Saturday 20 September 2014

What Charlotte Did - Joan Lennon

I've just finished reading a wonderful blog by Penny Dolan over on The History Girls, about a series of connections that lead her from a randomly-chosen book from her shelves, right through a whole string of 19th century names, fictional characters and relationships, all linked by a wooden-legged chap called W.E. Henley.  Which made me think of Charlotte Bronte.  Recently, she's been my W.E. Henley. 

It started with a Facebook post - which sent me to the Harvard Library online site where they have been working on restoring the tiny books Charlotte and Branwell Bronte made when they were children - which led to my own History Girl post Tiny Bronte Books.  (Please, if you go to have a look, scroll down to the bottom and watch the Brontesaurus video - you won't regret it.)

I'm in the midst of editing an anthology of East Perthshire writers called Place Settings and was delighted to read in one of the entries the author's interest in the Brontes, and how "... every night, the sisters paraded round the table reading aloud from their day's writings."

Then I got involved in a project run by 26, the writers' collective, in which writers were paired with design studios taking part in this year's London Design Show, and asked to write a response to one of their objects.  I was given Dare Studio who were putting forward, among other lovely things, a new design - the Bronte Alcove.

The alcove is meant to be a private space within public places, blocking out the surrounding bustle and noise.  Which made me think of bonnets.  Which led me back to the internet, which led me, by way of images of hats, to the passage below, written by Elizabeth Gaskell on her visit to Charlotte at the parsonage:

I asked her whether she had ever taken opium, as the description given of its effects in Villette was so exactly like what I had experienced, - vivid and exaggerated presence of objects, of which the outlines were indistinct, or lost in golden mist, etc. She replied, that she had never, to her knowledge, taken a grain of it in any shape, but that she had followed the process she always adopted when she had to describe anything which had not fallen within her own experience; she had thought intently on it for many and many a night before falling to sleep, - wondering what it was like, or how it would be, - till at length, sometimes after the progress of her story had been arrested at this one point for weeks, she wakened up in the morning with all clear before her, as if she had in reality gone through the experience, and then could describe it, word for word, as it had happened. I cannot account for this psychologically; I only am sure that it was so, because she said it.

Which led me to wonder ... my own practice has always been to try not to think about work when I'm courting sleep.  And I have rarely, if ever, walked round my table of an evening, reading aloud from my day's work.  But have I been losing out here?  Do you do as Charlotte did?  I would be most interested to know.

Meantime, I wait for the next popping up of my very own W.E. Henley.

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.


Sue Purkiss said...

I do think about work when I'm going to sleep. In fact, that reminds me, I did just that last night, and had at least one brilliant idea. Now, what was it...? (Haven't just made that up - it's annoyingly true!)

Love the idea of a Bronte chair!

Becca McCallum said...

I do love Gaskell's work on Charlotte. I read it a few years ago during a period where I was feeling very low, and mercifully did not have to do much other than dog-walk and read. It was lovely to come back in from the winter weather and grab a cup of hot tea, curl up on the chair with the spaniel on my lap and be transported to the past. The bit that sticks out in my memory was when she is describing the area around Haworth, and is rather scathing about the inhabitants tendency to name their children after famous people. Nothing much changes!