Sunday, June 18, 2017

Geniuses Together: American Writers in Paris in the 1920s by Humphrey Carpenter

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The other night I thought I was dying.  I am a bit on the melodramatic side, but not when it comes to money and Josh felt a visit to the ER was necessary.  Luckily for me we have a number of walk-in Emergency Room services around town, one of which was just around the corner.

Mostly it was my right side that felt as if I had either pulled all the muscles in that part of my back or my kidneys were on fire.  Then a series of thoughts raced through my head.

Am I going through kidney failure?  Are any of my family members a match and would they be willing to part with a kidney for poor little me?

It turned out to be kidney stones and I hope none of you ever have the misfortune of getting them.

Hopefully they are all gone.  I went to the gym today feeling so so because I had to get out of the house.  I'm also cutting down on the pain killers; they give me peculiar dreams.

On a brighter note, my parrot is screaming at me.  She has become spoiled by Grandma who has given her a lot of attention while she was visiting. She will have to wait until I finish this review.  On the computer, I am listening to a bird making far prettier but also sadder sounds (perhaps you should play it and reread my first couple of paragraphs).  It is the Maiden and the Nightingale by Enrique Grenados from his Goyescas.  These are love songs for the piano he made based on paintings by the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya. I hope you enjoy listening. This performance is by the composer himself. He looks a bit like Salvador Dali in this photo doesn't he?

Geniuses Together: American Writers in Paris in the 1920sGeniuses Together: American Writers in Paris in the 1920s by Humphrey Carpenter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was not without it good points. The first couple of chapters give us some history of the first Americans to visit Paris such as Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. This was as informative as it was interesting. Then we get to the bulk of the book.

A lot of American writers traveled to Paris in the 1920s; for what reason will remain a mystery after you finish reading the book unless you find another source of information about the literary world in Paris and its attraction to Americans.

This book tells us nothing of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Beach, not to mention T.S. Eliot, Ford Madox Ford and Ezra Pound that isn't found in a thousand other sources.

He spends an inordinate amount of time on writers that have long ago disappeared. Has anyone heard of Robert McAlmon, Kenneth Adams or Kay Boyle? Me neither. They were writers, but I don't know if they were ever successful in their own time. Their writing is not known except perhaps for the most devoted readers of that era.

But they were all part of the group that their more famous counterparts made up and they all bar hopped together and spent most of the day drunk. I don't know if this is supposed to make us think what a jolly lot these bohemians were or that being bohemian is something glamorous and exciting, but to me it all sounded boring.

And not only that, they all seemed to loathe each other.  Hemingway took it out in his stories, but the others were also contemptuous of all the other writes.  They truly seemed a lost generation.

In fact by the time I finished reading the book I was surprised that any one of them was able to produce anything worth reading at all. I'll assume that they made their sober moments count. Or they were exceptionally talented writers even inebriated.

I did appreciate the map on the inside of the book's cover; having just visited Paris last Christmas, I could place their hang outs in my mind.

All in all, not a bad read, but I would certainly look to other sources for more thorough or original information.

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My question to the reader:  Can you tell me of a good source about Americans in Paris in the Twenties? Or any time?  One that can tell us why creative Americans gravitated to Paris?

Well, my work here is done.  I'm taking Hercaloo and a book outside to read and visit with the piggies.  A good day to all!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Architecture in the 20th Century by Peter Gossel and Gabriele Leuthauser

I am currently working on Alexander Tcherepnin's Andante, Op. 65 with a Euphoniumist.  Is that correct?  Sounds a little classier than "Euphonium player".  The latter sounds like a rake who happens to have musical talent.  Not that there's any shortage of those.  The young man with whom I am performing is very much a gentleman so we'll stick with Euphoniumist, even if I made the word up.  

Here's a link to the same piece performed by Tubist Philip Sinder and Pianist Deborah Moriarty if you'd like to listen while you read today's book review.

