Friday, June 17, 2016

Brontëites all over the world hearing the terrible news of the attack of MP Jo Cox may have noticed that it happened in Birstall, where Ellen Nussey lived and where she is buried. El Español (Spain) makes the Brontë connection:
Jo Cox cayó herida de muerte frente a la biblioteca local de Birstall, una aldea de apenas 20.000 habitantes no muy lejos de Oakwell Hall, la idílica casa de campo que Charlotte Brontë convirtió en mansión protagonista de su segunda novela, 'Shirley'. (Ana Romero) (Translation)
We have to say that we don't like reporting this sort of Brontë connections. R.I.P. Jo Cox. EDIT: The connection is also made on CNN.

On to regular Brontë-related news now. Charlotte Brontë may be glad to read that the research showing that she didn't make a dress gaffe when attending the dinner hosted by W.M. Thackeray is getting quite the coverage. Additionally to yesterday's article, Science Daily features the story too.
Colloquially coined the 'Thackeray Dress', this blue and white printed garment was always thought to have been worn by Brontë to a dinner, held in her honour at the home of her literary hero William Makepeace Thackeray on 12 June, 1850. However, a new study suggests this wasn't the case. [...]
In the paper, Unravelling the Mystery: Charlotte Brontë 's 1850 'Thackeray Dress', published in the journal Costume, Eleanor examines the style, fabric, context and history of the dress, which is normally housed at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, UK, but will shortly be at the Morgan Library, New York.
By delving deeper into surviving archival material, industrial practices and contemporary accounts, she confirms the garment can confidently be dated to the years close to 1850 -- around the time of the dinner in Kensington, London. However, contemporary sartorial codes and conventions cast doubt on its suitability as evening wear and call into question its association with the event.
One alternative theory for the purpose of the dress is revealed in a catalogue entry for its sale at Sotheby's in 1916, describing it as being made for Charlotte's honeymoon -- but Eleanor also discounts this, stating: "By 1854, the fashion was for larger, more voluminous sleeves. Charlotte Brontë's own 'going away dress' of the same year features full, heavily pleated sleeves that taper to a narrow wristband. Conversely, the 'Thackeray Dress' features close fitting sleeves, more commonly associated with the fashions of the early years of the 1850s."
Having considered all the evidence, findings point to another solution to the mystery of the 'Thackeray Dress'. Sometime between 6 to 12 June 1850, during the same trip to London as the dinner engagement, another meeting took place between Charlotte Brontë and writer William Makepeace Thackeray. This was a private morning meeting, for which a printed day dress would have been appropriate. Eleanor comments: "The white and blue delaine Thackeray dress would have been the right choice for such a meeting. Its high neck, long sleeves and mid quality, printed fabric point to pretty, but unassuming morning attire. Though it can never be categorically proven, it is possible that the dress is associated with this earlier engagement, not the evening dinner.
"We know Charlotte was embarrassed when she wore an inappropriate dress to the opera on her first visit to London, so with this in mind, I think we can be confident it is unlikely she would have made the same mistake twice, by wearing a day dress to an auspicious evening occasion -- particularly one of such personal and public significance."
Furthermore, the research also reveals that a written account of the dinner, placing the dress there, in the 1914 book In the Footsteps of the Brontës, is actually based on second hand information -- raising a question mark over its reliability.
Professor Maria Hayward, a historian and textile conservation expert at the University of Southampton says: "Charlotte's blue and white dress is a fascinating piece of clothing that reveals many insights into the life of its owner. Its size, the choice of materials and cut, and the quality have all allowed Eleanor to piece together when it was worn and what it reveals about the public life of this very private author."
Eleanor concludes: "My work deepens the mystery of this dress, but whatever the truth, it continues to exert power. In many ways, the myths that surround such an object -- in this case involving the literary giants of both Charlotte Brontë and William Makepeace Thackeray, add a value and interest out of all proportion to its original worth."
Journal Reference:
Eleanor Houghton. Unravelling the Mystery: Charlotte Brontë’s 1850 ‘Thackeray Dress’. Costume, 2016; 50 (2): 194 DOI: 10.1080/05908876.2016.1165956
From the abstract of the paper:
In the summer of 1850, there was a frisson of excitement in London society. Charlotte Brontë, the recently revealed writer of the best-selling novel Jane Eyre, was in the capital, staying with her publisher, George Smith. The highlight of Charlotte’s trip was a large, formal dinner hosted by her literary hero, William Makepeace Thackeray. To this august event it has long been assumed that she wore a floral print, white and blue delaine skirt and bodice. This article begins by examining the colloquially named ‘Thackeray Dress’ in detail, before considering the evidence given in support of it having been worn to the dinner on 12 June 1850. The style and fabric of the dress are then compared to others of the period and this is followed by an examination of contemporary sartorial conventions, and the extent of Charlotte Brontë’s adherence to them. Questions raised by these findings are then considered alongside reports that suggest the dress may not have been worn on this occasion. Published in the bicentenary year of Brontë’s birth, this study questions the validity of the garment’s association with the legendary Thackeray dinner and, in so doing, attempts to separate fact from fiction.
This year also marks the bicentenary of the birth of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and New Republic has an article about it.
