I’m so happy everyone is enjoying this series featuring wonderful women! Thanks so much for all the support so far. The Celebrating Women Series for 2017 continues with article #5 today. If this is the first article you’ve read so far, March is Women in History month and so I’m featuring writers and authors who sent in guest articles surrouding women and topics about women. In fact, it will extend way past March we’ve had so much interest to feature strong, impactful women. You can find a main page for this with explanation and link to all articles here. I’ll add the articles as I schedule or post them.
Introducing Sarah Parke and the Bronte Sisters
Today we have Sarah Parke, who is a “new to me” person and author but someone I can’t wait to get to know better! She is the author of a book about the Bronte siblings, which you’ll learn about at the end, and a writer of YA historical and fantasy fiction. She seems pretty cool!
I love the Brontes and their books. It adheres to all my love of the classics and their gothic elements and they were some of the leading lady forebearers for future novelists. Plus, it fits right in with PBS Masterpiece Theatre recently showing the movie “To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters.”
I really enjoyed reading Sarah’s post and I hope you do too. And check out all the Victorian covers she provided for the books she talks about!! Enjoy.
The Brontës’ Bookcase
By Sarah Parke, Author of The Mourning Ring
There seems to be some unwritten law of the universe that ensures the brightest, most creative minds are snuffed out at a young age. The Brontë sisters, authors of the literary classics Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (among others) died young. Emily and Anne both died of pulmonary tuberculosis at ages 30 and 29, respectively. Seven years later, Charlotte died at 39 from suspected pregnancy complications. These women were at the very beginning of their writing careers and still publishing under male pseudonyms. They would never hear the praise or know the acclaim their novels found among their contemporaries.
We’ll never know if other literary classics might have come from this family had they lived to old age. But let’s imagine (because it’s fun to speculate) that their subsequent novels would have drawn on some of the stories they loved as children.
“Patrick Bronte’s unusually liberal views meant that his children had an unconventional Victorian childhood. Strongly influenced by Wordsworth’s attitudes to education, he encouraged them to roam freely on the moors…and allowed them to read whatever they liked from his bookshelves.” (Christine Alexander’s Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal, pg. xv)
So what did the young Brontë siblings choose to read? Come along with me. Read the shelves and run your finger across the spines of the volumes that fill the Brontë children’s bookcase.
Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine – Blackwood’s was a Tory (Conservative) men’s magazine featuring poetry, literary reviews, as well as articles on British Army campaigns, Arctic explorations, and British imperialism in Africa. The first issue of Blackwood’s was published in April 1817, and it continued to be published until 1980. Charlotte often read the magazine aloud to her younger siblings. Charlotte and her younger brother Branwell “published” their own version of the magazine called Young Men’s Magazine where they reported (and criticized) the actions of their characters in a fictional land named Glass Town.
The Arabian Nights – This would have been an English language edition (published in 1706) of the Middle Eastern and South Asian story collection known as One Thousand and One Nights. The Arabian Nights uses a “frame story” of a woman named Scheherazade who tells her new husband, the king, part of a story every night in order to put off her execution. This frame narrative is woven throughout the other tales and ties the stories together. Fans of Wuthering Heights might recall that Emily Brontë used a frame story structure when Nelly Dean tells Mr. Lockhart the history between the Heights and the Grange.
The Pilgrim’s Progress – Believed to be the first novel written in English, The Pilgrim’s Progress is a Christian allegory written by John Bunyan in 1678. The entire book is presented as a dream sequence, and it follows the main character’s journey from sin to salvation. Perhaps it’s not that surprising that the Brontë siblings would be well-versed in such a book since their father was a clergyman. Jane, the titular character in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, makes reference to The Pilgrim’s Progress and makes her own journey to salvation over the course of the novel.
Gulliver’s Travels– Another travel story (popular in the Victorian age when your average reader never travelled far from the place they were born), Gulliver’s Travels was written by Jonathan Swift in 1726. It’s not hard to understand why the Brontës would have been fascinated and entertained by the comedic and fantasy elements of the story that brings them around the world with the narrator. Gulliver’s Travels was very influential to the young Brontës; their first stories were inspired by wooden toy soldiers the size of Swift’s Lilliputians.
Paradise Lost– Another story drawn from Christian allegory, this time from the Book of Genesis. Paradise Lost is an epic poem (like Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey) written by seventeenth-century English poet John Milton. The poem tries to account for Lucifer’s transgressions and subsequent Fall (from Heaven), in a way that makes the reader empathize with the devil. Perhaps Milton was the earliest known “Devil’s advocate.” The poem also depicts the events leading up to Adam and Eve’s ejection from Eden. I suspect that Charlotte and Emily also had a soft spot and a blind eye for Lucifer; their male protagonists (Rochester and Heathcliff) were notorious bad boys seeking redemption.
There you have it–the novels that provided the Brontë children with their earliest glimpse at life, love, and the world outside their small village. They were also fans of Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, and the Romantic poets (Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey).
Next time you pick up a copy of Wuthering Heights or The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, read a little closer and try to spot the references to the novels above.
Sarah Parke, Author Biography –
Sarah Parke is an author and editor. When she’s not writing about monsters in Victorian London or supporting the publication efforts at Globe Pequot Press, she enjoys spending time with her husband and their menagerie of animals.
Follow Sarah on Twitter, @SParkeAuthor or visit her website at www.SarahParke.com.
Her first novel, The Mourning Ring, is a Historical Fantasy about the teenaged Brontë siblings.
Purchase Links –
Thank you for following the series!
3 responses to “Women in History: The Bookcase of the Bronte Sisters”
The Bronte sisters always seem wrapped in a veil of sadness, don’t they? And yet look at what they did. I enjoyed your exposition, Sarah, and realized again the influence of books on young (and older) minds. Good luck with your own books!
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