Charlotte Brontë And The Bells Of Banagher

We looked recently at the honeymoon of Charlotte Brontë and Arthur Bell Nicholls. Charlotte met her husband’s relatives in Ireland, and she was certainly impressed by them, but what did they think of her? That’s just what we’ll examine in today’s post, and we’ll also take a look at fascinating interviews with two of Charlotte’s Irish relatives, as well as encountering a terrible murder.

Firstly, let’s recall what Charlotte said of her new in-laws after meeting them in August 1854: ‘Three of Mr. Nicholls’ relatives met us in Dublin – his brother and 2 cousins. The 1st is manager of the Grand Canal from Dublin to Banagher – a sagacious well-informed and courteous man – his cousin is a student of the University and has just gained 3 premiums. The other cousin was a pretty lady-like girl with gentle English manners. They accompanied us last Friday down to Banagher – his Aunt’s – Mrs. Bell’s residence, where we are now… In this house Mr. Nicholls was brought up by his uncle Dr. Bell… The male members of this family – such as I have seen seem thoroughly educated gentlemen. Mrs. Bell is like an English or Scottish matron quiet, kind and well-bred – it seems she was brought up in London. Both her daughters are strikingly pretty in appearance – and their manners are very amiable and pleasing. I must say I like my new relations.’

Arthur Bell Nicholls, 200 today
Arthur Bell Nicholls around the time Charlotte knew him

Charlotte Brontë was never one to give praise lightly, and her expressed opinions were always honest and heartfelt, so this was high praise indeed. Was this praise reciprocated by her in-laws? I say in-laws because although Charlotte had met his brother Allen Nicholls the cousins were also like siblings to him; Arthur became an orphan at the age of seven in 1826, at which point he was adopted by his uncle the Rev. Dr. Allen Clerk Bell, elder brother of Arthur’s late mother Margaret. He was raised at their large residence of Cuba House, Banagher where he was placed on equal terms with the five children of Dr. Bell and his wife Harriette. In effect his cousins became like his brothers and sisters, including Mary Anna, 11 years his junior, whose prettiness and manners Charlotte had remarked upon.

Charlotte was delighted to discover that she had been completely wrong about Arthur’s background; in fact, he was from a family substantially more wealthy and elevated than the Brontës. The Rev. Dr. Bell had been headmaster of the prestigious Endowed School of Banagher, and he owned property in the area; as well as the grand Hill House that Arthur later lived in, Dr. Bell also owned the even larger Cuba House. He was also the founder of the local militia corps known as the Royal Banagher Fencibles. One of Dr. Bell’s sons, Joseph, followed in his footsteps as vicar of Banagher and another son, James, was also ordained and became head of the Banagher school. Dr. Bell and Harriette gave Arthur all he needed during his childhood and adolescence, and it was they who sent Arthur to Trinity College, Dublin and set him on the path to the curacy; it was surely in gratitude to his adoptive family that Arthur continually used their surname alongside his own, becoming Bell Nicholls.

Cuba House, also known as Cuba Court, was the Banagher home of the Bells

There is of course one of the Bell children we are particularly interested in: ‘strikingly pretty’ Mary Anna, for in 1864 she became the second wife of the man she had been brought up alongside, Arthur Bell Nicholls. Charlotte had clearly been charmed by Mary, and it seems that the attraction was mutual.

It may well be that the marriage of Arthur and Mary Anna was one of convenience, allowing them to run their Banagher farm together and to provide companionship to each other into their old age (longevity was a trait of the Bells; Arthur survived into the 20th century, dying in 1906 aged 87, Mary Anna died aged 85 in 1915, and matriarch of the family Harriette lived to be 102 years old). It must have been clear to Mary that Charlotte Brontë remained the true love of her husband, for their home at Hill House became almost a shrine to her. Mary showed no signs of jealousy, in fact she seemed proud of the Brontë connection, and she remembered Charlotte in glowing terms. Recalling their 1854 meeting Mary praised Charlotte’s ‘amiable and quiet manner’, and she was always prepared to sing the praises of Charlotte to anyone who visited Hill House.
Before we look at what the other Bells thought of Charlotte let’s take a gruesome but fascinating diversion: murder! This is one of three Brontë related murders I’ve come across over the years, and this one involved Alan Bell, nephew of Arthur and Mary Anna Bell Nicholls. In 1920 his death made headlines across Ireland and beyond.

