Proposals Of Marriage In The Bronte Novels

For Brontë fans today is a day which brings mixed emotions. It is Easter Sunday, a day of joy and one that would have been especially beloved of the religious Brontë family. Today, also, however, marks one of the very saddest Brontë anniversaries. The Brontë novels and lives show what we all know, that life brings its challenges but it also brings its joys and triumphs. On this special day let us choose to look at the joyous side of life by looking at proposals in the Brontë works.

Agnes Grey

Whilst all Brontë novels possess some level of autobiography, I believe it is Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë which draws most from its author’s life, and from her dreams of what her life could have been. I also believe, as regular blog readers will know (and please do hit that ‘subscribe’ button if you haven’t already done so), that Anne Brontë was in love with her father’s assistant curate William Weightman.

Alas, Weightman caught cholera after visiting a sick parishioner and died far too young. Anne Brontë was denied her dreams of a proposal, a marriage and a loving life to follow, but she determined to give herself that happy ending in her debut novel. It is quite clear to me that Agnes is Anne, and Reverend Weston is Reverend Weightman, which makes the following understated proposal scene even more touching:

‘“I went to get ready, and was down again in a few minutes; though, of course, I took a little more pains with my attire than if I had merely been going out on some shopping expedition alone. The thunder-shower had certainly had a most beneficial effect upon the weather, and the evening was most delightful. Mr. Weston would have me to take his arm; he said little during our passage through the crowded streets, but walked very fast, and appeared grave and abstracted. I wondered what was the matter, and felt an indefinite dread that something unpleasant was on his mind; and vague surmises, concerning what it might be, troubled me not a little, and made me grave and silent enough. But these fantasies vanished upon reaching the quiet outskirts of the town; for as soon as we came within sight of the venerable old church, and the – hill, with the deep blue beyond it, I found my companion was cheerful enough.

“I’m afraid I’ve been walking too fast for you, Agnes,” said he: “in my impatience to be rid of the town, I forgot to consult your convenience; but now we’ll walk as slowly as you please. I see, by those light clouds in the west, there will be a brilliant sunset, and we shall be in time to witness its effect upon the sea, at the most moderate rate of progression.”

When we had got about half-way up the hill, we fell into silence again; which, as usual, he was the first to break.

“My house is desolate yet, Miss Grey,” he smilingly observed, “and I am acquainted now with all the ladies in my parish, and several in this town too; and many others I know by sight and by report; but not one of them will suit me for a companion; in fact, there is only one person in the world that will: and that is yourself; and I want to know your decision?”

“Are you in earnest, Mr. Weston?”

“In earnest! How could you think I should jest on such a subject?”

He laid his hand on mine, that rested on his arm: he must have felt it tremble – but it was no great matter now.

“I hope I have not been too precipitate,” he said, in a serious tone. “You must have known that it was not my way to flatter and talk soft nonsense, or even to speak the admiration that I felt; and that a single word or glance of mine meant more than the honied phrases and fervent protestations of most other men.”

I said something about not liking to leave my mother, and doing nothing without her consent.

“I settled everything with Mrs. Grey, while you were putting on your bonnet,” replied he. “She said I might have her consent, if I could obtain yours; and I asked her, in case I should be so happy, to come and live with us – for I was sure you would like it better. But she refused, saying she could now afford to employ an assistant, and would continue the school till she could purchase an annuity sufficient to maintain her in comfortable lodgings; and, meantime, she would spend her vacations alternately with us and your sister, and should be quite contented if you were happy. And so now I have overruled your objections on her account. Have you any other?”

“No – none.”

“You love me then?” said he, fervently pressing my hand.


Agnes, Edward and Snap walk on the beach

Jane Eyre

We have just witnessed a simple, and simply beautiful, proposal scene. The proposal scene which follows from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë was rather more complicated. Not merely because (spoiler alert) Rochester is already married (a fact which Jane doesn’t know at this point) but because of the class difference between the protagonists – Jane believes that Rochester is going to marry the wealthy Blanche Ingram and she is therefore planning to leave his service, but Rochester has other plans:

‘“Pity!” he said, and sighed and paused. “It is always the way of events in this life,” he continued presently: “no sooner have you got settled in a pleasant resting-place, than a voice calls out to you to rise and move on, for the hour of repose is expired.”