The form of Frankenstein, the nest of stories within stories, each told by a different narrator, has mostly fallen out of fashion. But the “frame story” was very much in vogue during the heyday of the Gothic novel, a genre popular during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Frankenstein is perhaps the most famous and enduring example, though Muriel Spark argues persuasively that it “was the first of a new and hybrid fictional species.” Shelley’s novel, Spark suggests, combines elements of the Gothic (the supernatural, the grotesque, the theme of pursuit, the frisson of terror) with a more modern portrayal of the relationship between Frankenstein and his monster. Caleb Williams, the novel that Mary’s father William Godwin published in 1794, is also a frame narrative and also locks its two main characters in a murderous game of flight and pursuit. Emily Brontë employed a similar strategy in Wuthering Heights, which appeared in 1847: the character Lockwood’s narrative (and diary entries) give way to, and are interspersed with, the housekeeper Nelly Dean’s account of the dramatic events at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. (Francine Prose)
Vice's Broadly has compiled several 'horror stories' of  some of the 'worst-ever exes'.
I have always thought Wuthering Heights was underappreciated compared to the other works of entry-level Victorian literature. While Emily Brontë's sister Charlotte became more of a staple for her simpering female protagonist who inexplicably falls in love with a boring user and lives happily ever after, Wuthering Heights is actually fun to read.
What carries the book is that it features not one, but two, terrible exes. After sharing years of tender affection with her childhood friend and beloved, Heathcliff, Catherine Earnshaw becomes a duplicitous snob and rejects her true love because of his low social status, poor breeding, and unkempt manner; Heathcliff, in turn, becomes incensed and runs away. Catherine regrets dumping him so much that she becomes ill with one of those vague, 19th-century illnesses they were always getting; Heathcliff comes back and accepts advances from Catherine's sister to get revenge. Catherine gets another one of those illnesses, dies, and haunts him until he, too, dies. They are distillations of some of the most selfish, manipulative, and generally bad impulses that can come out of love, something that was once precious and beautiful. That is why Kate Bush wrote a song about them. It is also why, when I put out a call for people to tell me about their horrible exes, I received an overwhelming response. (Lauren Oyler)
This columnist from The News (Pakistan) recalls just how
interesting it was to apply Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical approach to Wuthering Heights. (Tooba Ghani)
The New Yorker uses Charlotte Brontë's opinion of Jane Austen to recommend a stage adaptation of Sense and Sensibility:
Charlotte Brontë complained of Jane Austen, “The Passions are perfectly unknown to her.” But Brontë never saw the Bedlam company’s hurtling, ardent staging of “Sense & Sensibility,” which has returned to the Gym at Judson for an encore. 
Also in the New Yorker: famous novels retitled as episodes of Friends:
Wuthering Heights”: “The One with the Bad Marriage” (Jason Adam Katzenstein)
There have been several reviews of the film Me Before You mentioning Heathcliff, but The Sydney Morning Herald is the first to bring up Jane Eyre too:
It should be clear from this account that the film isn't to be taken as a realistic study of disability. The powerful yet wounded aristocrat is a stock figure of romance, going back to Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre (and reappearing, for that matter, in Fifty Shades of Grey, where the hero's sadistic compulsions are supposed to stem from damage of another kind). What this offers the genre is a way of managing the power dynamic between the couple: Will has the upper hand economically and socially, but on the physical level Lou remains in control. (Jake Wilson)
Times of India recommends A Little Book of Happiness by Ruskin Bond, which is
peppered with the words of wisdom by stalwarts from different walks of life - authors, political leaders, scientists.
Some of them include - Jane Austen, Mahatma Gandhi, Dalai Lama, Charlotte Brontë, Osho, Pablo Neruda, Sylvia Plath, Stephen Fry, Benjamin Franklin, Leo Tolstoy, Albert Camus, Oscar Wilde, William Shakespeare, Aldous Huxley and Rumi among others.
Financial Times has an article on Penzance.
Behind the lido and the neighbouring lagoon-like harbour, where kids in wetsuits splash like seals each evening, lies Chapel Street, the town’s historic spine. Now Penzance’s most charming and buzziest street, it was here that Maria Branwell, mother of the Brontës, was born (Carl Wilkinson)
The Telegraph and Argus reports on the results of a local poetry competition:
In the Years 6 - 8 category, the winner was Caiomhe Richards, 10, from St Cuthbert & The First Martyrs' Catholic Primary School. She wowed the judges with her poem Memories.
The poem looks at the district's unique character, referring to its moors, cobbled streets, Brontë connections and historic buildings like Lister Mill. [...]
Wandering through the neighbourly town
Memories filled my mind like a tap filling an overflowing sink
Remembering, exploring jungles of Moors,
Chasing on the cobble
Paddling in the Aire,
Can you guess where I am?
Of course, it’s Bradford
Climbing up the steep hill,
The icy wind cheered me to the top,
I looked up and followed a plane with bright eyes,
Until I found a piece of history,
Lister Mill,
A tourist’s place,
Can you guess where I am?
Of course, it’s Bradford,
Walking to the home of three writers,
Who once I did not know,
I read the front covers of their books,
All written by a Brontë
Can you guess where I am? Of course, it’s Bradford
Rounding up my memories,
I hear a gentle voice say
“Excuse me love”,
I then move,
And carry on with my day,
Making new memories,
Can you guess why I’m here?
Of course, it’s Bradford
A place to make memories.
By Caiomhe Richards, aged 10 at St Cuthbert & The First Martyr's Catholic Primary School (Chris Young)
Congrats to the young lady - the Brontës would be proud of her!

