, yet she also showed her innate belief in redemption and the pursuit of happiness. Both Agnes and Helen (especially) have much to endure, and yet their novels end with them marrying the man they love and settling down to a much brighter future. They have been kind in the face of horrific provocation and misfortune, and have reaped the rewards, and I think that the following line sums up succinctly Anne’s attitude to life:
“The more happiness we bestow, the more we shall receive, even here.”
I’ll close today’s post with the final lines of Anne’s poem ‘The Consolation’. One consolation that we can all embrace is that 2020 is behind us, and we all have lots to look forward to, including spending lots more time with those we love most. Happy New Year to you all, and I hope to see you again next Sunday for another new Brontë blog post.
“When kindly thoughts that would have way
Flow back discouraged to my breast
I know there is, though far away
A home where heart and soul may rest.
Warm hands are there that clasped in mine
The warmer heart will not belie,
While mirth and truth and friendship shine
In smiling lip and earnest eye.
The ice that gathers round my heart
May there be thawed; and sweetly then
The joys of youth that now depart
Will come to cheer my soul again.
Though far I roam, this thought shall be
My hope, my comfort everywhere;
While such a home remains to me
My heart shall never know despair.”