“Must I move on, sir?” I asked. “Must I leave Thornfield?”

“I believe you must, Jane. I am sorry, Janet, but I believe indeed you must.”

This was a blow: but I did not let it prostrate me.

“Well, sir, I shall be ready when the order to march comes.”

“It is come now – I must give it to-night.”

“Then you are going to be married, sir?”

“Ex-act-ly – pre-cise-ly: with your usual acuteness, you have hit the nail straight on the head.”

“Soon, sir?”

“Very soon, my – that is, Miss Eyre: and you’ll remember, Jane, the first time I, or Rumour, plainly intimated to you that it was my intention to put my old bachelor’s neck into the sacred noose, to enter into the holy estate of matrimony – to take Miss Ingram to my bosom, in short (she’s an extensive armful: but that’s not to the point – one can’t have too much of such a very excellent thing as my beautiful Blanche): well, as I was saying – listen to me, Jane! You’re not turning your head to look after more moths, are you? That was only a lady-clock, child, ‘flying away home.’ I wish to remind you that it was you who first said to me, with that discretion I respect in you – with that foresight, prudence, and humility which befit your responsible and dependent position – that in case I married Miss Ingram, both you and little Adèle had better trot forthwith. I pass over the sort of slur conveyed in this suggestion on the character of my beloved; indeed, when you are far away, Janet, I’ll try to forget it: I shall notice only its wisdom; which is such that I have made it my law of action. Adèle must go to school; and you, Miss Eyre, must get a new situation.”

“Yes, sir, I will advertise immediately: and meantime, I suppose – ” I was going to say, “I suppose I may stay here, till I find another shelter to betake myself to:” but I stopped, feeling it would not do to risk a long sentence, for my voice was not quite under command.

“In about a month I hope to be a bridegroom,” continued Mr. Rochester; “and in the interim, I shall myself look out for employment and an asylum for you.”

“Thank you, sir; I am sorry to give – ”

“Oh, no need to apologise! I consider that when a dependent does her duty as well as you have done yours, she has a sort of claim upon her employer for any little assistance he can conveniently render her; indeed I have already, through my future mother-in-law, heard of a place that I think will suit: it is to undertake the education of the five daughters of Mrs. Dionysius O’Gall of Bitternutt Lodge, Connaught, Ireland. You’ll like Ireland, I think: they’re such warm-hearted people there, they say.”

“It’s a long way off, sir.”

“No matter – a girl of your sense will not object to the voyage or the distance.”

“Not the voyage, but the distance: and then the sea is a barrier – ”

“From what, Jane?”

“From England and from Thornfield: and – ”


“From you, sir.”

I said this almost involuntarily, and, with as little sanction of free will, my tears gushed out. I did not cry so as to be heard, however; I avoided sobbing. The thought of Mrs. O’Gall and Bitternutt Lodge struck cold to my heart; and colder the thought of all the brine and foam, destined, as it seemed, to rush between me and the master at whose side I now walked, and coldest the remembrance of the wider ocean – wealth, caste, custom intervened between me and what I naturally and inevitably loved.

“It is a long way,” I again said.

“It is, to be sure; and when you get to Bitternutt Lodge, Connaught, Ireland, I shall never see you again, Jane: that’s morally certain. I never go over to Ireland, not having myself much of a fancy for the country. We have been good friends, Jane; have we not?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And when friends are on the eve of separation, they like to spend the little time that remains to them close to each other. Come! we’ll talk over the voyage and the parting quietly half-an-hour or so, while the stars enter into their shining life up in heaven yonder: here is the chestnut tree: here is the bench at its old roots. Come, we will sit there in peace to-night, though we should never more be destined to sit there together.” He seated me and himself.

