Bronte Country

Heathcliff is dead……again.    This is the third time I have tried to grow heather, but alas, it was not meant to be.   I have resigned myself to the fact that you can not grow heather in North America, there is a reason it is only to be found in abundance on the windswept moors of the UK.    Here is a photo of  Heathcliff (the-Plant-formerly-known-as-Heather), from last June, all healthy and blooming and alive.  

Heather  And here is a picture of him in September at his funeral.    

Heather

 I arranged a few red maple leaves around his skeletal remains, for a more poetic look, otherwise he might have been mistaken for a stringy birds nest which had fallen to the ground.    I had planted him in the same kind of poor rocky soil I imagined on the moors, and basically neglected him for the rest of the summer.   Heather likes full sun, (see care sheet), but the days were cloudy and melancholy and he took up drinking and drowned his roots in sorrow, (kind of like Branwell).    I must console myself though, that while we were not meant to be, he died young at the end of the rainiest season ever.   It was nothing personal, he just did not like our Canadian soil or climate.     

Heather

While doing some postmortem research, I discovered too late that heather likes well-drained acidic soil, and mine is clay and clumpy, so once again I had been lured in by a pot of pretty flowers.   I had thought they were more hardy souls (like lavender), who would grow anywhere.   Apparently there are many different types, and this  Better Homes and Gardens article says anyone can grow heather and heaths……well perhaps not the truly heartbroken gardener like myself who may never fully recover.         

Heather 

I have occasionally seen heather for sale in nurseries here in early spring, sometimes with pinkish flowers.   One July I bought some half-dead half-price specimens from the bargain bin.   I knew when I bought them they were probably beyond CPR, but they were only a dollar.   I planted them one week and dug them up the next.   My other futile attempt involved a specimen which the nursery clerk told me was the only heather they stocked.   It lived one short season, spread out a bit, produced 2 or 3 purplish blooms, then died off never to be seen again.   I knew it was not real heather because the foliage was too soft.    A friend who used to visit Scotland regularly, brought me back a piece of heather once as a souvenir – lucky for him the plant police did not catch him as smuggling plants is generally against the law.   I was surprised by how coarse it was.    I had expected from the pictures that it would be softer to the touch.

The moors must be beautiful in the summer and early fall, with all that heather blooming and the sky a bright blue, very Wuthering Heightish.  

Bronte Heather

Before Heathcliff, my only exposure to heather was from the window of an  tour bus in a downpour.   I was in Ireland in September where it rained every day – so why did my poor heather not survive?    The Irish heather (which was near a bog where they were cutting turf), was not nearly as stunning as the English heather in Downton Abby, the last episode of Season Five where they pack up the whole household and go grouse hunting at a castle on the moors and Mary and Edith meet their future husbands.    (You see, heather does inspire romance).   That was a beautifully filmed scene and inspired my mother to paint a picture called The Moors, which she included in her last art exhibit, (but then she has been known to paint shipwrecks from Poldark too).

The Moors - AMc

The Moors

 Victoria magazine is one of my favorite sources for inspiration, and in this past September issue they had a feature on Exploring the Bronte Legacy and the village of Haworth where they lived.  (September is always the British issue and there was also a Susan Branch picnic party in the Lake District for any Beatrice Potter fans). 

Victoria Bronte

Here are some of the pages, including the famous heather.

Bronte

We have Emily to thank for the popularity of heather, as we will forever associate it with her descriptions of the moorland in Wuthering Heights, as this quote attests,  “I have fled my country and gone to the heather.”   Although I have never been to England, I hope some day to put those words into action, as a literary tour is definitely on my bucket list. 

No wonder the Bronte sisters wrote such wonderful books, having that lovely vista to gaze at during their daily constitutional on the moors.  (Although no matter the scenery, I find that after a particularly fruitful writing session, a little walk can be beneficial for mulling things over).

Below, the steep cobblestoned streets of the small village of Haworth.

