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review 2019-11-04 15:35
Highly recommended to Brontës fans and to early XIX century historians
The Mother of the Brontës: When Maria Met Patrick - Sharon Wright

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

Despite being a fan of the Brontës, having visited Haworth, and read about them (although I’m no expert), on seeing this book I realised I didn’t know much about their mother, other than she had died when they were very young. The author explains quite well why that is the case, as there seems to be very little trace of her, other than some letters she wrote to her then husband-to-be, Patrick, and a religious tract she wrote. There are also comments and memories collected by others, mostly by those writing the biographies of her famous daughters, but little dedicated solely to her. I am grateful to the author for putting that to rights. She has done a great job, digging factual information about Maria Branwell, compiling written records (be it newspaper cuttings, diaries written by neighbours or social connections, correspondence and accounts by others), introducing and interpreting the few writings we have by Maria herself, and pulling together information about the era and the places where the family lived to help readers place the family as actors and social beings in the period and the locations where they lived.  The level of detail is just right, as well. Wright explains how dangerous and dreary the trip from Penzance to Yorkshire would have been in the early XIX century, the unrest in Yorkshire due to the Industrial Revolution and the machines replacing workers (the Luddites had much to say about that, although their actions didn’t have any long-term impact), and the differences in the social settings of Penzance and Thornton, for example, but these explanations never detract from the story. Rather the opposite; they make it all the more compelling.

I don’t want to go into too much detail and spoil the enjoyment of the many interested readers, but I thought I’d share some of the things I noted as I went along. I’ve already mentioned that Maria was from Penzance, but it seems that her father and the rest of the family were likely involved in smuggling (that, to be fair, seems to have been an almost universal occupation in the area). Hers was a large family, and to illustrate just how hard life was at the time, although they were fairly well off, five of her siblings died before they got to adulthood. Religion played an important part in her life, and it’s only fitting that she would end up marrying a priest. She knew Humphry Davy (later Sir Humphry Davy) when she was young, her life was quite full and she was well-connected in Penzance, so we get a sense of how much she must have loved her husband to sacrifice all that to follow him in his career moves, and also what a change in her circumstances she must have experienced. She was a keen reader, and their love of books was one of the things likely to bring her and Patrick together, and it is clear from her letters that she was a good (and even passionate at times) writer, with a sense of humour. She was a woman of her time, and although she had the confidence of those around her, she wished for a life-long companion to support her and guide her in accordance to the norms of the time and as we can see from her own religious tract, her ideas (or at least those she expressed in writing for the public) were pretty conventional. I was gripped by the difficulties Patrick had to face to get the post as priest in Haworth. It seems they were not fond of being told what to do or who to choose there, and he renounced twice to his position before everybody was finally in agreement with his nomination.

I was fascinated by the comments of the author about women’s diarists and their importance to get to understand what everyday life was like at the time. Men of the period wrote the official history, but they hardly ever took the time to note the little details, those we are truly interested in, that help us bring to life a particular era. I am particularly fond of the entries from the diary of Elizabeth Firth, one of the Brontës’ neighbours. My favourite must be: “We sat up expecting the Radicals.” For your peace of mind I’ll let you know that it seems they never came. Wright also defends the importance of the local press, as again they are the ones that keep records of those things that are not considered notice-worthy by big publications, but help make a community what it is. She laments the demise of many of those papers, and I could not agree more.

The book includes two appendixes with the full text of Maria’s letters and also her religious article titled “The Advantages of Poverty in Religious Concerns.” There is also an index with all the texts the author has consulted when writing this book, and I am sure people interested in learning more about the Brontës will find plenty of material there. There are also a number of illustrations, mostly photographs from the houses and locations mentioned in the book, some portraits and illustration, and also a recreation of what Patrick and Maria might have looked like on their wedding day (that I loved).

I recommend this book to anybody interested in the Brontës, in the history of Haworth and Thornton, and in the history of the early XIX century England, especially those who, like me, enjoy getting transported to the era and having a sense of what life was really like then. A deserved homage to a woman whose heritage was so important and so little acknowledged.

