Mary Taylor’s Views On Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë has rightly taken its place in the canon of great works of literature. It was loved from the moment it was published in 1847, but whilst the public took the novel to their hearts, some of the snootier critics weren’t always so impressed (it has ever been thus). In a previous post we looked at Elizabeth Rigby’s incredibly unperceptive take on the novel, but today we’re going to look at a Jane Eyre pronouncement from someone Charlotte knew well: Mary Taylor.

Elizabeth Rigby
Charlotte Bronte’s fiercest critic Elizabeth Rigby

Charlotte Brontë and Mary Taylor were very close friends from the moment they met at Roe Head school in 1831. By the time of Jane Eyre’s publication in late 1847, however, they were over 11,000 miles apart. Mary Taylor emigrated to New Zealand in March 1845, following the path of her brother Waring Taylor who had moved there three years earlier. In a letter of October 1844, Charlotte Brontë revealed the news of Mary’s plans to their mutual friend Ellen Nussey:

‘Mary Taylor is going to leave our hemisphere. To me it is something as if a great planet fell out of the sky. Yet unless she marries in New Zealand she will not stay there long.’

Mary, as Charlotte surely knew, was not the marrying kind, but she was a determined and entrepreneurial woman, and she remained in New Zealand running a successful business until 1859. Being in New Zealand then meant that communication with England was difficult, with letters and parcels taking weeks or months to reach their destination. Nevertheless Mary did keep up correspondence with Charlotte, Ellen and others, and so it was that Charlotte Brontë sent Mary a copy of Jane Eyre written under her pseudonym of Currer Bell.

Mary Taylor
Mary Taylor in old age after returning to England

Unfortunately we don’t have Charlotte’s original letter, sent with the book, to Mary, but we do have Mary’s response to it. She began writing it in June 1848, and completed and sent it on July 24th due to the difficulty in sending mail at the time – as we shall see. Here is Mary Taylor’s letter containing her opinion on Jane Eyre and more:

‘Dear Charlotte, About a month since I received and read Jane Eyre. It seemed to me incredible that you had actually written a book. Such events did not happen while I was in England. I begin to believe in your existence much as I do in Mr. Rochester’s. In a believing mood I don’t doubt either of them. After I had read ‘it’ I went to the top of Mt. Victoria & looked for a ship to carry a letter to you. There was a little thing with one mast, & also H.M.S. Fly & nothing else. If a cattle vessel came from Sydney she would probably return in a few days & would take a mail, but we have had east wind for a month & nothing can come in – ‘July 1’ The Harlequin has just come from Otago and is to sail for Singapore when the wind changes & by that route (which I hope to take myself sometime) I send you this. Much good may it do you.

H.M.S. Fly

Your novel surprised me by being so perfect as a work of art. I expected something more changeable & unfinished. You have polished to some purpose. If I were to do so I should get tired & weary every one else in about two pages. No sign of this weariness is in your book – you must have had abundance, having kept it all to yourself!

You are very different from me in having no doctrine to preach. It is impossible to squeeze a moral out of your production. Has the world gone so well with you that you have no protest to make against its absurdities? Did you never sneer or declaim in your first sketches? I will scold you well when I see you. I don’t believe in Mr Rivers. There are no good men of the Brocklehurst species. A missionary either goes into his office for a piece of bread, or he goes from enthusiasm, & that is both too good & too bad a quality for St. John. It’s a bit of your absurd charity to believe in such a man. You have done wisely in choosing to imagine a high class of readers. You never stop to explain or defend anything & never seem bothered with the idea – if Mrs. Fairfax or any other well intentioned fool gets hold of this what will she think? And yet you know the world is made up of such, & worse.

