Anne Brontë Advent Week Four: Flossy Completed

A very Merry Christmas to you all, thank you for joining me for the festive countdown over the last four Sundays and for supporting my Anne Brontë (and family) blog throughout many years and many hundreds of posts now. It means so much to me! It’s time to light the final Advent (Anne-vent) candle with a special item befitting this most special of days!

Victorian Christmas card

Pets are for life, of course, and not just for Christmas, but there’s no denying that there are few things in life that add greater value and happiness than having a four legged companion of some kind. Anne Brontë thought so, and she was especially close to her beloved spaniel Flossy. Flossy was a gift from the Robinson girls that she was governess for at Thorp Green Hall near York, and this most thoughtful gift shows how much they loved Anne and how successful she was in her job. Flossy was painted by Emily Brontë and Anne sketched herself and Flossy together as shown below:

Today’s Advent candle, however, is represented by the following two paintings that Anne made, and which show the love that she and Flossy shared!

Flossy by Anne Bronte

Unfinished Flossy by Anne Bronte

Both pictures are unfinished, which perhaps showed that Flossy wasn’t the best at sitting still in a window (indeed Charlotte Brontë later commented how much Flossy loved chasing across the moors after sheep). In one painting Anne made a lot of progress on Flossy’s body, and in the other she made a very detailed study of Flossy’s head but the body is far from finished. I’ve often thought how wonderful it would be if we could somehow combine the two, so with a little technical jiggery-pokery that’s exactly what I’ve done as a Christmas gift to you all. Here then is my completed Flossy with more than a little help from Anne Brontë!

As you know I never charge for this blog and never have adverts, and I never will. It’s a labour of love that I’m happy to share with Brontë lovers across the globe. You may also know that as well as writing books and blogs about the Brontës I also work for the wonderful The Sheffield Cats Shelter. I therefore give you this link to our Christmas appeal; if any of you can donate anything to help our cats and kittens in need it would be my very best Christmas present, thank you!

Not five but two gold rings – the collars of Flossy and Keeper

I leave you now, as has become my tradition, with Anne Brontë’s poem set on this very day. May you and your loved ones have a very Happy Christmas, and to all of you missing a special someone on this day I send my sincerest love and best wishes – a family of Brontë lovers worldwide is thinking of you and is with you in spirit, just as your loved ones are. I leave you now, until next week’s New Year post, with Anne Brontë’s ‘Music On Christmas Morning’:

Music I love – but never strain
Could kindle raptures so divine,
So grief assuage, so conquer pain,
And rouse this pensive heart of mine –
As that we hear on Christmas morn,
Upon the wintry breezes borne.
Though Darkness still her empire keep,
And hours must pass, ere morning break;
From troubled dreams, or slumbers deep,
That music kindly bids us wake:
It calls us, with an angel’s voice,
To wake, and worship, and rejoice;
To greet with joy the glorious morn,
Which angels welcomed long ago,
When our redeeming Lord was born,
To bring the light of Heaven below;
The Powers of Darkness to dispel,
And rescue Earth from Death and Hell.
While listening to that sacred strain,
My raptured spirit soars on high;
I seem to hear those songs again
Resounding through the open sky,
That kindled such divine delight,
In those who watched their flocks by night.
With them, I celebrate His birth –
Glory to God, in highest Heaven,
Good-will to men, and peace on Earth,
To us a Saviour-king is given;
Our God is come to claim His own,
And Satan’s power is overthrown!
A sinless God, for sinful men,
Descends to suffer and to bleed;
Hell must renounce its empire then;
The price is paid, the world is freed,
And Satan’s self must now confess,
That Christ has earned a Right to bless:
Now holy Peace may smile from heaven,
And heavenly Truth from earth shall spring:
The captive’s galling bonds are riven,
For our Redeemer is our king;
And He that gave his blood for men
Will lead us home to God again.

Haworth Christmas pillar portrait
Happy Christmas from me, Anne, Emily, Branwell and Charlotte – to you all!