Bronte

Here’s the dining room table where they wrote their works of art and paced and plotted how to find a publisher, and no doubt discussed what to do about Branwell. Bronte

 The magazine article mentioned the 2017 PBS movie, To Walk Invisible, the story of the Bronte’s, which I watched and was somewhat disappointed in, although it is certainly worthwhile for any Bronte fan.   In truth I found the movie as dark and dreary as the moors must be on an overcast winter’s day.  There did not seem to be much joy in that household, but maybe I am confusing their rather bleak existence with that of the moors.     

I thought Charlotte and Anne well-cast, Emily miscast, and Branwell just plain annoying.   The movie ends with them walking on the moors after Branwell’s death, so it is not as depressing as if they had ended it later after they had all died.   But then their story is not a happy one.   I wonder if they would have traded their fame for more happiness and a longer life.   

This year is the bicentenary of Emily’s birth in 1818.   Here is Emily’s small and cozy room with a wonderful window view, as befitting a genius at work.  

Bronte

Emily remains the most puzzling one, so reclusive, yet the creator of such a  stormy and passionate tale.   No doubt she drew inspiration from her beloved moors but perhaps it’s very wildness was a reaction to their isolated existence.   She had a lot of time to think and imagine.   Her novel was considered dark and disturbing and somewhat shocking at the time, while Charlotte’s more conservative Jane Eyre was the more popular.    In the movie there was a scene where Emily was talking about where she got the idea for Wuthering Heights, but she spoke so quickly I could not follow, and I have since tried to research it to no avail.  Although googling did reveal plenty of theories about Asperger’s syndrome, as it seems popular these days to slap anyone the least bit anti-social with that label (think Doc Marten).     There are plenty of books about Charlotte, (see postscript), but not so many about Emily or Anne (who I think of as the forgotten middle child).    After seeing disheveled, weak, whiny immature Branwell it seems unlikely he could have been the muse for such a strong character as Heathcliff.    (But would any sane woman want a Heathcliff in real life?  All that anger and rage and jealousy just creates a whole lot of drama and angst, and wasn’t he a bit too possessive?  Somewhat stalkerish?  Better to marry someone more stable and level-headed if you want a happy home life, but I suppose if a wild passionate affair is your aim, then Heathcliff is your man).    

The movie contained nothing new, if you have already read such bio’s before, including the usual dose of family dynamics.   The ending was well done, three bright suns who were expected to dim their literary lights and walk invisible, in order to prevent embarrassment for the male heir of whom much had been expected, but little produced.   As for the issue of addiction so rampant in our modern world, that too is an age old question.  Their clergyman father could not decide whether to give in and supply his feckless son with drinking/opium money or just say no – the parent’s universal dilemma, to be an enabler or an enforcer of tough love?    In the end, it didn’t matter anyway –  TB won out.   Tuberculosis caused by a drafty old parsonage and those windblown moors.   Unfortunately, he took his two sisters with him.    

I have to admit the part I found most disappointing in the movie was the cinematography of the moors.   They must have filmed the outdoor scenes in  winter for there was no heather to be seen, just a bleak and brown landscape and overcast skies.   Perhaps they didn’t  have a choice, or more likely they wanted that gloomy depressing atmosphere, for it all looked as dull and dreary as a November day.           

Now that we are in late November, the weather has grown chilly and darkness descends early, and tonight the winds are howling and there is sleet against the windowpane.   The perfect night to settle in by the fire with a cup of tea, and re-read Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte’s masterpiece.  Although, I noticed that her name is not even on the cover of my 1984 copy, one of those classic editions with the fancy gold edging that are hard to find anymore.    

Wuthering Heights

I must confess, it has been a long time since that high school book report, and I cannot recall much of the story, other than it was a sad tale with a layered multi-generational plot.   But I do remember the descriptive imagery of those famous windswept moors, and the tragic ending of Cathy and Heathcliff, two star-crossed lovers who were never meant to be, but who remain immortalized forever between a marble and gilt cover.        

Postscript:   Most likely Charlotte, Anne or Emily never dreamt at the time that their books would still be bestsellers over 150 years later.    I wonder how those classics would fit into the Best Seller Code, which I will be blogging about next week. 

