Tag Archives: literature

Maria Branwell Bronte

Maria Branwell was born in Penzance, Cornwall, on 15th April 1783. She was the eighth of eleven children (only six survived to adulthood though) of Thomas Branwell, a successful merchant, and his wife Anne Carne. The family owned many properties in the town and was involved in local politics (her brother Benjamin became the town’s Mayor in 1809). They were also Methodists and helped build the first Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Penzance. A plain and petite woman, Maria made friends easily. She was well-read, intelligent, witty and pious. She also wrote “The Advantages of Poverty, In Religious Concerns”, but it was never published.

When her parents died, Maria had to look for a job. In 1812 her aunt Jane Fennell, who was housekeeper at the Woodhouse Grove School at Rawdon in Yorkshire, invited Maria to assist her. Maria accepted and left Penzance to start a new life. John Fennell, Jane’s husband and Maria’s uncle, was a methodist minister and the headmaster of the school. In 1812 he invited his former colleague Patrick Bronte to visit the school. Here, he met Maria and after a short courtship the couple were married on 29th December 1812. It was a double ceremony as John and Jane’s daughter, Jane Branwell Fennell, also got married to the Reverend William Morgan. On that same day, but in Penzance, Joseph and Charlotte Branwell, two cousins of the brides, got married as well.

The couple first lived in Clough House, Hightown, where their first two children Maria (1814) and Elizabeth (1815) were born. In 1815, the family moved to Thornton, where the rest of their children was born: Charlotte (1816), Patrick Branwell (1817), Emily (1818) and Anne (1820). In 1820 the family moved again, this time to Haworth. Maria didn’t enjoy her new house much though as within a year she developed cancer and died on 15th September 1821.

Further reading:

Anedoctes And Advice From The Rambler's Magazine, Vol. 2, 1823

I was reading the 1823 issue of The Rambler’s Magazine, as you do (yes I’m weird but I can’t be the only one who enjoys old mags more than modern ones, or am I? Mmmm), and came across a couple of nice little pieces in the Anecdotes section that made me smile and decided to share them with you. I hope you enjoy them!


The plainest man, who pays attention to women, will sometimes succeed as well as the handsomest man who does not. Wilkes observed to Lord Townsend, “You, my Lord, are the handsomest man in the kingdom, and I the plainest; but I would give your Lordship half an hour’s start, and yet come up with you in the affections of any woman we both wished to win: because all those attentions which you would omit, on the score of your fine exterior, I should be obliged to pay, owing to the deficiencies of mine.”

Still, a very relevant piece of advice, don’t you think? A charming personality, a bright mind and treating women nicely can get you as far as a pretty face, if not further.


False rumps, false teeth, false hair, false faces,
Alas, poor man! how hard thy case is;
Instead of woman, heav’nly woman’s charms,
To clasp cork, gum, wool, varnish, in thy arms.

The more things change, the more they stay the same… makes you wonder what the author would think of so many women getting plastic surgery today…

Further reading:
The Rambler’s Magazine, Vol.2

Emily Bronte

Emily, the fifth child of Reverend Patrick Bronte and his wife Maria, was born on July 30th 1818 at Thornton, Bradford in Yorkshire. Her mother died of cancer in 1824, shortly after the family had moved to Haworth. Her father, struggling to bring up his family, decided to send her, together with her sisters Maria, Elizabeth and Charlotte, to the Clergy Daughter’s School at Cowan Bridge. The harsh regime of the school, the poor food and hygienic conditions took their toll on the girls. When a typhus epydemic broke out, Maria and Elizabeth fell ill, came back home and died. The other two girls were taken away from school too.

From that moment, their father took charge of their education. The Bronte children studied at home, read a lot and invented stories. Emily and Anne worked together on poems and stories about the imaginary world of Gondal. In 1834, Emily enrolled at Miss Wooler’s school at Roe Head Mirfield, where her sister Charlotte worked as a teacher, and remained there for 3 months before going back home again. In 1839, Emily became a teacher at Law Hill school but left her job after six months.