Anne Brontë Advent: Week Three – Friendships

Time flies, as the Brontës knew only too well, and can you believe that we are just one week away from Christmas Day 2022? I hope that you have everything well in hand for the big day, and that you’ll find time to relax with a good book in the week ahead. Whatever your beliefs, Christmas is surely a time for love, family and friendship – and it’s friendship which is at the heart of today’s third Anne-vent candle.

Roe Head school at Mirfield saw Charlotte, Emily (briefly) and Anne pass through its doors as pupils, and Charlotte also took up teaching duties there. Charlotte and Anne both excelled as pupils at the school, which was far removed from the deadly Cowan Bridge school which Charlotte and Emily had earlier attended, and which would be immortalised as the ‘Lowood’ of Jane Eyre. Both Charlotte and Anne received medals for their good conduct and performance whilst at Roe Head: here’s the medal presented to Charlotte Brontë, on the front it says ’emulation’ and on the reverse it says ‘rewarded’:

It is not this medal, however, which represents today’s Anne Brontë-related Advent candle. It is this prayer book which belonged to Charlotte at Roe Head school, and which made what I think were rather misleading headlines recently when a faint pencil written inscription was discovered inside it:

Ann Cook prayerbook
Ann Cook’s pencilled inscription on Charlotte Bronte’s prayer book

The inscription reads ‘Pray don’t forget my my sweet little thing, A.C.’ and the speculation at the time was that it was from a pupil of Charlotte’s named Ann Cook – which in turn brought speculation as to the propriety of their relationship. When we look just a little closer, however, it seems clear to me that this is a touching token of friendship intended for someone else who was a Roe Head pupil at the time: Anne Brontë.

The key to unlocking this mystery comes in a letter Ellen Nussey sent to Elizabeth Gaskell at the time she was writing her brilliant biography of Charlotte Brontë. Ellen writes:

“I enclose also a notice which dear C. made in a letter on the death of a young lady who was a pupil at the time Anne Brontë was at school, a pupil who attached herself to Anne B. and Anne bestowed upon her a great deal of quiet affection and genial notice. I think the young ladies friends would most probably be gratified if dear C.’s comments on the deceased were inserted. They are monied and influential people in the neighbourhood, some of them not very friendly to Currer Bell’s emanations. Would they not be won by her kindly thought of one of their own?”

This wealthy young lady who died tragically young was Ann Cook, daughter of wealthy and influential Dewsbury industrialist Thomas Cook, and so it seems to me that the message in the prayerbook was not for Charlotte but another who young Ann Cook knew would use and see it – her beloved school friend Anne Brontë.

We have evidence that Charlotte Brontë made a friend whilst a teacher at the Pensionnat Heger in Brussels years later, although you might not think so from Charlotte’s Belgium-based novels The Professor and Villette which hardly paint a glowing picture of Belgian schools and society. It is from a teacher known to us as Mademoiselle Sophie, and here it is translated from its original French – written 179 years ago yesterday:

A pencilled inscription and a letter sent at Christmas-time, both testaments to friends that the Brontës made and therefore perfect representations of today’s Advent candle. I have been closing these Advent posts with Anne Brontë poetry, but I choose instead today a poem inspired by Anne Brontë. Written by Emily Brontë it uses imagery especially prevalent at this time of year to look at the supremacy, in Emily’s eyes, of friendship over love. Emily loved one person more than any other, her closest friend and younger sister Anne Brontë. I leave you with ‘Love And Friendship’ and hope to see you next Sunday, on Christmas Day itself, for another new Brontë blog post and the ‘lighting’ of our final Advent candle.

Love and friendship

Anne Brontë Advent: Week Two

With just two weeks until Christmas Day itself it’s time to ensure that the festive preparations are well under way. One lovely tradition that many still indulge is the making of Christmas cake – and of course you have to start those preparations early to ensure that it gets thoroughly doused in booze of one kind or another. As daughters of the village priest the Brontë siblings would have had to distribute this cake among parishioners, and here (from the rather lovely book The Brontës’ Christmas) is a traditional recipe from the time:

Our preparations here at involve lighting a second Advent candle today, so today’s Anne-vent offering is one of the very first pieces of ‘writing’ we have from Anne. It wasn’t created by pencil, quill or dip pen – it was created through the art of needlework. Here then is today’s candle – the sampler made by Anne Brontë to mark her tenth birthday.