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review 2019-06-09 12:40
A wonderful gift for lovers of the Brontës, walking and history
Literary Trails: Haworth and the Brontës - Catherine Rayner,David F. Walford

Thanks to Rosie Croft of Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I love walking. Perhaps because I was a clumsy child (and I can’t say I’m the most graceful of adults, either), overweight, and lacking a good sense of balance, many sports didn’t like me (it was mutual!), but walking I could do, and I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity it gives us to contemplate life at a slow pace and to discover things, people, and places that might pass us by if we use other means of transport.

I love the Brontës as well. Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre have long been among my favourite novels (I must read some of Anne’s novels in English, I know), and I’ve lived and worked in Yorkshire, quite close to the area where they lived for lengthy periods, and loved the landscape as well. So, of course I had to have this book.

Wherever I visit, if I can fit in, I try to join a literary walk. It’s a great way to combine two of my favourite activities: reading and walking. (I also listen to audiobook while going for walks sometimes). If the guide is skilled and knowledgeable, you can learn fascinating information about the city or area, about the author or authors, and feel as if you were going back in time and experiencing what the place might have been like when the author lived there. This book offers us the same kind of experience. Although it is written as a companion for people planning a visit to Haworth and its vicinity, it is so packed with information, photographs, maps, literary references, and advice, that it will be indispensable to anybody who wants to learn more about the sisters and submerge herself or himself in the landscape the authors loved so much.

The book is divided into 20 chapters, it contains 19 walks of varied difficulty (some are short walks within the town of Haworth itself, and the first one, in fact, is a walk around the Parsonage where the Brontës lived, now a museum), and a few introductory chapters. There is the introduction proper, explaining the reasons behind the writing of the book, chapter 2 talks about West Yorkshire and the Haworth area, chapter 3 offers a guide to safe and responsible walking, chapter 4 summarises the history of the Brontë family and chapter 5 talks specifically about the Brontës in Haworth and what happened to them there. Then follow the chapters about the walks (some containing one walk in detail, while some of the later ones, which are longer and stray farther away from Haworth, sometimes include a couple of walks that might be combined, always offering options to reduce their length. There are even some that include the option of jumping on a train). The final chapter talks about the art of walking and what effects it had (positive and negative) on the Brontës. There is also a bibliography that will be of interest to anybody keen on increasing their knowledge on the sisters.

All the chapters are structured in a similar way, first offering a narrative, a fact file of the walk (including the Ordnance Survey Map, general information as to the terrain, level of difficulty, length, likely duration, facilities, and also any relevant warnings), followed by maps or graphics (depending on the topic), and then a collection of photographs, all in black and white, which can aid people going for the walks to find their location easily, but will help readers imagine what the place is like as well. (I must confess I would have liked to see colour photographs, but I can see how the black & white pictures recreate the nostalgic air of the area and help us imagine the old times, as they combine more seamlessly with the archival old photographs. It is also true that the moors change colours so dramatically with the seasons that it would be difficult to give readers an accurate idea of what the place is like in different times of the year).

What did I enjoy the most? Having visited Haworth, the surrounding area, the Parsonage, and having walked around (in town, but also some of the longer walks that include landscapes and buildings said to have inspired the sisters’ writing), I enjoyed the pictures, which reminded me of many familiar places and others that had passed me by (I must visit Thornton, where the family lived before they moved to Haworth, if I can). I also enjoyed the titbits of information about buildings, how those had changed over time, and how the authors managed to make readers imagine what the sisters and their family would have experienced and seen at the time, including also poems, and references to their work.

These are the moors above and beyond Haworth spreading for miles to the west and containing old farmsteads and ruined houses dating back to the Elizabethan era and where people have lived and worked for centuries. They can be covered in swirling mist or blazing sunshine, snow and piercing gales, or have an eerie calm. They can be loud with the cries of animals and birds or silent as a tomb in their deep holes and clefts. They are harsh and they are beautiful. (Walford & Rayner, 2018, p. 5).

