Handwriting envy

The opening facsimile of Charlotte Brontë’s hand for the opening of the novel is quite arresting.  A double underlining emphasises with perfect clarity that adverb of place.

IMG_0820 The date March 16th situates the writing in a fixed time and location.  This is evidence of literary history.  That elegant, cursive sweep and detailed accurate punctuation (brackets, em dashes) sets it above from any typed version.  I can see meaning in the personalisation of that delicate hand.

 

Similarly, I feel this way about the end section —that infamous/famous line: ‘Reader, I married him.’  That perfectly neat direct address maintains composure and intimacy with her reader.  Even after pages and pages of endless writing, that faultless hand is composed and clear.  The spaced-apart word ‘Conclusion’ looms above: inviting the reader to question everything.IMG_0867

Read through the sample of handwriting where Jane implores Mrs Reed to forgive her and Jane begs not to be locked once more in the Red Room.  The flourishes on the ‘d’ letters; in fact all the capital letters have something unique about them, particularly: the Fs, Is and Ts. With my sharp eyes I notice that present tense verb on the last line is ‘closes’.  In my Oxford Classics Edition, it reads ‘closed’.  When did this emendation take place?  At one point CB wanted to shift the reader directly into that moment, in the present, and witness that torture first-hand and build upon a sense of complicity (with Mrs Reed, therefore further alienating Jane from her reader) that is lost in the past tense.IMG_0825

Emendations to the chapter numbers and volume numbers (this occurs throughout the entire manuscript) did make me chuckle.  Evidently, CB changed her mind about numbering at least twice.  This might explain why there are differences between editions e.g. the Oxford Classics differs from the Penguin Edition —even CB confused herself in the manuscript stages.IMG_0853

Look closely at the single exclamative words ‘Solitude!  Solitude!’ and appreciate their perfection; CB certainly had a wonderful hand.  I could have read the entire text this way —just like her publisher did all those years ago.IMG_0860

A few lines of German are written with printed hand—this surely must have been for the publisher’s benefit but it does look as if significantly longer has been taken with these lines for accuracy.  This is unsurprising but it really makes them stand out.IMG_0864

A wonderful experience to see JE through Charlotte’s eyes. I recommend it!

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Reading Pleasures

Surrounded by the heady delights of the Brontë Parsonage Museum library archive, I opened this substantial 1896 Bliss Sands & Co volume with its red cover and thick paper and was immediately drawn into Jane Eyre’s motif of literacy and reading. The surprisingly large illustration to the title page, placed alongside the title printed in an arresting red, is a line drawing of a window seat, its curtains drawn back to reveal not the young Jane Eyre, but a boy equally intent on exploring the book on his lap. It is impossible to ascertain if it is Bewick’s History of British Birds, but to this young reader as it was for the young Jane, it seems profoundly interesting. In the same space is a young girl seated comfortably and also pictured in the act of reading. Between them is a library carousel, its surface heaped with open and closed books.BronteSociety

The significance of the novel’s preoccupation with literacy, reading books and watching others read them promises to be one of the intense interests of the text. The illustrator has conflated the reading public with the novel’s protagonists to create a pictorial representation of narrative pleasures. These figures seem to capture the feelings of one contemporary reviewer who wrote:

                  ‘Well do we remember how we took up Jane Eyre one winter’s evening, somewhat piqued at the extravagant commendations we had heard, and sternly resolved to be as critical as Croker. But as we read on we forgot both commendations and criticism, identified ourselves with Jane in all her troubles, and finally married Mr Rochester about four in the morning.’

Frazer’s Magazine 40, (December 1849), 691-94.

So important and enjoyable was reading to the creative process of writing in the Brontë household that

 ‘once or twice a week, each read to the others what she had written, and heard what they had to say about it.[……] But the readings were of great and stirring interest to all, taking them out of the gnawing pressure of daily recurring cares, and settling them in a free place.’

Mrs Gaskell, The Life of Charlotte Brontë (Edinburgh: John Grant, 1924), p. 285.

