The Great Brontë Sewing Bee

This week saw the beginning of a new series of The Great British Sewing Bee – so it’s the perfect time to look at the Brontës and sewing, something that played an important part in the sisters’ lives and in nineteenth century life in general.

It’s particularly appropriate for another reason too, as this week marked the 206th anniversary of the baptism of the eldest Brontë sibling Maria – we don’t know her exact date of birth. There’s just one example of Maria’s handwriting in the Brontë Parsonage Museum collection, and it’s on an exquisite item – a needlecase that Maria presented to her school friend Margaret Dixon. Inside the case, tied together with a silk ribbon, Maria has written: “To my dear Margaret from her affectionate schoolfellow Maria Brontë.”

Maria Bronte needlecase
Maria Bronte’s needlecase presented to Margaret Dixon

Needles were obviously a precious commodity at the time, and needlework was a highly valued skill – and especially important to a family like the Brontës. As the children of a Church of England Minister they were eminently respectable, always a consideration in the nineteenth century, but unlike many of his colleagues Reverend Patrick Brontë was not independently wealthy. His ill-fated predecessor Reverend Samuel Redhead, for example, was from a wealthy family and many priests at this time were the younger sons of gentry and aristocratic families.

This meant that unlike most priests Patrick Brontë, from a poor background in County Down, had to rely on his salary to buy all he needed, as well as to pay for the upkeep and repairs of his church and parsonage. In effect the Brontës were a lower middle class family – in a far better position than the vast majority of Haworth villagers, freed from the deadly poverty that threatened the loom workers and the children working in mills, but still often short of money.

Victorian needlework
Scenes like this would have been common in Haworth Parsonage

The Brontës were acutely aware of their position growing up, as we see when Charlotte grudgingly had to accept kindnesses from her friend Ellen Nussey who came from a much wealthier background, as in this 1834 letter in reply to the gift of a bonnet:

“I must thank you for your very handsome present. The bonnet is pretty, neat and simple, as like the giver as possible. It brought Ellen Nussey with her fair, quiet face, brown eyes, and dark hair full to my remembrance. I wish I could find some other way to thank you for your kindness than words. The load of obligation under which you lay me is positively overwhelming, and I make no return.”

This also meant that the Brontës had to ‘make do and mend’, to use an old phrase, and rather than buying new clothing as often as they may have liked they instead had to repair and recycle their old clothes as much as possible. For that reason needlework was an essential skill for the girls growing up in Haworth Parsonage (they would have been expected to do the sewing for the men in the house too, of course, as per attitudes of the time), but it would serve another important purpose too. There were only three futures seemingly open to the Brontës in adult life: become a teacher in a school, become a governess to a private family, or marry and become a Victorian housewife. Of course, thankfully for us all, the Brontës had a very different future ahead of them, but for all three likely futures skill at needlework would be essential.

Elizabeth Bronte sampler
Needlework sampler of Elizabeth Bronte

A governess would have to repair her own clothes and often that of the family she worked for, and to teach vital sewing skills to her female charges. It was a duty that Charlotte found onerous during her service as governess to the White family of Rawdon:

“Mrs White expects a good deal of sewing from me – I cannot sew ‘much’ during the day on account of the children – who require the closest attention.”

As we can see, it was vital that the Brontë sisters received first class sewing tuition in their childhood, but where would that come from? One thing that the Brontës childhood had in common with many childhoods right now is that they were largely home taught. After their mother’s early passing, the role of needlework teacher fell squarely to one person – their Aunt Branwell.

Elizabeth Branwell was herself a well educated woman who loved to read and who loved to debate the topics of the day, ‘without fear’ as Ellen said, with Patrick Brontë. She was also a very pragmatic woman, who realised how important sewing would be to the nieces she loved. The emphasis that she placed upon needlework lessons has brought her some very unfair criticism, including from Tabitha Brown, daughter of Haworth sexton John Brown and younger sister of parsonage servant Martha Brown:

“You know Miss Branwell was a real, old tyke. She made the girls work at their sewing, and what with their father’s strictness over their lessons, and the hours they devoted to needlework, they had little time for themselves until after nine o’clock at night, and that was when they got time for their writing.”