Wellington 1855
Wellington, New Zealand at the time Mary lived there

Once more, how you have written through 3 vols. without declaring war to the knife against a few absurd doctrines each of which is supported by a “large and respectable class of readers”? Emily seems to have had such a class in her eye when she wrote that strange thing Wuthering Heights. Ann [sic.] too stops repeatedly to preach commonplace truths. She has had a still lower class in her mind’s eye. Emily seems to have followed the bookseller’s advice. As to the price you got it was certainly Jewish. But what could the people do? If they had asked you to fix it, do you know yourself how many cyphers your sums would have had? And how should they know better? And if they did, that’s the knowledge they get their living by. If I were in your place the idea of being bound in the sale of 2! more would prevent me from ever writing again. Yet you are probably now busy with another. It is curious for me to see among the letters one from Aunt Sarah sending a copy of a whole article on the currency question written by Fonblanque! I exceedingly regret having burnt your letters in a fit of caution , & I’ve forgotten about the names. Was the reader Albert Smith? What do they all think of you? I perceive I’ve betrayed my habit of only writing on one side of the paper. Go onto the next page.

I mention the book to no one & hear no opinions. I lend it a good deal because it’s a novel & it’s as good as another! They say it “makes them cry”. They are not literary enough to give an opinion. If ever I hear one I’ll embalm it for you.

As to my own affair I have written 100 pages & lately 50 more. It’s no use writing faster. I get so disgusted I can do nothing. I have sent 3 or 4 things to Joe for Tait. Troup (Ed.) never acknowledges them though he promised either to pay or send them back. Joe sent one to Chambers who thought it unsuitable in which I agree with them…

I have now told you everything I can think of except that the cat’s on the table & that I’m going to borrow a new book to read. No less than an account of all the systems of philosophy of modern Europe. I have lately met with a wonder, a man who thinks Jane Eyre would have done better to marry Mr Rivers! He gives no reasons – such people never do. Mary Taylor’

I have missed out the long middle section dealing with Mary’s life in New Zealand in which she talks about the price of cows and her dream of buying and riding a horse, among many other things. What we have above, though, is a fascinating glimpse into Mary’s mind, her friendship with Charlotte and her views on Jane Eyre.

At first, some of Mary’s opinions may seem a little harsh, but she shared with Charlotte a complete forthrightness and a determination to give an honest opinion in all things, not to mention a sometimes waspish way with words.

It is clear that Mary was very proud of Charlotte and her book, especially as her own dream of being a writer was not proving fruitful. The 150 pages that Mary talks of having written were probably from an early draft of her own novel Miss Miles, which was not published until 42 years after Mary wrote this letter.

Miss Miles by Mary Taylor
a page from Miss Miles by Mary Taylor

Mary Taylor did however become a relatively successful writer of articles for magazines, of which some are seen as early examples of feminist journalism. It’s interesting to note however that despite Mary’s admonishment of Charlotte for not preaching a doctrine, her own Miss Miles is itself free of obvious preaching.

What do we make of Mary’s opinion of St. John Rivers? Not many people reading the book today would think that Charlotte had sugar coated him, or see him as a relentlessly ‘good’ character. We can, however, share Mary’s astonishment that a reader thought that Jane should have married the hectoring preacher.

We can also see that Charlotte has previously given Mary notice of her writing, and of her dealings with the publishers Smith, Elder & Co. We see that she has signed a contract to deliver two more novels after Jane Eyre; alas, two more novels were all that Charlotte did write after signing that contract.

Mary Taylor mountaineering 1874
Mary Taylor (far left) leading the first all woman team to climb Mont Blanc, in 1874

Above all, this is a letter that a friend would write to someone who knows her very well; she has no need to fear that Charlotte will take offence at her comments. It is a letter full of love, although that love and kindness is hidden beneath a veneer that both Mary and Charlotte could coat their letters with.

The great thing about a great novel such as Jane Eyre is that we can all read it and form our own opinions, and all are as valid as the next. I hope to see you again next Sunday for another new Brontë blog post.

Visiting Anne Bronte in Scarborough

Apologies in advance, but today’s will be a very short post, if indeed it can be called that at all.

I’m on holiday this weekend; I’ve travelled to Anne Bronte’s beloved Scarborough on Yorkshire’s east coast. Of course, one of the first things I did was visit Anne’s grave in the shadow of Scarborough Castle. I’m pleased to say that while we sat there, there were plenty of visitors to see Anne. She remains ever popular with fans from far and wide.

A sprig of moorland heather has been placed on Anne’s grave – possibly from Haworth?
A familiar name by this Scarborough house
A feathered visitor. In the background you can see the Grand Hotel. It marks the spot on which Anne Bronte spent her final hours.

