Let me travel back in time to April 2011. Almost a year after graduating with such high hopes from university, and after being turned down for MA funding, I was stuck in a bit of rut. In my hometown, once famous for its glass, we were hit hard by the recession, our heritage and industry fell to pieces, there were no jobs, no prospects, and there was no hope for me and my fellow Glass Towners. I resorted to zero hour contract work when I could find nothing else, and lost my drive and desire to do something with my life in the midst of all the hopelessness that surrounded me. Then two momentous events happened that enabled me to grow in so many ways, to expand my horizons, and ultimately to re-shape the awkward girl into a confident, considerate woman, and all-round better human being. An unloved and scruffy bichon named Bob found his way to his forever home with us where he would spend his life being pampered and adored, and I discovered Charlotte Brontë’s intriguing story, The Green Dwarf, introducing me to the Brontë juvenilia for the very first time.
This was the first time that two Glass Towns collided as, with Bob at my side, I devoured Charlotte’s early stories set in her fantasy world of Glass Town. I discovered whole new worlds, not just Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal on paper, but also the real world which I’d felt myself to be absent from for so long after a string of professional disappointments, but which I found could be full of promise, hope, and happiness, a world that was compassionate and kind to animals and beings like Bob, abused and neglected for so long and who had no voice of their own. I also discovered that I had a voice of my own, and that it could be heard if I wanted it to be, and that I could use this to speak on behalf of Bob and his furry friends. I discovered more to my own Glass Town through my excursions with Bob, that other people had their disappointments too, but that there was still much to be cheerful about. Through our travels with Bob, we also discovered new places and environments up and down the country, seaside towns and cities, country houses and glamping pods, churches and quaker houses, and of course, he was right by my side in August 2012 when Glass Towns collided again and we visited Haworth, home of the Brontës for the first time.
Over the next few years, I continued to bring the Brontës’ worlds of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal into my own, to brighten things up when times were dark, to entertain me in happier times, and to study and learn from when I felt my zero hour contract job was numbing my brain. Bob loved to sit by my side as I spread the books and papers around me, always willing to help me with my research. He was a dog who knew all about the exploits of Zamora, Alexander Percy, and Charles Wellesley/Townshend. Basically, Bob and the Brontës kept me going through a lot of the rubbish life had to throw at me, even seeing me through university a second time, a new bout of self-belief and confidence in my abilities, a successful internship, a blog, and, finally, a full time job.
Now let me travel back to 2019 which was a very difficult year for me. Family death and illness carried over from 2018 and continued to plague us, I lost any confidence in myself that I’d spent many years building up, and I lost my drive, focus, and desire and determination to get something out of life. The thing that hit me hardest was the loss of my lovely Bob. For eight years he’d been our constant companion, our source of light and joy in dark and distressing times, and then suddenly he was gone. For a long time afterwards I simply stopped functioning. I was on auto-pilot and going through the motions but without any enjoyment or real feeling: I got up, I got the train to work and stared aimlessly out of the window with no thought other than Bob and grief in my mind, I mechanically completed my tasks at work, I got the train home and stared out of the window again, I went to bed, and then it all started again every day.
Weekends without work and routine were the worst. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had no desire to read, to write, to think, or to feel. I also had a troubled and troubling Branwell figure to contend with, a worried and stressed Patrick who was just trying to help Branwell, a prickly Emily figure who decided I wasn’t good enough and cut me out of her life, an Anne figure who was just trying to keep everyone and everything afloat, and, fortunately, a Mr. Weston who did his best to keep me sane and functioning in the midst of his own family worries. I feel like I just shut down and although in some respects, my life was paralleling those of the Brontës so many years ago, I wasn’t being inspired by them or anything else. I had to get used to not just a Bob-shaped hole in my life, but also other gaps and, in some cases, gulfs due to my strained relationships with certain people; people who should be some of the first to look out for me in times of crisis, but who caused a lot of bother and then didn’t care about the after effects. In addition to this, the essay on Charlotte Brontë’s juvenilia that I had written had been provisionally accepted by an academic journal, only to be rejected again when my edits were deemed not up to scratch.
By May 2019, I had reached breaking point; I felt that I couldn’t help those around me who so clearly needed it, and also that nobody could help me either. So what did I do in the midst of all this sadness and grief? I wrote because I could not help it. I penned a raw post about grief and loss just days after Bob’s passing simply to get the thoughts out of my head. Still on auto-pilot, I wrote a piece about Charlotte’s Roe Head Journal, the source of her famous, “I’m just going to write because I cannot help it” quote, and after that I just tried to keep on writing before taking a hiatus after thinking I was writing a lot about nothing, and certainly nothing anyone would ever want to read. The support and kind comments I had from readers and followers after this hiatus was overwhelming; they too had been inspired by Bob and the Brontës and the collision of these two vastly different Glass Towns. My hiatus didn’t last long as the messages of support continued to pour in through WordPress, social media, and email: some had been inspired to be kinder to animals, some to take their pooches to places that Bob knew and loved, some were familiarising themselves with the Brontë juvenilia, and others had been inspired to pen their own blogs.
As I slowly came out of my stupor, I realised how Bob and the Brontës had continued to inspire and support me even in my darkest times, and when I thought that I was beyond help. I’d had so many kind words about Bob from people I didn’t even know but had been moved by stories of his exploits, my posts about him, and his adorable fluffy chops. Six months after we lost him, a woman who we sometimes met on our walks found out about his death and cried, and he still has quite a reputation in our neighbourhood as a gentle soul. His memory lives on. His nature and his spirit continued to guide me as I connected with other animal lovers in the world and did my best to raise awareness of animal rights (in my very small way). Subconsciously, I had also taken Charlotte’s advice and done exactly as she had done so many years ago, “I’m just going to write because I cannot help it” and I carried on blogging. After picking myself up a little bit and an accidental trip to Haworth which healed me in more ways than I can say, I actively took this advice and persisted with my essay on her juvenilia. Charlotte never gave up in her attempts to write, and then to see this in print one day, and neither did I. Bob never gave up on life through the bone disease, the arthritis, the allergies, and the cancer, and neither have I.
Although I knew the Brontës’ work prior to Bob’s arrival, for me, Bob and the Brontës go hand in hand; they will always inspire me to be a better person, and never to give up. It was Bob who was with me as Glass Towns collided for the first time and I embarked on my love affair with the Brontë juvenilia and discovered a whole new world and a new side to myself. Life isn’t perfect but Bob will be with me as I continue on this collision course and from my own Glass Town I continue my research on the juvenilia, my writing, and living life to the fullest in his memory.
My essay on Charlotte Brontë’s juvenilia has been published in Volume 2, Number 2 of The Journal of Juvenilia Studies. The title is “A New Approach to Autobiography and Juvenilia: Re-Examining Charlotte Brontë’s Assumption of Power in her Paracosmic Counterworld”. It’s free to access online and I’d love it if you could take the time to give it a read. The link to the piece can be accessed by clicking here.
In Loving Memory of Bob the Bichon (2007-2019)
A lover of life, the Brontës, and Haworth who knows that I’m just going to write because I can’t help it.
By Nicola F. a.k.a. The Brontë Babe.
All quotes are taken from Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal (Oxford University Press, 2010), edited by Christine Alexander.
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