Friday, 13 April 2012

Suffragettes, Abolitionists and Authors - Part III

This group of posts is about the next five women listed in chronological order from Deborah Felder's book, 100 Most Influential Women.   All of these posts are listed under the heading 'Influential Women'.

    Charlotte Bronte (1816 - 1855) Rated 44th amongst the 100 most influential women. Author of Jane Eyre, Villette and Shirley. Aged 27, developed crush on married man, a teacher in Brussels. Age 38, married, got pregnant and died.

    Emily Bronte (1818 - 1848) Rated 45th. Author of Wuthering Heights. Age 20, became teacher in Halifax, worked 17-hour days, health failed. Died of TB, aged 30.

    There is no doubt this was a brilliant family and that a number of their published works are classics.  Virtually every decade has produced a movie of either Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre or both, though granted this isn't necessarily a measure of their literary worth!  Though today they might be thought as stories more written for women than men, in their day they were thought to be remarkably unfeminine. However, after reading the Wikipedia entries for these two sisters and their parents, a remarkable collection of doom, gloom and death interspersed with literary genius and a bit of laudanum addiction, I'm thinking that there was something wrong going on there.

    The father initially did several apprenticeships, as a blacksmith, a linen draper and a weaver before entering higher education and becoming an Anglican priest. He married Maria Branwell, the daughter of a successful merchant. His position in Haworth was as a Perpetual Curate, which is a post held in a sparsely populated area which doesn't have a vicar. So far as I can tell, they were Perpetually Poor. The children entertained themselves by writing poetry and novels. The only son also painted, which apparently also involved the obligatory consumption of alcohol and possibly laudanum. The children's ill health is attributed to a poor water source, it being runoff from the church graveyard, to poor living conditions at a Yorkshire school for curates' children (later depicted at Lowood in Jane Eyre), and to overwork as teachers and governesses. Tuberculosis is of course contagious and its manifestation was encouraged by generally poor nutrition and of course there were no antibiotics at the time. For the most part, the Bronte offspring were felled by this disease:

    Elizabeth - died aged 11
    Maria - died aged 12, (both in 1825);
    Anne, died aged 29,
    Emily - died aged 30,
    Branwell, died aged 31 (all in 1848/49); all died of tuberculosis.
    Charlotte died aged 38 from TB, or possibly from severe morning sickness.
    Maria Branwell Bronte, their mother, died aged 38 from uterine cancer.

    Patrick Bronte, the father, lived to the age of 84; his son-in-law, Arthur Bell Nichols remained with Patrick until his death in 1861 and himself lived to be 87. This strikes me as quite strange, that's all I'm saying.


    BigLittleWolf said...

    This is fascinating, Shelley. One does have to wonder about the advanced age at which the men died, in contrast to the very early deaths of the women.

    Strange, indeed.

    Imagine if the women had lived longer - the lives they would have led, the literature they would have written beyond the remarkable pages they nonetheless left.

    Anonymous said...

    Heart breaking, isn't it? Poverty, malnutrition, illness, hints of madness (my sense of things after having read all of their novels!) and the striking difference in lifespan between the patron and the remainder of the family leaves me wondering what secrets lie beneath the published bios.

    Beryl said...

    One of the best bits in my favorite movie - Cold Comfort Farm - is how they make the point of what an utter imbecilte is the character played by Stephen Fry. They have him expound the theory that Branwell Bronte wrote everything that was credited to Anne, Emily, and Charlotte. Great way to make the audience lose any sympathy for him. Thanks for this interesting post.

    Carolyn said...

    How curious, I wonder if they had a natural immunity to the disease, and if so, what a pity those genes were not passed on!

    Shelley said...

    LBW - Yes, there would be hours and hours of more brilliant reading in the world! That said, I don't think I've yet read Villette or Shirley...and they are sitting on my bookshelf right now!

    Ilegirl - My thoughts exactly.

    Beryl - Oh, do you love Cold Comfort Farm, too?! It's one of the few films not Potter or Pratchett that Bill will watch, in fact he introduced me to it. Fry's character is almost pitiable until he comes out with that Branwell garbage, you're right. A clever way to finish off his credibility.

    Carolyn - I'd not considered that. Possibly the wife just wasn't genetically good breeding stock...I was thinking more along the lines of the men hogging the good food or something.

    LR @ Magnificent or Egregious said...

    Very interesting facts Shelley, I never knew the Bronte sisters died so young. So strange the men lived to be much much older, given the times and conditions!