I hope to see you next Sunday when normal Bronte blog service will be resumed.


Charlotte Brontë’s Account Of Her Visit To London

On this day in 1848 two tired yet happy sisters boarded a steam train at Euston Station (that’s it at the head of this post) en route to Leeds, Keighley and finally Haworth. They were Charlotte and Anne Brontë, and they had just completed a four day sojourn in London which changed literary history forever.

Charlotte and Anne had travelled hastily to London in an attempt to clear their name from a scam being perpetuated by Anne’s ever unscrupulous publisher Thomas Cautley Newby. In previous posts we’ve looked at the Brontës’ time in London, but we haven’t heard from somebody who can explain it from a unique viewpoint: Charlotte Brontë herself. In today’s post I reproduce in full a letter sent by Charlotte to her friend Mary Taylor (at that time living in New Zealand); written two months after the London journey, it nevertheless gives a fulsome account of the days the Brontës spent there. I’ve also added some notes after the letter which here follows:

Mary Taylor
Mary Taylor in old age

To Mary Taylor

Haworth, September 4th, 1848.

‘Dear Polly1, I write you a great many more letters than you write me, though whether they all reach you, or not, Heaven knows! I dare say you will not be without a certain desire to know how our affairs get on; I will give you therefore a notion as briefly as may be. Acton Bell has published another book; it is in three volumes, but I do not like it quite so well as Agnes Grey the subject not being such as the author had pleasure in handling; it has been praised by some reviews and blamed by others. As yet, only 25 have been realised for the copyright, and as Acton Bell’s publisher is a shuffling scamp, I expected no more.

About two months since I had a letter from my publishers Smith and Elder saying that Jane Eyre had had a great run in America, and that a publisher there had consequently bid high for the first sheets of a new work by Currer Bell, which they had promised to let him have.

Agnes Grey frontispiece
Newby’s first edition of Agnes Grey

Presently after came another missive from Smith and Elder; their American correspondent had written to them complaining that the first sheets of a new work by Currer Bell had been already received, and not by their house, but by a rival publisher, and asking the meaning of such false play; it enclosed an extract from a letter from Mr. Newby (A. and C. Bell’s publisher) affirming that to the best of his belief Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Grey, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (the new work) were all the production of one author.

This was a lie, as Newby had been told repeatedly that they were the production of three different authors, but the fact was he wanted to make a dishonest move in the game to make the public and the trade believe that he had got hold of Currer Bell, and thus cheat Smith and Elder by securing the American publisher’s bid.

The upshot of it was that on the very day I received Smith and Elder’s letter, Anne and I packed up a small box, sent it down to Keighley, set out ourselves after tea, walked through a snow-storm to the station2, got to Leeds, and whirled up by the night train to London with the view of proving our separate identity to Smith and Elder, and confronting Newby with his lie.

The Chapter Coffee House in 1843
The Chapter Coffee House the year after Charlotte stayed there with Mary Taylor

We arrived at the Chapter Coffee House (our old place, Polly, we did not well know where else to go) about eight o’clock in the morning3. We washed ourselves, had some breakfast, sat a few minutes, and then set off in queer inward excitement to 65 Cornhill. Neither Mr. Smith nor Mr. Williams knew we were corning, they had never seen us they did not know whether we were men or women, but had always written to us as men.

We found 65 to be a large bookseller’s shop, in a street almost as bustling as the Strand. We went in, walked up to the counter. There were a great many young men and lads here and there; I said to the first I could accost : ‘May I see Mr. Smith?’ He hesitated, looked a little surprised. We sat down and waited a while, looking at some books on the counter, publications of theirs well known to us, of many of which they had sent us copies as presents. At last we were shown up to Mr. Smith. ‘Is it Mr. Smith?’ I said, looking up through my spectacles at a tall young man. ‘It is.’ I then put his own letter into his hand directed to Currer Bell. He looked at it and then at me again. ‘Where did you get this?’ he said. I laughed at his perplexity a recognition took place. I gave my real name: Miss Brontë. We were in a small room ceiled with a great skylight and there explanations were rapidly gone into; Mr. Newby being anathematised, I fear, with undue vehemence. Mr. Smith hurried out and returned quickly with one whom he introduced as Mr. Williams, a pale, mild, stooping man of fifty, very much like a faded Tom Dixon4. Another recognition and a long, nervous shaking of hands. Then followed talk talk talk; Mr. Williams being silent, Mr. Smith loquacious.