On April 3rd 1920 the Weekly Telegraph, an Irish newspaper, carried the eye catching headline: ‘THE MURDER CAMPAIGN. MR ALAN BELL, R.M., SLAIN. AWFUL DUBLIN CRIME. DRAGGED FROM TRAIN AND SHOT. NEAR MASONIC GIRLS’ SCHOOL. OTHER PASSENGERS HELPLESS.’

Arthur’s nephew Alan Bell, assassinated during the Irish War of Independence

Alan Bell had fallen victim to the political instability in Ireland at the time as the country was in a bloody phase of its battle for independence from Britain. It was believed he had been assassinated by Sinn Fein agents, as this paragraph reports:

‘Mr. Alan Bell, the latest victim of probably the most brutal of the long series of murders charged against Sinn Fein, had a long and distinguished career as an officer of the crown, and his death doubtless is a sequel to his appointment to preside over the recent government inquiry into the alleged relationship between Sinn Fein and certain other banks. He was well known and popular in the North of Ireland, where he served for a considerable period as R.M. for the Portadown district. During that time he became a familiar and respected figure on the Belfast bench, over which he frequently presided in the absence of one or the other resident magistrates.’

As well as being a magistrate, Alan Bell had also served for nearly 20 years in the Royal Irish Constabulary, becoming their District Inspector, and it was his reputation for excellence that led to his appointment as head of an investigation into the financial practices of Sinn Fein – an appointment that cost him his life.

The Late Mr Alan Bell Leinster Reporter 17041920
This Alan Bell obituary in the Leinster Reporter, 17th April 1920, notes the Bronte connection

The subsequent inquest established that Alan Bell had been on a tram which had reached the Sandymount Road stop near Dublin. A group of twelve masked men appeared and lifted the tram off of the overhead wire, rendering it immobile. Two men rushed upstairs, tapped their victim, who was reading a newspaper, on the shoulder and said, ‘Come on, Mr Bell, your time has come.’ He was dragged down the stairs, shot three times and left for dead. A tragic end indeed for one of the Bells of Banagher, but another indicator of the importance the family held.

Back to happier memories, thanks to two recollections of Charlotte by other descendants of Dr. Rev Bell and Harriette. They are quite revelatory in parts, and we’ll start with a letter printed in the Yorkshire Post on 30th June 1854, headlined: ‘Charlotte Brontë’s husband, By Marjorie Gallop, great-niece of the Rev A.B. Nicholls’. The article is shown below, but I will reproduce some of the more interesting sections:

‘Arthur Nicholls was my great-uncle, and this [positive] view of him is kept alive in the family by evidence which is based on more than hearsay. As I turned over the pages of the family album recently with my two aunts, one of them now in her 90th year, it was pleasant to hear them speak of the man Charlotte must have come to know, of his integrity, his affection and the sense of humour which lurked under his deep reserve…

It is pleasant to think that she [Charlotte Brontë] responded to the affection of this large and uninhibited Irish family, and tragic that her happiness should have been so short-lived. I treasure a memory of it in a book of dried ferns which she gathered and pressed in the Irish countryside. A few months later she was dead, and Arthur, whose wish to marry her had been opposed by her father, gave up six years of his life in caring for his father-in-law. When the Rev. Patrick Brontë died, Arthur returned to Banagher, where his mother [meaning Harriette Bell] and cousin, Mary, had settled in a smaller home, the Hill House. My grandfather, Joseph Bell, came back to Banagher as vicar, and two of his little girls are now the old ladies who have kept their uncle’s memory so vivid for me. Arthur always had a strong brotherly affection for Mary, and eventually the two were married.

Martha Brown
Martha Brown who lived in Banagher with Arthur and Mary

Old Mrs. Bell continued to live with her daughter and son-in-law until her death at the age of 102. The spirit of Charlotte never ceased to brood over the Hill House. Arthur had brought the faithful maid, Martha Brown, from Haworth, and the smell of her sponge cake was generally the first thing that met visitors at the door of that hospitable house. She had not lost her Yorkshire austerity in the more easygoing Irish atmosphere and once, when she found her master making up a four at whist, she exclaimed: ‘The minister playing cards! What would the people of Haworth say!”

She also figures in our album [if only we still had this picture], leaning awkwardly on a pillar in her stiff black dress. With generous loyalty, Mary Nicholls made every room in the house a Brontë shrine. The drawing room was hung with the sisters’ drawings, Mr. Brontë’s gun leaned up against the dining room wall, and Charlotte’s portrait overlooked the sofa on which Mary used to rest. One day it broke away from the wall, missed a table which stood below it, and fell on to Mary. Neither the portrait nor Mary was harmed. When Arthur died, Mary had his coffin placed beneath the portrait until it was carried from the house.’

