It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… That’s a phrase you may have heard a lot recently, and it’s true. Now we’re into December, there is a sense of Christmas in the air. Like so many others, this year I chose to put my Christmas tree up and dust off the fairy lights a little earlier than usual. Why? It’s 2020. Enough said. This hasn’t been a normal year by any stretch of the imagination and more and more people have turned to thoughts of Christmas to cheer themselves up. Why not? Christmas joy is the perfect antidote to 2020’s misery, and reader, I’m glad you’re still with me. This year, more than ever, my blog has been a great way to connect and reach out to people from my little corner of England. To be honest, without the Brontës and blogging (and Agatha Christie), I would be much worse off than I am now. I’m always inspired by what the Brontës did in times of sorrow, desperation, and uncertainty. Reading though their letters and works always brings a smile my face as somehow, their words and philosophy seem to transcend time and speak across the years.
We might think we’re living in such a different world to the Brontës, but really, we’re not. There is good and bad in the world, the Brontës recognized this as we have done in a year that has shown us some amazing acts of goodwill and selflessness as well as greed and hatred. At the funeral of the tragic William Weightman on 2nd October 1842, the father of the Brontës, Patrick, spoke about “this bustling, vain, selfish world.” Despite this recognition, Patrick always sought to do good in the world, to bring light to the darkness of his parishioners and family. Even after losing his entire family after the death of Charlotte in 1855, Patrick’s kindness still shone through and he sought to lessen the pain and grief of others. He took the time to write and inform friends of her death, and also to thank them for the kindness they had shown towards him and his family. It must also be noted that he also wished them strength if tragedy ever came their way, writing to George Smith on 20th April 1855, “That you may never experimentally know, sorrow such as ours, and that when trouble does come, you may receive, due aid from Heaven, is the sincere wish and ardent prayer, of Yours, very respectfully & truly, P. Brontë”. Patrick’s philosophy is a remarkable one, and one that has continued to inspire me this year.
So many people have experienced loss and death this year. Sometimes those who haven’t may not realise what others are feeling so we need to remember to give people time to grieve, and hopefully to heal and reach a place where they can remember their lost loved ones with happiness rather than pain. Writing to his friend Francis Grundy on 29th October 1842 following the loss of his friend Weightman and his Aunt Branwell, who he stated had been like a mother to him, Branwell said “Death has only made me neglectful of your kindness, and I have lately had so much experience with him.” Branwell needed time to process the absence of his loved ones and re-adjust following their deaths. He acknowledges that it may have seemed as though he had been neglecting his friendships with people, but grief was clearly weighing him down. Branwell, like so many in 2020, needed time to grieve, and the understanding of his friends to pull him through. Branwell felt these losses more than history cares to acknowledge. He tried his best to carry on and perhaps was guilty of enjoying life’s pleasures a little too much, however, his acknowledgement that the kindness of the living should be remembered shows to me that he is his father’s son. Branwell was human, and so are we. We love and lose, and we need time to grieve. We must also remember to give others time and space to do so.
One of my favourite Brontë quotes ever comes from Charlotte who, on 1st May 1843, wrote to Branwell that, “As for me I am very well and wag on as usual.” This has really struck a chord with me this year, as I have been lucky enough to continue working, and doing so safely from home, and although I haven’t had the adventures I would have liked to have had (no Haworth this year), I’m getting on with things in my way, and wagging on the best I can. I’m reading, blogging, and trying to find the positives in life. I had an enjoyable theatre trip to Manchester shortly before lockdown, I also had a lovely trip to Scarborough back in February, I’ve been lucky enough to have a ramble around Wycoller, and I even managed a holiday abroad when COVID numbers were very low. This doesn’t mean that there haven’t been low points and moments of darkness and despair, and don’t ever feel you must continue to wag on if you’re at breaking point. Remember, it’s OK not to be OK. But yes, for now, although I’m missing a normal Christmas, my normal trips to local cities to see the beautiful lights and decorations, and food with friends, I have my own little piece of Christmas at home so I’ll wag on for now.
It’s not just the Brontës we can look to to guide us though, but also the Janes, the Agneses, the Helens, and if not the Cathys, then possibly the Rosinas. I’ll throw in the likes of Elizabeth Hastings and Mina Laury too – don’t know of them? Look up Charlotte’s Angrian tales Henry Hastings, Mina Laury, and Passing Events one day. The Brontës, and their female characters in particular, were made of strong stuff; that’s why we remember them today. Even Branwell depicted strong women in his work, most noticeably with the introduction of Mary Percy in The Politics of Verdopolis (1834), a later favourite character of Charlotte, but one who was arguably better in the hands of Branwell, as well as Maria Thurston from his unfinished novel and the weary are at rest. Yes, the Brontës have been a source of inspiration to many throughout this terrible pandemic. One phrase in particular has always been with me this year, as I’m sure it has been with many others. I’m talking of course about Charlotte’s “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will” which is from her novel Jane Eyre (1847). I have still been able to enjoy freedoms despite the lockdowns and regulations this year; I don’t mean rule-breaking etc., but just the freedom to read, to write, to live safely and work from home when so many key workers have bravely been carrying on and going about their duties.
More than ever, the words and works of Anne have been re-assessed and re-evaluated recently, and a phrase which I think is significant this year is “Increase of love brings increase of happiness, when it is mutual, and pure as that will be.” This is from The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), a powerful and trailblazing novel which has rightly earned Anne a place in literary history. Despite the hurt, the pain, the anger, and the sense of injustice that runs throughout the novel, there is also a lot of love in there too. It seems that Anne, who worked as a governess and saw her fair share of injustices, also recognized the power of love and happiness in the world too. We would do well to remember this, and Anne’s words, when we are lost.
Finally to end with a quote from Emily, taken from her poem “A Little While”(written 1838). To be honest, there are a few passages from this poem which I could have chosen, but the one that resonates most strongly with me is, “And from the midst of cheerless gloom I passed to bright unclouded day.” This quote is full of hope, and one which I will take with me throughout Christmas and into 2021. I hope you do too. Let’s hope the bright unclouded day is just around the corner for us all.
Just in case though, remember, it’s OK not to be OK. In the UK there are organisations such as The Samaritans, a charity whose services can be accessed 24/7. If you need to talk, they can help. There are numerous ways to contact them such as through their website but their phone number is 116 123. It’s free. They can help. Reader, you’re not alone.
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.
Thanks for reading. I’d love it if you stopped by The Journal of Juvenilia Studies where you can read my essay, “Autobiography, Wish-Fulfilment, and Juvenilia. The ‘Fractured Self’ in Charlotte Brontë’s Paracosmic Counterworld”.
Please do not copy, share, or use the images from this post without seeking permission first.
Quotes above are taken from Juliet Barker’s, The Brontës: A Life in Letters, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildefell Hall, and Emily Brontë’s “A Little While.”