Maria Bronte's needlework sampler
Maria Bronte’s needlework sampler

Tabitha occasionally worked as a servant herself when extra hands were needed in the parsonage, but she was not a regular incumbent there and so may have gained an imperfect impression of Aunt Branwell and of Patrick. An even more unfair criticism, and one that unfortunately persists in many quarters, comes from Charlotte’s friend Mary Taylor:

“When I saw Miss Branwell she was a very precise person, and looked very odd, because her dress was so utterly out of fashion. She corrected one of us once for using the word ‘spit’ or ‘spitting.’ She made a great favourite out of Branwell. She made her nieces sew, with purpose or without, and as far as possible discouraged any other culture. She used to keep the girls sewing charity clothing, and maintained to me that it was not for the good of the recipients but of the sewers.”

Charlotte Bronte's sampler
Charlotte Bronte’s sampler, produced when she was just six years old

Mary Taylor, even more so than Ellen, was from a very different background to the Brontës. Mary would never have to rely on the life of a governess to supply her capital, she would never have to repair her dresses and stockings, and so she failed to comprehend the importance of these needlework lessons supplied by the Brontës’ aunt. The attack on Elizabeth Branwell’s clothing is unfair too – she had enjoyed wearing the finest clothes and jewellery in her native Penzance, but now in Yorkshire she gave all she had to her new family rather than spending money on herself. As to the charge of discouraging culture, this too is demonstrably incorrect. A Christmas gift of a Walter Scott book to her nieces was much loved and started their lifelong love affair with the writer, and we also know that Elizabeth subscribed to a number of literary magazines which were then read by the Brontës.

Aunt Branwell merely tried to do what parents across the United Kingdom and beyond are currently contending with – provide a useful education to the children in her care, despite not being a teacher herself. Children at this time were expected to produce sewing samplers to showcase their needlework skills, which could be used to obtain admission to schools or when applying for jobs – the Brontë samplers were often beautiful and accomplished to my eyes (and I’ve included some within this post), although the standards at the time were high and the Cowan Bridge school admission records were less than fulsome in their praise of the Brontë stitching – with Maria Brontë, despite her lovely needlework cases, being described as ‘works very badly’. ‘Works’ here refers to needlework, but it’s no slight on Maria, who by all accounts was a highly talented child. Cowan Bridge was equally scathing about the vast majority of pupils who passed through its doors, hardly surprising when we consider that it is now immortalised as the oppressive Lowood school in Jane Eyre.

Anne Bronte's sampler
Anne Bronte’s needlework sampler

Incidentally, to say thank you for all the support I get here and on social media (I’m @nick_holland_ on Twitter and @nickhollandbrontes on Instagram) I’m giving away a signed copy of my biographies In Search Of Anne Brontë and Aunt Branwell And The Brontë Legacy. To enter, simply email me at insearchofannebronte@hotmail.com. I will be doing a random draw on Monday afternoon, 27th April, so hurry if you want to be included. As an added bonus, every person who emails me will get a free PDF copy of Aunt Branwell And The Brontë Legacy. Your support means so much to me, at this strangest of times and at all times.

To return to our opening, if there was a Great Brontë Sewing Bee who would win? Well, one particular sister was recorded by Cowan Bridge as ‘reads very prettily and works a little’. This was by far the most praise given in the admissions register, and especially notable as it was given to the youngest pupil at the school. Yes, I think the person who would surely have won a Great Brontë Bake Off would also have won a Great Brontë Sewing Bee; she was simply good at everything she turned her hand to: it was, of course, Emily Brontë. Stay safe, happy and healthy and join me next week for a new Brontë blog post.

