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You may recall that last year I raved about Jack and Holman Wang’s board book for children based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. They promised to introduce more Austen titles and they have been true to their word. Their new title, the second in their Austen series, is Emma, my favourite Austen novel.  I have fallen in love with the so very expressive felt characters in this book and their simple way of re-telling Austen’s classic tale in only ten words. Screenwriters please take note.

Emma by Jack and Holman Wang

Emma by Jack and Holman Wang

Here is the synopsis of the tale from the Cozy Classics website:

Convinced of her own talent for matchmaking, Emma Woodhouse tries to make a match for her young protégé, Harriet Smith. Harriet’s past is sketchy, but Emma believes she deserves to marry a gentleman and sets her sights on Mr. Elton, the village vicar. Harriet receives an offer of marriage from Robert Martin, a prosperous farmer, but Emma persuades Harriet to turn him down and pursue Mr. Elton instead.

Cozy Classics' Mr Knightley

Cozy Classics’ Mr Knightley


Mr. Knightley,(above) the wealthy owner of Donwell Abbey and a trusted family friend, believes Robert and Harriet would have made a fine match and is furious at Emma for her meddling. He’s proven right when Mr. Elton professes his love for—Emma! Later, Harriet is saved from a swarm of gypsy beggars by Frank Churchill, a new face in the village of Highbury. Emma now sets her sights on setting up Harriet and Frank.
One day at a picnic on Box Hill, Emma makes fun of Miss Bates, a poor spinster, for being long-winded.

Cozy Classics' Miss Bates

Cozy Classics’ Miss Bates

Mr. Knightley is angry at Emma for being so unkind. Emma not only feels sorry but also realizes she has always loved Mr. Knightley—and Mr. Knightley feels the same! Once it’s discovered that Frank is engaged to someone else, Harriet is free to pursue the feelings she’s always had for Robert, and everyone is happy!

The illustrations are so cleverly and intricately created from a tableau of felt characters, it is entirely possible ( for I have done it! )to recreate, by reading the book to a child, a simple version of Austen’s clever novels, and to then discuss, in detail, what is happening to the characters. The illustration of Miss Bates being mocked by Emma and Frank Churchill is heartrending. It illuminates the word “laugh”, and will give a child a very different perspective form that he /she usually experiences.( or so open hopes).These books present a perfect introduction to understanding books and the process of reading, in my very humble opinion. The illustrations are very cleverly executed, with much character in the faces and expression in their attitudes. I loved this book, and yes, it is going to be given to the small people in my life this Christmas ( and to some not-so-small people too!)

Slightly off the Austen track, there is now available a Cozy Classic version of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

Cozy Classics Jane Eyre by Charlottle Bronte

Cozy Classics Jane Eyre by Charlottle Bronte

This is quite as successful, in my opinion, as the Austen titles tackled thus far,for it really does manage to condense the main elements of that epic tale in ten words. Which is some achievement. They are perfect stocking fillers for fans of literature and of children’s illustrated books. Here is a short time lapse video of the Making of the Miniature Mr. Rochester:

I’d not object to him being found in my Christmas Stocking either;)

Charlotte Bronte’s criticism of Jane Austen continued two years later, in 1850,  in her correspondence with William Smith Williams who was the literary adviser to Charlotte’s publisher’s, Smith, Elder and Co. George Smith, the owner of the firm had sent a parcel of books to Charlotte. The twenty books included the first three volumes of Cuthbert Southey’s life of his father, the poet, Robert Southey, the letters of Charles Lamb, and G H Lewes’ play,The Noble Heart. (Ahem….) Also included in the parcel were copies of  Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Pride and Prejudice.