While most of the book centres on the beauty and the wonders one can see and experience when visiting the place, the authors excel also at explaining what the living conditions were like at the time. Although today Haworth might feel quaint, charming, and romantic (yes, it is all that and lovely to visit, believe me), this is quite different to what it had been like at the time, when the living conditions were quite terrible, the industrial revolution was steamrolling everything, mills were popping up all around, filling the atmosphere with smoke and soot, transport was difficult, sanitation ranged from bad to inexistent… It is not surprising that the six Brontë children died young, as did their mother, and they were not the only ones.

“Through hard and dangerous work, squalid living conditions, polluted water supplies, poor sanitation and disease, the town of Haworth was killing its own community in the nineteenth century” (Walford & Rayner, 2018, p. 8).

The chapter of the walk around the graveyard attached to the Parsonage, chapter 8, reads at times like a gothic horror novel, with graves piled up 10 to 12 high, and rainwater running from the moors down the graveyard filtering into the drinking water, and likely being the cause of cholera, typhoid fever, and some of the other illnesses common at the time. (Life expectancy was 25 at the time). On the other hand, this same chapter also includes information on the symbolism of the carvings on the graves (for instance, a Celtic cross would mean eternity, and an angel with open wings, the flight of the soul to Heaven).

One of my favourite chapters (and yes, if I go back to the area I’ll be sure to take the book and follow as many of the walks as I can) is the last one, on the art of walking. It is a fascinating reminder of a time when people mostly walked everywhere, and they didn’t have appropriate clothing or shoes in most cases (the authors remind us that the father of the Brontës never owned a horse, and tells us of a visit of Branwell [their brother] to Charlotte that would have meant a 65 km (40 miles) round trip, walking, in one day. If you didn’t have a lot of money, there weren’t many options then, and your health could suffer if the weather was bad. But nowadays, we are lucky, and walking is a healthy option with many benefits, for our bodies and minds.

In summary, this is a fantastic book for people planning a visit to Haworth and the surrounding area, but also for anybody who loves the Brontës and wants to learn more about their time and lives in a visual and tangible way. It will inspire readers to visit (even if it is only with their imagination) the landscapes and the streets the sister walked, and will help them understand better what makes their voices so haunting and distinct. This book is also a beautiful gift to walkers and historians who want to learn more about this time and area in an engaging and enjoyable way.

As the authors say:

It is important to remember the old ways and the people of the past and the efforts they made to improve and enhance society, so that in the 21st century people in this country, and many others, can live healthier, easier and more entertaining lives. There is still much evidence of the past remaining which can help modern society to recall and appreciate its heritage. (Walford & Rayner, 2018, pp. 273-4)

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review 2015-08-09 00:00
The Brontës: Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of Three Sisters
The Brontës: Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of Three Sisters - Juliet Barker La leyenda literaria de los Brontë empezó con un juego de chicos.
Así lo contaba Charlotte en 1829:

"The play of the Islanders was formed in December 1827 in the following maner. One night about the time when the cold sleet and <?> dreary/ fogs of November are succeeded by the snow storms & high peircing nightwinds of confirmed <?> winter we where all sitting round the warm blazing kitchen fire having just concluded a quarel with Taby concerning the propriety of/ lighting a candle from which she came of victorious no candles having been produced a long pause suceeded which was at last broken by B saying in a lazy maner I dont know what to do this was reechoed by E & A
T   wha ya may go t’bed
B   Id rather do anything [than] that
& C Your so glum tonight T supose we had each an Island.
B   if we had I would choose the Island of Man
C   & I would choose Isle of Wight
E   the Isle of Arran for me
A   & mine should be Guernsey
C   the D[uke] of Wellington should be my cheif man
B   Her[r]ies should be mine.
E   Walter Scott/ should be mine
A   I should have Benti[n]ck
here our conversation was interupted by to us dismal sound of the clock striking 7 & we where sumoned of to bed. the next day we added several others to our list of names till we had got allmost all the cheif men in the Kingdom."