Mary Anna’s love for Charlotte is clear, and I don’t think we can blame Charlotte’s spirit for causing her portrait to jump off the wall and hit her widow’s second wife on the head.

Just two months later, the 90 year old referred to in Marjorie’s letter had her own say, in a report of 1st August 1955 featured in the Irish Times: ‘HUSBAND OF THE ARTIST, Reminiscences of a relation of Arthur Bell Nicholls.’ Once again here is the article, and I’ll reproduce some parts of this fascinating article below:

‘I am an old woman now, and I think my very first recollection is of being wrapped in a large shawl by my mother, preparatory to being carried by our manservant across the two fields which separated the grounds of the vicarage at Banagher from the Hill House, where Uncle Arthur Bell Nicholls and his second wife, my Aunt Mary, lived, and where there was always a kind and warm welcome for a small visitor.

There, too, lived “Gran”, as we always called her, equally kind and loving, and, besides her, Martha Brown, who would soon enter with a glass of creamy milk and a slice of delicious sponge cake. My chief memory of her is of her Yorkshire accent, so different from the Irish voices I was used to…

It was when James Bell was headmaster at Cuba House that the reading public was electrified by the novels of Currer Bell; Mrs. Bell and her daughter, Mary, among the number. The books were first published [in Ireland] in serial form, and the two ladies would drive into Birr to get each new edition at the earliest possible moment. They had, of course, no idea that Currer Bell was the Miss Brontë whom Arthur had been so long, and apparently so hopelessly, devoted.

When, eventually, they learned of this from Arthur, they were thrilled indeed – and when they heard from him that Miss Brontë had at last consented to marry him, they could scarcely believe it. He added that, after the wedding, they would come to Dublin, and he gave Mary a warm invitation to meet them in Dublin and stay with them for a week…

But these rays of sunshine were short-lived; everyone knows the story of her death, and that the last words she ever spoke were to Arthur, “We have been so happy!”

Arthur remained for six sad years with Mr. Brontë, and then returned to Banagher, to the Hill House, where Mrs. Bell and Mary were then living. He brought with him Martha Brown, the Brontë’s maid since Tabby’s superannuation; he and she had seen much sorrow and a short-lived happiness together, and he wished her to have peace and comfort in her old age.

Hill House, Banagher, marital home of Arthur and Mary Anna

Later on, Arthur Nicholls married my aunt, Mary, who made him a devoted wife, and treasured everything that had belonged to Charlotte. My grandmother and my aunt loved to tell me about her, and I loved to listen. Charlotte’s wedding dress, so tiny, and her tiny white gloves, buttoned at the wrist, my aunt gave to Allen Nicholls’ [Arthur’s brother] youngest daughter, who had been given the names of Charlotte Brontë at her christening. Later on she often stayed at the Hill House, and came to love Uncle Arthur, as did all the young people; and, after his death, feeling that these things were peculiarly sacred, she had them burned.

Half way up the stairs at the Hill House stood Mr. Brontë’s handsome old grandfather clock, and near it hung a plaque of Branwell; over the sideboard in the dining-room was the well-known photograph of Haworth Rectory and the graveyard, and in the corner near the door was Mr. Brontë’s old gun. In the drawing room was Charlotte’s portrait, and also one of Thackeray, as well as many framed drawings of the three Brontë sisters. In a glass-fronted case were all the books of the three sisters. The portraits of his sisters by Branwell, that now hang in the National Gallery, Arthur Nicholls disliked – he thought they were “such ugly representations of the girls.”

Martha Brown from time to time went back to Yorkshire to visit her relations and on one of these visits she died.’

We learn so much from these articles; Arthur didn’t fold Branwell’s pillar portrait up and keep it on top of his wardrobe because he disliked Branwell, but because he disliked the painting; Martha Brown didn’t simply make fleeting visits to Arthur in Ireland, she lived with him and his wife there for the rest of her life, making fleeting visits to Yorkshire; above all we learn of the love that Arthur always held for Charlotte Brontë, and which was shared by his second wife too. Arthur and Mary Anna were in effect a devoted brother and sister who married to please the conventions of the time, but his true love was always Charlotte.

