Early February check in: Spark & Shelley & Bowie (and abject misery)


Screw April; February is the real Cruelest Month


February heard me telling it to sod off. It’s only the 10th, and it’s already wiped the floor with my pasty arse. Hell, so far all of 2018 hates my guts. Yes, I said I wanted an exciting year. But my definition of “exciting” is not being medicated with a variety of different pain killers.

Counting down to a life abroad, yes. That was exciting. This, not so much. GET IT RIGHT, 2018!

The fractured rib is old history. A week ago, I also broke a toe by accidentally kicking a wall while getting dressed (don’t ask). Ever broken a toe? Tried wearing shoes after? Every step is excruciating, like pardon me while I sob excrutiating. I’ve been clomping around in snow boots two sizes too big, just to walk at all. It’s not the best look.

And last night, a crown fell off my tooth, leaving an exposed root. You can’t put big snow boots on a tooth missing a crown. It hurts like son on a bitch. A friend recommended trying a temporary crown compound. Having no choice, I ventured out in a driving blizzard to find it. The plan was to shove this stuff in my tooth hole, then call my dentist the next morning for an emergency appointment. Satisfied the pseudo-crown wouldn’t fall out and choke me, I went to bed.

With big snowstorms come very loud snow plows. Waking in the middle of the night to the ear-splitting sound of metal scraping cement, I peeked out to see at least four to five inches of white, fluffy, frozen are you even kidding me on my balcony. Tapping the  fake crown with my tongue, I jiggled it a tiny bit. A piece fell off. Trying not to panic, I told myself maybe it’s just a little extra material. Half an hour later, another piece fell off. Then another. HOLY MOTHER OF GOD! By morning, out it popped, right in my hand.


Snowmageddon: February 2018


You know those nightmares about your teeth falling out? How horrifying they are? That’s for a reason: it IS horrifying. Fortunately, my dentist was able to fit me in at 9 a.m. While working on my tooth, he said, “You know, to fix this right I’d need to remove part of your gum. Or you may lose the tooth.”


Long story short, I’m sitting here now with a swollen, throbbing mouth, a temporary crown atop the gaping chasm, disposable sutures holding stuff together – stuff I really need to not picture in my mind’s eye right now. In a month, another two-hour appointment will find the permanent crown installed, one long nightmare ended.

You really do suck, February.

And 2018.


Spark & Shelley


Credit: The New Yorker


Muriel Spark’s bio of Mary Shelley nearly read, I went ahead and jumped into The Ballad of Peckham Rye. I couldn’t wait, sorry. I’m already ahead of heavenali’s reading schedule, but the way my luck’s going god knows what may happen to derail me. May as well take advantage while I’m upright and conscious.

Now this is the Muriel Spark I enjoy. I’m not ready to discuss it since I haven’t finished, but there’s a fascinating Scottish main character – Dougal Douglas – a very funny, very mischievous man. Up ’til now she hasn’t written any Scottish characters, not any central to the plot.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Why now, and why Dougal. And why Dougal Douglas, the humanities man.

I love village stories like this, character-driven tales of living in small towns. This one’s wonderfully funny; the taste of Memento Mori has been washed from my mouth – along with a lot of blood and some gum tissue. Sorry for that grotesque image. I’ve been so careful with it, haven’t I.

Sorry to the squeamish.

Anyway, I’m enjoying it immensely, and should finish over the weekend. I’ll talk about it then.


The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960)


As for Mary Shelley, my sympathy for her continues to grow. I didn’t realize she’d only had eight years with Percy. How sad she lost him so early, but then reading about his possible affairs with other women, I don’t see this as the grand romance I’d once imagined.

Of course it’s still sad he died tragically, even if he was kind of a mooch, as well as a lech. Kind of? Very much so. Not long before his death, he fell hard for first an Italian woman named Emilia, then a mutual friend of Mary’s. Only after he was gone did Mary learn the truth about the second woman. The first he didn’t bother concealing. She was his muse, of sorts, for a brief while. Now, what kind of man does that to his wife, especially one who’s given birth to and buried three of his children. Not just that, her devotion to him knew no bounds.

Did he love Mary? No doubt, of course he did. Still, that doesn’t give the spoiled genius another reason to act badly. I’m just not a fan of this man, am I. Let’s leave Percy for now.