Emily dreamed of opening her own school with her sisters and so, to improve her knowledge of foreign languages, she left for Brussels with her sister Charlotte. Here, she learned French, German and how to play the piano. A few months later, they received the news of their aunt Maria’s death and went back home. Emily and her two surviving sisters, Charlotte and Anne, inherit £350 each. Thanks to this money, her project of opening the school became more realistic but despite all the sisters’ efforts and hard work, they failed to attract students. The project was abandoned.

Emily started writing down all her poems into two notebooks. Charlotte found them and thought they should be published but Emily refused. A reserved and taciturn woman, she was furious at this invasion of her privacy. Eventually, though she relented. In 1846, the Bronte sisters published a book of Poems under the pseudonyms of Currer (Charlotte), Ellis (Emily) and Acton (Anne) Bell. The following year, her masterpiece, Wuthering Heights was published too. But in 1848, Emily’s health deteriorated. She refused all medical help and died on 19 December. She rests in the Church of St. Michael and All Angels family vault, Haworth, West Yorkshire.

Further reading:
Wuthering Heights

How To Become Conversable

However beautiful or fashionably dressed a lady may be, she can never gain permanent hold upon society, without that peculiar talent for conversation, which is the well-known specialite of French women—and which depends more upon a variety of information, and a certain intuitive tact in the use of it, than in any specially developed accomplishment, as a virtuoso or a blur. Men of intelligence and of experience in the world, who are familiar with all great artists, and cannot but be bored by the grand scenas and arias attempted in private society, derive an ever fresh and exquisite pleasure from the conversation of a well-taught, observant, and appreciative woman.

Our correspondent, Laura, who writes us on this subject, says that she has been brought up in the country; but, being now resident in town, she feels herself miserably deficient in general information. How can she acquire the requisite amount of it? Every individual has a private gift, “mission,” capacity, and stock of information. No two individuals can be educated alike. They may learn the same lessons, and read the same books, and see the same society, and yet they will grow up very different characters. Their impressions are different—their reminiscences are different—their imaginations and passions arc different; and the more original they are, the more unlike others who have been educated along with them.

The best of all information for general chit-chat society is, viva voce, or live information; and this is only to be had in society itself. Therefore, those who see most society, are best fitted, because best trained for it. Nevertheless, to finish the lady and gentleman, reading is indispensable; and the fashion of the day prescribes the character of the reading, if you wish to be à la mode. Poetry, the drama, the opera, and music, in general, are indispensable for, ladies. If you would be learned in their history, you may read Schlegel’s Lectures on Dramatic Literature; Hazlitt’s Criticisms; Madame do Stall’s Germany, (infinitely superior to her Corinne;) Miss Strickland’s Queens of England; Hogarth’s History of Music; Fetis’ History of Music.

With those, you may do very well, in respect to music and the drama. As to painting, we are sorry to say that we know of no American work that gives any adequate view of the art of artists of this country. America has made such rapid advances in painting, that our own artists furnish the staple for this species of conversation. Our correspondent, however, will do well to read Dunlap’s Lives of the Painters, and Allan Cunningham’s Biography of Painters and Sculptors. In regard to ancient art, it is necessary to have Pilkington’s Dictionary of Painting, which contains brief biographies of all the great masters, with very correct and dear explanations respecting the different periods, styles, schools, nationalities, etc. It is an invaluable work.

Modern history is a frequent topic of conversation, now-a-days, with both sexes; and we advise our correspondent, if she is (as every American girl of course ought to be) familiar with the history of her own country, to make herself acquainted with the leading incidents of the French Revolution, (Lamartine’s History of the Girondists, or Thiers’ History of the French Revolution, will furnish the means) and especially with the fall, captivity and death of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and with the grand era of Napoleon I, without a pretty good knowledge of which, one is not safe in a modern drawing-room. For this, we would recommend the Memoirs of the Duchess d1 AbranUs, Miohelot’s Women of the Revolution, and anything and everything about Bonaparte, that can be got hold of—not forgetting the minute record of Las Cases. For the principal military events in the great Emperor’s career, Mr. Abbott’s work will answer the superficial needs of conversation.