This ‘free place’ seems to have been particularly relished by one of this copy’s later readers, who has left evidence of their response to the narrative, their act of reading synonymous with their indulgence in a brand of individually wrapped chocolate biscuit. A neat square of striped silver and red foil that coincidentally echoes the colours of the title page has stuck to the first page of the preface.choc wrapper

The wording Kemp’s Chocolate Duchess confirms that this was an early twentieth- century reader who bought, or was given, one or more beautifully decorated boxes of these delicacies. For mention of George Kemp as one of the many prestigious twentieth-century British biscuit manufacturers, see Maurice Rickards, Encyclopedia of Ephemera: A Guide to the Fragmentary Documents of Everyday Life for the Collector, Curator and Historian (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 54.

Choc close up

The second page of the preface bears the foil traces of a second wrapper. It is possible that each was left in the book as a potential bookmark, or perhaps they were hidden inside to avoid discovery. However, the next foil marker has been carefully cut into a slim, folded rectangle from the silver part of the biscuit wrapper, and is stuck purposefully into page 112. It carefully underlines the paragraph that describes Jane’s attention to her ward Adèle.metal block

The uncanny presence of this silver scrap reinforces Jane’s description of the toy she gives to Adèle, her ‘best wax doll (which I usually kept enveloped in silver paper in a drawer)’, and it becomes a physical emanation of the narrative. Importantly, in this paragraph Jane also gives Adèle a ‘story-book for change of amusement.’ Through their underlining of the description of one source of pleasure with the remains of another, the reader seems to share Jane’s mind. Both the reader and the narrator view the reading experience as an event which binds text and reader together. Thus even a biscuit wrapper can be used to confirm that the narrative of Jane Eyre, and those texts mentioned within it, explore the relationships between books and life.

 

‘Shakespeare Head’ illustrations

Two of three possible volumes were high up on a shelf at Senate House Library —what has happened to Vol.III is anybody’s guess—maybe it had wandered off into the moorlands of Senate House.  The labyrinthine tunnels and passages situated there are rather dark and trepidatious.IMG_0868

Two muddy-brown saggy clothbound volumes stuffed with shabbily cut pages boast of being a ‘Shakespeare Head’.  An offensive red and white striped sticker screaming: THIS BOOK MUST NOT BE REMOVED FROM THE LIBRARY’ appends the top right-hand corner of each volume.  I look inside.  This volume announces itself as having been written by ‘Currer Bell’ – of course this is the nom de plume used by CB for her anonymity yet it preserved some authorial recognition as it uses her initials.  It always struck me that ‘Bell’ was the middle name of her later husband: as if she knew she would marry him.  ‘Currer’ was the surname of Frances Mary Richardson Currer who had helped fund the Brontës’ school project (so it is widely believed).IMG_0870

The first illustration is ‘The Old Market Square and Cross’, Kirkby Lonsdale standing in for ‘Lowton’ in JE, from a drawing by Jack Hewer. IMG_0871

This image shows gossipy women in a market place and a collection of houses snugly huddled together.  Jack Hewer was a Yorkshire artist; his full name was John Edward (Jack) Hewer, (b.1889-?).  His works often come up at auctions and the originals are quite rare and therefore worth acquiring.  Jack Hewer lived in Halifax and was an etcher, illustrator and commercial artist.  He exhibited in the 1920s at the Royal Cambrian Academy, the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and the Royal Scottish Academy.   In 1931 the Shakespeare Head Press at Oxford published this collection of the novels of the Brontë sisters with 32 illustrations by Hewer.  I shall look at a few of them.  According to the fly-leaf, only 1000 publications of this edition were ever printed.

