Thursday, February 11, 2016

Thursday, February 11, 2016 12:40 am by M. in    No comments
As we reported earlier, the writer Margaret Forster (1938-2016) has died. Her prolific body of work never crossed paths with the Brontës except for a couple of biographies and several mentions here and there in her novels. Let's take a brief survey of the Brontës appearing in Margaret Forster's books.

Her biography of Daphne du Maurier (1993) contains a lengthy discussion of Du Maurier's biography of Branwell Brontë (in the chapter Breaking Point):
The project she decided to embark on was the kind of book she had never attempted before — a straightforward, properly researched biography of Branwell Brontë. She had always loved the Brontës ever since at the age of twelve she read Wuthering Heights — 'it's the most extraordinary book, miserable and very highly strung ... it left me sleepless' — and in 1955 had been pleased to be asked by Macdonald to write the introduction to a reissue of the novel in their classics series. She had taken the task very seriously, using it as an opportunity to go to Haworth and visit the parsonage and the Brontë Museum with Flavia and Oriel Malet. The three of them stayed at the Brontë Guest House ('main meal at 6.3o pm and no alcohol!') and had long walks across the moors, thinking themselves into the lives of the three sisters and becoming quite swept away by the atmosphere of the parsonage, especially the nursery, which Daphne found 'very happy ... why do people pretend it is gloomy?' When she got back, she read all the juvenilia of the Brontës, published in the Shakespeare Head edition, and was struck by the amount of work done by the ill-fated Branwell. (...)
Another biographical book (although narrated in first person) where Charlotte Brontë features is in Memoirs of a Victorian Gentleman: William Makepeace Thackeray (1978):
Miss Charlote Brontë, for example, was forever taking me to ask over and urging me to live to the image I had (...) (p 167-170).
And several Jane Eyre mentions:
What I was actually reading was mostly still children's stuff, Arthur Ransome and such like, though I'd read Jane Eyre and had attempted Virginia Woolf (Orlando, of which I made nothing whatsoever). It was always annoying when the rest of the family began arriving home and the house once more became more like a busy meeting place than a library.  (My Life in Houses (2014) p.27)
'About what, ma'am?'
Jane Eyre, the sensation of London last summer, or so everyone writes to me. I see no reason why you may not read it, Wilson. it is about a poor governess, of good family but in reduced circumstances, as so many are.' Mrs Browning looking at her curiously, then said, 'Wilson, do you remember first coming to Wimpole Street? And were you very afraid of us all? Did we make you suffer, like poor Jane Eyre, and were you very lonely?'
Wilson smiled. It was typical that one question should follow another without pause for reply. 'I remember it very well and thought everyone kind but I was lonely and lost, as you might expect.' (Lady's Maid (1990) p. 265)
A bed supported on massive pillars of mahogany, hung with curtains of deep red damask, stood out like a tabernacle in the centre; the two large windows, with their blinds always drawn .down, were shrouded in festoons and falls of similar drapery; the carpet was red; the table at the foot of the bed was covered with a crimson cloth; the walls were a soft fawn colour, with a blush of pink in it . . .He read on, but Gwen heard no more, only the rise and fall of his voice. She was in the room with Jane Eyre, oppressed by the mahogany and stifled by the red drapes. She fought for breath and there was a hissing in her head. It was the room of her nightmares. Her father noticed nothing. He loved to read to them and paid little attention to the effect of the words he read out. Should he look up from the book, he had Winifred to be gratified by. She sat, rapt, her mouth slightly open and her expres-sion one of utter concentration. (Keeping the World Away (2006), p 19)
I had to say I had no idea, that he had said he would make all the arrangements. I feel naive not to have checked such details, which are not so very minor. But I have some money. I am not Jane Eyre, and if anything unpleasant transpires, I can simply come home. Mr Russo is to pick me up at Tilda's address, tomorrow. (Diary of an Ordinray Woman (2013), p. 102)
Uncle Tom's Cabin she dismissed as sentimental and dull, and it annoyed her to be told how I had cried and cried over it, but she liked Jane Eyre. It was a bond I never had with my other children. Whatever happened later to us, it is an undeniable fact that there existed between Rosemary and me a wonderful closeness —  (...)
What did I care what colour the kitchen was, and, anyway, it always ended up the colour she wanted and had decided on before she ever opened her mouth. What she tried to do was persuade me that I actually wanted what she wanted. And as for the reading, I hated the books she gave me, even Jane Eyre. She liked melodramatic, sad stories. I like funny books, or comics. It was the same with the wireless, upon which we were heavily dependent.  (Private Papers (1996), p.61-62)


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