“It is a long way to Ireland, Janet, and I am sorry to send my little friend on such weary travels: but if I can’t do better, how is it to be helped? Are you anything akin to me, do you think, Jane?”

I could risk no sort of answer by this time: my heart was still.

“Because,” he said, “I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you – especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly. As for you, – you’d forget me.”

“That I never should, sir: you know – ” Impossible to proceed.

“Jane, do you hear that nightingale singing in the wood? Listen!”

In listening, I sobbed convulsively; for I could repress what I endured no longer; I was obliged to yield, and I was shaken from head to foot with acute distress. When I did speak, it was only to express an impetuous wish that I had never been born, or never come to Thornfield.

“Because you are sorry to leave it?”

The vehemence of emotion, stirred by grief and love within me, was claiming mastery, and struggling for full sway, and asserting a right to predominate, to overcome, to live, rise, and reign at last: yes, – and to speak.

“I grieve to leave Thornfield: I love Thornfield: – I love it, because I have lived in it a full and delightful life, – momentarily at least. I have not been trampled on. I have not been petrified. I have not been buried with inferior minds, and excluded from every glimpse of communion with what is bright and energetic and high. I have talked, face to face, with what I reverence, with what I delight in, – with an original, a vigorous, an expanded mind. I have known you, Mr. Rochester; and it strikes me with terror and anguish to feel I absolutely must be torn from you for ever. I see the necessity of departure; and it is like looking on the necessity of death.”

“Where do you see the necessity?” he asked suddenly.

“Where? You, sir, have placed it before me.”

“In what shape?”

“In the shape of Miss Ingram; a noble and beautiful woman, – your bride.”

“My bride! What bride? I have no bride!”

“But you will have.”

“Yes; – I will! – I will!” He set his teeth.

“Then I must go: – you have said it yourself.”

“No: you must stay! I swear it – and the oath shall be kept.”

“I tell you I must go!” I retorted, roused to something like passion. “Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton? – a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh; – it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal, – as we are!”

“As we are!” repeated Mr. Rochester – “so,” he added, enclosing me in his arms, gathering me to his breast, pressing his lips on my lips: “so, Jane!”

“Yes, so, sir,” I rejoined: “and yet not so; for you are a married man – or as good as a married man, and wed to one inferior to you – to one with whom you have no sympathy – whom I do not believe you truly love; for I have seen and heard you sneer at her. I would scorn such a union: therefore I am better than you – let me go!”

“Where, Jane? To Ireland?”

“Yes – to Ireland. I have spoken my mind, and can go anywhere now.”

“Jane, be still; don’t struggle so, like a wild frantic bird that is rending its own plumage in its desperation.”

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.”

Another effort set me at liberty, and I stood erect before him.

“And your will shall decide your destiny,” he said: “I offer you my hand, my heart, and a share of all my possessions.”

“You play a farce, which I merely laugh at.”

“I ask you to pass through life at my side – to be my second self, and best earthly companion.”

“For that fate you have already made your choice, and must abide by it.”

“Jane, be still a few moments: you are over-excited: I will be still too.”

A waft of wind came sweeping down the laurel-walk, and trembled through the boughs of the chestnut: it wandered away – away – to an indefinite distance – it died. The nightingale’s song was then the only voice of the hour: in listening to it, I again wept. Mr. Rochester sat quiet, looking at me gently and seriously. Some time passed before he spoke; he at last said – 

“Come to my side, Jane, and let us explain and understand one another.”

“I will never again come to your side: I am torn away now, and cannot return.”

“But, Jane, I summon you as my wife: it is you only I intend to marry.”

I was silent: I thought he mocked me.

“Come, Jane – come hither.”

“Your bride stands between us.”

He rose, and with a stride reached me.

“My bride is here,” he said, again drawing me to him, “because my equal is here, and my likeness. Jane, will you marry me?”’

