Autobiography Lucasta Miller Bronte Myth

ISBN 13: 9780099287148

Bronte Myth

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9780099287148: Bronte Myth

Since 1857, hardly a year has gone by without a book or play or monograph or film about the Brontës. Each generation has reimagined Charlotte, Emily, and Anne in ways that reflect changing visions—of the role of the woman writer or of sexuality or of the very concept of personality. Charlotte Brontë has been seen as domestic saint, as sex-starved hysteric, as ambitious literary careerist. Her sister Emily has been furnished with apocryphal lovers of both sexes; has even been denied the authorship of Wuthering Heights by conspiracy theorists who attribute it to her brother, Branwell.

Now Lucasta Miller, in The Brontë Myth, shows us how the Brontës became cultural symbols almost as soon as their novels were published; how they became notorious even before the veil dropped from their carefully chosen pseudonyms, as Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights, appearing out of nowhere, instantly fascinated, inspired, and scandalized English readers.

The subsequent discovery that Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell were three youngish spinsters— parson’s daughters—living rural lives of utmost propriety made interest in the sisters obsessive. Add a supposedly ferocious father and untimely death, to say nothing of the Victorian penchant for seeing noble sacrifice in every possible situation, and the production of legends multiplied.

Lucasta Miller provides fascinating insight into the manufacture of cultural myth and how it can distort our memory of the artist even as it obscures the art. She traces the reinterpretations, indeed re-creations, of the Brontës, from Charlotte’s own efforts to soften her dead sisters’ reputations and Mrs. Gaskell’s classic portrait of the artists as exemplary Christian ladies to the fashionably Freudian psychobiographies of the 1920s and ’30s, from counterfeit memorabilia and the promotion of literary tourism to Hollywood representations of gloomy heroines on savage windswept moors. She rescues the Brontës from their admirers and attackers, giving us back three vivid women who, with little formal education, were writing in the days when few women dared to try: geniuses and sisters who, in the words of a household witness in the late 1850s, were “as cheerful and full of spirits as possible.... full of fun and merriment.”
From the Trade Paperback edition.

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About the Author:

Lucasta Miller has published research on Milton and worked as a literary journalist for The Times, Sunday Telegraph, New Statesman, TLS, Economist and the Independent, of which she was Deputy Literary Editor. This is her first book.
From the Trade Paperback edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1
To Be For Ever Known

If the twenty-year-old Charlotte Brontë had been told that she would one day be a household name, that her picture would hang in a future National Portrait Gallery, and that pilgrims would travel to Haworth on her account from as far away as Japan, she would have been delighted but not altogether surprised. The image of the Brontës presented in Charlotte's own "Biographical Notice" of her sisters casts them as "unobtrusive women" shunning fame. Yet Charlotte's early ambition was not merely to write but "to be for ever known."

By the time she died, at the age of nearly thirty-nine, in 1855, she had indeed become a celebrity. Two years later, with the publication of Elizabeth Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Brontë, she became a legend. Yet her journey from private individual to public persona was less straightforward than her naive twenty-year-old self might have hoped. Instead of a triumphant progress out of obscurity into the "light & glory" of literary renown, she would have to travel a tortuous route, characterized as much by evasion and self-effacement as by self-exposure.

She soon realized that, as a woman writing in an age in which "authoresses" were "liable to be looked upon with prejudice," it was expedient to disguise herself under a male-sounding pseudonym if she was to make her work public. In her novels, that pseudonym would give her the freedom to use her own emotional life as the basis of her art, allowing her to revolutionize the imaginative presentation of women's inner lives. She was so uninhibited in her portrayal of the female psyche that her heroines shocked many of her contemporaries and were accused of unwomanly assertion, morbid passion, and anti-Christian individualism.