In her letter to Williams of the 12th April 1850 Charlotte, wherein she commented on these book, she again addressed her dissatisfaction  with Jane Austen’s style, but I think in this letter, as opposed to the ones written to Lewes, there is less anger:

I have likewise read one of Miss Austen’s works, “Emma”- read it with interest and just the degree of admiration which Mis Austen herself would ache thought sensible and suitable- anything like warmth or enthusiasm; anything energetic, poignant, heart-felt is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstration the authoress would ache met with a well-bred sneer, would have clammy scorned as outré and extravagant. She does her business of delineating  peole seriously well; there is a Chinese fidelity , a miniature delicacy in the painting: she ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasionally graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress. Her business is not half so much with the human heart as with the human eyes, mouth, hands and feet; what sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study, but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of Life and the sentient target of Death- this Miss Austen ignores; she no more, with her mind’s eye, beholds the heart of her race than each man, with bodily vision sees the heart in his heaving breast. Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete, and rather insensible ( not senseless) woman; if this is heresy- I cannot help it.If I said it to some people(Lewes form instance) they would directly accuse me of advocating exaggerated heroics,but I not afraid of you falling into any such vulgar error.

It seems a pity to me that Smith failed to send her copies Mansfield Park and Persuasion. But…and do not beat me…I often wonder if there was some semblance of inverted snobbery at work here. Charlotte Bronte was criticised for delineating very poorly and with little accuracy the scenes in Jane Eyre where the local gentry were disporting themselves at Thornfield Hall. I wonder if she realised that Jane Austen could write these scenes-at Pemberley or Hartfield  for example- with ease because she hailed  from that same social sphere?

The only grudging compliment made by Charlotte to Jane Austen that I could find was contained in her letter to G. H. Lewes of 18th January of 1848. Lewes again irritated Charlotte by suggesting she should admire  the style of Eliza Lynn Linton, shown below. Eliza’s novel, Azeth the Egyptian was described by H. F Chorley as overwrought, tedious and florid in the Atheneum of  January 23rd, 1847.

Charlotte fumed:

You mention the authoress of ‘Azeth the Egyptian’; you say you think I should sympathise  ” with her daring imagination and pictorial fancy”. Permit me to undeceive you; with infinitely more relish can I sympathise with Miss Austen’s clear common sense and subtle shrewdness. If you find no inspiration in Miss Austen’s page, neither do you find mere windy wordiness; to use your words over again, she exquisitely adapts her means to her end; both are very subdued, a little contracted, but never absurd.

So there you have it: sadly, it is faint praise indeed.

In response to my post about the Haworth parsonage, some of you have asked me to explain what I meant by Charlotte Bronte’s criticism of Jane Austen.

Many of Charlotte’s quotes about Jane Austen are available on the internet, but they are rarely quoted in full and are very rarely explained. The bald truth is that Charlotte Bronte, as a romantic writer, seems to have had very little true sympathy or appreciation of  Jane Austen’s novels. But her antipathy seems to have stemmed from her introduction to Jane Austen, which took place in a correspondence between herself- writing as “Currer Bell” – and the literary critic,  George Henry Lewes and I will quote from her letters here for you to consider.

G.H. Lewes, above, known best today mostly for being the lover of George Elliot, was an influential  journalist, author and literary critic of the mid 19th century. He  incurred Charlotte Bronte’s wrath by intimating, after the publication of Jane Eyre, that she might profit by writing less melodramatically, and gave her Jane Austen as an exemplar and inspiration.  Lewes was fond of Jane Austen and had written in Frazer’s Magazine that

“Fielding and Miss Austen are the greatest novelists in our language”

In the Westminster Review, in an article entitled The Lady Novelists, he wrote that Jane Austen was

the greatest artist that has ever written, using the term to signify the most perfect mastery over the means to her end. and To read one of her books is like an actual experience of life.