As to a knowledge of contemporary light literature, the Reviews and Magazines are the great resource. With Graham, and the four British Reviews, republished in New York, our Correspondent need never be at a loss. If she reads French, she had better subscribe to the Semaine Litteraire and the Courrier des Etats Unis, in New York.

We have thus, as we think, laid out the mental programme for our unknown correspondent, which, if she follow, she will at the end of a few months find herself able at least to maintain an easy and respectable position in any society—and to rise as far above that as her natural intellectual gifts will allow her. All that we have above set down, is an easy task, and can be achieved by a resolute, ambitious girl, in six months, in the intervals of dressing, shopping, visiting and flirting. But should she find it necessary to encroach upon any of these employments, let her begin by curtailing, or altogether abolishing, the last.

Further reading:
Graham’s American Monthly Magazine of Literature, Art, and Fashion, Volumi 46-47

Regency Slang (Part 4)

It’s been ages since I wrote one of these posts. High time to remedy that, I think! So, here are a few Regency words and expressions that may puzzle you if you come across them in an old book. Enjoy!

Beau-nasty: finely dressed but dirty

Canterbury Story: a long roundabout tale

Cloud: tobacco

Gallipot: a nickname for an apothecary

Hog Grubber: a mean stingy fellow

Horse-godmother: large, muscular woman

Jason’s Fleece: a citizen cheated of his gold

King’s Bad Bargain: a malingeror, or soldier who shirks his duty

Leaky: someone who can’t keep a secret

Lully Triggers: thieves who steal wet linen

Mouse: to speak like a mouse in a cheese; i.e. faintly or indistinctly

Poisoned: big with child

Red rag: the tongue

Slubberdegullion: dirty, nasty fellow

Strip Me Naked: gin

Wiper Drawer: a pickpocket, one who steals handkerchiefs.

How many did you know?

Further reading:
1811 Dictionary in the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose
Regency Slang
Regency Slang (Part 2)
Regency Slang (Part 3)

Writing Anna Karenina

Ilya Tolstoy remembers the creation of Anna Karenina:

I Remember my father writing his alphabet and reading-book in 1871 and 1872, but I cannot at all remember his beginning “Anna Karenina.” I probably knew nothing about it at the time. What did it matter to a boy of seven what his father was writing? It was only later, when one kept hearing the name again and again, and bundles of proofs kept arriving, and were sent off almost every day, that I understood that “Anna Karenina” was the name of the novel on which my father and mother were both at work.

My mother’s work seemed much harder than my father’s, because we actually saw her at it, and she worked much longer hours than he did. She used to sit in the sitting-room off the zala, at her little writing-table, and spend all her free time writing. Leaning over the manuscript and trying to decipher my father’s scrawl with her short-sighted eyes, she used to spend whole evenings over it, and often sat up late at night after everybody else had gone to bed. Sometimes, when anything was written quite illegibly, she would go to my father’s study and ask him what it meant. But this was very rare, because my mother did not like to disturb him.

When it happened, my father used to take the manuscript in his hand, and ask with some annoyance, “What on earth is the difficulty?” and would begin to read it out aloud. When he came to the difficult place he would mumble and hesitate, and sometimes had the greatest difficulty in making out, or, rather, in guessing, what he had written. He had a very bad handwriting, and a terrible habit of writing in whole sentences between the lines, or in the corners of the page, or sometimes right across it. My mother often discovered gross grammatical errors, and pointed them out to my father, and corrected them.

