Books for a wet and windy night?

Last night it poured. Most of the night in fact, which in my house doesn’t lend itself to a good night’s sleep as we sleep under the eaves and have two roof lights, somehow rain landing directly on the glass is a lot more noisy than rain landing on the roof itself. So that got me thinking about books for a wet and windy night. I don’t imagine too many people will be surprised to learn that it is the Bronte sisters’ novels that immediately sprang to mind. Who cannot think of Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre, though perhaps The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is slightly less well-known. (But what a fabulous name for a house – so evocative.)

I read the Brontes first as a teenager when the raw emotions they conveyed fitted perfectly with my age. I re-read them as an adult and found that they spoke to me in a different way, and now as a writer I can appreciate the talent and imagination that created them – the ability to write powerfully about experiences of life that these three sisters had never had, cloistered as they were in their Yorkshire parsonage.

So I was interested to see this post about them and a play that dramatises their life. Two sentences jumped out at me –

Everyone has heard of them. Not all of those people have read their work. In fact, many will not have, especially readers of my generation, myself included. But their legacy is so pervasive, so ingrained into popular culture, that their fame has transcended their work and entered the global consciousness. Even if you have never read their stories, you know of them, they are cultural icons.

This came as a surprise because I expected that everyone who was interested in writing and reading would have dipped into the classics, and the Brontes definitely rate among the classics. But maybe I’m just out of touch or maybe it’s the fault of both the education system and the youth-obsessed modern culture that idolises the ‘new’ and relegates much of the ‘old’ to dusty and untouched shelves in a library’s ‘stacks’. This happened in my local library, where I used to work, when most of the ‘classics’ were first removed from the open shelves and placed in a back room to be brought out only by special request, and then eventually, (after I’d left) disposed of entirely. I wish I’d been around when that happened – if I couldn’t have stopped it I could at least have bought the full set of ‘Everyman’ Classics to have a home. What a treasure trove that would have been!

Chrissy Boulton’s comment that really struck a chord with me was –

To make your reader feel what you want them to feel, think about what you want them to think about. Grammar, spelling, and all that jazz, can be taught, but the ability to make a connection with the reader cannot be, that’s where talent comes in.

Absolutely, Chrissy – and that is, or should be, the ambition of every writer. (I think I shall print out that first sentence to have on the wall above the table where I write – what better focus to have.)

Something else struck me – the painting of the Bronte sisters, painted by their brother, Bramwell Screenshot 2014-12-22 07.12.41 which, amazingly, I hadn’t seen before. This is in no way a traditional portrait of the time – they aren’t presented as classically beautiful, nor is this a conventional stylised ‘sitting’. I wasn’t surprised to find it was their brother who painted it, and I think a bit of his character, and the not untypical brother/sisters relationship shows through. (Who more likely than a brother to paint a ‘warts and all’ portrait? It is the expressions on their faces that really intrigue me – I wonder what they’re looking at, what they’re thinking, but most of all I see them as individuals whom I’d love to have met and talked to.

Thank you to Madame Gilflurt for bringing this article to my attention and to Chrissy Boulton for writing it – this play We are Sisters by Blake Morrison is one that I’d love to see…

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