It is worth remembering when we read this that Charlotte Brontë, as she explicitly stated in a letter, saw Rochester as a romantic hero who had been wronged by fate, and whose intentions were honourable. This is such a powerful scene, and I think it was portrayed brilliantly in the 1983 tv adaptation starring Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke:

Charlotte Brontë eventually had her own real-life proposal scene, but at first she turned Arthur Bell Nicholls down. Their romance grew, however, and they eventually married and found great happiness. It was an all too brief happiness, for on this day 1855 Charlotte Brontë died in the cruellest of circumstances: when she was pregnant.

The Easter story is one of hope triumphing over devastating loss, the hope of eternal life, of eternal love. In a very real way Charlotte Brontë still lives today, for as long as this Earth spins people will read her books, know her name, and love her.

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

I had a proposal scene of my own this week. I’ve been on holiday in Lapland with the love of my life, and I’m thrilled to say that she has agreed to become my wife. I’m over the moon with happiness, so may I wish you all a very Happy Easter and I hope you can join me here at the earlier time of next Friday, the 5th of April, for some more good Brontë news!

Where Was The Real Thornfield Hall?

Spring has not yet sprung and we are still enjoying dark nights where you can snuggle up with a good book. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë is one of those books that you can read time and time again, and of course many people do just that. In today’s post we’re going to look at one of the enduring mysteries of the book: just where was the real Thornfield Hall?


Like all of the Brontë novels (Wuthering Heights to a lesser extent, although it was inspired at least in part by a real life family feud) Jane Eyre has autobiographical elements. Dig deep under the surface of many great books and you can often find a trace of the author and their life, but in the Brontë books you don’t have to dig too far. The eponymous Jane has a passing resemblance to Charlotte Brontë herself, and Rochester has more than a passing resemblance to Charlotte’s unrequited love Constantin Heger – which is perhaps why Charlotte so stridently defended Rochester against all charges that he was a less than romantic hero. The shadowy, brooding family seat of Thornfield Hall is almost as imposing a character in its own right – but did Charlotte conjure it from her magnificent imagination or was it a building she knew?

Just like the Wuthering Heights which gave Emily’s novel its name there are many buildings which have claimed a connection to Thornfield, or had it claimed for them. One such building is The Rydings, or simply Rydings, which was the Birstall residence of the Nussey family – amongst whom was Charlotte Brontë’s loyal best friend Ellen Nussey.

Rydings was home to Ellen Nussey

The Nusseys were a wealthier and better connected family than the Brontës, as shown by the fact that two of Ellen’s older brothers became royal apothecaries to the monarch. Charlotte must have loved her visits to Rydings not only because of the love and friendship waiting for her there but also because of its grandeur compared to draughty, crowded Haworth Parsonage. We know that it was at Rydings that Charlotte Brontë corrected the proofs of Jane Eyre, and yet she somehow managed that without Ellen discovering what she was doing or that she had written a book.

Rydings plays an important role in the Jane Eyre story, but could it also have been the inspiration for Thornfield Hall? Rydings today has a rather less grand purpose given its historic and literary significance, as it is now used as a reception building for a surrounding paint factory but we can still see its castellated design – a feature shared by Thnornfield. On the whole, however, I feel Rydings is an unlikely Thornfield Hall. It’s certainly not small, but it’s not as large as Thornfield is in its depiction, and it was a place associated with friendship and happiness in Charlotte’s mind, not with the drama and despair we see associated with Rochester’s home.

Norton Conyers

Another popular option is Norton Conyers House. The house is often simply referred to as Norton Conyers, the name of the nearby village, and it dates back to medieval times. Located near Ripon in North Yorkshire it is a fine looking house, but without any battlements that Bertha could have toppled from. It is through Bertha, however, that Norton Conyers gains its Eyre-ish connection.