...para luego empezar a escribirse en libros diminutos improvisados con papel de diario:

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Primero les tocó a Branwell y a Charlotte inventar el mundo de Angria, con héroes de guerra sacados de las noticias que leían en revistas, imitando el estilo pero ofreciendo el original toque de la imaginación de ambos:

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(Fíjense el tamaño: 5cm)

Después le llegó el turno a las hermanas más chicas, Anne y Emily, quienes dieron origen al mundo de Gondal (la fuente de inspiración para el pre-Heathcliff y la pre-Catherine), influenciadas por las aventuras de los libros de Walter Scott y los amores controversiales de las poesía de Lord Byron (ambos ídolos máximos de los hermanos Brontë.)

Las historias evolucionaron hasta el punto en que la fantasía parecía, muchas veces, dominar la realidad. Para los Brontës Branwell, Charlotte, Emily y Anne, el mundo mágico, épico, de personajes heroicos y a veces brutales, era más apasionante que la vida misma, que la vida en aislamiento en el parsonage

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....los chicos, introvertidos, inocentes y mimados por un padre viudo (la madre había muerto de cáncer poco después de nacida Anne) y una tía soltera (sin contar a los escasos empleados, que eran familia también), inventaban la vida y la aventura por escrito, prefiriendo siempre el mundo de la imaginación al de la vida común.

Pero los chicos crecen, y esos hermanos tan unidos en el mundo de la fantasía y la poesía, crecieron y en el camino, los años adolescentes, los efímeros años adultos, vinieron las obvias separaciones, peleas, y decepciones.

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Y, sin embargo, nunca dejaron de ser esos chicos solitarios e introvertidos que encontraban más felicidad en la magia de la ficción que en la áspera verdad de la adultez.

-

Esta biografía es excepcional. Quienquiera que se le atreva a las 1000 y pico de páginas, va a conocer a fondo lo que fue la vida de esta familia. Olvídense de The life of Charlotte Brontë, la errada biografía que escribiera Elizabeth Gaskell- es esta biografía la indicada -absoluta- para aquellos que quieran conocer en detalle a los Brontë; ésta la que se ocupa en desmitificar por completo a los hermanos y al padre clérigo. Juliet Barker derriba hasta la última leyenda en pie con evidencias más que suficientes. Muestra a cada integrante de la familia como fue realmente. Humanos y nada más.

Desde Patrick Brontë abandonando su país natal, Irlanda, con terror a las revoluciones, buscando la vida pacífica en su religión; pasando por crisis económicas, guerras a lo lejos, matrimonios, muertes (porque hay demasiadas tragedias en la vida Brontë, demasiadas!) y cartas interminables desde Yorkshire hasta Nueva Zelanda. Cada palabra cuenta, cada violación a la intimidad que hiciera hace 150 años, Elizabeth Gaskell, con la ayuda de la "amiga" de Charlotte Ellen Nussey, cada traición es expuesta pero, a fin y al cabo, sirve para retratar quienes fueron estas personas. La traición que cometieran los mal llamados amigos de Charlotte son los que, el día de hoy, sirven para demostrar la humanidad de estos artistas.

Charlotte, la gran protagonista. La primera en tocar la fama con las manos.

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Egoísta, intelectual, guardiana, (y a la vez lo contrario) de sus hermanas , enamorada no correspondida que transformaba sus pasiones en literatura; la mujer que buscaba el reconocimiento a costa de cualquiera, la que pusiera en boca de Jane Eyre el "yo quiero ser tu igual" pero que perseguía el amor para someterse a él y quien, en los últimos meses de su vida, encontrara la felicidad total en el matrimonio con un clérigo "aburrido" y no en las letras que tanto bien le habían hecho de niña.

Branwell, the promise betrayed,

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el artista que nunca fue, autodestruyendose en alcohol y el opio; el gran orgullo de su padre y sus hermanas cuando era chico; quien, de grande nunca, por más esfuerzo que le puso (que está bien demostrado en este libro que el pobre adicto siempre luchó por no dejarse estar), no logró el éxito ni el amor que tanto deseaba, traicionado por una amante maldita (Mrs. Robinson, irónico el nombre para una mujer mayor y casada que no hizo más que aprovecharse de un joven prometedor para lueg contribuir a arruinar su vida, pagando sus adicciones) y por su propia imposibilidad para darse a conocer sin dejar su arrogancia de lado. Nunca malvado, siempre soberbio.