What’s very saddening is how lonely she was after her husband died, how almost desperately she searched around for someone to love. A man whose love she rejected, but wanted to see her happy, tried pairing her with Washington Irving, of all people. Washington Irving, the American author of – among other things – “Rip van Winkle”. Sounds so odd, I can’t even say why.

The whole story is embarrassing, or would have embarrassed her, had she known. She really did seem to have a crush on Irving, and her would-be suitor knew it, so he showed Irving letters in which she’d “jokingly” made vague reference to her esteem for him. You know how 19th C letters go. Something as simple as, “Weren’t his boots so shiny, though! La! How well-dressed and mannered he is!” is like today’s “God, he has the tightest ass!”

SPOILER: It didn’t work out. Irving ignored it.

I’ll talk about the bio over the weekend, as well. Both books should be finished by then.

Bowie 100


Bowie 100 Read: The Fire Next Time


In Bowie reading, I already admitted Hawksmoor wasn’t to be. I bought a copy of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time to read for March. Thing is, I haven’t seen Duncan Jones actually discussing Hawksmoor. Maybe I’ve missed it on Twitter, but it hasn’t been obvious.

Mental note: CHECK, FFS.

If he hasn’t, and needs help with Baldwin, I wouldn’t mind stepping it up a bit. It is a short book, after all, Baldwin’s a masterful writer, and February (ahem) is Black History Month. A few discussion tweets wouldn’t kill me.

I honestly don’t know if I’ll continue reading the Bowie 100 if Duncan isn’t talking about what the books meant to his father. That was the interesting hook. But, again, I need to actually check on that.

I’ve been busy, what with bleeding and all.

Book Haul!

I still haven’t caught up with purchased, but here’s one recent haul:



I’m kind of also showing off my mid-century modern chair, too. And impeccable taste. But mostly, the books.



So, we have two Brontes, a Spark novel and work of criticism, and replacements of my Julian Barnes and Eudora Welty titles. Not in the detail are the wee Penguin books I love so much, and am slowly replacing.


This is what’s been keeping me so busy, not all of it pleasant. Truly, this year has been a downer.

I hope it turns around, I really do.

I’ll talk to you all this weekend, February willing.


The Bronte Cabinet by Deborah Lutz


  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (April 4, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393352706
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393352702


You may remember me from such manias as a fascination with all things Brontë, evinced by several posts written earlier this year.  Upon the Grand Event of the purchasing of Claire Harman’s biography Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart, published to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Brontë’s birth, as a preface to Harman’s book I began reading Lynne Reid Banks’s fictionalized biography of the family, The Dark Quartet, which lit a fire in me.

Thus began my Brontë year.

Over the past couple of weeks, in the midst of weeding my book collection, my hands again alighted serendipitously on Deborah Lutz’s The Brontë Cabinet. I’d received this advance copy months prior to its publication in May of 2015, however, before I could crack the cover life intervened. The publication of the book coincided with the beginning of my divorce proceedings, so unsurprisingly I didn’t get around to reading it last year.

That’s since been remedied. Over the course of the past couple of weeks I fairly flew through it, thoroughly absorbed. I’m surprised the pages didn’t catch fire, I turned them so quickly. And I have the inky hands to prove how often I underlined passages and wrote excited notes in the margins.


” … I feel the deep mystery of the lives of others in this palpable emissary of past moments, now impossible to recover. The texture of those lost days settle into possessions that outlive their owners, it seems to linger in a mended tear, a stretched elbow, a corner’s roundedness.”

  • The Brontë Cabinet


Reader, I’m smitten by the Brontës,  all over again.

I knew lots of the basic facts from other reading, but my world was positively blown apart by the revelations Lutz imparted. Really amazing things, explaining much about how these mousy pastor’s daughters came to produce turbulent, passionate works of sensuality and darkness.

Lutz’s premise is this: she takes eight objects owned by the Brontë family and explains not only their relevance to the family, but also each particular object’s place within Victorian society. The result is at once fascinating and fanciful, as the author both flexes her scholarly research muscles and, occasionally, engages in melodramatic leaps of supposition, imagining how the Brontës may have felt or acted or experienced, even when there’s nothing to back it up.

I love hard facts, and can sometimes indulge possibilities. Where I draw the line is in making sweeping assumptions based on the most tenuous of connections. Still and all, this is a remarkable book I will probably read again and refer to in future.

