Monday, June 29, 2020

The Times has a fascinating article on the intriguing moccasins owned by Charlotte Brontë.
Sitting in the Brontë Parsonage museum archives are a pair of native American beaded leather moccasins.
Donated in 1983 by a Brontë enthusiast, the shoes arrived accompanied by a note claiming that they had once belonged to Charlotte Brontë and
curators have been puzzled by this ever since. How could they have made their way into the hands of a plain parson’s daughter from Victorian Yorkshire?
Now the mystery has been solved. In a chapter of Charlotte Brontë: Embodiment and the Material World published by Palgrave Macmillan, costume historian Dr Eleanor Houghton has managed to unpick the story. By examining the leather and stitching of the moccasins, as well as delving further into Brontë’s life, Dr Houghton has not only discovered how they first came to Yorkshire, but also their part in Brontë’s most grief-stricken years.
Dr Houghton said: “Any object always has a great deal to tell you . . . and it will speak on so many levels, from its method of manufacture and its composition to why it was made and by whom. Then you can work out how the object has been worn and who might have worn it.”
The leather, she discovered, was not as pliant as hide cured using traditional methods, while the glass beadwork was sewn into place using a paper pattern as a guide. The pattern is still intact and visible on the moccasins.
“Each Native American Indian tribe had their own styles and way of using the materials,” Dr Houghton states. “It is very likely that these particular moccasins were made in the mid- to late-1840s by the Mohawk tribe on the Kahnawake Reserve, near modern-day Montreal.”
This tribe is key to unscrambling the puzzle of how the moccasins ended up in the hands of Charlotte Brontë. “The shoes are so different to anything else Charlotte owned, so it’s very easy to dismiss them. However, we know that the Mohawks sold their items at markets in New York, which is where
the head office of American publishers Harper and Brothers was located,” said Dr Houghton.
She believes the shoes were likely sent to Brontë as a gift by the publishers around 1848, when they were hoping to gain another book deal with her.
This was not unusual; Brontë's own publishers Smith and Elder, who had a close relationship with Harper and Brothers, were also known to have sent her gifts.
Although any concrete evidence of this exchange was destroyed in a disastrous fire at the publisher's New York offices in the 1850s, the next stage of the shoes' story gives further clues. When the author's sister Anne fell fatally ill with tuberculosis, the same disease that had just months earlier killed their brother and sister, Brontë took her to Scarborough in a last-ditch attempt to save her ailing health. It is here that she was separated from her moccasins forever.
Dr Houghton's research has shown that, after Anne's death, Brontë left a box of items, including the shoes, in Scarborough, with instructions for them to be sent back home. Yet this never happened. Instead, the items stood in the same lodging house for years, before being handed down to the landlady's niece and eventually dispersed. The note that reached the Parsonage along with the moccasins in 1983 details the items thought to have been left behind by Brontë.
Among those listed were not only her shoes, but also two other Native American Indian-made items: a pair of very similar moccasins belonging to Anne and a beaded bag. 'The fact there were actually three items, makes it even more likely that the publishers sent them,' Dr Houghton said. 'An item for each of the sisters.'
So yes, Charlotte Brontë really did own such outlandish shoes. What is more, it is likely that they influenced her novel Shirley, which includes references to the Wild West and which she was writing when her sisters fell ill.
'From the wear on the moccasins, it's clear that Brontë was fond of them. Given their date, it is likely she would have had them on as she wrote and nursed her siblings,' said Dr Houghton. 'Victorian shoes and clothing were so restrictive, yet the moccasins were the opposite. During such a tough and sad time, the comfort afforded by the shoes probably mattered a great deal.' [...]
'She's going through a time of loss but is being forced to write a book quickly. She will have searched for something to draw on, and perhaps there were the moccasins, quietly providing both fashionable exoticism and necessary solace.' A poignant ending to a mystifying tale. (Sara Tor)
Author John Sutherland writes about lockdown as experienced by a shielder (a person who would be more at risk were they to catch coronavirus) in The Guardian.
As someone whose career was teaching and learning from literature, I have lived longer than every author, bar one, I’ve written a book on: Thackeray (died aged 52), Dickens (58), Walter Scott (61), Charlotte Brontë (38), Jane Austen (41), Shakespeare (52), Orwell (46). The exception is Hardy, who walked on through his Wessex countryside, noticing things others didn’t to the age of 87.
Daily Mail features Jacqueline Brown, a live-in caretaker of a manor house in St. Louis, Missouri, who wears period clothing (though presumably not moccasins) and says
I love the literature as well - particularly the Brontë sisters. Wuthering Heights is probably my favourite novel of all time. (Hayley Richardson)
ScreenRant lists the '10 Best Romantic Period Movies, According To IMDb', including
6/10 Jane Eyre (7.3)
This 2011 adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's novel of the same name is eerie and beautiful to watch. Mia Wasikowska breathes life into Jane Eyre and performs it with the tenderness, sensitivity, and sharpness that the role requires. Michael Fassbender plays the Byronic hero Edward Rochester with the rugged charm the role calls for. Their performance and chemistry turn this slow story into a very moving one. Viewers will be in a dilemma to root for their getting-together considering Rochester's ex-wife Bertha Mason as well. (Vdevi)
The Australian makes a poignant analysis of artistic freedom.
Literature should be the forum to explore competing cultural mores like this, testing them by the fire of a writer’s pen. Novelists from Emily Brontë to Miles Franklin and Philip Roth have used fiction to prick pretensions and mock insincerity. Yet fiction is dangerous territory for a writer in an era when a literal reading of their words trumps literary conventions. Once an author could place uncomfortable thoughts in a character’s head. But as novelist Lionel Shriver told me last week: “It’s now a little dangerous to express any non-orthodox opinion or statement, even in novels, even through the voices of characters.” (Nick Cater)
AnneBrontë.org concurs with the common opinion in thinking that Branwell wasn't the inspiration of Anne's Arthur Huntingdon in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Jan Ruth posts about Jane Eyre while Between The Pages Of A Book posts about Wuthering Heights.


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