George Smith
George Smith, publisher of Charlotte Bronte

Mr. Smith said we must come and stay at his house, but we were not prepared for a long stay and declined this also; as we took our leave he told us he should bring his sisters to call on us that evening. We returned to our inn, and I paid for the excitement of the interview by a thundering headache and harassing sickness. Towards evening, as I got no better and expected the Smiths to call, I took a strong dose of sal volatile5. It roused me a little; still, I was in grievous bodily case when they were announced. They came in, two elegant young ladies, in full dress, prepared for the Opera Mr. Smith himself in evening costume, white gloves, etc. We had by no means understood that it was settled we were to go to the Opera, and were not ready. Moreover, we had no fine, elegant dresses with us, or in the world. However, on brief rumination I thought it would be wise to make no objections. I put my headache in my pocket, we attired ourselves in the plain, high-made country garments we possessed, and went with them to their carriage, where we found Mr. Williams. They must have thought us queer, quizzical-looking beings, especially me with my spectacles. I smiled inwardly at the contrast, which must have been apparent, between me and Mr. Smith as I walked with him up the crimson-carpeted staircase of the Opera House and stood amongst a brilliant throng at the box door, which was not yet open. Fine ladies and gentlemen glanced at us with a slight, graceful superciliousness quite warranted by the circumstances. Still, I felt pleasantly excited in spite of headache and sickness and conscious clownishness, and I saw Anne was calm and gentle, which she always is.

Charlotte and Anne visited here, the Royal Italian Opera House, Covent Garden. The Royal Opera House is now on the site.

The performance was Rossini’s opera of the Barber of Seville, very brilliant, though I fancy there are things I should like better. We got home after one o’clock; we had never been in bed the night before, and had been in constant excitement for twenty-four hours. You may imagine we were tired.

The next day, Sunday, Mr. Williams came early and took us to church6. He was so quiet, but so sincere in his attentions, one could not but have a most friendly leaning towards him. He has a nervous hesitation in speech, and a difficulty in finding appropriate language in which to express himself, which throws him into the background in conversation; but I had been his correspondent and therefore knew with what intelligence he could write, so that I was not in danger of undervaluing him. In the afternoon Mr. Smith came in his carriage with his mother, to take us to his house to dine. Mr. Smith’s residence is at Bayswater, six miles from Cornhill; the rooms, the drawing-room especially, looked splendid to us. There was no company only his mother, his two grown-up sisters, and his brother, a lad of twelve or thirteen, and a little sister, the youngest of the family, very like himself. They are all dark-eyed, dark-haired, and have clear, pale faces. The mother is a portly, handsome woman of her age, and all the children more or less well-looking one of the daughters decidedly pretty. We had a fine dinner, which neither Anne nor I had appetite to eat, and were glad when it was over. I always feel under an awkward constraint at table. Dining out would be hideous to me.

St Stephens Church Walbrook
The magnificent interior of St Stephen Walbrook church

Mr. Smith made himself very pleasant. He is a practical man, I wish Mr. Williams were more so, but he is altogether of the contemplative, theorising order. Mr. Williams has too many abstractions.

On Monday we went to the Exhibition of the Royal Academy and the National Gallery, dined again at Mr. Smith’s, then went home with Mr. Williams to tea and saw his comparatively humble but neat residence and his fine family of eight children. A daughter of Leigh Hunt’s was there7. She sang some little Italian airs which she had picked up among the peasantry in Tuscany, in a manner that charmed me.

Vintage engraving of Victorian visitors to the Royal Academy

On Tuesday morning we left London laden with books which Mr. Smith had given us, and got safely home, A more jaded wretch than I looked when I returned it would be difficult to conceive. I was thin when I went, but was meagre indeed when I returned; my face looked grey and very old, with strange, deep lines ploughed in it; my eyes stared unnaturally. I was weak and yet restless. In a while, however, the bad effects of excitement went off and I regained my normal condition. We saw Mr. Newby, but of him more another time8. Good-bye. God bless you. Write. C B.’