Following are the eight Brontë-related items, and a bit about each as presented by Deborah Lutz:

Item One – Tiny Books

Tiny books made by the Bronte children

Tiny books made by the Bronte children

Brontë lovers will recognize these as the wee works “published” by the Brontë children.  I’d give anything to touch them, to turn the pages and get inside their minds, wouldn’t you?

“This mania for scribbling wasn’t an unusual activity for literary middle- or upper -class children in nineteenth-century England … Jane Austen filled the beautiful notebooks her father had bought her with sparkling imitations and parodies of fashionable society novels … Mary Ann Evans (who later took the pen name George Eliot) wrote a fragment of a historical novel in a school notebook … the young Stephens had their family magazine, produced weekly, in the 1890s, with Thoby and Virginia (later Woolf) as the main authors…”


Item Two – Pillopatate

Charlotte Bronte needlepoint sampler

Charlotte Bronte needlepoint sampler

Needlework wasn’t just a way to while away time. Young ladies were expected to be skilled in the art of mending clothing, as well as making pretty samplers, needle cases, etc. As with so many other aspects of life in the 19th century, thrifty recycling of fabric was a necessity. Small, handmade items also made very good gifts, useful things prettily made.

“The act of sewing itself had something of a public character, since women were expected to keep their hands busy, even among company. Advice manuals taught how best to show off skills and elegant hands while at needlecraft, even as a way to potentially attract a mate.”


Item Three – Walking Stick

Victorian era walking stick

Victorian era walking stick


The girls loved roaming the moors, and as the footing wasn’t always the most stable, it’s possible they may have borrowed their father or brother’s walking stick on occasion. These were fashionable and prized items to Victorians, who often bought beautifully crafted sticks and them handed down from generation to generation.

Walking with sticks wasn’t feminine, but Emily Brontë was well-known for thumbing her nose at society. She’s also the one of the sisters most passionate about perambulating the moors. If any of the girls used a walking stick, it was most likely to be Emily.

“The tallest person in her family except for her father, she “slouched over the moors, whistling to her dogs, and taking long strides over the rough earth.” A “solitude-loving raven,” Charlotte called Emily, “no gentle dove.”


Item Four – Keeper, Grasper and Other Family Animals


Collar of Emily Bronte's dog Keeper

Collar of Emily Bronte’s dog Keeper


Not just the family walker, Emily was also the family animal lover.  But she was no tender flower sitting around petting her dears. One famous story has her beating her dog, Keeper, for daring to lie on beds in the parsonage. After beating him nearly blind, she washed his wounded face. Forever after, so the legend goes, Keeper was inseparable from her. And, when Emily died, her animals kept vigil, waiting for her to return.

The “cult of the pet” was a very Victorian custom. We probably owe our affliction for cat videos to our 19th century forbears.

Thanks for that.

“Queen Victoria so loved dogs that she collected close to a hundred in her lifetime, most of them living in the kennels on the grounds of her castles. When she was dying, her Pomeranians kept her company on her deathbed.”


Item Five – Fugitive Letters

Letter from Anne to Ellen Nussey

Letter from Anne to Ellen Nussey

Oh, the Victorians loved their letters! But they were very expensive to send. Payment for letters fell on the recipient, not the sender, and costs were so exorbitant people often waited to send letters until someone they knew was visiting the area where the recipient lived, to hand deliver their missives. Counter-intuitively, sending packages was less expensive than letters. Knowing that, people often illegally tucked letters in with other merchandise to save on postage.

Charlotte and her close friend Ellen Nussey were passionate letter writers. Dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of letters were exchanged between them. Something that made me cringe inside, after Charlotte’s death her letters were sometimes cannibalized, so mourning fans could have a small scrap of something written in her hand. Ellen, as well as Patrick Brontë, were guilty of this.

“Ripe for reform, the post service changed radically in 1840 when it instituted a countrywide penny post. All letters weighing under half an ounce traveled anywhere in England for one penny … Charlotte wrote jubilantly to Ellen in January 1840: “I intend to take full advantage of this penny postage and to write to you often … that is as often as I have time.”


Item Six – The Alchemy of Desks

Portable desk of Charlotte Bronte

Portable desk of Charlotte Bronte

Portable desks held writing papers, sewing supplies, sealing wax and pens, buttons and stashes of money. They were ubiquitous in the Victorian era, so even poorer ladies like the Brontë girls owned them.

