Friday, October 02, 2020

Friday, October 02, 2020 10:42 am by Cristina in , , , , ,    No comments
The Guardian reviews Sophie Hannah's new book Happiness, a Mystery and quotes some of our favourite words by Charlotte Brontë along the way.
But there is a related concern. Is happiness – such a fugitive state of mind – amenable to detection or logic at all? Charlotte Brontë skewered the notion in her novel Villette: “Happiness is not a potato, to be planted in mould, and tilled with manure.” These days, we prefer our happiness gurus to have arrived at their commandments via crappy experiences. Revelations of suffering – akin to religious purification – are prerequisite for telling others how to live. But Hannah’s story seems a little different, her motivation more opaque. (Rhik Samadder)
The full quote only gets better:
No mockery in this world ever sounds to me so hollow as that of being told to cultivate happiness. What does such advice mean? Happiness is not a potato, to be planted in mould, and tilled with manure. Happiness is a glory shining far down upon us out of Heaven. She is a divine dew which the soul, on certain of its summer mornings, feels dropping upon it from the amaranth bloom and golden fruitage of Paradise. (Villette, chapter XXII)
We are somewhat confused by a headline from Daily Mail: 'For years, the glorious Brontë Museum has been a place of pilgrimage for fans of the sisters' books. But thanks to coronavirus, visitor numbers have plummeted'. Surely that should be 'because of coronavirus', right? Not 'thanks to' unless it was something they wanted to happen?
Tens of thousands have been coming to the Brontë Parsonage Museum every year since. But not any longer. Today, I find an orderly queue of six waiting outside the garden door. For that is the maximum allowed in at a time.
‘We started off this year in such an optimistic mood,’ sighs Ann Dinsdale, principal curator, who has been here for 31 years (‘Longer than the Brontës!’ she jokes). ‘Now we’re just working out how to survive the winter.’
It should, indeed, have been a bumper summer for this handsome if severe hilltop home where the three prolific Bronte sisters produced such classics as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights while their widowed clergyman father tended to his parish.
This marks the bicentenary of the youngest, Anne, and the museum had been planning major celebrations. The Brontë Society, which runs the place, had also just acquired a much-prized treasure which it had been pursuing for years — the ‘Little Book’, a matchbox-size compendium of jottings by 14-year-old Charlotte Brontë.
It was finally bought, thanks to a £500,000 Lottery grant, and went on show with great fanfare last November. Just four months later, however, it had to be locked away again, along with everything else.
Life has been a constant struggle ever since. The museum depends almost entirely on footfall to make ends meet and that stopped overnight. Nearly all of its 40 staff had to be furloughed, while Ann and a skeleton crew worked out how to turn a small Grade I-listed house into a Covid-compliant visitor attraction.
It is hard enough to reconfigure a shop or an office or a restaurant to suit the coronavirus rulebook. But what do you do with, say, Emily Bronte’s tiny bedroom, just wide enough for a 5ft bed?
It is a situation facing many of our smaller literary museums across the UK and, with every new Covid restriction, the outlook becomes more bleak.
At least the Brontë Parsonage is lucky enough to qualify for a £133,000 grant from the Arts Council as a ‘National Portfolio Organisation’ — a core collection. But many other equally well-loved museums do not.
Yet all these places, however tiny, are not merely sacred to their supporters but to our entire cultural landscape. Collectively, they shape our national identity. No other nation can claim a literary heritage on this scale. (...)
You have to see and feel these places. It’s not until you walk through the graveyard alongside the Brontës’ home — crammed with dismal slabs mourning entire families wiped out in quick succession — that you realise how life in 19th-century Haworth, with its appallingly contaminated water table, was also a death sentence. No wonder the Brontes (who lost their two elder sisters to childhood illness) wrote the way they did —and died long before their time.
It explains why museums such as this have such a passionate fan base. After Covid struck, the Brontë Parsonage received an emergency grant from the Arts Council, but things were still desperate. So the trustees launched a public appeal for £100,000.
Donations flooded in from all over the world. ‘Then one night it shot up by £20,000 and I thought: “Oh my goodness. What’s this?”,’ says marketing manager Rebecca Yorke. It was a donation from the literary estate of the poet T.S. Eliot. The custodians of one literary giant had simply wanted to help a kindred spirit.
What’s more, museums like these keep entire communities afloat. Look at Haworth, with its Brontë trails, its Brontë-themed shops, its Wuthering Arts gallery, even a local ‘Brontëbus’. (Robert Hardman)
Judging from this interview by The Boston Globe, writer Jennifer Offill didn't enjoy reading Jane Eyre.
BOOKS: What was your most recent toughest read?
OFFILL: I just read “Jane Eyre” with my daughter. I found that a slog through 520 pages. It’s sooo long. Jane is getting ready to have people over for Christmas, and then 40 pages later she’s still doing that. (Amy Sutherland)
Elvis Costello opens up about his teenage obsessions in The Guardian.
There was a Labour government when I was in my teens, so the secondary modern kids were given a reading list of working-class literature: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Billy Liar, John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, alongside an occasional Emily Brontë and a Shakespeare. I wrote my essays off the film versions of those books. They were revolutionary because it wasn’t polite society stuff, it was raw and tough. (Dave Simpson)
Eclectic and Eccentric discusses 'Agency and Abuse: Comparing the Protagonists of Mansfield Park, Rebecca, and Jane Eyre'.

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