Anne has handily dated it the 23rd of January 1830, meaning that she completed it six days after her milestone birthday, although she may have commenced her work on the big day itself. In case you don’t know what a sampler is, they were needlework creations designed to showcase the skill of the young person making it. They typically included a self-chosen quotation from the Bible, and often had the alphabet and numbers at the start or end, with an elaborate border around the perimeter.

Samplers like Anne’s were an important rite of passage for lower middle-class children like the Brontës. Working class children were faced with a life of danger and drudgery from an early age, whilst upper and upper-middle class children were prepared for a life of luxury and leadership from an early age. Girls who, like the Brontës, dwelt in the social strata between these extremes were destined for two possible careers: being a teacher or a governess, until such time as they became wives and mothers. It was essential therefore that they could sew and teach others to sew, so the sampler became a way to hone their skills and demonstrate it to others.

Anne, as we have seen before in this blog and in my books such as In Search Of Anne Brontë and Crave The Rose: Anne Brontë At 200 was the most successful Brontë in terms of employment. She was governess to the Robinson family of Thorp Green Hall for over five years, a term far longer than sisters Charlotte and Emily managed, and was much loved by the children in her care. She was also the most deeply devout of the Brontë siblings, so even by the age of ten she would have been very familiar with the scriptures. It is a beautiful choice that Anne has selected for her sampler, one of the most poetic sections of the Old Testament, and I particularly like: ‘She is more precious than rubies, and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.’

Samplers were created throughout a girl’s schooling, so let’s see a bonus sampler from Anne – this time an even earlier example, made by an eight year old Anne in November 1828. This is the very earliest thing created by Anne Brontë in existence today, and already we see a theme which will recur in The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall: ‘It is better to trust in the Lord than put confidence in man.’

Anne Bronte's sampler

Anne’s needlework is very impressive for an eight year old, especially by today’s standards of course, but there are a number of errors in this sampler? How many can you spot? (here’s a starter: Anne has missed 16 out and jumped from 15 to 17). By the sampler at the top of the post the errors had disappeared – Anne Brontë was never scared of hard work.

I leave you now with another beautiful poem by Anne. As we are looking at early work by the youngest Brontë, I present to you the very earliest extant poem by her: ‘Verses by Lady Geralda’, written by Anne when she was 16 years old and set in Gondal, the fictional land created by herself and Emily Brontë. It’s a suitably wintry poem, and it was written in December 1836. I hope to see you next week as we light our third Anne-vent candle with another new Brontë blog post.

“Why, when I hear the stormy breath
Of the wild winter wind
Rushing o’er the mountain heath,
Does sadness fill my mind?
For long ago I loved to lie
Upon the pathless moor,
To hear the wild wind rushing by
With never ceasing roar;
Its sound was music then to me;
Its wild and lofty voice
Made by heart beat exultingly
And my whole soul rejoice.
But now, how different is the sound?
It takes another tone,
And howls along the barren ground
With melancholy moan.
Why does the warm light of the sun
No longer cheer my eyes?
And why is all the beauty gone
From rosy morning skies?
Beneath this lone and dreary hill
There is a lovely vale;
The purling of a crystal rill,
The sighing of the gale,
The sweet voice of the singing bird,
The wind among the trees,
Are ever in that valley heard;
While every passing breeze
Is loaded with the pleasant scent
Of wild and lovely flowers.
To yonder vales I often went
To pass my evening hours.
Last evening when I wandered there
To soothe my weary heart,
Why did the unexpected tear
From my sad eyelid start?
Why did the trees, the buds, the stream
Sing forth so joylessly?
And why did all the valley seem
So sadly changed to me?
I plucked a primrose young and pale
That grew beneath a tree
And then I hastened from the vale
Silent and thoughtfully.
Soon I was near my lofty home,
But when I cast my eye
Upon that flower so fair and lone
Why did I heave a sigh?
I thought of taking it again
To the valley where it grew.
But soon I spurned that thought as vain
And weak and childish too.
And then I cast that flower away
To die and wither there;
But when I found it dead today
Why did I shed a tear?
O why are things so changed to me?
What gave me joy before
Now fills my heart with misery,
And nature smiles no more.
And why are all the beauties gone
From this my native hill?
Alas! my heart is changed alone:
Nature is constant still.
For when the heart is free from care,
Whatever meets the eye
Is bright, and every sound we hear
Is full of melody.
The sweetest strain, the wildest wind,
The murmur of a stream,
To the sad and weary mind
Like doleful death knells seem.
Father! thou hast long been dead,
Mother! thou art gone,
Brother! thou art far away,
And I am left alone.
Long before my mother died
I was sad and lone,
And when she departed too
Every joy was flown.
But the world’s before me now,
Why should I despair?
I will not spend my days in vain,
I will not linger here!
There is still a cherished hope
To cheer me on my way;
It is burning in my heart
With a feeble ray.
I will cheer the feeble spark
And raise it to a flame;
And it shall light me through the world,
And lead me on to fame.
I leave thee then, my childhood’s home,
For all thy joys are gone;
I leave thee through the world to roam
In search of fair renown,
From such a hopeless home to part
Is happiness to me,
For nought can charm my weary heart
Except activity.”