They held little cubbies with secret openings to secure dear treasures.

“Another precious desk was Jane Austen’s mahogany one, its writing slope covered in leather, that she took along when traveling … on one trip in 1798, the desk … was accidentally placed in a chaise whose luggage was bound for the West Indies. It was saved just in time when she sent off a horseman to stop the carriage. “No part of my property,” Austen remarked, “could have been such a prize before, for in my writing box was all my worldly wealth.”


Item Seven – Death Made Material

Mourning jewelry - hair of Anne and Emily Bronte

Mourning jewelry – hair of Anne and Emily Bronte

So many books have been written about the Victorian cult of death and mourning. Ever the trend-setter, Queen Victoria was a model for widows everywhere. She never ceased mourning after her beloved Prince Albert died. Her sadness was unrelenting.

Treasuring locks of hair is another custom of the era, sending off tresses cut from the corpses of loved ones to crafters who turned them into beautiful pieces of jewelry. Alternatively, hair was kept within lockets and tucked into books.

After losing her sisters, Charlotte had a beautiful bracelet made from their hair – a beautiful tribute within a family which had known so much loss.

“Part of the body yet easy to separate from it, hair retained its luster long after the rest of the person decayed. Portable, with a shine like certain gems or metals, hair moved easily from being an ornamental feature of the body to being an ornament worn by others. By the 1840s, hair jewelry had become so fashionable that advertisements for hair artisans, designers, and hairworkers ran in newspapers …”


Item Eight – Memory Albums

Charlotte Bronte memory album

Charlotte Bronte memory album

FInally, the memory album. Snippets of poetry and prose, observations of life, and little souvenirs were kept within these albums. The Victorians were crazy about ferns and other plants, pressing them into books and what came to be called scrapbooks, i.e., little bits of life kept as mementos. Similar to commonplace books, these memory albums were to be treasured and sometimes shared. They told the story of a life.

“Victorians were prolific album compilers, creators of all manner of curated collections arranged in the little museum of the volume. Albums, along with Wardian cases, were part of the Victorian enthusiasm for collecting, containing, classifying, and organizing, especially when it came to saving the past by placing it into some sort of permanent system.”


This is only a small part of what’s to be found in The Brontë Cabinet, the treasures held in this book. I didn’t even scratch the surface. I encourage every lover of things Brontë and Victoriana to give it a read. It’s given me so much to think about, so many new interests and avenues of exploration.  Not least among them is the theory Emily may have written a second book, which Charlotte perhaps destroyed…

A second book. Possibly destroyed. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Or perhaps it’s still out there, somewhere, waiting to be found… Hey, it could happen,

I’m so glad to have run across this book again, especially in this year of all things Brontë. It was all pleasure, through and through.


The Brontes, Don DeLillo and Roald Dahl, and other semi-lunatic ravings

Books mentioned in this post:

Various biographies of the Brontes

Someone Like You by Roald Dahl

White Noise by Don DeLillo


What passes for literary criticism these days are underlined or bracketed passages, words penned in the margins of books I’m reading. Occasionally, I’ll take a picture of a particularly striking passage, or the front cover of a book I’m reading or came across and needed to hold just to feel its heft, and I’ll post that on Instagram. Once upon a time, I thought and wrote deeply about literature almost every day.  I miss that luxury, never imagined it one day wouldn’t be.

On normal weeks I work 9.5 hour days – and half-day Saturdays, ugh – in life insurance/finance, which stretches my brain in directions liberal arts majors just don’t go. Numbers hurt my head. Talking to people about their medical histories and financial needs, empathizing and occasionally de-escalating situations, drains me. I can hardly form sentences by the time I get home. I talk and talk, listen and interpret, advise and analyze, for hours and hours. My life is mentally exhausting.

Of necessity, most of my reading time comes when I’m exhausted, at night before sleep, or on my precious and all too rare days off. My bed is scattered with books. Some women have men in their beds; right now I don’t even have sheets on my mattress (I’m lucky they made it through the washer and dryer, much less back where they belong) but I do have six or seven books, most of them open face down on the side I suppose a significant other would occupy, if I were a girl who said yes. In place of a human bed warmer, there are pens and notebooks. They don’t steal my blankets or snore, demand I turn off the light and get to sleep, or comment how every night I leave my day clothes where they fall on the floor, looking like I’ve been Raptured right out of them.

Laundry is what Sundays are for.