It is said that a former owner of Norton Conyers kept his mad wife locked up in an attic accessible via a stone stairway. The room is still bare and forbidding and has the unfortunate title ‘Mad Woman’s Room’. This was enough proof for The Guardian to declare, in 2004, that the mystery of Thornfield Hall had been solved forever, but they had arrived at the wrong solution. Charlotte Brontë did make a brief visit there in 1839, and would have heard the story which may well have stayed in her mind and influenced the tragic tale of Bertha and Edward. There were many such sad stories at the time however, and indeed Charlotte knew of a woman who had been kept a prisoner in Haworth itself. Norton Conyers is a grand house, but it bears little physical resemblance to Thornfield. On another note, the name of the family who have owned Norton Conyers since the 17th century is the Graham family. When Anne Brontë came to write of a woman who was trapped by an abusive husband, she gave the tenant of Wildfell Hall the name of Helen Graham.

‘The Mad Woman’s Room’ at Norton Conyers

One of my followers on Twitter, Jo Welch, recently tweeted me with another possible Thornfield candidate: Netherby Hall in Cumbria. This hall was also owned by the Graham family, and its large and impressive exterior looks much more like Thornfield.

Jo’s four times great-grandfather Lister Ellis was steward of Netherby Hall and his son, another Lister Ellis, is said to have known Charlotte and Emily Brontë. It is said, so Jo informs me, that Charlotte attended dinner at the hall, where she heard a tale of a staircase hiding a mad wife! It may be, however, that Netherby is simply too grand to be Thornfield.

Netherby Hall

Three fine buildings and three fine candidates, but for me there is no mystery at all. It is clear where Thornfield Hall is, because Charlotte Brontë told us all along. In the summer of 1845 Charlotte Brontë spent an extended period of time at Hathersage Parsonage with Ellen. They were preparing the parsonage for the return of Ellen’s brother Henry Nussey – the newly appointed vicar of Hathersage was also newly married and away on his honeymoon. Whilst in Hathersage, Charlotte became well acquainted with the leading family of the district – the Eyre family.

This is shown in a letter Ellen sent from Hathersage to her friend Mary Gorham on 22nd July 1845 in which she gives a detailed account of her time in the Peak District with Charlotte Brontë. In this letter Ellen writes: “At North Lees we have paid two or three visits… We had Mrs. Eyre’s pony and we went a little way up cave dale.”

North Lees Hall


North Lees Hall, on the perimeter of Hathersage, was the family home of the Eyre family. It’s pictured above, and as you can see it has the castellated roof of Thornfield, not to mention the same bleakly beautiful setting. But the biggest clue of all, the conclusive proof in my opinion, is its name. Charlotte Brontë was hiding the truth in plain sight all along. 

North is an anagram of Thorn and the following meaning of Lees is taken from the Ancestry website:

Therefore lees equals fields or field, and so North Lees becomes Thornfield. There can be no doubt; like all great writers, Charlotte Brontë may also have taken snippets of inspiration from multiple sources, but Morton in Jane Eyre is Hathersage and Thornfield is North Lees Hall. I hope you can join me next week for another new Brontë blog post.

Patrick Bronte’s Beginnings In Drumballyroney

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, but it’s also a day we remember another Patrick – for on this day in 1777 in Drumballyroney, County Down (that’s it at the top of this post) a local farmer’s wife had a son who was named after the patron saint whose day it was. Patrick Prunty, or Brunty, was a natural scholar and, with the aid of a local priest named Thomas Tighe, came to Cambridge University in 1802. It was there he changed his name to Patrick Brontë. Reverend Brontë encouraged his children to read and learn, and he was royally rewarded when his daughters Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë became some of the greatest novelists the world has ever known.

Young Patrick Brontë
Portrait of a young Patrick Brontë

In previous posts down the years we’ve looked at Patrick Brontë’s life and influence, from saving a boy from drowning to throwing a prizefighting village bully over a hedge, to campaigning for better sanitation in Haworth – a move which saved tens of thousands of lives. Patrick Brontë had a life filled with tragedy, he did after all bury his wife and all six of his children, but it was a life well lived, one filled with incident. As Patrick himself said: “I do not deny that I am somewhat eccentric. If I had been numbered among the calm, sedate, concentric men of the world I should not have been as I now am. And I should in all probability never have had such children as mine have been.”

