Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wednesday, March 23, 2016 12:30 am by M. in , ,    1 comment

Western Winds: The Brontës' Irish Heritage
Edward Chitham
The History Press
4 May 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1845888336
The Irish family background of the Brontës has known a modest revival in the last decades. It is certainly true that more research has been carried out in the last quarter of the century than in almost all the previous history of Brontë research. Edward Chitham was, in a way, one of the instigators of the reassessment of Patrick Brontë's Irish family and social background with his 1986 The Brontës Irish Background. Several other biographers and scholars have extended his work not only in the purely historian task of checking first sources and period information but also through the internal logic of the poetry and novels of the Brontës, particularly Emily Brontë(1). Nevertheless, his partial vindication of the much maligned work by William Wright(2) was not entirely successful with and assumed by all Brontë scholars: Juliet Barker described his work as 'misguided' and 'unconvincing' in The Brontës (1994)(3).

This reformulation of his 1987 work has been substantially changed in several aspects where new research has been added and new resources have been addressed. The majority of the new elements were covered by the author himself in a recent paper in Brontë Studies: Edward Chitham (2014) The Brontës’ Irish Background Revisited, Brontë Studies, 39:2, 106-117. It seems only fitting to let the author explain himself:
Interest is again being expressed in the Brontës’ Irish background. A number of points can be added to the research detailed in The Brontës’ Irish Background of 1986 and K. Constable’s A Stranger within the Gates in 2000. An important factor is the definite date now available for Hugh Brunty’s birth. Further to this, new light has been shed on the demography of County Fermanagh by the publication of the Ordnance Survey Memoirs in
the 1990s and by more accessible copies of the Irish ‘Tithe Applotment’ and Griffith’s ‘Valuation’ on the Internet. This article brings some of this new material forward as a contribution to the understanding of the Brontës’ family heritage.
Although the painstaking attention to detail that Chitham uses to expose and trace the possible, plausible and speculative sources of Wright's claims, we don't think this new volume accomplishes more than the previous attempts by the author and others, in order to convince the sceptics. The sources and clues are still vague and compelling as many of them may be in Chitham's words, they're mainly circumstantial evidence. An example is the tracing of the bilingual Irish scribe and poet, Pádraig Ó Prontaigh as the plausible father of Hugh Brunty (the father of Patrick Brontë). This old suggestion(4) is substantiated with plenty of coherent details but with no conclusive proof.

The book could use a more exhaustive proof reading as many repetitions could be avoided and certainly its structure is not an easy one. In a book like this, a good index of names and places, a complete bibliography and more detailed and informative notes are quite helpful. Regrettably, the ones provided in this edition are far from perfect. Needless to say this does not contribute to present Chitham's theories as more credible and less speculative ramblings.


(1) Without any aim of being exhaustive: W.H. Crowe, The Brontës of Ballynaskeagh, 1978; J. Cannon, The Road to Haworth, 1980; K. Constable, A Stranger in the Gates, 2000. And papers like 
C. Heywood, 'Hugh Bronte's Tale of Welsh: A Bronte Narrative', Durham University Journal (1995), 279-88; H. W. Gallagher, ‘Hugh Prunty/Brunty/Brontë: Grandfather of the Brontë Sisters’, Brontë Studies, 28.2 (2003), 103–12; O. Arnedillo, "That Wind from the West", Brontë Studies, 31.3 (2006),  240-247.
(2) William Wright, The Brontës in Ireland (1893, reprinted 2004). The book was promptly contested by Angus MacKay, The Brontës: Fact and Fiction (1897) or J. Ramsden, The Brontës Homeland, or Misrepresentations Rectified (1897).
(3) Chitham, Constable and others hint to a premeditated (or not) attempt by the Brontë Society (since the Shorter days) to diminish and nullify all the non-Yorkshire elements of the Brontë family, particularly their Irish origins. These kind of conspiracy theories doesn't seem very likely to this half of BrontëBlog. Chitham himself doesn't introduce any of these elements (as opposite as his 1986 book) in his new book.
(4) Douglas Hyde, The Story of Early Gaelic Literature (1895):
I translated this from a manuscript in my possession made by one Patrick O'Prunty (an ancestor probably of Charlotte Bronte) in 1763.

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