Another illustration is ‘Stone-Gappe, Lothersdale’ near Skipton as ‘Gatehead Hall’.  This impressive-looking building reveals the imposing façade of the edifice, with a couple engrossed in conversation coming around the eastern side; a pair of bushes marks either side of the path-way of which: ‘There was no possibility of taking a walk that day’ (Vol.I, ch.I) would have been the commencement.  Charlotte Brontë was governess to the Sidgwick family at this magnificent house from May to July, 1839.IMG_0873

Further on is an illustration of ‘Cowan Bridge School’ as ‘Lowood School’ which any Brontë aficionado will know is the school which the Brontë sisters attended.  This was school mainly for the daughters of middle class clergy and was founded in the 1820s.  Two of the sisters, Maria and Elizabeth died from tuberculosis in the aftermath of a typhoid outbreak at the school.  The illustration marks it out as situated along the road-side; a friendly cart-man passing by and someone collecting in produce in a large basket.  This is far different from the imposing walls and suffocating oppressive atmosphere of Lowood in the novel.IMG_0875

‘Thornfield Hall’ achieves an illustration; this is of ‘Rydings Hall, Birstall’.  This was actually the childhood home of Ellen Nussey (Charlotte’s long-time friend and letter-writing companion). IMG_0879

This building is thought to have inspired Thornfield Hall in the novel. This is now a private house and is only partly visible from the road.  There is a delightful large mounting block in the foreground and I can’t tell from current photographs of the building whether it is still there, but I am wondering.  The tree has grown is size and now towers over the building; which is the photograph is bathed in sunlight.rydings exterior 03 2017

Another illustration shows the ruin of ‘Ferndean Manor’, which was actually of ‘Wycoller Hall’, although the crumbling crenellated towers seem to stand in better for Thornfield.  A brood of hens pecks cheerfully at the earth, waiting for their mistress to return.  ‘Ferndean’ of course has long been regarded as the epitome of ‘Eden’ – down to that partially suggested locus in the name.  The door is open and inviting, despite the nature of its ruin: or perhaps it is in spite of its state?  The Brontë’s lived at Haworth, not far from Wycoller, and Charlotte would have passed near here on her way to Gawthorpe Hall when she went to stay with friends the Kay-Shuttleworths.IMG_0877

The final illustration is the ‘Old Pack Horse Bridge, Wycoller’ which would have been en route to Wycoller in Charlotte’s day.  This village has a long history dating back to the 10th century.IMG_0881

A wonderful collection of illustrations merging biography with art and literature.

 

 

 

An Inscription by Patrick Bronte

There are a number of 1850 fourth editions of Jane Eyre in the Haworth archive, published in 1850, this one has a frisson of familial proximity in its precious inscription.EB1

According to the inscription which is faded, making it hard to read, this book was originally presented to Tabitha Ackroyd by the Brontës’ father, the Rev. Patrick, in 1851.

Tabitha Aykroyd (also sometimes Ackroyd), better known as ‘Tabby’ was the faithful servant for 31 years in the Brontë household from 1824 when she was 55. She was such a part of the family that she was known in the village as ‘Tabitha Brontë’. She provided the maternal emotional warmth from her kitchen domain that was lacking in the children’s Aunt Branwell, who dutifully moved in to the house to help her brother after the death of his wife, Maria, the Brontës’ mother.

Tabby was a great oral storyteller who ‘held to the ancient anthropomorphic traditions of the countryside, claiming (according to Mrs Gaskell) to “have known people who had seen fairies”[1]. She told stories to the Brontë children by the kitchen fire and ‘her influence permeates the landscape of Wuthering Heights. Tabby has also been identified as the model for Nelly Dean in Wuthering Heights, and for the housekeeper Martha in Charlotte’s novel Shirley.’[2]

Interestingly for our study in reader engagement, however, she was illiterate. This is a fascinating paradox. She is the owner of a copy of Jane Eyre but one who would not have been able to read it yet, unlike all readers since, she had a unique influence on the imagination of the author Charlotte herself at a formative age and thus the contents of the book she cannot access.

There is a strong sense in the words of this inscription of the shift of power that has characterised the legacy of the Brontës. The Rev. Patrick Brontë, the patriarch of the family, is now subjugated to role of ‘the father of the Authoress’. Why did the Rev. Brontë give this copy to Tabitha who he must have known could not have accessed its contents? Perhaps it’s a testament to the esteem in which she was held in the family. Perhaps he knew how precious it would be to her even as an unread object. It certainly tells us that a copy of Jane Eyre was by its fourth edition seen as a valuable item of heritage.