Notes to Charlotte’s letter:

1. Polly was Charlotte’s nickname for Mary Taylor. It was also the name given to one of the central characters of Villette: Polly Home, later encountered in the novel as the grand Countess Paulina de Bassompierre. When we first meet Polly she is a pretty, precocious child. Charlotte first met Mary Taylor at school at Roe Head, Mirfield where Mary was described by headmistress Margaret Wooler as ‘too pretty to live’.

2. Charlotte and Anne set out on the evening of July 7th 1848; even amidst the wuthering moorlands of Haworth it would seem unlikely to have a snowstorm on that day.

3. The Chapter Coffee House was on Paternoster Row behind St. Paul’s Cathedral; it was where Charlotte, Emily and Patrick Brontë had stayed there in 1842 en route to Brussels, accompanied by Mary Taylor and her brother Joe.

4. Tom Dixon was the youngest son of Abraham Dixon, an inventor and entrepreneur originally from Leeds but who moved with his family to Brussels. Tom Dixon was a cousin of Mary Taylor, and Charlotte often met Tom and his brother George, who later became MP for Birmingham, in Brussels.

5. Smelling salts; the ornate smelling salts bottles of Elizabeth and Maria Branwell (aunt and mother to the Brontës) are in the Brontë Parsonage Museum collection. Maria’s salts bottle became the property of Anne, but it seems likely that Charlotte also had a bottle.

Bronte salts bottles
Maria and Elizabeth’s salts bottles side by side

6. Although staying in the shadow of the mighty St. Paul’s, Anne requested that they be taken to St. Stephen Walbrook church in the nearby City of London. This beautiful church was noted at the time for its preacher Reverend George Croly, whose views on religious salvation chimed with those of Anne.

7. Leigh Hunt was a poet and publisher, most known today for having been a great friend of John Keats. In 1813 Hunt’s newspaper called Prince George (later George IV) ‘corpulent’; this led to Hunt being arrested and jailed for two years.

8. If only we had an account of Charlotte and Anne’s meeting with Thomas Newby! Surprisingly the meeting didn’t end with Anne transferring her rights from Newby to the altogether more honest George Smith, possibly because Emily Brontë wasn’t there to discuss the matter with.


A charming and revealing letter, as so many of Charlotte’s are. Storm clouds were looming over Haworth when she and Anne returned, but these four days had been days of joy and happiness for them. I wish you all joy and happiness, and I hope to see you next Sunday for another new Brontë blog post.

Love And Marriage In The Brontë Novels

When happy anniversaries come along in the Brontë story, we simply have to celebrate them. This week marks the 167th anniversary of the marriage of Charlotte Brontë to Arthur Bell Nicholls, and their marriage was a happy (if brief, but we won’t dwell on that today) one.

Charlotte Bronte's Wedding certificate
Charlotte Bronte’s Wedding certificate

In previous years we’ve looked at events leading up to Charlotte Bronte’s wedding, and at an in-depth account of the big day itself given by one of the few people who were there: apprentice teacher James Robinson. The wedding was kept a secret from Haworth villagers, but we hear that those who saw Charlotte in her wedding dress said that she looked like a snowdrop.

Charlotte Bronte's wedding bonnet
Charlotte Bronte’s wedding bonnet

In today’s post we’re going to keep the romantic theme going by looking at weddings in the Brontë novels. They don’t always go to plan, as we see from our first excerpt:

Jane Eyre I

‘I rose. There were no groomsmen, no bridesmaids, no relatives to wait for or marshal: none but Mr. Rochester and I. Mrs. Fairfax stood in the hall as we passed. I would fain have spoken to her, but my hand was held by a grasp of iron: I was hurried along by a stride I could hardly follow; and to look at Mr. Rochester’s face was to feel that not a second of delay would be tolerated for any purpose. I wonder what other bridegroom ever looked as he did – so bent up to a purpose, so grimly resolute: or who, under such steadfast brows, ever revealed such flaming and flashing eyes.