So when her pseudonym began to slip and her real identity became known in literary circles, Charlotte had to seek out a new sort of protective "veil" to distract attention from the unacceptable elements of her fiction and deflect attacks on her personal morality. She found this shield in her social persona as the modest spinster daughter of a country parson, disingenuously insisting to those she met on the literary circuit that she bore no more than a fleeting external resemblance to the rebellious Jane Eyre. Unlike the French novelist George Sand (1804-76), who wore men's clothes and took a stream of high-profile lovers, Charlotte never sought a bohemian lifestyle. Sand's novels, with their frank portrayal of female desire, may have influenced her writing. But Charlotte the clergyman's daughter was not prepared to sacrifice her respectability. She was well aware that she lived in a society where "publicity . . . for a woman . . . is degrading if it is not glorious" and where the line between celebrity and notoriety was perilously thin.

If Charlotte Brontë was her own mythologizer, she invented two distinct and conflicting myths, the second designed to deflect attention from the first. One was the positive myth of female self-creation embodied by her autobiographical heroines, Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe, who forge their own sense of selfhood in conflict with their social environment. The other, which eventually inspired the saintly heroine of Elizabeth Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Brontë, was a quiet and trembling creature, reared in total seclusion, a martyr to duty, and a model of Victorian femininity, whose sins against convention, if she had unwittingly committed any, could be explained away by her isolated upbringing and the sufferings she had endured. Both had their elements of truth in aspects of Charlotte Brontë's private character, but both were imaginative constructs, consciously developed.

Charlotte's perception of the writer's self as material for mythology derived from her Romantic inheritance, as did the lifelong belief in her own genius, which enabled her to achieve what she did in literature against the odds. Her youthful faith in writing as a route to immortal fame had been established early on in childhood. Because of the way her public image was molded after her death, her family has, over the past century and a half, been primarily remembered for its tragedies. But what made her able to transform herself into one of the major novelists of the nineteenth century was the fact that she grew up steeped in literature, defining herself as a writer from a very young age. Charlotte was five when her mother died and eight when she was sent with her sisters to the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge, where the eldest two, Maria and Elizabeth, contracted the tuberculosis that killed them. Yet within a year or so of these damaging experiences, Charlotte had recovered sufficiently to form an intense bond with her three surviving siblings, Branwell, Emily, and Anne, in boisterous imaginative games fueled by the literary tastes their father encouraged. Like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who talked metaphysics with his infant son Hartley, the Reverend Patrick Brontë took a Romantic interest in his children's development and encouraged their precocity.

Charlotte and Branwell later recorded how their "plays" began in 1826 with the present of a box of toy soldiers. In real life, death had intruded as an arbitrary force. In play, they could take control when, as four gigantic Genii, they held the power of life and death over the diminutive wooden men. Soon, they began to make tiny magazines for the soldiers, writing out their own compositions in microscopic script. This scribblemania continued long after they had outgrown the toys which had originally inspired it and eventually became a purely literary adventure. By the time they were into their teens, their understanding of the term "Genius" was more metaphorical than it had been, but no less potent. Eventually, the siblings split off into two separate camps, Charlotte and Branwell chronicling the history of the imaginary kingdom of Angria while Emily and Anne invented their own fantasy world, Gondal.

At an early age, the young Brontës formed a habit of treating writers as heroes. In one game, played when they were aged between seven and eleven, each had to pick an island and its chief men. Their chosen leaders included literary figures such as Sir Walter Scott, J. G. Lockhart, Leigh Hunt, and "Christopher North" (John Wilson) of Blackwood's magazine, all of whom were clearly believed to be as powerful as a man of action like the Duke of Wellington, who was also selected. Though Emily's and Anne's early prose has not survived, Angria and its predecessor Glass Town are vividly documented in Charlotte's and Branwell's voluminous juvenilia, which reveal their fantasy world as a place where writers were important figures.

