What the Bronte Sisters Read Part II


Charlotte Bronte
Charlotte Bronte’s literary gift was born of family tragedy, a unique home schooling situation … and perhaps of boredom as well.

Thanks to Claire Harmon again for her biography: Charlotte Bronte, A fiery heart.


When I wrote about the Bronte’s library, last month I did not include notes about their periodical reading.  It would seem that the Bronte’s were not reading just books (and among books, they did not read just cannonized or classic works) they were reading three different newspapers a week.  And they were deeply involved in politics.

The papers were the Leeds Intelligencer, a conservative paper, the Leeds Mercury, a “liberal” paper(though they didn’t call it that, the liberals were, back then and there, called Whigs)  and they were also able to borrow a paper called the John Bull, which Charlotte Bronte herself called “High Tory, very violent.”

The Brontes also read a magazine called Blackwoods, which according to Ms. Harmon, “exactly suited the Bronte sisters tastes … conservative and satiric, mandarin and yet … deeply romantic.”

I can’t help but feel that these periodicals represented the best approximation of the world wide web in the Bronte’s day … and yet, they were different, because they were written and there was no sound or video.

I have yet to give up my malaise about the war that goes on between the image and the decoded word.  In graduate school, we learned that an image can be processed and identified 60,000 times faster than a word can.  Recognition is that quick.  But … how long does it stay?

Part of the reason the Brontes remain is because their art was in words, that pre-eminent medium.  But there were other factors too: The power of boredom, also noted in the modern self help book “From Bad Grades to a Great Life” by Dr. Charles Fay is suggested as a reason why the sisters creativity developed the way it did.

As Harman writes,  “It was clear to [school friend] Mary that Charlotte’s upbringing had been odd and unhealthy, and that the make-believe powers that were so highly developed in her were the result of having insufficient other interests or stimulus. ”

Boredom.  The very opposite of the cell phone, which puts the world on your doorstep.  I will have to reflect on this further and gather more notes from other authors.

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