I know not whether the day was fair or foul; in descending the drive, I gazed neither on sky nor earth: my heart was with my eyes; and both seemed migrated into Mr. Rochester’s frame. I wanted to see the invisible thing on which, as we went along, he appeared to fasten a glance fierce and fell. I wanted to feel the thoughts whose force he seemed breasting and resisting.

At the churchyard wicket he stopped: he discovered I was quite out of breath. “Am I cruel in my love?” he said. “Delay an instant: lean on me, Jane.”

And now I can recall the picture of the grey old house of God rising calm before me, of a rook wheeling round the steeple, of a ruddy morning sky beyond. I remember something, too, of the green grave-mounds; and I have not forgotten, either, two figures of strangers straying amongst the low hillocks and reading the mementoes graven on the few mossy head-stones. I noticed them, because, as they saw us, they passed round to the back of the church; and I doubted not they were going to enter by the side-aisle door and witness the ceremony. By Mr. Rochester they were not observed; he was earnestly looking at my face, from which the blood had, I daresay, momentarily fled: for I felt my forehead dewy, and my cheeks and lips cold. When I rallied, which I soon did, he walked gently with me up the path to the porch.

We entered the quiet and humble temple; the priest waited in his white surplice at the lowly altar, the clerk beside him. All was still: two shadows only moved in a remote corner. My conjecture had been correct: the strangers had slipped in before us, and they now stood by the vault of the Rochesters, their backs towards us, viewing through the rails the old time-stained marble tomb, where a kneeling angel guarded the remains of Damer de Rochester, slain at Marston Moor in the time of the civil wars, and of Elizabeth, his wife.

Our place was taken at the communion rails. Hearing a cautious step behind me, I glanced over my shoulder: one of the strangers – a gentleman, evidently – was advancing up the chancel. The service began. The explanation of the intent of matrimony was gone through; and then the clergyman came a step further forward, and, bending slightly towards Mr. Rochester, went on.

“I require and charge you both (as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed), that if either of you know any impediment why ye may not lawfully be joined together in matrimony, ye do now confess it; for be ye well assured that so many as are coupled together otherwise than God’s Word doth allow, are not joined together by God, neither is their matrimony lawful.”

Jane Eyre 1983 wedding
Jane’s first wedding attempt doesn’t go to plan

He paused, as the custom is. When is the pause after that sentence ever broken by reply? Not, perhaps, once in a hundred years. And the clergyman, who had not lifted his eyes from his book, and had held his breath but for a moment, was proceeding: his hand was already stretched towards Mr. Rochester, as his lips unclosed to ask, “Wilt thou have this woman for thy wedded wife?” – when a distinct and near voice said –

“The marriage cannot go on: I declare the existence of an impediment.”

The clergyman looked up at the speaker and stood mute; the clerk did the same; Mr. Rochester moved slightly, as if an earthquake had rolled under his feet: taking a firmer footing, and not turning his head or eyes, he said, “Proceed.”

Profound silence fell when he had uttered that word, with deep but low intonation. Presently Mr. Wood said –

“I cannot proceed without some investigation into what has been asserted, and evidence of its truth or falsehood.”

“The ceremony is quite broken off,” subjoined the voice behind us. “I am in a condition to prove my allegation: an insuperable impediment to this marriage exists.”

Mr. Rochester heard, but heeded not: he stood stubborn and rigid, making no movement but to possess himself of my hand. What a hot and strong grasp he had! and how like quarried marble was his pale, firm, massive front at this moment! How his eye shone, still watchful, and yet wild beneath!

Mr. Wood seemed at a loss. “What is the nature of the impediment?” he asked. “Perhaps it may be got over – explained away?”

“Hardly,” was the answer. “I have called it insuperable, and I speak advisedly.”

The speaker came forward and leaned on the rails. He continued, uttering each word distinctly, calmly, steadily, but not loudly –

“It simply consists in the existence of a previous marriage. Mr. Rochester has a wife now living.”

