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Catherine Reef

The Bronte Sisters

Catherine Reef The Bronte Sisters The Brief Lives Of Charlotte Emily And Anne
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Excerpt from book:

One

"Oh God, My Poor Children!"

The cobbled road clung to the steep hill as if holding on for dear life. Its paving stones had been set on end, forming a series of little ledges. The nervous horses felt for these rocky shelves to gain a footing; they feared slipping down as they hauled their heavy load.

It was April 1820, and a new clergyman was coming to Haworth. The Reverend Patrick Brontë surveyed the scene. He told his wife and children that they were all strangers in a strange land.

Life was easy for no one in Haworth—not for horses, and not for people. Haworth, in northern England, was a dirty village of weavers’ cottages, where death came early. The soured earth barely fed some stunted bushes that struggled to stay alive. Few trees grew in this bleak place, where a sad wind constantly blew.

Beyond Haworth stretched miles and miles of moorland, that bare, hilly country of rough grass, moss, and bracken. The Brontë children would learn to love this strange, wild land.

There were six children when the family moved into the parsonage at the top of the hill. Six-year-old Maria helped care for the younger ones, because their mother was ailing. Mrs. Brontë had yet to recover from the birth of baby Anne, four months earlier, on January 17. The second child, Elizabeth, was five, and Charlotte, born on April 21, 1816, was turning four. Patrick Branwell (called Branwell) was not yet three, and Emily Jane, born on July 30, 1818, would be two in summer.

The children played quietly in an upstairs room while their mother, Maria Branwell Brontë, wasted away. The nature of her ailment remains unclear. She might have had cancer, or she might have acquired a lingering infection after Anne’s birth. Antibiotics belonged to the future, so infections in the 1800s were often deadly. Her unmarried sister, Elizabeth Branwell, journeyed to Haworth from Cornwall, in the southwest, to nurse the sick woman.

The children turned to "Aunt" if they needed attention or care. They knew better than to bother their father in his study, where he wrote sermons and poems that taught moral lessons. In one poem, he revealed the dreary thoughts that ran through his head on a winter night.

Where Sin abounds Religion dies,

And Virtue seeks her native skies;

Chaste Conscience, hides for very shame,

And Honour’s but an empty name.

Then, like a flood, with fearful din,

A gloomy host, comes pouring in.

This tall, redheaded clergyman was born Patrick Brunty in what is now Northern Ireland. His father was a farm laborer who could barely read, but Patrick wanted more from life. So he read books, taught school at sixteen, and caught the notice of an influential minister. This man saw that with an education, Patrick might become a fine clergyman, so he sent him to college in Cambridge, England. It was rare for an Irishman, especially one with such humble roots, to attend college in nineteenth-century Britain, but Patrick was uncommonly bright and ambitious. He distanced himself from his home and family even more when he changed his surname to Brontë, which sounded like the Greek word for thunder. He earned a degree in theology and was ordained a minister in 1806. He married Maria Branwell from Cornwall in 1812 and made England his home, returning to Ireland just once.

On September 15, 1821, Maria Branwell Brontë uttered her dying words: "Oh God, my poor children!" She became the first Brontë laid to rest under the stone slabs of Haworth’s church. "I was left quite alone," her grieving husband wrote, "unless you suppose my six little children and the nurse and servants to have been company." His words implied that he did not. Hoping to marry again, h
After exploring the world of Jane Austen, Catherine Reef now turns her attention to the tragically short but utterly fascinating lives of the Brontë sisters--Charlotte (author of Jane Eyre), Emily (Wuthering Heights), and Anne (Agnes Grey). A biography as gothic and fun to read as any of the Brontë novels. Includes bibliography, notes, and index.
 


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