Emily Bronte's sampler
Emily Bronte’s beautiful sampler

Lockdown, Isolation And The Captive Dove

Here in Yorkshire we are into our fourth week of lockdown, isolation and social distancing. Some of us are literally home alone, some have family with them, but all of us face the challenge that comes from being thrown suddenly and inescapably into a way of life which had been alien. How can we cope with it, and how would the Brontës have coped with it?

There is one Brontë we can surely say would have breezed through any period of isolation – Emily Brontë. All of the Brontë family were reserved, but Emily took that shyness to extremes. After the death of Aunt Branwell in 1842, Emily took on the role as housekeeper at Haworth Parsonage and became increasingly reclusive, finding all the company she needed in the things she loved most – her family (especially Anne), her poetry, and her pets. As long as she could take her daily exercise on the moors that she adored, Emily would be contented and happy.

Keeper, Flossy and Tiger
A picture of three Bronte pets by Emily – Keeper, Tiger and Flossy

Emily would have been a great person to be isolated with too, as while she is now rightly renowned for her genius as a writer she was acclaimed at the time, by those who knew her, for her excellent baking skills. Elizabeth Gaskell, doubtless reporting what Charlotte had told her, writes:

‘It was Emily who made all the bread for the family; and anyone passing by the kitchen-door, might have seen her studying German out of an open book, propped up before her, as she kneaded the dough; but no study, however interesting, interfered with the goodness of the bread, which was always light and excellent.’

Charlotte Brontë was much more gregarious than Emily, especially in her later years when she entered more into society to combat her loneliness after the loss of her sisters. Even Charlotte, however, could suffer from extreme shyness, most evident in the moment when she took refuge behind Elizabeth Gaskell’s curtains rather than meet a stranger who had arrived unexpectedly. We also read in Charlotte’s own letters of how she could become irritable when people created noise and untidiness at the parsonage, even when they were visiting members of the clergy. A break from the hubbub and bustle of everyday life would not, then, have been unwelcomed by Charlotte.

It was here, inside Elizabeth Gaskell’s house, that Charlotte social distanced herself behind some curtains

Now we turn to Anne Brontë. Like her elder sisters, Anne was an introvert by nature, but she showed in her successful years as governess to the Robinson family that she could overcome her shyness and function well in society. To Anne, you could be alone in an empty house or alone in a crowded room, for what truly mattered was having someone to care for, or someone precious to you to hold in your heart. If you had that, even if it was just a memory to recall, you could never truly be lonely. We find this sentiment expressed most beautifully in Anne’s poem ‘The Captive Dove’:

“Poor restless dove, I pity thee;
And when I hear thy plaintive moan,
I mourn for thy captivity,
And in thy woes forget mine own.
To see thee stand prepared to fly,
And flap those useless wings of thine,
And gaze into the distant sky,
Would melt a harder heart than mine.
In vain – in vain! Thou canst not rise
Thy prison roof confines thee there;
Its slender wires delude thine eyes,
And quench thy longings with despair.
Oh, thou wert made to wander free
In sunny mead and shady grove,
And far beyond the rolling sea,
In distant climes, at will to rove!
Yet, hadst thou but one gentle mate
Thy little drooping heart to cheer,
And share with thee thy captive state,
Thou couldst be happy even there.
Yes, even there, if, listening by,
One faithful dear companion stood,
While gazing on her full bright eye,
Thou might’st forget thy native wood.
But thou, poor solitary dove,
Must make, unheard, thy joyless moan;
The heart that Nature formed to love
Must pine, neglected, and alone.”

I think we can all feel a little like that captive dove at the moment, imprisoned not in a cage but in the four walls of our own home. And yet we all have the capacity to soar too, like the dove roaming its native wood. One of the greatest ways to cope with lockdown, of course, is to embrace the cultural treasures we love – whether that be reading a Brontë book, listening to the music we love, or watching a favourite television show. As Anne has shown in this poem, however, what truly gives us freedom is the beauty and power of nature.

visiting doves
My own visiting doves, thankfully, are neither captive nor alone

Connecting with nature makes the heart and soul soar, even when our bodies are stuck indoors. I love looking out at my bird feeder, and everyday it’s visited by a pair of love doves, free and happy whatever occurs in the outside world. We can take a lesson from them, and from Anne’s poem; let’s look out at our gardens, smell the flowers coming into bloom now, or take a daily walk in nearby countryside. As the Brontës knew very well, there’s a timeless magic in the natural world, and it can cast the perfect spell to lift the gloom of isolation and social distancing.