When “Anna Karenina” began to come out in the “Russky Vyestnik,” 10 long galley-proofs were posted to my father, and he looked them through and corrected them. At first the margins would be marked with the ordinary typographical signs, letters omitted, marks of punctuation, etc.; then individual words would be changed, and then whole sentences, till in the end the proof-sheet would be reduced to a mass of patches quite black in places, and it was quite impossible to send it back as it stood, because no one but my mother could make head or tail of the tangle of conventional signs, transpositions, and erasures.

My mother would sit up all night copying the whole thing out afresh. In the morning there would lie the pages on her table, neatly piled together, covered all over with her fine, clear handwriting, and everything ready so that when “Lyovotchka” got up he could send the proof-sheets off by post. My father carried them off to his study to have “just one last look,” and by the evening it would be just as bad again, the whole thing having been rewritten and messed up.

“Sonya my dear, I am very sorry, but I’ve spoiled all your work again; I promise I won’t do it any more,” he would say, showing her the passages he had inked over with a guilty air. “We’ll send them off to-morrow without fail.” But this to-morrow was often put off day by day for weeks or months together. “There’s just one bit I want to look through again,” my father would say; but he would get carried away and recast the whole thing afresh. There were even occasions when, after posting the proofs, he would remember some particular words next day, and correct them by telegraph. Several times, in consequence of these rewritings, the printing of the novel in the “Russky Vyestnik” was interrupted, and sometimes it did not come out for months together.

In the last part of “Anna Karenina” my father, in describing the end of VRONSKY’S career, showed his disapproval of the volunteer movement and the Panslavonic committees, and this led to a quarrel with Katkof. I can remember how angry my father was when Katkof refused to print those chapters as they stood, and asked him either to leave out part of them or to soften them down, and finally returned the manuscript, and printed a short note in his paper to say that after the death of the heroine the novel was strictly speaking at an end; but that the author had added an epilogue of two printed sheets, in which he related such and such facts, and he would very likely “develop these chapters for the separate edition of his novel.”

In concluding, I wish to say a few words about my father’s own opinion of “Anna Karenina.” In 1875 he wrote to N. N. Strakhof: “I must confess that I was delighted by the success of the last piece of ‘Anna Karenina.’ I had by no means expected it, and to tell you the truth, I am surprised that people are so pleased with such ordinary and EMPTY stuff.”

The same year he wrote to Fet: “It is two months since I have defiled my hands with ink or my heart with thoughts. But now I am setting to work again on my TEDIOUS, VULGAR ‘ANNA KARENINA,’ with only one wish, to clear it out of the way as soon as possible and give myself leisure for other occupations, but not schoolmastering, which I am fond of, but wish to give up; it takes up too much time.”

In 1878, when the novel was nearing its end, he wrote again to Strakhof: “I am frightened by the feeling that I am getting into my summer mood again. I LOATHE what I have written. The proof-sheets for the April number [of “Anna Karenina” in the “Russky Vyestnik”] now lie on my table, and I am afraid that I have not the heart to correct them. EVERYTHING in them is BEASTLY, and the whole thing ought to be rewritten,—all that has been printed, too,—scrapped and melted down, thrown away, renounced. I ought to say, ‘I am sorry; I will not do it any more,’ and try to write something fresh instead of all this incoherent, neither-fish-nor-flesh-nor-fowlish stuff.”

That was how my father felt toward his novel while he was writing it. Afterward I often heard him say much harsher things about it. “What difficulty is there in writing about how an officer fell in love with a married woman?” he used to say. “There’s no difficulty in it, and above all no good in it.” I am quite convinced that if my father could have done so, he long ago would have destroyed this novel, which he never liked and always wanted to disown.

Further reading:
Reminiscences Of Tolstoy By His Son, Count Ilya Tolstoy

Farewell To My Home

In anticipation of Queen Victoria’s marriage, the January 1840 edition of The Mirror Of Literature published a poem written by her fiancé, Prince Albert. It’s called Mein Lebewohl and talks about his love for his native country and the pain he feels in leaving it behind.