Arthur Nicholls
Arthur Bell Nicholls in later life

I hope you enjoyed this delve into the Bell family as much as I have, and I’ll see you again next week for another new Brontë blog post.

Did The Brontës Eat Meat?

Vegetarianism and veganism are becoming increasingly popular. Whilst these terms were unheard of in the first half of the nineteenth century, there surely were people who followed these diets. In today’s post we’re going to look at whether the Brontës really did have a meat free diet, something that was first suggested in this passage from Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life Of Charlotte Brontë:

‘But there never were such good children. I used to think them spiritless, they were so different to any children I had ever seen. In part, I set it down to a fancy Mr. Brontë had of not letting them have flesh-meat to eat. It was from no wish for saving, for there was plenty and even waste in the house, with young servants and no mistress to see after them; but he thought that children should be brought up simply and hardily; so they had nothing but potatoes for their dinner.’

Illustration from an early edition of The Life of Charlotte Bronte

There were a number of passages in the first edition of Gaskell’s book which showed Patrick in a less than favourable light, but it was this one in particular that he took umbrage with, as we see in a letter published by the ‘Daily News’ on this week in 1857, just five months after the biography of Charlotte Brontë was published. On 21st August 1857 the newspaper published a response from William Dearden, the indefatigable defender of Patrick Brontë who we’ve encountered in a previous post, in which he denied many of the books claims:

‘With regard to the statement that Mr. Brontë, in his desire to bring up his children simply and hardily, refused to permit them to eat flesh meat, he asserts that Nancy Garrs alleges that the children had meat daily, and as much other food as they chose. The only article from which they were restrained was butter, but its want was compensated for by what is known in Yorkshire as “spice-cake,” a description of bread which is the staple food at Christmas for all meals but dinner.’

Nancy Garrs
Nancy Garrs

The article also includes a quote attributed directly to Patrick himself:

‘I did not know that I had an enemy in the world, much less one who would traduce me before my death. Everything in that book which relates to my conduct to my family is either false or distorted. I never did commit such acts as are ascribed to me. I stated this in a letter which I sent to Mrs Gaskell, requesting her at the same time to cancel the false statements made about me in her next edition of her book. To this I received no answer than that Mrs Gaskell was unwell, and unable to write.’

For corroboration of Dearden’s words we can turn to an interview with Nancy Garrs herself to the Leeds Mercury and which was published in 1893:

‘The assertion that Mr Brontë would not allow his children butter, and that they had little animal food provided, Nancy also stated to be false. “Why,” said she, laughing derisively, “I was the cook, and if at any time they had no butter on their bread it was because there were good currants in it. Meat the children had every day of their lives, cooked on that very meat-jack you see above your heads, gentlemen. That was Mr Brontë’s jack, and after his death it was sent to me. Aye,” continued she, with a look which showed she was thinking of the chequered past in her youthful home, “Mr Brontë was one the kindest husbands I ever knew, except my own, and an Irishman, you will know Mr Brontë was.’

A Victorian era meat jack, also known as a spit or salter

It seems that Patrick Brontë had indeed an enemy, although one he may well have forgotten, and that it was they who had fed false tales to Elizabeth Gaskell who then took them in good faith – the passages were later removed from later editions of the biography. The informant in question was a Martha Heaton, nee Wright, who had worked as a nursemaid in the parsonage during the final illness of Patrick’s wife Maria. She was dismissed soon after the arrival from Cornwall of Elizabeth ‘Aunt’ Branwell in Haworth, and may have held a grudge against both Patrick and Elizabeth.

A letter from Elizabeth Gaskell to her friend Charlotte Froude in August 1850, shortly after her first encounter with Charlotte Brontë, reveals that Charlotte stated that she had endured a poor diet not at home in Haworth Parsonage but at school in Cowan Bridge:

This recollection did not make its way into Gaskell’s biography but one that did is a recollection by Mary Taylor of the Charlotte Brontë she had known at Roe Head school:

‘She said she had never played, and could not play. We made her try, but soon found that she could not see the ball, so we put her out. She took all our proceedings with pliable indifference, and always seemed to need a previous resolution to say “No” to anything. She used to go and stand under the trees in the play-ground, and say it was pleasanter. She endeavoured to explain this, pointing out the shadows, the peeps of sky, &c. We understood but little of it. She said that at Cowan Bridge she used to stand in the burn, on a stone, to watch the water flow by. I told her she should have gone fishing; she said she never wanted. She always showed physical feebleness in everything. She ate no animal food at school.’

