LIFE AS MYTH

Index

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JOURNAL

Index

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JOURNAL 2011

Life as Myth

Naming a life

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SPRING 2011

Naming her life

Index 2011

Childhood and loss

Retreat into imagination

Ambiguous choices

The color of her mind

The awakened soul

Naming her life

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LIFEWORKS

About

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ARCHIVES

Index

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SPRING 2011
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AMBIGUOUS CHOICES

 

. . . we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine . . . we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.
Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855), novelist, poet

 

Frontispiece of book by Charlotte Brontë, signed with "Sincerely yours, Charlotte." Collection of the New York Public Library.

In time, Anne, Emily and Charlotte all went away to school again and eventually all took work as teachers and governesses. One of the last such posts was Anne's employment as governess to the children of Reverend Edmund Robinson and his wife Lydia at Thorp Green [1840-1845]. In 1842 she secured a tutoring position at Thorp Green for her brother Branwell. However, Branwell's affair with Lydia Robinson resulted in his dismissal and Anne's resignation in 1845.

It was that summer of 1845, following the employment reversal for Anne and Branwell, that the sisters began working on a collection of poems. This collection was published the next year under the pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Though the book sold only two copies, each of the sisters soon began writing their first novels. By 1847, all three sisters had published manuscripts under their pen names of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell: Wuthering Heights [Emily Brontë/Ellis Bell], Agnes Grey [Anne Brontë/Acton Bell] and Jane Eyre [Charlotte Brontë/Currer Bell]. Following the enormous success of Jane Eyre, there was a public rumor that all three books were the work of one author. In the summer of 1848, Charlotte and Anne traveled to the publishing house of Smith, Elder & Co in London and revealed their three identities as the authors of these novels.

During the year following that trip to London, Branwell, Anne and Emily all died of tuberculosis. After their deaths, Charlotte assumed primary care of her father. Her authorship of Jane Eyre had brought a certain amount of unwelcome notoriety to Charlotte but by living life 'quietly' as the dutiful daughter of her parson father, she was spared some of the intense public scrutiny. On occasion, her publisher even managed to persuade her to visit London where she socialized with the city's literary elite.

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Patrick Branwell Brontë (1817 – 1848) was a painter, writer and occasional worker. As an adult, he developed an addiction to alcohol and laudanum. [Anne used the experience of Branwell's addiction as a model for a character in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.] In 1848, at the age of 31, he contracted tuberculosis and died.

Emily Brontë (1818-48) was an extremely introverted individual who had few friends and was drawn to the mystical. She is best known for her only novel, Wuthering Heights. Shortly after the funeral of her brother Branwell in 1848, Emily became ill. She refused all medical attention, contracted tuberculosis, and died three months later.

Anne Brontë (1820-49) wrote under the pen name of Acton Bell. Her major works were two novels: Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Shortly after the death of her sister Emily in December of 1848, Anne contracted influenza. She never recovered fully and in May 1849, while traveling for her health, Anne died of consumption at the age of 29.

 

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