The inscription then tells us the next step of the book’s ownership, that it was given by Tabitha to her ‘neice’ (sic) Mary Ratcliffe (Tabby had no children of her own). The date underneath appears to be December 30th 1853; at first glance it might be 1863, since the bottom of the third number is smudged into a circle but the slight line at the top of the third numeral indicates it’s probably a 5 rather than a 6, which certainly makes more sense since Tabby died in February 1855 (six weeks before Charlotte).

The final question of this intriguing inscription is who actually wrote it this inscription. Mary Ratcliffe, a working-class woman, would not have had the education to write in this way (if she were able to write at all). The Rev. Brontë’s handwriting was quite unlike this hand. It looks more like Charlotte’s, but it is hopelessly far-fetched to imagine that she would have written about herself in this way and misspelt the word ‘niece’. This merits further investigation.

 

 

[1] Bronte Parsonage Museum website

[2] ibid

Engagement with My Jane Eyre on Twitter

This project has encompassed not just the blog but also a presence on Twitter @eyre_my. It has been really great to engage with readers and get some feedback. We have had some really wonderful support, including tweets such as:

And:

We even scored a mention from Andrew Stauffer who created Book Traces project at Virginia University which inspired our own project:

In a couple of blog posts we asked for input from our readers to solve a few mysteries. One such blog post uncovered some notes about a book that we could not identify, a couple of people replied with suggestions, such as:

Our lecturer was also very supportive on Twitter and helped us reach more readers:

 

Illustrating impressions

The illustrations in the Facsimile edition are very different to any others I have seen before.  These were carried out by Edmund H. Garrett and I looked at a few of them in detail.  Garrett produced these monochrome illustrations in 1897.

The opening illustration shows Jane in a windswept pose—the west wind buffets her cloak away from her.  In the background, three figures are walking away.  These are clearly the other Reeds with the nurse (or possibly the mother) going out for a walk. opening illustration

This illustration reinterprets the line: ‘There was no possibility of taking a walk that day’ in that Jane is the one who is denied the walk while the others are permitted to.  The foliage is bare and the scene looks icy and hoarfrosted.  This is very much in line with Gothic images later in the novel, particularly those inspired by Bewick’s Birds: the illustrator appears to be focalising his impressions through Jane’s perspective.

The next few I looked at (none of these are illustrated here) were fairly expected: Mr Brocklehurst (tall, thin, long nose) looks down at a submissive Jane: his long arms seem disproportionate to his body; his arms also appear to be of different lengths.  Jane’s hands are fixed together behind her back with her palms outwards—like a Jesus figure, although she looks away from the viewer’s observance.  The cleric leans forward from a large chair and glares towards her face.  She appears to be looking slightly away to the right: developing her own thoughts.  In another image, Jane meets Helen Burns; Helen’s nose is buried in a book—both pairs of feet are drenched by the flooding from the rain-soaked walkway.  Helen is hunched over—she shows in her posture her physical ailments yet to come.  Jane leans towards her, clutching her outer cloak and looks directly on: expectant and yearning for comfort.  In another, Jane and Helen sit together on a large rock in the centre of a stream, their unshodden feet touching the water—a symbol of freedom if ever there was one.  Helen appears to be conversing with Jane—or rather Helen is talking and Jane is listening.  They are surrounded by nature.

IMG_0834An illustration which really caught my eye was Rochester, collapsed and exhausted by a roadside stile.  Pilot looks on expectantly and slightly intimidated by Jane.  Jane reaches her right arm out, imploring and entreating the gentleman: while the moon appears to be alarmingly slipping away beyond the hedgerow—consequently plunging everyone and everything into inky darkness.  Jane’s face is averted—we cannot read her expression—but Rochester sees all.  His face is contorted and has a fixed mask-like grimace of fear; of stoicism; of irresolution.  He cannot decide how to act.  Jane has all the power.  Now, any modern reader of Jane Eyre can see this subversive power within the text but to see it pictographically here is quite original, quite playful.  Garrett pokes fun at Edward, pallid and seated, caught in a stile, up a small hill, entrapped by Jane’s physical presence.