In today’s post we remember Patrick’s homeland, as it’s a very appropriate way to do it. Charlotte was the only Brontë sibling to visit her fatherland, as she spent her honeymoon there in 1854 with Arthur Bell Nicholls, another Irishman. The Irish spirit of courage and creativity shone through in all of their writing, and in their lives, however. We are going to do this through the eyes of the 1894 book ‘The Brontës In Ireland: Or Facts Stranger Than Fiction’ by Dr. William Wright. Here is the chapter on Patrick’s birth and on his parents Hugh and Alice:

So we can see that Patrick Brontë was born in a lowly cowshed, but thanks to his genius daughters his name will live on forever. To all of you, have a happy St. Patrick’s Day, a happy Sunday, and I hope to see you here next week for another new Brontë blog post.

Patrick Bronte
Patrick Bronte encouraged his daughters’ creativity

A Mother’s Day Tribute To Maria Branwell

Today in the United Kingdom (although other countries celebrate on different dates) we celebrate Mother’s Day, so in today’s new post we’re going to take a brief look at a woman whose life was all too brief: Maria Branwell, whose daughters Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte changed the world of literature forever.

Maria Branwell was born into a prosperous and well connected merchant family in Penzance, Cornwall on 15th April 1783. Her father Thomas Branwell was a wealthy businessman, and under him the Branwell property empire and fortunes grew. Maria’s brother Benjamin rose to become Mayor of Penzance, but she was particularly close to her sisters Charlotte and Elizabeth, who would become better known as Aunt Branwell after sacrificing everything to raise Maria’s children after her tragic and untimely passing. At the top of this post you can see Maria (in blue) in a Penzance mural.

Maria Branwell by Tonkin
Maria Branwell by James Tonkin

It was the death of Maria’s parents Thomas and Anne that led her, in the summer of 1812, to make the arduous journey from Cornwall to Yorkshire to work as an assistant in a school that had been opened by her Aunt Jane and Uncle John Fennell (as a comparison, this is a longer journey in miles than the one her daughters Charlotte and Emily would later take when they travelled from Haworth to Brussels).

Thomas Branwell b J. Tonkin
Maria’s father Thomas Branwell

The school was in Rawdon, between Bradford and Leeds, and John Fennell had recently recruited a new classics examiner for the schoolchildren. It was a friend of his from his days in Shropshire who had also moved to Yorkshire. He was of course Patrick Brontë, and when he and Maria first saw each other it was love at first sight. The rest, as they say, is literary history.

Woodhouse Grove School
Woodhouse Grove School where Maria met Patrick in the summer of 1812

One part of Maria’s story that is often overlooked is that she herself was a brilliant mind and an excellent and fluid writer, as Charlotte Brontë found out as an adult when presented with a very special gift by her father. It was a lovingly preserved and cared for package of her mother’s letters, and the effect on her was very moving:

‘It was strange now to peruse for the first time the records of a mind whence my own sprang – and most strange – and at once sad and sweet to find that mind of a truly fine, pure and elevated order. They were written to papa before they were married – there is a rectitude, a refinement, a constancy, a modesty, a sense, a gentleness about them indescribable. I wished she had lived and that I had known her.’

We still have some of Maria’s love letters to Patrick, who she christened ‘my saucy Pat’, and they are beautifully written, often playful, but most obviously full of love. By this time neither she nor Patrick were in their first flush of youth, she was approaching her thirtieth birthday and he was six years older, but they fell head over heels for each other almost instantly, and were married within six months of their first meeting.

As early as 5th September 1812 their love is evident, as is the fact they had already decided to be together:

‘O my dear friend, let us pray that we may live lives holy and useful to each other and all around us! I pitied you in your solitude, and felt sorry it was not in my power to enliven it.’

By 18th September, Maria was writing:

‘I believe a kind Providence has intended that I shall find in you every earthly friend united; nor do I fear to trust myself under your protection, or shrink from your control. It is pleasant to be subject to those we love.’