Charlotte Bronte's wedding to Arthur Be
A Haworth recreation of Charlotte Bronte’s wedding to Arthur Bell Nicholls

Jane Eyre II

‘Reader, I married him. A quiet wedding we had: he and I, the parson and clerk, were alone present. When we got back from church, I went into the kitchen of the manor-house, where Mary was cooking the dinner and John cleaning the knives, and I said –

“Mary, I have been married to Mr. Rochester this morning.” The housekeeper and her husband were both of that decent phlegmatic order of people, to whom one may at any time safely communicate a remarkable piece of news without incurring the danger of having one’s ears pierced by some shrill ejaculation, and subsequently stunned by a torrent of wordy wonderment. Mary did look up, and she did stare at me: the ladle with which she was basting a pair of chickens roasting at the fire, did for some three minutes hang suspended in air; and for the same space of time John’s knives also had rest from the polishing process: but Mary, bending again over the roast, said only –

“Have you, Miss? Well, for sure!”

A short time after she pursued – “I seed you go out with the master, but I didn’t know you were gone to church to be wed;” and she basted away. John, when I turned to him, was grinning from ear to ear.

“I telled Mary how it would be,” he said: “I knew what Mr. Edward” (John was an old servant, and had known his master when he was the cadet of the house, therefore, he often gave him his Christian name) – “I knew what Mr. Edward would do; and I was certain he would not wait long neither: and he’s done right, for aught I know. I wish you joy, Miss!” and he politely pulled his forelock.

“Thank you, John. Mr. Rochester told me to give you and Mary this.” I put into his hand a five-pound note. Without waiting to hear more, I left the kitchen. In passing the door of that sanctum some time after, I caught the words –

“She’ll happen do better for him nor ony o’ t’ grand ladies.” And again, “If she ben’t one o’ th’ handsomest, she’s noan faâl and varry good-natured; and i’ his een she’s fair beautiful, onybody may see that.”

Charlotte Bronte and Arthur Bell Nicholls
Charlotte Bronte and Arthur Bell Nicholls, at a wedding re-enactment

Agnes Grey

‘Here I pause. My Diary, from which I have compiled these pages, goes but little further. I could go on for years, but I will content myself with adding, that I shall never forget that glorious summer evening, and always remember with delight that steep hill, and the edge of the precipice where we stood together, watching the splendid sunset mirrored in the restless world of waters at our feet – with hearts filled with gratitude to heaven, and happiness, and love – almost too full for speech.

A few weeks after that, when my mother had supplied herself with an assistant, I became the wife of Edward Weston; and never have found cause to repent it, and am certain that I never shall. We have had trials, and we know that we must have them again; but we bear them well together, and endeavour to fortify ourselves and each other against the final separation – that greatest of all afflictions to the survivor. But, if we keep in mind the glorious heaven beyond, where both may meet again, and sin and sorrow are unknown, surely that too may be borne; and, meantime, we endeavour to live to the glory of Him who has scattered so many blessings in our path.

Agnes, Edward and Snap walk on the beach

Edward, by his strenuous exertions, has worked surprising reforms in his parish, and is esteemed and loved by its inhabitants – as he deserves; for whatever his faults may be as a man (and no one is entirely without), I defy anybody to blame him as a pastor, a husband, or a father.

Our children, Edward, Agnes, and little Mary, promise well; their education, for the time being, is chiefly committed to me; and they shall want no good thing that a mother’s care can give. Our modest income is amply sufficient for our requirements: and by practising the economy we learnt in harder times, and never attempting to imitate our richer neighbours, we manage not only to enjoy comfort and contentment ourselves, but to have every year something to lay by for our children, and something to give to those who need it.

And now I think I have said sufficient.’