Once more let me view thee,
Dear Home of my Heart!
And must I thus leave thee,
Thus painfully part?
From you, O fair meadows,
O hills hid in blue,
0 groves of sweet singing-trees,
Must I leave you!

Yes, far must I wander—
And distantly go, Where the Alps plant their feet,
Upon foot-stools of snow:
Where with billows of purple,
Old ocean resounds
Round the shores of the isles.
And their uttermost bounds;
Then to regions far south—
Yet, wherever I roam
Shall my heart still remember
My Motherly Home.

So that, be I in bustle,
Or be I in strife,
On the stormy arena
Of turbulent life,
Where success clings to him
Who hath most might of mind,
And the powerless-hearted
Hangs laggard behind—

Or make I my wars
‘Neath the blue-spreading sky—
Tho’ my breast act the Lion—
Yet there too shall lie
A sweet Lamb at its side,
Which where’er I may roam,
Will still yearn for the lap
Of its Motherly Home.

I may march o’er the earth
In its breadth and its length, While my youth is my shield,—
And my God is my strength,— Fierce and fast thro’ all dangers
Courageously tread,
And my sword do brave service
Where most ’tis in stead.

But a day shall arrive—
(When I’ve struggled enough
to encounter the peril,
And buffet the rough,)
When my heart shall throw off
Its old slough of dull sadness,
And awake all at once,
To a glorious gladness!
When the star shall arise,
And the day dawn in gold,
That shall summon me back,
To my Homestead of old.

Lo—I quicken my feet—
Lo—I hasten my pace—
Yonder sparkles already,
That dayspring of grace:
And its ray of rich sunlight
Displays the old door,
And its living gold, clusters
On casement and floor—
O, it lights me at last,
From my desolate roam,
Once more to thy bosom,
My Motherly Home!

It’s a beautiful poem, isn’t it? What do you think of it?

Laetitia Pilkington, Her Serene Highness Of Lilliput

Laetitia Pilkington was a celebrated Anglo-Irish poet best known for her friendship with Jonathan Swift. Until he cut her off when she divorced her husband, Matthew Pilkington, a priest for the Anglican Church of Ireland. He didn’t want to be associated with a separated couple, although he was in a way responsible for the divorce. Not that he had meant any harm. He had just wanted to help the couple. But let’s start at the beginning.

Laetitia, whose maiden name was van Lewen, was born in around 1709 in a good Irish family. Her father was a physician and obstetrician, and eventually became the president of the College of Physicians for Ireland, while her mother was the niece of Sir John Meade. Laetitia had met and married Matthew when she was only 16, and shortly afterwards the couple was introduce to Swift. The celebrated author enjoyed the company of the Pilkingtons, whom he called “a little young poetical parson, who has a littler young poetical wife” for their literary skills.

Swift spent many nights conversing on all kinds of topics with the couple. He was inspired by them, but also inspired them. Once he recognized how talented Laetitia was at poetry, he encouraged her to pursue it. He also tried to help the couple financially and was eventually able to get Matthew a job in London, as chaplain to the Lord Mayor for 1732–1733. That’s when the problems began. Laetitia didn’t follow her husband to the English capital, preferring to stay in London.

Alone in the big city, Matthew did a lot more than preach. He had involved himself in many shady political schemes and had fallen in love with a Drury Lane Theatre actress. Laetitia discovered all this only two years later, when she visited her husband in London. So, she started spending time with the fashionable set of writers, journalists, and artists, and rakes of her time. Years later, she would write about them, their habits and their scams in her memoirs. But Matthew’s time in London was running out. In 1734, he was arrested for one of his shady political affairs and sent back to Dublin.

Laetitia had put up with her husband’s affair with the actress, but he didn’t return the favour. When, three years later, he found her alone in her bedroom with Robert Adair, a young surgeon who would later become surgeon general of England, he promptly filed for divorce. It was a bitter, long and costly proceeding, and it ended up costing Laetitia her friendship with Swift. The writer had once called Laetitia “her Serene Highness of Lilliput”. Now, she became the “profligate whore”.