Roe Head by Anne Bronte
Roe Head by Anne Bronte; Mary Taylor and Ellen Nussey referred to Charlotte’s diet there

A typically blunt assessment from Mary, and it seems to point to Charlotte avoiding meat at this point in her life because of a lifestyle choice. Nevertheless we know that Charlotte did resume eating meat again; the reason why was outlined in Ellen Nussey’s memoir, ‘Reminiscences of Charlotte Bronte’:

‘Her appetite was of the smallest; for years she had not tasted animal food; she had the greatest dislike to it; she always had something specially provided for her at our midday repast. Towards the close of the first half-year she was induced to take, by little and little, meat gravy with vegetable, and in the second half-year she commenced taking a very small portion of animal food daily. She then grew a little bit plumper, looked younger and more animated, though she was never what is called lively at this period.’

If Charlotte had had access to the information we have today on nutritional content, and with today’s dietary supplements, it seems possible, even probable, that Charlotte Brontë would have remained vegetarian.

The greatest proof that the Brontës did eat meat comes from the Brontës themselves. The 1834 diary paper composed jointly by Emily and Anne Brontë provides a snapshot of a day in the life of the two teenage sisters, and it also reveals what they were having for dinner:

‘It is past Twelve o’clock Anne and I have not tided ourselves, done our bed work done our lessons and we want to go out to play. We are going to have for dinner boiled beef, turnips, potato’s and apple pudding, the kitchin is in a very untidy state.’

1834 diary paper front
The 1834 diary paper front page

All in all that sounds like a fine, balanced meal, and certainly disproves Martha Wright’s tale that the Brontë children were given spartan dinners. Whatever you are having for your Sunday lunch I hope you enjoy it, and I hope to see you here next week for another new Brontë blog post.

Charlotte Bronte On The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall

This week marks the 173rd anniversary of the publication of the second edition of The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë. The second edition was necessitated because it had proved hugely popular, with the first edition selling faster than even her sister Charlotte’s Jane Eyre had. In today’s new post we’re going to look at Charlotte Bronte’s opinion of The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall, and why she may have held it.

One reason for the huge popularity that Anne’s second novel enjoyed after it’s launch was of course that it’s a fabulous novel executed brilliantly, but it was also because it had a whiff of controversy about it. Some critics had been damning of the subject matter of the book, and unsurprisingly that made a lot of people want to read it for themselves.

The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall inside cover

‘The Atlas’, for example, were most concerned with the depiction of the upper classes, who in the reviewer’s eyes seem to be beyond reproach: ‘This, perhaps, is the passage which of all others in the book the general reader will be most inclined to describe “powerful.” But it is power of a bad kind. It is sheer exaggeration. These creatures are supposed to belong to the class “gentlemen” – to have moved in good society, to have been subject to humanising influences. They appear, too, in a story illustrative of modern life. We need not take any trouble to explain why we pronounce them essentially unreal.’

It was criticism such as this which led Anne Brontë to compose her famous preface to the second edition of The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall. In it she effectively shot down those who had criticised the authenticity of her work:

‘My object in writing the following pages, was not simply to amuse the Reader, neither was it to gratify my own taste, nor yet to ingratiate myself with the Press and the Public: I wished to tell the truth, for truth always conveys its own moral to those who are able to receive it… When we have to deal with vice and vicious characters, I maintain it is better to depict them as they really are than as they would wish to appear. To represent a bad thing in its least offensive light, is doubtless the most agreeable course for a writer of fiction to pursue; but is it the most honest, or the safest? Is it better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers? O Reader! if there were less of this delicate concealment of facts – this whispering ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace, there would be less of sin and misery to the young of both sexes who are left to wring their bitter knowledge from experience.’

Anne’s novel depicts an abusive marriage with all its horrors

Nevertheless, many discerning critics had praised Anne’s novel. ‘The Athenaeum’, for example, called it, ‘the most interesting novel which we have read for a month past’, whilst the ‘Morning Herald’ hailed it as ‘a thorough racy English novel’ (which probably helped sales no end.)

What did Charlotte make of Anne’s latest work? From pronouncements she made after Anne’s death, which tragically came just a year after she found success with ‘Tenant’, we can see that she was less than enamoured with the work. In a letter of 5th September 1850 to W.S. Williams (her publisher Smith, Elder was talking of publishing new editions of her sisters’ work), she pronounced:

‘“Wildfell Hall” it hardly appears desirable to preserve. The choice of subject in that work is a mistake – it was too little consonant with the character, tastes and ideas of the gentle, retiring, inexperienced writer. She wrote it under a strange, conscientious, half-ascetic notion of accomplishing a painful penance and a severe duty.’