Postscript:  A goodreads review of  Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart 

Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery HeartCharlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This latest 2016 biography of Charlotte Bronte is well worth the read, even if I do wonder why Charlotte always gets all the attention. I enjoyed it so much, I bought a bargain bin copy. A good choice for fans, both old and new.

Bronte Country - AMc

Bronte Country

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Interview with Jane Austen

          I’m a Jane Austen fan.   Although I would not consider myself a Janeite, whenever a new book comes out about her life I’m sure to check it out. Recently I saw this one, Jane Austen at Home, on the new releases list, and reviewed it on Goodreads.  

Jane Austen at HomeJane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can there be such a thing as a bad book about Jane Austen – no. Even though we know every detail of her story, and there is really nothing new to be discovered about her life, (excepting the photo of the blue and white egg cup excavated at the Steventon Rectory), Austen fans still find any new book about her fascinating. This is a particularly satisfying read as it focuses more on her quest for a home – after all she is the author who wrote “There’s nothing like staying home for real comfort.” Of course, there are the usual biographical facts, literary and otherwise, seeming to focus more on her personal life, including her five marriage proposals, thus dispelling the myth that she was a lonely old spinster. (Really the woman was so intelligent as to be intimidating, and would she have been happy with any of them?) There is a satisfying number (40 pages or so) of footnotes, always a sign of a good biography, and some photographs, including said egg cup. A lovely read for commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of her death – we remain as captivated as ever.

       A friend gave me The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen, (edited by Joelle Herr), for Christmas as she knew I was a fan, and it is full of her famous quotes and observations.   Pride and Prejudice is my favorite Austen book, and then Emma, but some of the others I must admit I have never read, although I have seen the movie versions.  It is her life that I find most intriguing.   I often find authors lives to be as or sometimes more interesting than their books, (check out Margaret Mitchell’s biography for parallels to Gone with The Wind, the character of Rhett Butler was thought to be based on her first husband and Ashley Wilkes on her second).   If you are a writer, you want to know where they got their ideas.   Due to the lack of media back then and the passage of time we have little to base our conclusions upon, and baring someone discovering a cache of old letters in their great house, there is nothing new under the sun about Jane Austen, but we still can’t get enough of her life.   She remains a puzzle, an enigma, we want to figure her out.   A fellow blogger asked me which historical figure I would most like to interview, and my answer was Jane.  And so, as Jane said, indulge your imagination in every possible flight.      

 An Interview with Jane Austen

         Welcome to the BBC show, Portal to the Past.  We would like to welcome renowned British author, Jane Austen.   Even though she has been dead for over two hundred years she has been gracious enough to grant us this exclusive interview, and we thank her for the opportunity, because two centuries later we remain as fascinated by her as ever.  (Cue opening pianoforte music link).    Jane enters, wearing a white flowing Stella McCarthy gown, because a woman can never be too fine while she is all in white.  (Camera man sighs, white is not good for the camera, adjusts lighting).  

 Host:  Welcome Jane.   Would you like some  tea?  

Jane:    (demurely declines refreshments.  She doesn’t want to smear her lipstick – imagine lipstick! Something to make your lips ruby-red and kiss-worthy.  She wonders if she’ll get a free swag bag from Sephora).

Host:   I’m so glad you could join us today.

Jane:   There is nothing like staying home for real comfort, but if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.    

Host:  Did you ever imagine when you were sitting at your little writing table in Chawton Cottage, scribbling away about three or four families in a country village, that your novels would still be read two hundred years later? 

Jane:   (smiles sweetly)  Alas, it is only a novel… or, in short, some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humor are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.

Host:  Did you ever dream that you would become so famous?

Jane:    I have no talent for certainty, but I always had a quiet confidence in my abilities.   The fame though was quite unexpected, though slight initially it has now has grown to such proportions that I find myself adorning the ten pound note.  (blushes modestly).  Pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked.   I lay the blame on my nephew for that biography he penned.    Fame can be a double-edged sword, for regrettably I have now lost all privacy, and sometimes when I want to pay a visit to Chawton Cottage, there are too many tourists milling about.    