Laetitia was left with little money after her divorce so she threw herself in her work. She wrote poems, a feminist prologue for Worsdale’s A Cure for a Scold, and even an opera that was however only performed and never published, No Death but Marriage. In 1739, she moved to London, where she lived under the name of Mrs Meade to escape her fame and suitors. Here, she met the great literary minds of her time, such as the publisher and novelist Samuel Richardson and the poet laureate Colley Cibber, who advised her on how to make money from the press, like he had.

She continued writing, penning many poems for other people they could pass off as her own, and even tried to set up a print shop and bookseller’s in St. James’s. Unfortunately, the enterprise wasn’t successful and Laetitia ended up in the Marshalsea prison for her debts. Luckily for her, Richardson came to her rescue. In 1743, she began writing her most popular work, her memoirs. But she struggled to find someone to published the book. No one in the literary London world wanted to see their flaws exposed in a book. Matthew also did all he could to stop his ex wife from publishing her memoirs too.

Finding it impossible to find a publisher for her memoirs in London, Laetitia went back to Ireland. Once there, she published the first two volumes, but died of a bleeding ulcer on 29 July 1750, leaving the third one unfinished. Her son would complete and publish it four years later.

Further reading:
Queen of the Wits: A Life of Laetitia Pilkington by Norma Clarke

Regency Slang (Part 2)

I’ve already written several posts about slang and colloquial terms used during the Regency era, but I have barely scratched the surface. There are so many that I would still like to share with you. So, here are some taken from the 1811 Dictionary in the Vulgar Tongue:

Back Biter: someone who slanders another person behind their back.

Crack a whid: to tell a tale.

Fallalls: women’s accessories, such as jewellery or ribbons.

Grumbletonian: a person who is always complaining about one thing or another.

Postilion of the Gospel: a parson who hurries over the service.

Quiz: a strange-looking person.

Sauce box: a forward or bold person.

To cry beef: to give the alarm.

To milk the pigeon: to try something impossible.

Tongue enough for two sets of teeth: someone who talks a lot.

To take French leave: to go off without taking leave of the company; it usually refers to people who run away from their creditors.

Tuft-hunter: someone who courts the acquaintance of the aristocracy.

Unlicked cube: a rude and uncouth young person.

Further reading:
How People Spoke: The Regency Era
How They Spoke: The Regency Era (Part 2)
Regency Slang

Mrs Austen's Pudding Recipe

Martha Lloyd was a close friend of the Austen family. Cassandra, Jane’s mother, even contributed to the book of recipes she wrote at Chawthon. Here’s her entry:

If the vicar you treat,
You must give him to eat,
A pudding to hit his affection;
And to make his repast,
By the canon of taste,
Be the present receipt your direction.

First take two pounds of Bread,
Be the crumb only weigh’d,
For the crust the good house-wife refuses;
The proportion you’ll guess,
May be made more or less,
To the size that each family chuses.
Some milk dont refuse it,
But boiled ere you use it,
A proper hint this for its maker;
And the whole when compleat,
In a pan clean and neat,
With care recommend to the baker.

In praise of this pudding,
I vouch it a good one,
Or should you suspect a fond word;
To every Guest,
Perhaps it is best,
Two puddings should smoke on the board.

Two puddings! – yet – no,
For if one will do,
The other comes in out of season;
And these lines but obey,
Nor can anyone say,
That this pudding’s with-out rhyme or reason
Then its sweetness to make
Some currants you take
And Sugar of each half a pound
Be not butter forgot
And the quantity sought
Must the same with your currants be found

Cloves & mace you will want,
With rose water I grant,
And more savory things if well chosen;
Then to bind each ingredient,
You’ll find it expedient,
Of Eggs to put in half a dozen.

Further reading:
The Poetry of Jane Austen and the Austen Family edited by David Selwyn