IMG_0837

The next illustration which was unexpected and highly imaginative was one inspired by Rochester’s tale of being cuckolded by a new suitor to Céline Varens.  Rochester had been tricked by his courtesan.  Rochester looks from parted curtain, which stands in for a performance —although Rochester is the only spectator.  The foregrounded scene is self-explanatory but Rochester’s look of pain and dismay sets the tone for experiences which Jane receives at Rochester’s machinations (with Blanche Ingram).  He was clearly inspired.  Garret captures Rochester perfectly in this moment of this sexual usurpation.IMG_0849

A delightfully playful image is the one where Rochester is shown as the gypsy woman in Vol. II, ch. IV.  Here, Rochester plays ‘an old crone’ and ‘tells’ Jane her fortune.  This is an almost laughable section of the novel, yet Garrett reveals its Gothic and fairytale imagery perfectly.  The viewer can almost see the outline of what is clearly Rochester’s face, grasping at Jane’s hand in a kind of mock-marriage-proposal.  Although, here Jane is on bended knees.  The symbolic fire blazes behind them both: fueling and inspiring.

IMG_0857

The failed-marriage scene is shown with a cast of astounded onlookers depicted in marvellous theatricality.  The figures are grouped in freeze-frame mode: at the moment of the revelation.  One figure (Mason? A cleric?) raises his hands to his face to protect himself from the shocking reality of bigamy.  Rochester —who seems younger than in his earlier images—scratches his head with his right hand: perplexed, frustrated and surrounded.  A solemn figure haunts the background: there is no escape.

IMG_0863

Garret shows Jane on the moor: alone, frightened and supported only by the penetrating rain and wind.  Her feet meet water and the thick grass is parted to allow her progress.  Looking up to the sky, Jane seems isolated yet searching for spiritual guidance.IMG_0866

The final etching that I selected depicts Bertha’s suicide and the burning of Thornfield. This remarkable image clearly comes from the vision of the artist.  A dark figure runs along the ramparts, appearing to be in the midst of the action of putting out flames.  Smoke and flames are rising above.  Bertha is falling from the ramparts in a supernatural-like attitude, her legs disappearing into the darkness, her wild hair resembling flames rising above. Her clothing is an ethereal shroud, barely covering her breasts; she is neither human nor spirit.  As in Garrett’s other images, he captures a great sense of movement. Unlike other contemporary illustrations, Garrett does not draw on physical racial stereotypes to portray Bertha.

The Personalised Wedding Present: A WWII Mystery

Open this small, exquisite, leather bound volume with its marbled cover and gold, flower embossed design on the spine, and you will find a hand-written inscription written in 1945. Penned from one fond sister to another on the occasion of her marriage, this precious family copy has taken on the status of a memento, and is now cared for by the bride’s daughter. The present owner knows little about its early history, and does not remember this copy of Jane Eyre being read by either her mother or herself; indeed the spine is stiff and has barely been broken.

Caroinscription

But what prompted Susan to give Betty this particular copy? Had it been sitting on her bookshelf for seven years after it was printed, waiting to be lovingly given, or had she discovered the volume in a second-hand bookshop and bought it for the occasion? It was printed by J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. in 1938 at The Temple Press in Letchworth.

Carotitlepage

 

The Press was famous for the beautiful design of its dust-jackets, covers and illustrations, and according to the details given in the front matter, this edition was decorated by artist and designer Eric Ravilious (1903-1942). His artistic talents were wide-ranging, and it was his work as a war artist that led to his untimely death when the plane in which he was flying went missing. His early work gained inspiration from the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and inspection of his other book designs bears this out.

However, what has become of his designs for this copy: the dust-jacket, the cover, or illustrations? The only trace of this accomplished and sadly short-lived talent that can be found in this volume is a tiny flower, possibly a dandelion, stamped on the end paper, one of his distinctive insignia.