Charlotte's early-established belief in the writer as an exceptional individual derived from her sophisticated childhood and teenage reading and continued into adulthood. During the 1820s and 1830s, Blackwood's magazine, and later Fraser's, formed the core of her cultural education. Unlike today's magazines, these periodicals were not mere ephemera but would have been kept and reread like books. They offered an often highbrow mix of poetry, fiction, satire, criticism, philosophy, history, and political commentary, often sustained to booklike length. Blackwood's, in particular, turned its contributors into cult figures, such as James Hogg, "the Ettrick Shepherd." A serialized "Gallery of Literary Characters" in Fraser's during 1832 reinforced the celebrity status of the writer. Steeped in the fallout from the Romantic movement, these magazines fostered the belief that poets were not mere linguistic craftsmen, but privileged souls whose personalities were as important as their actual literary output. One Blackwood's article on Byron in 1828 casually refers to "Great Poets" as "the Chosen Few." Another, two years later, also on Byron, describes famous poets as "fixed stars" forming their own "celestial clubs."

In their imaginary city of Glass Town, Charlotte and Branwell could aspire to join this heavenly clique by writing poetry and prose under the pseudonyms of their favorite characters. These alter egos were all, without exception, men. As Christine Alexander points out, writing was regarded in the Brontë household as "very much a male domain." At this stage, Charlotte had no conscious anxiety about unquestioningly identifying herself with the power and privilege of her narrators, who were male simply because she had few female models to emulate (there was no Jane Austen, for example, on the Parsonage shelves). The conflict between her gender and her desire to write would only become explicit later, particularly when she made contact with the real-life world of professional letters. Even so, it still provoked latent tensions in her juvenilia which would not be finally exploded until Jane Eyre, in which she used woman's voice. Charlotte's best mature fiction is remarkable for the subjective intensity of its female first-person narrators, but in her juvenilia she tended to adopt the pose of a cynical and detached male narrator. Something held her back from total engagement, except as a voyeur.

When thirteen-year-old Branwell threw himself enthusiastically into the character of Young Soult, an inspired poet, fourteen-year-old Charlotte could only stand back and mock in a satirical drama, The Poetaster. Soult is turned into Henry Rhymer, a drunken coward who writes trite little verses about his own Orphic powers, stamps his foot, and treats his social superiors with absurd flattery one minute, insults the next. When Lord Charles Wellesley, Charlotte's cynical alter ego, reads Rhymer's effusions, he can hardly contain his giggles. Rhymer ends up being kicked out of the room by another of Charlotte's alter egos, the Angrian prose author Captain Tree. Rhymer responds by murdering the unfortunate Tree, but is reprieved on the gallows when Tree is magically brought back...

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Descrizione libro Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2002. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Since 1857, hardly a year has gone by without some sort of Bronte biography appearing. These range from pious accounts in Victorian conduct books to Freudian pyschobiographies, from plays, films and ballets to tourist brochures and images on tea-towels, from sensation-seeking penny-a-liners to meticulous works of sober scholarship. Each generation has rewritten the Brontes to reflect changing attitudes - towards the role of the woman writer, towards sexuality, towards the very concept of personality. The Bronte Myth gives vigorous new life to our understanding of the novelists and their culture and Lucasta Miller reveals as much about the impossible art of biography as she does about the Brontes themselves. Codice libro della libreria AB99780099287148

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Descrizione libro Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2002. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Since 1857, hardly a year has gone by without some sort of Bronte biography appearing. These range from pious accounts in Victorian conduct books to Freudian pyschobiographies, from plays, films and ballets to tourist brochures and images on tea-towels, from sensation-seeking penny-a-liners to meticulous works of sober scholarship. Each generation has rewritten the Brontes to reflect changing attitudes - towards the role of the woman writer, towards sexuality, towards the very concept of personality. The Bronte Myth gives vigorous new life to our understanding of the novelists and their culture and Lucasta Miller reveals as much about the impossible art of biography as she does about the Brontes themselves. Codice libro della libreria AB99780099287148

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