Mildred Grieveson was born on 10 October in England. She always wanted to write, and for years she wrote for her own pleasure. She had written all through her infant and junior years and on into her teens, the stories changing from children's adventures to torrid gypsy passions. Her mother used to gather these up from time to time, when her bedroom became too untidy, and disposed of these manuscripts. Mildred married very young and became a housewife. Her husband suggested that she ought to send one of her stories to a publisher, but she had never finished one of her stories.
Published at 19, she was newly married, and her daughter was just a baby, when she juggled her household chores and scribbled away in exercise books every chance she got. With her husband's encouragement, she finally finished a manuscript, Caroline. And it's true that not every year was as eventful as that which followed the publication of Jane Eyre. They worked hard, read widely, taught, travelled, looked after their savings investing some of it in the railways , and were independent-minded in their ideas about society and politics, not least about the place of women.
The morbid caricature that developed in the wake of Gaskell's biography — with Haworth depicted as a remote and sinister spot, and the Parsonage as a gloomy hideout for a trio of unworldly spinsters — is largely nonsense. Their novels, caricatured as romances set on rugged moors, are full of insights into the social conditions of the day. And their lives, though short and touched with tragedy, were fascinating.
The public were enthralled from the start.
Curious visitors began turning up in Haworth once the truth about Jane Eyre' s authorship got out, and the numbers grew with the publication of Gaskell's biography two years after Charlotte's death in Some came from as far as America. Local shops cashed in, selling photos of the family. Patrick took to cutting up Charlotte's letters into snippets, to meet the many requests for samples of her handwriting. Charlotte was the sister everyone wanted a piece of; the reputations of Anne and Emily took longer to develop.
But the books kept selling and groupies kept coming to gawp. The story of their "dreary" existence "their tragic history, their loneliness and poverty of life" had, he said, supplanted the achievement of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. James might be surprised to find that Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are both widely read and critically esteemed today.
There's been no let-up, either, in attempts to translate them into different media: the Enthusiast's Guide to Jane Eyre Adaptations website lists 25 since the s. New film versions of both novels are appearing this autumn: Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre with a screenplay by Moira Buffini was released on Friday, and Andrea Arnold's version of Wuthering Heights will follow in November.
Still, the issue James raised back in remains pertinent. How to explain their enduring popularity? The fact there were three of them may be part of it. It's not just that the phenomenon of three siblings who all published poetry and fiction seems extraordinary which other family can boast as much: the Sitwells?
For some, the idea of these "three weird sisters" as Ted Hughes called them, borrowing from Shakespeare weaving their magic together is sinister in its resonance — the stuff of Grimm fairytales. For others, their encouragement of each other is as inspiring an image of sorority as the Sister Sledge song: "We are family, I got all my sisters with me. Juliet Barker 's magisterial biography ran to 1, pages. The revised edition, recently published in paperback, adds more, in order to include finds such as a letter from Charlotte describing her wedding dress "white I had to buy and did buy to my own amazement — but I took care to get it in cheap material … If I must make a fool of myself — it shall be on an economical plan".
An authoritative edition of Charlotte's letters has also appeared in recent years, and the extent to which she edited her sisters' poems — censoring and rewriting them — has begun to be understood. In its absence, some have suggested that Charlotte wilfully destroyed it, either from embarrassment at its sensational content or envy of its power. This looks no more plausible than the theory first aired in the s that Branwell was the real author of Wuthering Heights. In , Virginia Moore misread the handwritten title of Emily's poem "Love's Farewell" as "Louis Parensell", and developed the theory that Louis was Emily's secret lover.
For good measure, she threw in the claim that Emily was also lesbian, an idea later developed by Camille Paglia.
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Such theories are impossible to prove, but they're part of the fun of the game. Virginia Woolf visited it in the days when it was privately owned, noting the upright gravestones in the churchyard "like an army of silent soldiers", and when it opened to the public in , thousands clamoured to get in. The relics and artefacts on display include the sofa on which Emily died, the cloth pouch in which Patrick kept his pistol, a lock of Anne's hair from when she was 13, Branwell's paintings, the collars of the two family dogs, Keeper and Flossie, and assorted items belonging to Charlotte — a black lace veil, curling tongs, hair clips, stockings and tiny boots.
The temporary exhibition space is currently devoted to Patrick, and the gift shop offers the usual fare — mugs, coasters, keyrings and fridge magnets. Beyond, well signposted, is the walk to Top Withens, said to have inspired the setting of Wuthering Heights , a stiff uphill hike of three and half miles. Weather the Storm. For Now and Forever. Wyoming Legend. Roomful of Roses. Darling Enemy. Wyoming Brave Wyoming Men, Book 6. Wyoming Strong.
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