I hope you and your loved ones are all happy and healthy, and that you can join me next Sunday for another new Anne Brontë post.

William Wordsworth And The Brontës

This year, which of course is not as anyone expected or hoped, is the 200th anniversary of the birth of our dear Anne Brontë. An important milestone for this brilliant writer, and she’s certainly in good company for this year also sees milestone anniversaries for two giants of culture. December sees the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven, and this week saw perhaps the most famous poet of them all reach his quarter of a millennia: William Wordsworth, who was born on April 7th 1770. Wordsworth was a hugely popular and influential poet then and now, and his work was certainly known and loved by the Brontës, as we shall see.

Wordsworth 1804
William Wordsworth in 1804

Wordsworth shot rapidly to fame with the publication of Lyrical Ballads in 1798, a collection of verse which he co-authored with his lifelong friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge (of ‘Ancient Mariner’ fame). These youthful poems are beautiful and easily accessible, and rather different to some of the long, complex epic poems he composed in the decades which followed. Among them is a poem that I feel is among Wordsworth’s greatest works. ‘We Are Seven’ tells of a young maid who will always remember her siblings, even though they are dead and buried. It is a poem of sibling love and of infant mortality, and it always reminds me of the early losses that the Brontës and other families suffered.

Lyrical Ballads is often credited with starting a whole new poetic movement: Romanticism. Future poetic greats such as Byron, Shelley and Keats certainly had a lot to thank William Wordsworth for, and he became the father figure of the romantic poets. Others thankful for his work were a certain family of Haworth Parsonage, and we get evidence of this in a letter dated 4th July 1834 from Charlotte Brontë to her former school friend Ellen Nussey, in which she advises Ellen on what she should be reading:

“If you like poetry let it be first rate, Milton, Shakespeare, Thomson, Goldsmith, Pope (if you will although I don’t admire him), Scott, Byron, Campbell, Wordsworth and Southey… Scott’s sweet, wild romantic Poetry can do you no harm nor can Wordsworth’s nor Campbell’s nor Southey’s, the greatest part at least of his, some is certainly exceptionable.”

In light of Southey’s infamous letter later sent to Charlotte, saying that writing could never be the business of women, it’s good to see that Charlotte passed judgement on him too. For Wordsworth though she had only good words, and one member of her family was particularly fulsome in his praise of the great poet: her brother Branwell.

Wordsworth House, Cockermouth
Wordsworth House, Cockermouth – birthplace of the great poet

Branwell hero worshipped William Wordsworth, a literary obsession that was brought to the surface when he sent Wordsworth a letter in January 1837, alongside the opening to a long poem. I reproduce it here in full, because it’s a fascinating letter that gives us insight into the huge esteem with which Branwell, and his sisters, held Wordsworth, and also into the mind of Branwell at the height of his positivity:

”Sir, I most earnestly entreat you to read and pass your judgment upon what I have sent you, because from the day of my birth, to this the nineteenth year of my life, I have lived among secluded hills, where I could neither know what I was, or what I could do. I read for the same reason that I ate or drank – because it was a real craving of nature. I wrote on the same principle as I spoke – out of the impulse and feelings of the mind; nor could I help it, for what came, came out, and there was the end of it. For as to self-conceit, that could not receive food from flattery, since to this hour not half-a-dozen people in the world know that I have ever penned a line.

But a change has taken place now, sir; and I am arrived at an age wherein I must do something for myself: the powers I possess must be exercised to a definite end, and as I don’t know them myself I must ask of others what they are worth. Yet there is not one here to tell me; and still, if they are worthless, time will henceforth be too precious to be wasted on them.