Tenant Of Wildfell Hall DVD
Eventually Helen found a happy marriage with Gilbert after her abusive marriage with Arthur

The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall

‘To return, however, to my own affairs: I was married in summer, on a glorious August morning. It took the whole eight months, and all Helen’s kindness and goodness to boot, to overcome my mother’s prejudices against my bride-elect, and to reconcile her to the idea of my leaving Linden Grange and living so far away. Yet she was gratified at her son’s good fortune after all, and proudly attributed it all to his own superior merits and endowments. I bequeathed the farm to Fergus, with better hopes of its prosperity than I should have had a year ago under similar circumstances; for he had lately fallen in love with the Vicar of L – – ’s eldest daughter – a lady whose superiority had roused his latent virtues, and stimulated him to the most surprising exertions, not only to gain her affection and esteem, and to obtain a fortune sufficient to aspire to her hand, but to render himself worthy of her, in his own eyes, as well as in those of her parents; and in the end he was successful, as you already know. As for myself, I need not tell you how happily my Helen and I have lived together, and how blessed we still are in each other’s society, and in the promising young scions that are growing up about us. We are just now looking forward to the advent of you and Rose, for the time of your annual visit draws nigh, when you must leave your dusty, smoky, noisy, toiling, striving city for a season of invigorating relaxation and social retirement with us.’


‘It is August. The bells clash out again, not only through Yorkshire, but through England. From Spain the voice of a trumpet has sounded long; it now waxes louder and louder; it proclaims Salamanca won. This night is Briarfield to be illuminated. On this day the Fieldhead tenantry dine together; the Hollow’s Mill workpeople will be assembled for a like festal purpose; the schools have a grand treat. This morning there were two marriages solemnized in Briarfield church – Louis Gérard Moore, Esq., late of Antwerp, to Shirley, daughter of the late Charles Cave Keeldar, Esq., of Fieldhead; Robert Gérard Moore, Esq., of Hollow’s Mill, to Caroline, niece of the Rev. Matthewson Helstone, M.A., rector of Briarfield.

The ceremony, in the first instance, was performed by Mr. Helstone, Hiram Yorke, Esq., of Briarmains, giving the bride away. In the second instance, Mr. Hall, vicar of Nunnely, officiated. Amongst the bridal train the two most noticeable personages were the youthful bridesmen, Henry Sympson and Martin Yorke.

Shirley and Caroline, by Edmund Dulac
Shirley and Caroline are married together

I suppose Robert Moore’s prophecies were, partially at least, fulfilled. The other day I passed up the Hollow, which tradition says was once green, and lone, and wild; and there I saw the manufacturer’s day-dreams embodied in substantial stone and brick and ashes – the cinder-black highway, the cottages, and the cottage gardens; there I saw a mighty mill, and a chimney ambitious as the tower of Babel. I told my old housekeeper when I came home where I had been.

“Ay,” said she, “this world has queer changes. I can remember the old mill being built – the very first it was in all the district; and then I can remember it being pulled down, and going with my lake-lasses [companions] to see the foundation-stone of the new one laid. The two Mr. Moores made a great stir about it. They were there, and a deal of fine folk besides, and both their ladies; very bonny and grand they looked. But Mrs. Louis was the grandest; she always wore such handsome dresses. Mrs. Robert was quieter like. Mrs. Louis smiled when she talked. She had a real, happy, glad, good-natured look; but she had een that pierced a body through. There is no such ladies nowadays.”

What was the Hollow like then, Martha?”

“Different to what it is now; but I can tell of it clean different again, when there was neither mill, nor cot, nor hall, except Fieldhead, within two miles of it. I can tell, one summer evening, fifty years syne, my mother coming running in just at the edge of dark, almost fleyed out of her wits, saying she had seen a fairish in Fieldhead Hollow; and that was the last fairish that ever was seen on this countryside (though they’ve been heard within these forty years). A lonesome spot it was, and a bonny spot, full of oak trees and nut trees. It is altered now.”

The story is told. I think I now see the judicious reader putting on his spectacles to look for the moral. It would be an insult to his sagacity to offer directions. I only say, God speed him in the quest!’

Me with Gyles (I’m on the right) discussing Bronte’s Britain

The world has changed greatly since the time of the Brontës, but you still can’t beat a good wedding! On an unrelated note, I hope that many of you got the chance to see the new documentary ‘Brontë’s Britain with Gyles Brandreth on Channel 5’ on Tuesday. I was lucky enough to appear in it myself, and I loved filming it and watching the finished show. If you live in the UK you can watch it at the following link, and hopefully it should be available in other countries soon:

I hope to see you again next Sunday for another new Brontë blog post.