Anne Brontë Advent: Week One

We head ever closer to the big day, and the chill in the air is certainly an indicator of things to come – let’s hope that Santa can afford to fuel his sleigh this year! I’ve decided to turn this December into an Anne Brontë Advent! Each Sunday I’ll ‘light’ an Anne Brontë advent candle by focusing on one wonderful Anne Brontë related item, and I’ll finish each post with an Anne Brontë poem. The fourth and final Anne-vent candle will be lit on Christmas day itself, so it’s time to light our first candle with our new Brontë blog post.

This rather beautiful necklace is made of carnelian, an orangey-red mineral belonging to the chalcedony family. Its vivid colour has long made it a popular choice for jewellery and it must have been a favourite of Anne’s for it was she who wore this necklace made of it.

How do we know that Anne wore this necklace? The answer to that is what makes this Anne Brontë treasure so special, and a fitting choice to represent our first blog candle of this Advent period. A 13 year old Anne is pictured wearing this very necklace in the sketch by her elder sister Charlotte Brontë which can be seen above the necklace itself.

This is one of a number of jewellery items once belonging to Anne Brontë within the Brontë Parsonage Museum Collection. Anne clearly liked beautiful things, and it is perhaps this which also inspired her love of collecting pebbles and brightly coloured stones from Scarborough beach. Perhaps this love was passed down from her Aunt Branwell? Elizabeth Branwell was very close to Anne in many ways, and they shared a bedroom throughout Anne’s childhood years. We know that Elizabeth habitually wore plain, dark clothing (probably because she preferred to spend her money on her nephew and nieces) but she also had a love of beautiful objects, as can be seen from some of the Aunt Branwell items which now form part of the museum collection in Haworth.

It seems likely to me that these items reminded Aunt Branwell of her younger years in her beloved Cornwall, a subject she never tired of. Ellen Nussey went so far as to state that Aunt Branwell liked nothing more than talking about the ‘gaieties of her native town’, so we can be sure that she often discussed them with her favourite niece Anne. It’s not a huge leap to surmise that it was from these early talks that Anne Brontë developed the love of the sea and the love of beautiful items and jewellery which we see in her later life.

Elizabeth Branwell and Arthur Nicholls
Elizabeth Branwell and Arthur Bell Nicholls

It’s fitting to mention Elizabeth Branwell, for we reached the 246th anniversary of her birth this week. She was born on 2nd December 1776, and this date also marks the passing of Arthur Bell Nicholls, widower of Charlotte Brontë, who died on 2nd December 1906. Two people who were vital to the Brontë story, and yet whose shared anniversary is 130 years apart.

Many of us are facing challenges this Christmas, whether emotionally, physically or financially. Nevertheless, I hope this Advent period proves a happy one for you and your loved ones, and I hope you can join me again next week for another new Brontë blog post and the lighting of our second Anne-vent calendar. I leave you now with one of Anne Brontë’s finest poems, and one with a suitably wintry setting: ‘The Student’s Serenade.’

The Student's Serenade Anne Bronte
‘The Student’s Serenade’ by Anne Bronte