Emily, las más misteriosa de los cuatro. No porque guardara algún secreto, ni porque tuviese una doble vida; sino porque su vida era pura y exclusivamente su ficción: Gondal, el mundo de fantasía que creara con Anne. No se puede saber mucho sobre lo que sentía o pensaba, porque , efectivamente, Emily no
vivía ni pensaba más allá de Gondal. Sus historias (junto con sus perros) eran su gran alegría. Su Heathcliff y su Catherine, inspirados por su amor a las historias de Walter Scott y por las mismas historias de Branwell y Charlotte. (Sin la influencia de Branwell, quizá los libros jamás hubiesen existido), su amor por lo brutal que Charlotte tanto buscaba esconder del público (se da a entender que Emily había escrito una segundo novela pero Charlotte, para cuidar la reputación de su adorada hermana, tan devastada por la crítica por sus "personajes horrible", puede haber quemado el manuscrito antes de que otros pudiesen leerlo.

Y Anne, probablemente, la más sensata de todos. Cuando sus hermanos preferían ahogarse en la lástima por ellos mismos, era ella quien se levantaba y actuaba; la primera en buscarse trabajo y mantenerlo como se debe; la que escribía historias sin hacerle asco a las verdades. Hecha y derecha, menospreciada injustamente por Charlotte, negandose a dejarse manejar por ésta. Una genia menospreciada. La gran promesa que no tuvo tiempo de ser: injustamente olvidada, casi borrada (en parte por culpa de Charlotte, que se negaba a reconocer su talento, incluso después de su muerte). Juliet Barker demuestra a través de versos sin editar, la fuerza de voluntad y estilo propio que Anne tenía.

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Leer esta biografía tan extensa, tiene a veces el efecto de hacerte sentir estar hablando directamente con sus protagonistas. Yo me sentí así, al menos. Barker no esconde nada, no embellece nada. Todo está expuesto con objetividad. Demuestra a la perfección las verdades que Gaskell (manipulada por la traidora "amiga" Ellen Nussey) prefierió esconder. Como ien dice en algún momento:

"Charlotte and her sisters thus became the dutiful, long-suffering daughters and Branwell the wastrel son of a harsh, unbending father. The portrayal of Charlotte as the martyred heroine of a tragic life, driven by duty and stoically enduring her fate, served its purpose at the time. Charlotte’s wicked sense of humour, her sarcasm, her childhood joie de vivre which enlivens the juvenilia, are completely ignored. So, too, are her prejudices, her unpleasant habit of always seeing the worst in people, her bossiness against which her sisters rebelled, her flirtations with William Weightman and George Smith and her traumatic love for Monsieur Heger. What remains may be a more perfect human being, but it was not Charlotte Brontë.
Mrs Gaskell’s Emily, too, reduced to a series of vignettes illustrating her unusual strength of character, betrays nothing of the obsession with Gondal which made her almost incapable of leading a life outside the sanctuary of her home but led her to the creation of the strange and wonderful world of Wuthering Heights. Anne is simply a cipher, the youngest child, whose boldness in defying convention by adopting a plain heroine in Agnes Grey and advocating startlingly unorthodox religious beliefs and women’s rights in The Tenant ofWildfell Hall finds no place in Mrs Gaskell’s portrait."


...y cómo tan injustamente optó por manchar a Bell Nicholls, el viudo de Charlotte y al mismísimo patriarca Brontë, Patrick, con mentiras y falsas evidencias (todas de las bocas de gente envidiosa o resentida por alguna razón u otra).

"Most of all, however, it was the men in Charlotte’s life who suffered at her biographer’s hands. The Patrick Brontë who took such tender care of his young children, campaigned incessantly on behalf of the poor of his parish and espoused unfashionable liberal causes is unrecognizable in her malicious caricature of a selfish and eccentric recluse. Similarly, the Branwell who was his family’s pride and joy, the leader and innovator, artist, poet, musician and writer, is barely touched upon, despite the fact that, without him, there would probably have been no Currer, Ellis or Acton Bell."