Maria was certainly having an effect on Patrick too, and he could think of nothing but his love to the point where he often forgot anything else. After forgetting to tell the Fennells about visitors to the school that he had arranged, John Fennell thought Patrick’s behaviour had become so out of character that he should be sent to the lunatic asylum in York (presumably he only said this in jest). Maria reports this in the same letter as above:

‘I do not know whether you dare show your face here again or not after the blunder you have committed. When I got to the house on Thursday evening, even before we were within the doors, we found that Mr and Mrs Bedford had been there, and that they had requested you to mention their intention of coming – a single hint of which you never gave. They all agreed that I was the cause of it. Mr Fennell said you were certainly mazed and talked of sending you to York. Even I begin to think that this bears some mark of insanity!‘

By 24th October, their feelings for each other were in no doubt, as Maria writes:

‘Unless my love for you were very great how could I so contentedly give up my home and all my friends… Yet these have lost their weight… the anticipation of sharing with you all the pleasures and pains, the cares and anxieties of life, of contributing to your comfort and becoming the companion of your pilgrimage, is more delightful to me than any other prospect which this world can possibly present.’

The last surviving letter of Maria’s extant today is dated 5th December:

‘We intend to set about making the cakes here next week, but as fifteen or twenty persons whom you mention live probably in your neighbourhood, I think it will be most convenient for Mrs Bedford to make a small one for the purpose of distributing there, which will save us the difficulty of sending so far.’

The cakes were for their wedding, as they were married in Guiseley’s St. Oswald’s church 24 days later. These were the letters that Charlotte Brontë loved to read, and they revealed a warm, witty, loving woman. This is how we should remember Maria Brontë, nee Branwell, as well as for the brilliant family she bore, as we say ‘Happy birthday, Maria Brontë!’ Incidentally, we’ll be saying that again in a week’s time, in a sense and for a different reason, as although we don’t know the exact date her first child, the kind, brilliant and prodigious genius Maria Brontë junior, was born, she was baptised on 23rd April 1814.

St. Oswald's Church, Guiseley
St. Oswald’s Church, Guiseley, site of a joyful event in 1812

Five further children followed in quick succession: Elizabeth, Charlotte, Patrick Branwell, Emily Jane and Anne. Shortly after Anne’s birth the family moved to Haworth. Maria and Patrick were now in a larger property, with a larger income and a large family – it should have been the beginning of a period of great happiness in Maria’s life, but tragedy was drawing closer. Just a year after the birth of her youngest child, Anne, Maria fell desperately ill and after a long and painful illness she died. Nevertheless, her legacy lives on thanks to the works of genius by her brilliant daughters. 

Maria Bronte Morrab Library
With a familiar face at the amazing Morrab Library

If you are a mother or grandmother, I would like to wish you a very happy Mother’s Day. If you are missing a special someone on this day, may the memories be happy and comforting ones. Thank you for all the positive comments after last week’s post regarding my upcoming Bronte podcast, look out for more news soon. I hope you will join me next week for another news Bronte blog post. 

Bronte Remembrance

In my nine years of creating this blog my aim has always been to create a tribute to Anne Brontë and her family, a Brontë remembrance. In today’s post we’re going to look at two Brontë poems dealing with remembrance, as well as looking ahead to a new way in which I will be remembering the Brontës, their lives and the incredible literary legacy they’ve left.

Anne and Emily Bronte in 1834
Anne and Emily Bronte by Branwell Bronte

First, let us look at one of Emily Brontë’s greatest poems – titled ‘Remembrance’ it has become known for its first words, ‘Cold in the earth’. F. R. Leavis, the legendary 20th century literary academic, gave it his unstinting praise saying: ‘Emily Brontë has hardly yet had her full justice as a poet… her Cold In The Earth is the finest poem in the 19th century part of The Oxford Book Of English Verse.’