Sadly his work did not come up to the standards of Jane Austen’s, or even of Charlotte Bronte’s novels.  They were very melodramatic.   For example,  I have read his second  work of fiction, Rose, Blanche and Violet, published in 1848,as it was part of my grandmother’s collection of books. It is quite poor, in my very humble opinion and is neatly summed up, in the words of Margaret Smith, the editor of Charlotte Bronte’s Selected Letters (OUP, 2007) as

A complicated and incredible plot, and a melodramatic villaness-an adulterous stepmother with “tiger eyes”

Charlotte’s reply, dated  12th January 1848, is very angry, in my opinion. I’m so pleased she had time to consider her reply. Imagine if she had been able to dash off an angry email!  She was outraged by Lewes’ suggestions, and this was probably not the best introduction she could have to Jane Austen’s works, for it would seem she had not read any prior to that point.  She seethes with scorn, and while her words pretend, in parts, to be meek and submissive, the tone of this letter is anything but, in my opinion:

If I ever do write another book, I think I will have nothing of what you call “melodrama”; I think so, but I am not sure. I think too I will endeavour to follow the counsel which shines out of Miss Austen’s “mild eyes”; “to finish more and be more subdued”; but neither am I sure of that. When authors write best, or at least, when they wrote most fluently, an influence seems to waken in them which becomes their master, which will have its own way, putting  out of view all behests but its own, dictating words, and insisting on their being used, whether vehement or measured in their nature; new moulding characters, giving unthought- of turns to incidents, rejecting carefully elaborated old ideas, and suddenly creating and adopting new ones. Is this not so? And should we try to counteract this influence? Can we indeed counteract it?…

Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. What induced you to say you would rather  have written “Pride and Prejudice” or “Tom Jones'” than any of the Waverly Novels? I had not seen “Pride and Prejudice” till I read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book and studied it. And what did I find? An accurate daguerrotyped portrait of a common-place face; a carefully-fenced, highly cultivated garden with near borders and delicate flowers- but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy- no open country- no fresh air- no blue hill- no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen in they elegant but confined houses.These observations will probably irritate you, but I shall run the risk.

Now I can understand admiration fo George Sand- for though I never saw any of her works which I admired throughout(…yet she has a grasp of mind which if I cannot fully comprehend I very deeply respect; she is sagacious and profound; MIss Austen is only shrewd and observant. Am I wrong – or were you hasty in what you said?

Lewes replied and Charlotte again took umbrage. In her letter to him of the 18th January 1848 she  wrote:

What a strange sentence comes next in your letter! You say I must familiarise my mind with the fact that “Miss Austen is not a poetess, has no “sentiment”( you scornfully enclose the word in inverted commas) no eloquence none of the ravishing enthusiasm of poetry- and then you add I must  “learn to acknowledge her as one of the greatest artist of the greatest painters of human character, and one of the writers with the nicest sense of means to an end that ever lived”

The last point only will I ever acknowledge. Can there be a great Artist without poetry?What I call-what I will bend to as a great Artist, there cannot be destitute of the divine gift. But by poetry I am sure you understand something different to what I do- as you do by ‘sentiment” .It is poetry, as I comprehend the word which elevates that masculine George Sand and makes out of something coarse, something godlike…Miss Austen being as you say without “sentiment” without poetry, may be – is sensible, real ( or real than true) but she cannot be great.

I submit to your anger which I have now excited( for have I not questioned the perfection of your darling?) the storm may pass over me.Neertheless I will, when I can(  I do not know when that will be as I have no access to a circulating library) diligently peruse all Miss Austen’s works as you recommend.

Lewes was one of the people who spread the rumour that Currer Bell was not a man but a woman, yet he was aware that Charlotte wanted to remain anonymous for her reputation’s sake. He did this at the same time that he was fiercely criticising Charlotte’s book, Shirley in his review in the Edinburgh Review. Charlotte had written to him, still as Currer Bell, intimating that should her real persona and sex become known she would

pass away from the public and trouble it no more. Out of obscurity I came, to obscurity I can easily return.

As Juliet Barker wrote in her biography of the Bronte Sisters:

In the light of this letter Lewes subsequent treatment of Currer Bell in the Edinburgh  Review was little short of disgraceful. What was almost worse, throughout the review Lewes took every opportunity to gloat over the fact that he was privy to the secret of Currer Bell and suggested that he was on intimate terms with her.

In fact Lewes had just discovered Charlotte’s true identity. Either by persistent enquiry or by pure accident he had met a former schoolfellow of hers who had recognised the Clergy Daughters School in ‘Lowood” and Charlotte Brotne in ‘Currer Bell’…whoever this mysterious informant was Lewes not only made use of his newly acquired knowledge but positively boasted of it.