Es un librazo difícil de leer porque, lo repito, no deja nada de lado. Los detalles a veces pueden resultar pesados o abrumadores, pero, al final, valen la pena leerlos para tener un entendimiento a fondo de cómo vivieron, cómo se sintieron y tristemente murieron los legendarios Brontë.

"More than anything else (...) they had each other. As children they had needed no other companions and in the sometimes heated, often intense, but always affectionate rivalry between them, they had each found a place and a voice. Even as adults they tended to exclude others: though self-sufficient as a unit, they were dependent on each other for the mutual support and criticism which underpinned their lives and illumined their literary efforts."


Al final de todo, ya sin las escritoras prodigiosas ni la promesa fallida del hijo, solos Patrick y el yerno Arthur contra el mundo, injustamente criticados y señalados debido a la publicación del libro de Gaskell. Solos para pelear por la memoria de los fallecidos y el respeto a la privacidad de una familia por siempre destinada a la leyenda.

Juliet Barker les da la oportunidad de reinvindicarse...una chance tan merecida para ellos! Branwell, condenado a ser un artista misterioso olvidado en adicciones, es, con justicia, es bien representado como un pobre pibe con aspiraciones que nunca pudieron ser (tanto en el arte como en el amor.) Ni tan maldito ni tan santo, sólo humano. Charlotte, que antes fuera una santa aburrida y sola, es introducida como una mujer capaz, con muchos defectos y egoísmos propios de un temperamento tan genial como problemático. Emily, el mayor misterio, desmitificada, presentada como una chica simple que prefería los héroes brutales de su amado Walter Scott a la vida social del afuera. Anne, la olvidada, ahora revivida como una cristiana cuasi feminista, que en sus libros y poemas fue más bisagra que Charlotte, más valiente, más inteligente y práctica, sus corajes más osados, sus historias mucho más realistas y menos románticas, tanto en la vida como en la literatura. Y, finalmente, Patrick, pintado por Ellen Nussey (y en consecuencia, por Gaskell, quien, en las palabras de Patrick : " “Well, I think Mrs Gaskell tried to make us all appear as bad as she could”.) como un tirano sin sentimientos, tanta injusticia, en esta biografía es el padre solo, de una inteligencia admirable que supo criar hijos geniales, dándoles todo el amor; después de ellos, triste, solitario y final, acompañado por la inquerantable amistad de MR. Charlotte Brontë, es decir, el viudo Arhtur Bell Nicholls.

Los Brontë, personas de carne y hueso, a veces más llenos de fantasías y sueños que de realidad. Aislados pero juntos, al final, en el paisaje de cumbres borrascosas que envuelve a la magnífica casa BrontË, en Haworth.

Muchas lágrimas, y mucho amor para ellos, que por siempre van a ser inolvidables. Los amo hasta el fin. Y (aunque sé que Barker nunca va a leer esto) igual, gracias a vos, genia total, biógrafa soñada, por semejante libro. Las Brontë (al menos Charlotte, Patrick y Branwell) seguro te estarían muy agradecidas.

(Reseña con links de interés y fotos explicadas en La Loca de los Libros.)
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text 2014-11-29 04:02
Currently reading
O Jerusalem - Laurie R. King
Framley Parsonage - David Skilton,Anthony Trollope
The Brontës: Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of Three Sisters - Juliet Barker
Dracula - Bram Stoker

I've not had a lot of listening time, so I haven't gotten much further in Dracula. I just updated the Bronte book. Just started Framley Parsonage and O Jerusalem.

 

Whenever I see other people's additions to currently reading lists, I always want to comment. Feel free to comment on what I'm reading here!

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text 2014-11-29 03:59
Reading progress update: I've read 13%.
The Brontës: Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of Three Sisters - Juliet Barker

I've gotten bogged down in this one, and haven't gotten as far as I would have liked, although after picking it up again tonight, I'm struck by how readable it is.

 

Also struck by how brief the period at Cowan Bridge School was for the Bronte sisters, although it had such a tremendous impact on them. Maria and Elizabeth both died at least in part because of the conditions there, and it was the model for Lowood School in Jane Eyre.

 

How horribly the Victorians treated some of their children.

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