Architecture in the Twentieth CenturyArchitecture in the Twentieth Century by Peter Gossel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a simply dazzling coffee table book filled with glossy photographs on every page. I don't know why the Goodreads picture has two books, mine is only one.  And it was only twenty dollars on clearance at Books A Million (Score!).  Peter Gossel and Gabriele Leuthauser chronicle the development of twentieth century architecture. Backing up to the year 1773 to show how the industrial age prepared the world for twentieth century modernism, the authors take readers through every year from the production of iron to the production of iron structure buildings, such as the birth of sky scrapers.

Much of architecture's artistic sensiblity accompanied the art world arm in arm down the years. Skyscrapers were Art Deco in the turn of the century until the Depression stripped people of frivolity. The misery of reality was averted through fantasy and in the thirties we see houses and businesses reflecting man's hope in science. Many structures developed then looked like Spaceships out of a pulpy Sci Fi magazine. The Second World War produced edifices that were meant to express power. Albert Speer buildings in Germany hearkened back to the Ancient Roman temples.

After the War, architects became minimalist, striving for homes and offices that offered clean, clear space without clutter, but wrap around glass, which allowed the resident's view to be filled with the surrounding landscape.

Rationality and reason were expressed through materials of concrete and steel. As the sixties, seventies and eighties marched down through the corridors of time, architects combined the rationality of the early half of the century with experimentation and creativity. Some of the buildings are so curvaceous it's amazing they are made out of concrete.

There were many architects I was unfamiliar with, yet their work was no less profound. Japanese architect Tadao Ando seamlessly interwove traditional Japanese form with modern materials. His influence on Frank Lloyd Wright is unmistakable.

And of course we get to read about the more famous ones such as Louis Kahn, Philip Johnson, Louis Sullivan and Le Corbusier, with no shortage of photos of their work.

If you are a layperson, like me, who enjoys a good overview of modern architecture, I recommend this book.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

The Chinese Book of Etiquette and Conduct fo Women and Girls, Entitled Instruction for Chinese Women and Girls by Lady Tsao

For Easter weekend, Josh and I drove to Dallas to spend the time with my sister and her family.  While driving along Hwy 20 I read this slim volume about how Chinese women were expected to conduct themselves two thousand years ago.  I have a feeling Chinese women no longer conduct themselves this way any longer.  I wonder if they ever really did?

The Chinese Book of Etiquette and Conduct for Women and Girls: Entitled Instruction for Chinese Women and Girls (1900)The Chinese Book of Etiquette and Conduct for Women and Girls: Entitled Instruction for Chinese Women and Girls by Lady Tsao

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written almost 2000 years ago during the Han dynasty, Lady Tsao was a widower and brother of Pang Ku who was president of Hanlin College, the first college of the empire. Pang had been writing the history of the Han dynasty when he became blind. He recommended his sister to the Emperor as a qualified writer and historian to complete the task. Due to the request and gifts of the Han Emperor, Lady Tsao came out of her self-imposed isolation after the death of her husband to finish the Han histories. Her writing so satisfied the emperor that he asked her to serve as an "Instructor of Women." This book is a compilation of her teachings.

It was translated into English one hundred years ago by a Mrs. S.L. Baldwin who served as a Chinese Missionary many years. Her vocabulary in the introduction will probably come across as archaic and even offensive to some (as she refers to the Chinese as heathens), however, she is more complimentary toward the Chinese than she is negative, considering their culture as far more advanced in literature, education and etiquette at a time when the West was still suffering barbaric invasions and widespread illiteracy.

The purpose of the book, while not stated explicitly, seems to imply that the translator wanted to provide the West with a better comprehension of Chinese culture and to hopefully enable them to appreciate and understand a country that, at the time, must have seemed wholly foreign to them.

The book is divided into several sections that instruct woman as to how they should conduct themselves as daughters, wives and mothers. One chapter describes the cultivation of virtue, another the sort of work a women should employ herself with, another on how to behave towards her parents, her in-laws and finally on how to treat her husband.

Largely, a woman's role was to be subservient to everyone. She should not talk, and then only quietly, behind a fan. As a child, she should not run, shout, play or leave the house but only quietly work with her hands.

As a wife she should carefully prepare her husband's food to be ready when he arrives from work, making sure it stays warm. She should feed him first, then her children and finally herself.

