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The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects
by Deborah Lutz (Author)
W. W. Norton & Company, May 2015
Arranging long-locked drawers and shelvesThis fragment from the poem Mementos by Charlotte Brontë heads the last chapter of Deborah Lutz's The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects but serves to define the whole book. Inspired by nine day-to-day objects that once belonged to the Brontës, Deborah Lutz tells about the Victorian context behind them. A context full of anecdotes and surprising examples both concerning the Brontës and their contemporaries.
Of cabinets, shut up for years,
What a strange task we've set ourselves !
How still the lonely room appears !
How strange this mass of ancient treasures,
Mementos of past pains and pleasures;
These volumes, clasped with costly stone,
With print all faded, gilding gone;
These fans of leaves, from Indian trees–
These crimson shells, from Indian seas–
These tiny portraits, set in rings–
Once, doubtless, deemed such precious things;
Keepsakes bestowed by Love on Faith,
And worn till the receiver's death,
Now stored with cameos, china, shells,
In this old closet's dusty cells.
Here are many autograph letters, pencil drawings, and other documents. But the most touching case - so touching that one hardly feels reverent in one's gaze - is that which contains the little personal relics of the dead woman. The natural fate of such things is to die before the body that wore them, and because these, trifling and transient though they are, have survived, Charlotte Brontë the woman comes to life, and one forgets the chiefly memorable fact that she was a great writer. Her shoes and her thin muslin dress have outlived her. One other object gives a thrill; the little oak stool which Emily carried with her on her solitary moorland tramps, and on which she sat, if not to write, as they say, to think what was probably better than her writing. ("Haworth, November 1904" by Virginia Woolf)So Deborah Lutz takes each object and writes a chapter around it, telling us both the Brontë story and the Victorian story, putting the Brontës firmly in the period they lived in but with which they aren't always really associated both because they lived in the earlier part of it and because their tastes and style tend to be reminiscent of an earlier period. And yet, looking at their belongings and their way of life, it's clear that they can't have been anything else. The Brontës were Victorians through and through.
Branwell sketched his aunt's head just after her death, with her cap neat and her face at rest.And the corresponding note says:
A page from Branwell's sketchbook that has the drawing of his aunt is reproduced in Brian Wilks, The Brontës (London: Hamlyn, 1975), 79.Puzzled by this reference and the fact that such sketch is not included, for instance, in The Art of the Brontës, we got in touch with Ann Dinsdale, who assured us that, 'The so-called Branwell sketchbook was discredited many years ago.'