The latest Brontë Society war is reported in France by Actualitté. Coincidentally, Helen MacEwan writes about the Brontë Society AGM on the Brussels Brontë Blog and this is her view of that moment:
Entertainment of another sort was provided by the Brontë Society AGM. For some years the Brontë Society council has been divided about the best way to run the museum and the direction the Society should take. Stormy moments in recent annual general meetings have been relayed with glee by the local and national press, particularly last year when the then President Bonnie Greer jokingly threatened to bang on the table with her Jimmy Choo shoe to restore order. The new President, Judi Dench, was unable to be present to chair this year’s meeting, which got off to bumpy start when questions were asked about the recent resignations of several council members, with one member protesting loudly that the former chair should be allowed more time to give her account of events. This year the press came up with headlines such as ‘Withering Slights’ (‘Wuthering Fights’ was a favourite last year). Tempers cooled down, however, for the second part of the meeting. The new chair, John Thirlwell, set out his vision of a more ambitious Society and Museum and introduced Kitty Wright, the new Museum Director.
Helen MacEwan has also written an article on The Great Charlotte Brontë Debate for the Brontë Parsonage Blog.

Nexo (Brazil) includes the Brontës on a list of women who disguised themselves as men to achieve something.   Cecil Daily reviews The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell. Art & Soul posts about Lyndsay Faye's Jane Steele. El azul de las cosas writes in Spanish about Jane, le renard et moi. Fourth & Sycamore reviews Claire Harman's biography of Charlotte Brontë.


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