Charlotte returned to this theme a year later when she wrote her ‘biographical notice’ of Acton Bell (Anne’s pseudonym of course): ‘The choice of subject was an entire mistake… She had in the course of her life, been called on to contemplate, near at hand and for a long time, the terrible effects of talents misused and faculties abused; hers was naturally a sensitive, reserved and dejected nature; what she saw sank very deeply into her mind; it did her harm. She brooded over it till she believed it to be a duty to reproduce every detail as a warning to others.’

Were these views shaped by Anne’s passing? We have letters showing what Charlotte thought of the book at the time of its publication. On 31st July 1848 she wrote (once again to W.S. Williams):

‘The fact is neither she [Anne] nor any of us expected that view to be taken of the book which has been taken by some critics: that it had its faults of execution, faults of art was obvious; but faults of intention or feeling could be suspected by none who knew the writer. For my own part I consider the subject unfortunately chosen – it was one the author was not qualified to handle at once vigorously and truthfully; the simple and natural, quiet description and simple pathos are, I think, Acton Bell’s forte. I liked Agnes Grey better than the present work.

In reply to this, it seems that Williams countered that he thought Huntingdon, the central villain of The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall, reminded him of Rochester. Predictably, Charlotte wasn’t happy at that assessment, and on 14th August 1848 replied with a fascinating assessment of some of the male protagonists of Brontë novels:

It’s quite clear that Charlotte Brontë was far from a fan of The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall, but why was this? There are many hypotheses; could it be that Charlotte was jealous of the success of Anne’s second novel, and felt that it had eclipsed her own Jane Eyre? Sibling rivalry is as old as Cain and Abel after all. Could it be that Charlotte did indeed think her youngest sister was simply too meek to write such a book, and to endure the consequences of writing it? I personally think that the subject matter hit too close to home for Charlotte to bear. Huntingdon was not based on Branwell Brontë (although Lowborough in the novel may be closer to him), but the episodes of drunken and drug-fuelled behaviour may have seemed familiar to Charlotte – perhaps she worried that Anne’s novel was placing Branwell’s frailties in front of the world?

Without a time machine we shall never know, but Charlotte’s pronouncement on the novel had a long lasting effect. It was not re-published alongside Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, and in fact it was ten years after Anne’s death, and four after Charlotte’s own exit, that another edition saw the light of day – by which time the novel had been all but forgotten.

The effect was long lasting, it seemed like it might do the novel and author eternal damage, but as we see in The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall itself, Anne was aware that ‘eternal’ doesn’t really mean forever:

‘”How will it be in the end, when you see yourselves parted for ever; you, perhaps, taken into eternal bliss, and he cast into the lake that burneth with unquenchable fire – there for ever to -”

“Not for ever,” I exclaimed, “‘only till he has paid the uttermost farthing;’ for ‘if any man’s work abide not the fire, he shall suffer loss, yet himself shall be saved, but so as by fire;’ and He that ‘is able to subdue all things to Himself will have all men to be saved,’ and ‘will, in the fulness of time, gather together in one all things in Christ Jesus, who tasted death for every man, and in whom God will reconcile all things to Himself, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven.’”

“Oh, Helen! where did you learn all this?”

“In the Bible, aunt. I have searched it through, and found nearly thirty passages, all tending to support the same theory.”

“And is that the use you make of your Bible? And did you find no passages tending to prove the danger and the falsity of such a belief?”

“No: I found, indeed, some passages that, taken by themselves, might seem to contradict that opinion; but they will all bear a different construction to that which is commonly given, and in most the only difficulty is in the word which we translate ‘everlasting’ or ‘eternal.’ I don’t know the Greek, but I believe it strictly means for ages, and might signify either endless or long-enduring.”

Long-enduring though the reputational damage to ‘Tenant’ was, it did not last forever. Today it is rightly hailed as a masterpiece, a book well ahead of its time that has a message as important today as it has ever been.

Before I go, I have to say a big thank you for all the kind messages you sent in response to last week’s post. Thank you. Such kind words and thoughts certainly make writing this blog worthwhile, and I’m sure they will do me a world of good. I hope to see you again next week for another new Brontë blog post.