Of my current reading, my interest in all things Brontë continues, my bed straining to suport huge, fat biographies and collections of their letters. Funny, none of their novels have made it under the duvet. I’ve read them all, and they’re due for re-reads, but it’s the lives of this family I’m obsessed with at the moment: Charlotte the sensible and serious intellectual, Emily the turbulent wild child, Anne the gentle aesthete, Branwell the Byronic un-hero and dramatic alcoholic, plus  Patrick the glue that binds.

I love them to distraction.


“If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed; but the cleverest, the acutest men are often under an illusion about women: they do not read them in a true light: they misapprehend them, both for good and evil: their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend.”

― Charlotte Brontë, Shirley


In short bursts, I’m reading a collection of Roald Dahl’s stories, with varying degrees of success. Some have power, but others honestly don’t impress me. The 21st century leaves a person jaded; we have enough real horror every day to beat the fictional imaginings of several decades ago, when life was in many ways so innocent.

Not all fiction holds up well. I read Dahl’s stories with the anticipation something big will happen before the end, waiting for that twist I hope will come. When it doesn’t, the let down is exasperating. Yet, I’m left wanting more, the potential of the next story’s promise keeps me reading. So he can’t be doing everything wrong.




On a totally different front, there’s Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise, a damned brilliant, very American novel and a work that couldn’t be more different from the Brontës and Roald Dahl. I started it while on the StairMaster, of all places, just about the least reading-friendly activity there is, but a necessity preparation since I’m planning an all-night round-trip drive to Cleveland, just to hear him speak for maybe an hour at most. No signing, no meet and greet, chance to touch hands or lock eyes. No, just a talk by an iconic, somewhat reclusive American man of letters.

Yes, you read that correctly, and I’ve done the math. It’s twelve hours of driving for a one-hour talk given by a writer whose work I’ve read very little of, though what I’ve read impresses me to the core. Like you, I find that completely and utterly irrational and insane. It’s impulsive and impractical – rather wonderful, if you want my opinion. Life doesn’t give you a lot of second chances. Sometimes opportunity whispers and you turn a deaf ear. At others, you tilt your head toward it and listen, really hearing what it has to say. I’ve regretted turning the deaf ear, but almost never the listening.


“Sometimes I see something so moving I know I’m not supposed to linger. See it and leave. If you stay too long, you wear out the wordless shock. Love it and trust it and leave.”

― Don DeLillo, Underworld


I learned about this literary event serendipitously, realizing immediately it’s a rare, one-off opportunity. Don DeLillo doesn’t speak in public, hasn’t for ages, but he’ll be in Cleveland on Tuesday, September 13. And Tuesdays happen to be my days off. It’s a 6-hour drive to Cleveland, so if I leave Chicago early on Tuesday I’ll easily make it before his evening presentation at around 7 or 7:30. The place will be swept and cleared, his discarded water bottle at room temperature in the trash can before 9:00 strikes. By that time I’ll be back in the car, headed home. If the wind’s with me, by 4:00 a.m. I’ll be back home in my bed. And at 10:30 the same morning, I’ll be back in my cubicle, on the phone, talking to people about planning for their eventual deaths.

This, friends, is why I’m unmarriageable. Because I’m impulsive and a little crazy, inclined to listen to that little voice of unreason. Yes, I’m a responsible adult, but I pledge never, ever to grow up.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bed to crawl into, and worlds to explore before I sleep.


“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. He taught me that if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.”

― Roald Dahl, My Uncle Oswald



Patrick Bronte’s Ireland: The roots of a family

The very thought my soul inspires,

And kindles bright her latent fires;

My Muse feels heart-warm fond desires,

And spreads her wing, And aims to join th’ angelic choirs,

And sweetly sing.

May rosy Health with speed return,

And all your wonted ardour burn,

And sickness buried in his urn,

Sleep many years!

So, countless friends who loudly mourn,

Shall dry their tears!

  • Rev. Patrick Brontë, who thankfully did not quit his day job


Reading further in Lynne Reid Banks’s book on the Brontës, I’m finding a certain fascination with their father, Patrick. Such a solitary man, a shadowy figure. What’s known about him is just enough to intrigue. I suppose everyone’s curious about what’s unknown in history. It’s human nature.