Do pardon me, sir, that I have ventured to come before one whose works I have most loved in our literature, and who most has been with me a divinity of the mind, laying before him one of my writings, and asking of him a judgment of its contents. I must come before some one from whose sentence there is no appeal; and such a one is he who has developed the theory of poetry as well as its practice, and both in such a way as to claim a place in the memory of a thousand years to come.

My aim, sir, is to push out into the open world, and for this I trust not poetry alone – that might launch the vessel, but could not bear her on; sensible and scientific prose, bold and vigorous efforts in my walk in life, would give a further title to the notice of the world; and then, again, poetry ought to brighten and crown that name with glory; but nothing of all this can be ever begun without means, and as I don’t possess these, I must in every shape strive to gain them. Surely, in this day, when there is not a writing poet worth a sixpence, the field must be open, if a better man can step forward.

What I send you is the Prefatory Scene of a much longer subject, in which I have striven to develop strong passions and weak principles struggling with a high imagination and acute feelings, till, as youth hardens towards old age, evil deeds and short enjoyments end in mental misery and bodily ruin. Now, to send you the whole of this would be a mock upon your patience; what you see, does not even pretend to be more than the description of an imaginative child. But read it, sir; and, as you would hold a light to one in utter darkness – as you value your own kind-heartedness – return me an answer, if but one word, telling me whether I should write on, or write no more. Forgive undue warmth, because my feelings in this matter cannot be cool; and believe me, sir, with deep respect, Your really humble servant, P. B. Brontë”

Dove Cottage
Dove Cottage, Grasmere home of William Wordsworth

It’s easy to look upon this letter as a trifle embarrassing, but it shows the great confidence that Branwell had at this time, in himself and his writing, and he was certainly a man who would take action rather than waiting for whatever fate had in store. He wanted a critique of his poetry, so he had no hesitation in writing to the greatest poet of all. Reply came there none, but the fact remains that William Wordsworth kept the letter, so it must have interested him in some way, or perhaps he felt some affinity with Branwell even though he’d claimed that there wasn’t a writing poet worth sixpence.

Branwell never heard back from Wordsworth, but he had better luck with the family of Wordsworth’s great associate Samuel Taylor Coleridge, striking up a correspondence with his eldest son Hartley Coleridge, and visiting him at Nab Cottage at Ambleside. Hartley was impressed by Branwell’s writing, praising his ‘masterly versification.’

Nab Cottage was also in close proximity to Grasmere, the Lake District location that William Wordsworth has made forever famous. In 1840, Branwell too was in the Lake District, serving as governor to the Postlethwaite family of Broughton-in-Furness. We know he visited Hartley Coleridge, could he have visited his hero William Wordsworth too? Branwell’s friend Francis Leyland believed so.

Grasmere
Grasmere in the Lake District that inspired Wordsworth and many others

Wordsworth loved nature, enjoying nothing so much as walking the hills and fells of the Lake District, particularly when in company with his beloved sister Dorothy. There can be little doubt then that Emily and Anne Brontë, who loved to walk the moors together, would have felt a strong affinity with him. His pastoral poems took nature poetry to new heights, and we can see the effect they had on Charlotte Brontë in an 1850 letter to Margaret Wooler in which she details her own journey to the ‘Lake-Country’ to visit the wealthy Kay Shuttleworth family:

“Sir James Kay Shuttleworth is residing near Windermere at a house called ‘the Briery’ – and it was there I was staying for a little time in August. He very kindly shewed me the scenery, as it can be seen from a carriage, and I discerned that the ‘Lake-Country’ is a glorious region – of which I had only seen the similitude in dreams – waking or sleeping – but, my dear Miss Wooler, I only half enjoyed it – because I was only half at my ease.

Decidedly, I find it does not agree with me to prosecute the search for the picturesque in a carriage. A waggon, a spring-cart, even a post-chaise might do – but the carriage upsets everything. I longed to slip out unseen, and to run away by myself in amongst the hills and dales. Erratic and vagrant instincts tormented me, and these I was obliged to control, or rather suppress, for fear of growing in any degree enthusiastic, and thus drawing attention to the ‘lioness’, the authoress – the she-artist.”