Charlotte Brontë’s Honeymoon – In Her Own Words

Last week we celebrated the 203rd birthday of the wonderful Emily Brontë, but there was another Brontë anniversary taking place for it also marked the return from honeymoon of Charlotte Brontë in 1854 – or Charlotte Brontë Nicholls as she then styled herself.

In this week’s post we’re going to take a look at Charlotte Brontë’s honeymoon, and thankfully we have a great source for our information – the letters of Charlotte herself. As many people have been finding over the last year, there are many great places to see in the British Isles, and Charlotte enjoyed her month long honeymoon in Ireland, birthplace of her husband Arthur Bell Nicholls, after travelling through Wales.

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

We also have a report of Charlotte and Arthur setting off on their honeymoon on 29th June 1854 thanks to the recollection of James Robinson, a young trainee teacher who was present at their wedding:

‘Directly the ceremony was over, and the interested parties had gone to the parsonage, a carriage and pair drove up from Keighley. There was no station at Haworth then. I remember there was a bay horse and a grey one, and in a few moments Miss Brontë and Mr. Nicholls, now married, were away on their honeymoon.’

We can be thankful that Charlotte found time on her honeymoon to write some detailed and enlightening letters, for they give us a fascinating insight into this happy time for her. There are five such letters, and the first was written to her great friend, and bridesmaid, Ellen Nussey:

Charlotte Brontë to Ellen Nussey, 29th June 1854

As we shall see, Charlotte sailed from Wales to Ireland. Whilst in Wales she found time to draw this beautiful sketch of Conwy Castle.

Charlotte Brontë to Margaret Wooler, 10th July 1854

Charlotte is fascinated by the home and family of her new husband, Hill House in Banagher, County Offaly, around 80 miles west of Dublin. She is particularly charmed by Arthur’s cousin Mary who is a ‘pretty, lady-like girl with gentle English manners.’ This cousin was like a sister to Arthur, they were brought up together after his uncle the Reverend Bell of Banagher became his guardian. Ten years after this meeting, and nine after Charlotte’s tragic death, Mary Bell and Arthur Bell Nicholls were married.

Hill House, Banagher, the Bell family home

Charlotte Brontë to Catherine Wooler, 18th July 1854

Kilkee in the 19th century

Catherine Wooler was younger sister to Margaret, and had also taught Charlotte at Roe Head school. Charlotte and Arthur loved the wild Atlantic coastline of Kilkee, and the resort still remembers Charlotte. She is mentioned here on this sign, underneath a picture of a rather different visitor to Kilkee: Che Guevara.


Charlotte Brontë to Catherine Winkworth, 27th July 1854

Catherine Winkworth, or Katie as she was known to Charlotte, was a close friend of Elizabeth Gaskell and had met Charlotte at Gaskell’s Plymouth Grove home in Manchester. In this letter we get an account of an incident that could have ended Charlotte’s life. Thrown from her horse at the  spectacularly beautiful Gap of Dunloe, a sometimes treacherous passageway in the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, she narrowly avoids being trampled to death. It seems strangely reminiscent of a scene which Charlotte had written seven years earlier: Rochester being thrown from his horse at his first encounter with Jane Eyre.

The Gap of Dunloe

Charlotte Brontë to Ellen Nussey, 28th July 1854

Charlotte’s Irish adventure has come to an end, and she is once more in Dublin (that’s Dublin Castle at the head of this post) waiting to sail back to Wales. From these letters we see that Charlotte has had a hugely enjoyable, and certainly memorable, honeymoon. She loved Ireland, the land of her father, and her love for her new husband was growing by the day.

Glengarriff, visited by Charlotte Bronte

There is a sadder note, however, as we hear of Charlotte’s concern for her father’s health. Unfortunately, I found a little over a week ago that my own health is not as ship shape as I thought it was. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but I hope to be able to continue writing these Brontë blog posts for a long time yet, but if I have to miss some weeks or if posts are late then I hope you will understand. Anyway, let’s end on a happier note and remember the happy moments that Charlotte spent in Ireland. I hope to see you all again next week for another new Brontë blog post.

First Person Accounts Of Emily Brontë

I’m back from my holiday in Scarborough – and what a wonderful town it is; it’s easy to see why it held such appeal for Anne Brontë. In today’s new post we take a look at a special anniversary this week for Anne’s beloved sister Emily Brontë.