Host:   (surprised)    Are you saying you haunt your old sites?

Jane:   I do enjoy dropping by occasionally, but the tourists, their fashion choices are really quite beyond comprehension.  It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire, but still…yoga pants and t-shirts.  (shakes head, and thinks silently, for what do we live, but to make sport of our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn.)   Chawton House was my only true home and I was very content there.   Sometimes I like to sit at my little desk and recollect….or I might visit the kitchen if the new cook is on, because as you know good apple pies were a considerable part of our domestic happiness.   As for my childhood home there is nothing remaining, although I read that a blue and white egg cup was discovered recently in an excavation at Steventon Rectory, but it wasn’t mine, it was Cassandra’s.  An egg cup – really!  Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first.  It seems like a fair bit of nonsense that people would be interested in such things, but that is the price of fame.    One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.    

Host:    Are you aware of how many copies of your books have sold, 20 million of Pride and Prejudice alone?

Jane:    Yes it’s quite astonishing to be so immortal, but I wish I had the royalties.  A single woman with a narrow income must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid, the proper sport of boys and girls; but a single woman of good fortune is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else.

Host:    That portrait of you in the National Gallery, is it a fair likeness, because I’m not seeing too much of a resemblance?    (it might be the makeup and hair blowout, thinks to self, but a little makeup can make even the plainest Jane quite pretty.)

Jane:    I believe it has been photo-shopped too often to be an accurate portrayal.   (ponders uploading a new photo via Instagram for the ten pound note).  To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.    

Host:  Are you happy with your media image?   The sweet loving demure persona, sunny Jane?

Jane:    I must confess I was a bit annoyed with my sister Casandra for destroying most of my letters, especially the ones full of sarcasm and wit.   The ones that survive make me out to be some sort of vapid ninny.    I suppose she thought she was protecting my reputation…(sigh)…but she destroyed the best ones.   

Host:  You had five marriage proposals and turned them all down, did you ever regret being a spinster?  

Jane:     One should only marry for love.   And the more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!   You must be the best judge of your own happiness. 

Host:   What do you think of the movie versions of your novels?

Jane:    Some were of more merit than others, but Colin Firth was simply divine as Mr. Darcy.  Such a handsome man.  I wish I had thought of that wet shirt scene but that would have been too risqué for the era.  

Host:   Speaking of Mr. Darcy – who was the model for that darling man?

Jane:   ………………(prolonged silence, that wasn’t in the script, looks extremely annoyed).

Host:   (quickly changes subject).   And  that famous speech, let me tell you how ardently I admire and love you.    Did people really talk like that back then?

Jane:    HA, that speech……(contemplates laughing)…..Said. No. Man. Ever. 

Host:    Jane you seem to be well versed in the ways of the modern world, colloquial speech, photoshop, how do you know about all these things?

Jane:   The afterlife is heaven – there’s plenty of time to read and learn new endeavors.  With a book, you are regardless of time.   You ask yourself, why did we wait for any thing?  Why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!     There are balls and a fair bit of dancing, and dancing leads to romance, for to be fond of dancing is a certain step towards falling in love.   If one has been forced into prudence in one’s youth, one can learn romance as one grows older.       

Host:   Well that sounds fascinating….romance in heaven.  (eyes camera man signalling time’s up).   Any advice for modern day lovers?

Jane:   Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.  But don’t settle.  Do anything rather than marry without affection.   Wait for your own Mr. Darcy…..(flutters false eyelashes and smiles coyly)….I have found mine…. 

Host:   Thank you Jane.  (notices camera man motioning cut).   You have delighted us long enough.  Would you like more tea?

Jane:  Thank you, but I must dash to Sephora before the portal closes and I have to return to the past.    

          And so there you have it folks, Jane in her own words.    Like I said, nothing new there…..other than the blue and white egg cup was Cassandra’s.  

(Disclaimer:  I apologize in advance if I have messed up any of the quotes or facts as I am by no means an authority on Jane Austen, merely a fan.  Next up, the Brontes  – Branwell would be on board for sure, Charlotte and Anne might be tempted but Emily would never agree.)