The Brontë family literary tradition begins before the girls and brother Branwell. Patrick was himself a poet, though not celebrated as such. Their mother likewise produced at least one known work outside her remaining letters:  “The Advantages of Poverty In Religious Concerns.”

Now there’s a title that fails to intrigue.


Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell Brontë

Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell Brontë


Patrick Brunty was born in Emdale (on the outskirts of Annaclone), Drumballyroney, County Down, Ireland on St. Patrick’s day in 1777, to a family of farmers. The remains of the family cottage still stand:


Bronte Family Cottage, County Down, Ireland

Bronte Family Cottage, County Down, Ireland


And it’s here that Patrick’s own mother, Alice McClory was born:



Alice McClory's Cottage

Alice McClory’s Cottage


One of ten children, Juliet Barker theorizes in her biography The Brontës that his family must have been well-enough off if Patrick hadn’t been required to take on his father’s occupation, instead being allowed to become a teacher at Drumballyroney, where he lived, preached and taught.




That does seem a reasonable theory, though it’s also true he was something of a scholar and a religious man. Perhaps he simply wasn’t well-suited to the farming life, and his parents were benevolent enough to realize it. Or, maybe he was more like his son Branwell, headstrong and too stubborn to make it worth it to expend the energy to force him into what he wasn’t willing to do.

Doesn’t seem all that great a leap, considering the fiery nature of the Irish – not to mention this particular family.

However it came about, Patrick established his own school when he was only 16, going on to become tutor to the children of a man who would one day become his mentor and patron, Mr. Thomas Tighe.  Himself a Cambridge man, Tighe would later pay Patrick’s way through university.


Drumballyroney Church

Drumballyroney Church

Patrick’s parents were buried in the cemetery here, in the family plot:


Drumballyroney cemetery

Drumballyroney cemetery


I’m left wondering why Patrick never returned to Ireland, as no records to the contrary have been found. Was his native country too rustic, too rural and uninteresting? Realizing it wasn’t uncommon for immigrants to leave their home country never to return, I still feel a bit of sadness he left friends and family behind without a backward glance.

And I’ve been to Ireland and seen it. How could a native never go back?

Juliet Barker goes on to write about Brontë’s struggles at Cambridge, how his Irish accent was a stumbling block and made him a curiosity. Letters from some of his contemporaries have been found to contain references to the Irishman who’d come to study, about his challenges, which I can’t help but find strange. Was there so little going on in Cambridge this was all they found to write home about, or was Patrick Brontë that much a local celebrity?

In any event, the father of Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell lived within County Down, Ireland from his birth in 1777 until 1802, when he headed off to Cambridge. In modern-day Ireland, the region from which the family sprung has been given the name The Brontë Homeland, between Rathfriland and Banbridge, a town on the main road between Belfast and Dublin.

He’d have known countryside like this:



Lovely, windy roads like this:



He’d have known Holy Trinity Church in Banbridge:

Holy Trinity, Banbridge, Ireland

Holy Trinity, Banbridge, Ireland

Rustic 18th Century country cottages:


Magherally Cottage, Banbridge, Ireland

Magherally Cottage, Banbridge, Ireland

Not that the moors of Yorkshire are a slouch. But still. It was Ireland that formed him. Its beauty and tradition of storytelling and song made their mark.

What did he remember of Ireland? Perhaps that’s spelled out in reading I have yet to do. Though, from what I’ve read about his break from his past, I’ll probably be disappointed in that wish.


One tantalizing tidbit, another native of County Down, at Annaclone, was a certain Catherine O’Hare, as cited by Wikipedia:

“the first European woman to cross the Canadian Rockies was born around 1835 in the townland of Ballybrick, Annaclone.”


Her Wikipedia link leads to a page stating there is no page at all, though, if you follow the trail starting from Rathfriland, you at least get this:


  • Catherine O’Hare, mother of the first European child born west of the Rockies, was herself born in Ballybrick, Annaclone about 2/3 miles from Rathfriland in 1835. She and her husband, Augustus Schubert, joined 200 overlanders who went west across Canada in search of gold, and blazed the trail for the Canadian Pacific Railway.


And, once again, I’m like a terrier bolting off the trail in search of another rabbit, forgetting the original theme of this post.  Still, one more thing I must share. If you add her married surname, Schubert, to Google searches, you will find her portrait.




And, if you’re inclined to find out more, there’s this at Amazon, the details of which I know absolutely nothing but there it is.

There’s no end to what’s to be known in this world. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.