Bronte sisters portrait
Emily is second from left in Branwell Bronte’s pillar portrait

Emily wrote possibly the greatest novel of them all, Wuthering Heights, but her person has attracted almost as much legend as her novel. Today many people see Emily as aloof, mystical, a creature completely at one with nature. Certainly Emily was very shy, but was there more to her than that? The 30th of July marked the 203rd birthday of Emily Brontë, so let’s celebrate by looking at what the people who actually met and knew Emily actually thought of her. Here are some illuminating first person accounts of Emily Brontë:

Chloe Pirrie To Walk Invisible
Chloe Pirrie as Emily Bronte in To Walk Invisible

Constantin Heger

‘She should have been a man – a great navigator. Her powerful reason would have deduced new spheres of discovery from the knowledge of the old; and her strong, imperious will would never have been daunted by opposition or difficulty; never have given way but with life.’

Constantin Heger
Monsieur Heger clashed with Emily at first but soon respected her

A Haworth Church-goer

‘Emily made a lasting impression. One who saw her many times told of “the stolid stoical manner of Emily as she sat bolt upright in the corner of the pew, as motionless as a statue. Her compressed mouth and drooping eyelids, and indeed her whole demeanour, appeared to indicate strong innate power”.’

Sarah Wood

‘“And Miss Emily?” Miss Parry asked. “Oh, you see, ma’am, I don’t know much about Miss Emily, she was very shy; but Martha loved her: she said she was so kind.”’

Ida Lupino Emily Bronte
Ida Lupino as Emily Bronte in Devotion

Tabitha Ratcliffe

‘I believe Charlotte was the lowest and the broadest, and Emily was the tallest. She’d bigger bones and was stronger looking and more masculine, but very nice in her ways.’

John Greenwood

‘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, “Yes, papa” and away she would run with such a hearty good will taking the board from him, and tripping like a fairy to the bottom of the garden, putting it in its proper position, then returning to her dear revered parent, take the pistol which he had primed and loaded for her. “Now my girl” he would say, “take time, be steady”. “Yes papa” she would say taking the weapon with as firm a hand, and as steady an eye as any veteran of the camp, and fire. Then she would run to fetch the board for him to see how she had succeeded. And she did get so proficient, that she was rarely far from the mark. His “how cleverly you have done, my dear girl”, was all she cared for. “Oh!” He would exclaim, “she is a brave and noble girl. She is my right-hand, nay the very apple of my eye!”’

Isabelle Adjani Emily Bronte
Isabelle Adjani as Emily Bronte in Les Soeurs Bronte

Ellen Nussey

‘Emily had by this time 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 Anne were like twins – inseparable companions, and in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption.’

Part of Ellen Nussey’s letter to Elizabeth Gaskell on Emily Bronte.

‘Her extreme reserve seemed impenetrable, yet she was intensely loveable. She invited confidence in her moral power. Few people have the gift of looking and smiling, as she could look and smile – one of her rare expressive looks was something to remember through life, there was such a depth of soul and feeling, and yet shyness of revealing herself, a strength of self-containment seen in no other. She was in the strictest sense a law unto herself, and a heroine in keeping to her law.’

‘A spell of mischief also lurked in her [Emily] 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.’

‘She could be really vivacious in conversation, taking pleasure in giving pleasure.’

Ellen Nussey
Ellen Nussey was Charlotte’s great friend, and yet she rated Emily’s genius the highest

‘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.’

Martha Brown

‘Many’s the time that I have seen Miss Emily put down the tally-iron as she was ironing the clothes to scribble something on a piece of paper. Whatever she was doing, ironing or baking, she had her pencil and paper by her. I know now that she was then writing Wuthering Heights. Poor Emily, we always thought her to be the best-looking, the cleverest, and the bravest-spirited of the three. Little did we dream that she would be the first to be taken away.’

Martha Brown
Loyal servant Martha Brown loved Emily

Charlotte Brontë

‘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.’

Now we see a different picture of Emily Brontë, a truer one because these descriptions come from those who were lucky enough to know her. We see that Emily was shy, without doubt, but that she also enjoyed playing jokes and could be very vivacious. She was noted not only for her practical skills in life, such as baking, but for her kindness and for her loving nature. Above all, those who knew Emily Brontë knew that they were in the presence of someone completely unique, a one-off genius.

Sinead O' Connor Emily Bronte
Sinead O’ Connor as Emily Bronte

Happy belated birthday Emily Brontë, and Happy Yorkshire Day to all those who share with me in hailing from this wonderful county that gave us the inimitable Brontës. I hope to see you again next week for another new Brontë blog post.