CaroMadeat

The wood-blocked, printed wording, as if written by a creative hand, states proudly that it was ‘MADE AT THE TEMPLE PRESS’. This was created, not just printed, as a work of art, to be esteemed and valued in its own right, to add further richness to the literary creativity contained within its pages. How such artistry came to be lost can only be a matter of conjecture. Perhaps the exterior of the volume became damaged and had to be removed, or maybe only a leather binding was deemed appropriate to mark this wedding day.

Carospine

Research does not reveal how the complete, original book may have appeared, but look very carefully, and you will see the collective name of the other artists who have had a hand in creating this volume. At the very top of the first page to the front matter is a tiny stamp, worded ‘Bound by Bayntun Riviere Bath, England’. The paper is of a slightly different texture to that of the remainder of the bound contents, and does not bear the dark staining to the page edges of the frontispiece. Founded in 1829, the renowned bindery and antiquarian book specialists http://www.georgebayntun.com/ has bound Charlotte Brontë’s work into a unique present with a tight newness to its bound pages, while recognition of Ravilious’s floral insignia has been given a golden freshness on the spine.Caromarbling

We do not know if Betty specially commissioned the bindery because Bayntun Riviere’s archive was destroyed towards the end of WWII. Nevertheless, it would be pleasing to think that while larger evidence of Ravilious’s artistry cannot be found in this precious copy, the subsequent binders were allowed to follow in his creative footsteps. In turn they designed the wrapping for a present that has beautifully withstood the test of time.

 

The Autobiographical Element of Jane Eyre

A 1996 edition of Jane Eyre edited by Beth Newman and published by Bedford Books of St Martin’s Press (Boston, New York) was found on the shelves of Senate House Library in London. The brown cover, showing carved wooden ceiling bosses, is very unusual for a cover of Jane Eyre — not only does it neglect to depict Jane but also the subject matter is strangely divorced from the novel’s Victorian setting.

NewmanCover

Many readers had interacted with this copy, leaving numerous passages underlined and notes scrawled in the margins, but one particular annotator caught my eye. This reader seemed especially taken with the idea of Jane Eyre as an ‘autobiography’ and had carefully underlined this on the facsimile of the original title page.

autobiography

As Bronte describes Jane’s relationship with the Reed children the annotator has underlined the passage ‘she really must exclude me from privileges intended only for contented, happy, little children.’ and noted next to it: ‘Do they represent the male writers?’.

Male writers

This thought/theme is later expanded next to the passage where John Reed bullies and menaces Jane, with the note-maker jotting down ‘Robert Southey?’ and then adding ‘critics/public when Southey must [?] have berated CB’?

Robert Southey

This clearly refers to the instance when Charlotte Bronte, before she had written Jane Eyre and dreamed of becoming a writer, wrote to the poet Robert Southey in 1837. Bronte sent some of her early poems and sought advice from this august Romantic poet. Southey (now infamously) replied that women should avoid writing as a career:

Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure will she have for it even as an accomplishment and a recreation.

This then is a classic case of a reader melding the fictional Jane Eyre with the real life Charlotte Bronte. That the annotator conflates John Reed’s superiority complex and physical bullying of Jane with Bronte’s experience as a woman writer is interesting. However Bronte herself was not dulled by Southey’s reply (and indeed his letter could be seen as advice against a career in writing to a male or female, it was and indeed still is, a precarious career choice). Bronte wrote back to Southey in March 1837:

At the first perusal of your letter I felt only shame and regret that I had ever ventured to trouble you with my crude rhapsody; I felt a painful heat rise to my face when I thought of the quires of paper I had covered with what once gave me so much delight, but which now was only a source of confusion; but after I had thought a little, and read it again and again, the prospect seemed to clear. You do not forbid me to write. You only warn me against the folly of neglecting real duties for the sake of imaginative pleasures; of writing for the love of fame… You kindly allow me to write poetry for its own sake, provided I leave undone nothing which I ought to do, in order to pursue that single, absorbing, exquisite gratification. . .

Her letter reveals she did not see Southey as John Reed — his correspondence bullying or belittling her — but in fact she was grateful for Southey’s insight and advice, which chimed with her own father’s (for more of the letter see this website).

 

 

 

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