William Wordsworth could certainly have sympathised with this dilemma, he became a much sought out public figure at his home at Rydal Mount where he spent the last 37 years of his life (that’s it at the top of this post), but really he prized solitude and the company of close friends. He was finally made poet laureate in 1843, after which he became the only poet laureate not to write a single line of official verse. Wordsworth had put down his quill forever, but he’d already left a stunning legacy which will always tower over the world of verse. As I type this, the sublime Egmont Overture is playing on the radio – and we return again to those other 2020 milestone holders Beethoven and Anne Brontë, along with Wordsworth they make a brilliant trio full of remarkable genius and the courage to set their own agendas rather than following conventions.

Wordsworth on Helvellyn by Benjamin Haydon

From Wordsworth, Beethoven and Anne we can learn a message that’s of vital importance today – we may be solitary at times, but our minds are free to roam where we please, and the endless bounties of nature will always be available to us. Stay healthy, stay indoors, and if you celebrate it may I wish you a Happy Easter.

A Celebration Of The Life Of Charlotte Brontë

This week in 1855 saw the passing of Charlotte Brontë and her burial within the Brontë family vault, beneath the stone floor of Haworth’s St. Michael’s and All Angels Church. A sad week, and of course our world today is full of sad news too, so let’s not mourn Charlotte Brontë but instead celebrate all she did for us, and all she will continue to do for endless generations to come.

Charlotte was a witty and insightful letter writer, a fine poet and, of course, a novelist of the very highest calibre. She was also, although like the Yorkshirewoman she was she could be straight talking at times, a very kind hearted person, always caring for her friends, family and the downtrodden in society. She was also a fine artist, and we could all do with some colour in our lives at the moment. The sun is shining, spring is bursting into glorious life, and yet we are more or less confined to quarters. Today’s post, then, is going to showcase some of Charlotte’s beautiful artwork, along with some fitting words from her.

Anne Brontë

Anne Bronte 200

We of course start with one of the three (at least, as we shall see next) extant drawings that Charlotte made of her youngest sister.

“To her had not been denied the gift of beauty. It was not absolutely necessary to know her in order to like her; she was fair enough to please, even at the first view. Her shape suited her age: it was girlish, light, and pliant; every curve was neat, every limb proportionate; her face was expressive and gentle; her eyes were handsome, and gifted at times with a winning beam that stole into the heart, with a language that spoke softly to the affections. Her mouth was very pretty; she had a delicate skin, and a fine flow of brown hair, which she knew how to arrange with taste; curls became her, and she possessed them in picturesque profusion” (Shirley)

Drawing Of A Young Woman

Teenage Charlotte drew this unnamed young woman, possibly a character from her invented world of Angria – but it also has similarities to the picture Charlotte drew of Anne wearing a Carnelian necklace.

“Rosamond Oliver kept her word in coming to visit me. Her call at the school was generally made in the course of her morning ride. She would canter up to the door on her pony, followed by a mounted livery servant. Anything more exquisite than her appearance, in her purple habit, with her Amazon’s cap of black velvet placed gracefully above the long curls that kissed her cheek and floated to her shoulders, can scarcely be imagined: and it was thus she would enter the rustic building, and glide through the dazzled ranks of the village children. She generally came at the hour when Mr. Rivers was engaged in giving his daily catechising lesson. Keenly, I fear, did the eye of the visitress pierce the young pastor’s heart.” (Jane Eyre)

Ellen Nussey

Ellen Nussey, by Charlotte Bronte

We have lots of photographs, and a painting, of Ellen in later years, but it’s thanks to Charlotte that we have a picture of Ellen in her youth, a time when she was said to possess great beauty.