Reading Dark Quartet: The Story of the Brontes by Lynne Reid Banks


It seems this novelization has lots more hard information than I’d given it credit for. At the very least, it’s giving me lots of bits about the Brontës I’d forgotten about.

For instance:

Branwell’s temper tantrums – I give Patrick much credit for dealing with his son’s often explosive behavior. When things didn’t go his way, the boy could be quite a little monster. The girls learned to tip-toe around him when he was in one of his moods, and their Aunt Branwell, after whom the kid was named, made no secret of her advice: send the boy to boarding school!

“Backward I look upon my life,
And see one waste of storm and strife,
One wrack of sorrows, hopes, and pain,
Vanishing to arise again!
That life has moved through evening, where
Continual shadows veiled my sphere;
From youth’s horizon upward rolled
To life’s meridian, dark and cold.”
Patrick Branwell Brontë


Incidentally, later in life Branwell would go on to become a painter, producing such works as this:



And this:

Caitlin Jenner's less attractive ancestor

Caitlin Jenner’s less attractive ancestor

The horrors of Cowan Bridge School, that hellish and brutal establishment of learning whose draconian ideas of discipline and abnegation indisputably hastened the deaths of Maria and Elizabeth Bronte. The institution’s neglect and inhumanly harsh forms of discipline were criminal. The deaths of these girls, as well as many others, are on their hands.




These were wonderful, kind and intelligent young girls! That their lives were cut short at the hands of the beasts at Cowan Bridge is abominable. Even if the school did undergo drastic change following dozens of deaths from typhus, due in large part to malnutrition and absolutely freezing conditions, still these children gave their lives for nothing. The girls were mocked, starved and forced to undergo privations totally innappropriate for their age – perhaps any age.

No wonder the guilt lay so heavily on Patrick Brontë’s shoulders.

From Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte Bronte:

[Charlotte] used to speak of her two elder sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, who died at Cowan Bridge. I used to believe them to have been wonders of talent and kindness. She told me, early one morning, that she had just been dreaming; she had been told that she was wanted in the drawing-room, and it was Maria and Elizabeth. I was eager for her to go on, and when she said there was no more, I said, ‘but go on! Make it out! I know you can!’. She said she would not; she wished she had not dreamed, for it did not go on nicely, they were changed; they had forgotten what they used to care for. They were very fashionably dressed, and began criticising the room…


The Brontë children’s delightful, endlessly creative writings and miniature books –  no surprise these children were clever. From a young age they began writing plays and stories, invented imaginary lands and wrote and assembled these little books:




The insular life of the children – they were each other’s favorite playmates and companions, not mixing so well in society. Aunt Branwell noted, upon leaving a party  to which the whole family had been invited, how the children were mute during the event but immediately laughing and gamboling about the instant the door closed behind them.

Yip, been there.


Patrick Brontë could be very weird ass – he had a great deal of trouble relating to children, spending much of his time completely isolated from his own brood. He was also in the habit of keeping a loaded pistol in his room at night, for safety, discharging it out his bedroom window every morning.

Shooting a pistol out his window. Every morning. With small children in the house.


Patrick Bronte's pistol and nightcap

Patrick Bronte’s pistol and nightcap

The children read widely, their books completely uncensored – Lord Byron was a particular favorite of Charlotte’s, who reportedly blushed to read some of his more salacious passages. I’m beginning to see hints as to how these children went on to produce such sexually charged works.

And Charlotte may have been a very saucy thing, indeed. From a letter by the author:

“If you knew my thoughts; the dreams that absorb me; and the fiery imagination that at times eats me up … you would pity and I daresay despise me.”

I honestly don’t doubt it. But no, not pity or despise. Rather, find compelling and more than a bit interesting.


There’s so much to be known about the Brontë family, and reading this novel is re-opening my interest. It’s a little surprising how much I’m growing to enjoy Banks’ book, and the ripple effects it’s having on my desire to learn more.

Here’s a YouTube video I’m also watching, another source of information about this fascinating family:

Getting more and more anxious to move on to Claire Harmon’s biography of Charlotte all the time. Revisiting the Brontës has been beyond a delight. The thing is, a person could spend a lifetime reading everything written by and about the family.

Such is the joy and curse of the reading life.

But mostly the joy.


Yorkshire Dales - Brontë Country

Yorkshire Dales – Brontë Country