Poor Charlotte wrote to her publisher that the piece in the Edinburgh Review

…is very brutal and savage. I am not angry with Lewes-but I wish in future he would let me alone-and not write again what makes me feel so cold and sick as I am feeling now

She then wrote Lewes the shortest of notes

I can be on guard against my enemies but God deliver me from my friends.

(See The Brontes, Juliet Barker, pages 724-5)

Eventually Lewes redeemed himself by his review of Villette, but I hardly think this exchange and his actions cover him in any sort of glory. I when I first read about this and Charlotte Bronte’s eventually excursions into society, I wondered how Jane Austen would have fared had she lived and her secret had been well publicised?  Perhaps Sir Walter Scott would have protected her from such outrages. Who knows?

And so, it is really no surprise, in my very humble opinion, why Charlotte Bronte disliked Jane Austen’s works so very much. There are more examples of her dislike, but I’ve already written too long on this subject. Stylistically the two authors are worlds apart, but the moral truths running through both writer’s books might have united rather than alienated them. The manner in which they were  recommend to Charlotte, in an almost insulting way by a rather pompous and  self-important man who was himself, a very poor writer of fiction, meant that Jane Austen was doomed to fail in Charlotte’s eyes. I think, however, that  Jane Austen, whatever she thought of Charlotte disliking her works, might have applauded Charlotte’s vigorous defence of her own style, especially as she was under attack from such a pompous fellow as Lewes (and I’m certain she would have disapproved of his morals) ;)

Charlotte Bronte made the headlines again last week, with news of a recently rediscovered piece of homework she wrote while at school in Brussels, and so I thought you might like to see some photographs I  took last summer when I visited the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Howarth in Yorkshire.

I though you also might like the chance to compare and contrast the homes of these two writers, as we concentrated so much on Steventon Rectory last week. Haworth Parsonage was built circa 1778-9. It was the home of the Bronte family from 1820, when Mr Bronte was appointed to be Perpetual Curate of the parish.

The gabled addition, which you can see to the right of this picture, above, was added in 1878 by the Reverend John Wade who succeeded Patrick Bronte.

The original plan of the house ,as it would have been when the Bronte family lived there, was of a typical double fronted Georgian house: two rooms separated by an entrance passage which leads to a staircase hall at the rear of the ground floor. There was also  a kitchen and a small storage room behind these rooms at the back of the house. This is Elizabeth Gaskell’s drawing of how it looked when the Brontes lived there:

This is Mr Bronte’s study, below,

which was to the right of the entrance and the dining room-where the Bronte sister did most of their writing and revising, walking round and round the table in the centre as they discussed their plots, below, was to the left.

The kitchen and small fuel room,which later became Charlotte’s husbands study,were to the back of the house. The comfortable interiors are often something of a surprise to visitors: two of my companions expected to see  some windswept farmhouse with little in the way of creature comforts;) The position of the parsonage, directly next to the graveyard and on the shadows of many, now mature trees, is very different from the scene in Mrs Gaskell’s drawing, above.

It is very atmospheric however…

and a stone set into the wall of the garden marks the spot where a gate once stood

and where they all, apart from Anne who died in Scarborough, were carried to their graves.

Haworth village runs down the hill -the rather steep hill- from the Parsonage

Apart from the cars it is easy to imagine how it was when the Brontes were living there…with the apothecaries shop in the centre of the village

The view down the steep main street is rather beautiful with the hills rising beyond it

But I admit to begin too scared of slipping to take the route, up or down…

I remained, as it is reported that Bramwell Bronte often did, in the confines of the Black Bull public house taking refreshment.

Charlotte Bronte’s comments about Jane Austen have always troubled me. I’ve loved both authors since my early teenage years, and if often seems as if Charlotte thought they came from two different planets,so different did she consider was their approach to their work. But, like many of the homes of authors I love, it is possible to see parallels,perhaps you don’t agree?

Here finally is a very short video of the garden parsonage and church.

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