“If I like people it is my nature to tell them so and I am not afraid of offering incense to your vanity. It is from religion that you derive your chief charm and may its influence always preserve you as pure, as unassuming and as benevolent in thought and deed as you are now. What am I compared to you? I feel my own utter worthlessness when I make the comparison. I’m a very coarse common-place wretch!” (Letter from Charlotte Brontë to Ellen Nussey)

Woman In Leopard Fur

We return to Angria for Charlotte’s painting of a woman in leopard fur. Take a close look, is it just me, or can we see faces in the fur? At the time Charlotte painted this she was writing her Angrian novella ‘Caroline Vernon’, so could this be her portrait of Northangerland’s teenage daughter?

“This sweet blossom, this little fluttering, fickle, felicitous, fairy, this dear, delicious, delirious morsel, comes into my arms and announces her intention of marrying me straight away off-hand, whether I will or no!” (Caroline Vernon)

Cormorant

Charlotte’s artistic talent showed itself from an early age. She and her sisters, and brother Branwell, were given art lessons, and were encouraged at first to copy the work of others – learning the draughtsmanship that is so essential to art. Aged just 12 Charlotte produced this fine copy of an illustration of a cormorant from Thomas Bewick’s History Of British Birds. Both Charlotte and Anne loved this book (and we can imagine Emily did too) as it features in both The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall and here in Charlotte’s first published novel:

“I returned to my book – Bewick’s History of British Birds: the letterpress thereof I cared little for, generally speaking; and yet there were certain introductory pages that, child as I was, I could not pass quite as a blank. They were those which treat of the haunts of sea-fowl; of “the solitary rocks and promontories” by them only inhabited; of the coast of Norway, studded with isles from its southern extremity, the Lindeness, or Naze, to the North Cape… With Bewick on my knee, I was then happy: happy at least in my way.” (Jane Eyre)

Wild Roses

Perhaps Charlotte’s greatest talent as an artist was drawing nature, particularly her carefully crafted and exquisitely coloured drawings of flowers – like these wild roses drawn in her youth.

“The day succeeding this remarkable Midsummer night, proved no common day. I do not mean that it brought signs in heaven above, or portents on the earth beneath; nor do I allude to meteorological phenomena, to storm, flood, or whirlwind. On the contrary: the sun rose jocund, with a July face. Morning decked her beauty with rubies, and so filled her lap with roses, that they fell from her in showers, making her path blush: the Hours woke fresh as nymphs, and emptying on the early hills their dew-vials, they stepped out dismantled of vapour: shadowless, azure, and glorious, they led the sun’s steeds on a burning and unclouded course.” (Villette)

Convolvulus, Crocus And Aster

This watercolour is believed to have been painted while Charlotte was governess for the Sidgwick family at Stonegappe in 1839. Charlotte loved the flowers and grounds here, but as this letter points out she was not at liberty to enjoy them as much as she would have liked.

“The country, the house, and the grounds are, as I have said, divine. But, alack-a-day! there is such a thing as seeing all beautiful around you – pleasant woods, winding white paths, green lawns, and blue sunshiny sky – and not having a free moment or a free thought left to enjoy them in.” (Letter from Charlotte Brontë to Emily Brontë)

Conwy Castle

One of Charlotte’s final artworks is her drawing of Conwy Castle, as she created it whilst on her 1854 honeymoon tour of Wales and Ireland with Arthur Bell Nicholls.

“I scribble one hasty line just to say that after a pleasant enough journey we have got safely to Conway. The evening is wet and wild – though the day was fair chiefly with some gleams of sunshine. However we are sheltered in a comfortable inn… On Monday I think we cross the channel, no more at present, yours faithfully and lovingly, C.B.N.” (Letter from Charlotte Brontë to Ellen Nussey)

At last Charlotte Brontë had found love and happiness, just as she had found success and approbation as a writer. In many ways, Charlotte Brontë had a triumphant life, so let’s remember that and say ‘thank you Charlotte’ for the beauty, adventure and wisdom she continues to gift to us. Stay happy and healthy, and I will see you here for another new Brontë post next week.