“Cold in the earth – and the deep snow piled above thee,
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee,
Severed at last by Time’s all-severing wave?
Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover,
Over the mountains, on that northern shore,
Resting their wings where heath and fern-leaves cover,
Thy noble heart forever, ever more?
Cold in the earth – and fifteen wild Decembers,
From those brown hills, have melted into spring:
Faithful, indeed, is the spirit that remembers,
After such years of change and suffering!
Sweet Love of youth, forgive, if I forget thee,
While the world’s tide is bearing me along;
Other desires and other hopes beset me,
Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong!
No later light has lightened up my heaven,
No second morn has ever shone for me;
All my life’s bliss from thy dear life was given,
All my life’s bliss is in the grave with thee.
But, when the days of golden dreams had perished,
And even Despair was powerless to destroy,
Then did I learn how existence could be cherished,
Strengthened, and fed without the aid of joy.
Then did I check the tears of useless passion –
Weaned my young soul from yearning after thine;
Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten,
Down to that tomb already more than mine.
And, even yet, I dare not let it languish,
Dare not indulge in memory’s rapturous pain;
Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,
How could I seek the empty world again?”

Charlotte Bronte George Richmond
Charlotte Bronte by George Richmond

Remembrance was also on the mind of Charlotte Brontë in her poem entitled ‘Parting’:

“There’s no use in weeping,
Though we are condemned to part:
There’s such a thing as keeping
A remembrance in one’s heart:
There’s such a thing as dwelling
On the thought ourselves have nurs’d,
And with scorn and courage telling
The world to do its worst.
We’ll not let its follies grieve us,
We’ll just take them as they come;
And then every day will leave us
A merry laugh for home.
When we’ve left each friend and brother,
When we’re parted wide and far,
We will think of one another,
As even better than we are.
Every glorious sight above us,
Every pleasant sight beneath,
We’ll connect with those that love us,
Whom we truly love till death!
In the evening, when we’re sitting
By the fire perchance alone,
Then shall heart with warm heart meeting,
Give responsive tone for tone.
We can burst the bonds which chain us,
Which cold human hands have wrought,
And where none shall dare restrain us
We can meet again, in thought.
So there’s no use in weeping,
Bear a cheerful spirit still;
Never doubt that Fate is keeping
Future good for present ill!”

We don’t have a ‘remembrance’ from Anne Brontë, but we do have her mournful ‘A Reminiscence’:

“Yes, thou art gone ! and never more
Thy sunny smile shall gladden me ;
But I may pass the old church door,
And pace the floor that covers thee.
May stand upon the cold, damp stone,
And think that, frozen, lies below
The lightest heart that I have known,
The kindest I shall ever know.
Yet, though I cannot see thee more,
‘Tis still a comfort to have seen ;
And though thy transient life is o’er,
‘Tis sweet to think that thou hast been ;
To think a soul so near divine,
Within a form so angel fair,
United to a heart like thine,
Has gladdened once our humble sphere.”

The Brontës knew the importance of remembrance, and we know how important it is to remember the Brontës. They weren’t simply a collection of sublime novels and poems, they were a living, breathing family with an incredible story of their own. A family who faced a succession of challenges and heartaches, triumphed against all the odds, yet finally succumbed to the ultimate tragedy.

It is this incredible story that I will be telling in my new podcast ‘The House Of Brontë’, coming later this year. It will be available on Apple, Spotify, YouTube and more, and across a series of episodes I will tell the Brontë story from beginning to end – helped by some special guests who give unique insights into this endlessly fascinating family.

I first posted the above trailer on my Twitter feed yesterday, and was blown away by the positive response; in one day it’s had over 27,000 views and it’s clear that there’s still a lot of Brontë love out there!

If you have any suggestions for the podcast, or if you’d like to be a guest on the podcast, please do ­contact me.

If you run a business, or know a business, who would like to sponsor or support ‘The House Of Brontë’ podcast please drop me a line too – it would be great to hear from you.

I’ll bring you more news once launch day for the podcast approaches, but in the meantime I hope you will join me again next week for another new Brontë blog post.