As a daughter-in-law she should rise early, before her in-laws and prepare their food and wait for them to help them with dressing, and also to clean their rooms and make their beds. At night she should anticipate their return to the bedroom and should dress down the beds for their rest and have tea ready.

A woman or girl should never leave her house or talk to strangers. She should rarely talk and then only in the most formal of manners. In all things she should show only a gentleness of manner that creates harmony wherever she goes.

I think you get the idea. The part about making silk was interesting. I was hoping for more enlightenment on particular cultural practices, but only got a primer on how woman should act with everyone: as a quiet, gentle servant.

One wonders how many women put this into actual practice.

I hope not many. Not because women should not be altruistic. Harmony is created in a family when each member acts selflessly, but because if a woman were to actually carry out this sort of conduct she and her family members would tragically remain strangers to each other.

Formal manners are fine for company, but couldn't a wife and husband act a little more naturally toward each other?

Sadly, I think many cultures have created these kind of barriers between the sexes and perhaps is why these same countries have a long historical practice of prostitution. I mean, who's a man going to talk to when his wife only acts in the most reserved manner towards him?

Nevertheless, whether this code of conduct was more theoretical than practical, it is interesting to read what was at least expected of women during a certain epoch of time. Knowing the ideal of a country allows one to better understand the values that helped shape its culture.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

The Case of the Empty Tin by Erle Stanley Gardner

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A symphony is playing on our local APR station.  Sounds like Beethoven. My mistake.  It's Brahms Symphony Number Four performed here by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by George Solti.  Ah, that brings back the memories.  When I was a graduate student at Roosevelt University, I would buy canceled tickets to see performances at Orchestra Hall (now the Chicago Symphony Center) an hour or two before a performance.  It was great; the tickets were for ten dollars back then and sometimes I got a front row center seat, like the time I got to hear Radu Lupu perform Liszt's Symphonic Variations (it's not Radu Lupu on this link; I couldn't find a recording of him performing them).  Other times I got a seat behind a pole, so it was luck of the draw, although usually I could move after intermission.

I've opened the windows of my house because, even though it is slightly chilly and wet outside, the breeze is freshening up my house and keeping it pleasantly cool.  I put my guinea pigs outside just to give them some air.  Even though the ground is a little wet, the clover is green and they enjoy nibbling on it.  They need a bath anyway.

The Case of the Empty TinThe Case of the Empty Tin by Erle Stanley Gardner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The perfect book for a rainy day weekend, which this last weekend was. I curled up in my favorite chair next to the French Doors with a perfect view of the rain coming down in the backyard, making the lawn green.

Florence Gentrie is a loving, doting mother and a conscientious manager of household affairs. In the middle of the night she hears a shot. Worried, she investigates. She looks in the cellar and around the house but sees nothing amiss. Well, one thing is amiss and it really bothers her (anything not in order really bothers her). Among her rows of canned preserves is a tin that doesn't belong there. She picks it up and is surprised to find it is empty, even though it is sealed. Puzzled, she leaves the tin and moves on.

She checks on her son, Junior, who should be back from work, but when she gets to his bedroom, he's not there. Troubled, she goes back to bed.

Perry Mason is pouring over legal books preparing for a case when his secretary, Della Street, tells him a young man wants him to come with him, because his rich uncle wants to talk with him over an incident.

The old man, Elston A. Kaar, is wheelchair bound. He tells Perry that he heard a shot in the apartment below and he doesn't know what happened. He isn't concerned about what happened, he just wants the whole thing to be kept quiet because he is keeping a low profile and doesn't want the publicity.

Incidentally, Kaar lives next door to Mrs. Gentrie.

The man, a Mr. Hocksley, who lives beneath Kaar has subsequently disappeared.

What has this got to do with the empty tin? Has Hocksley been murdered? Has he murdered someone? Why does Kaar wish to avoid publicity? Is there a connection between Kaar, Hocksley, and the Gentrie household?

I'm not going to tell you because I don't want to ruin the story.

This so far is my favorite Mason novel. The facts of the case are measured out spoonful by spoonful. Just enough to give you a good appetite for what is happening. The story builds up nicely, keeping the reader's curiosity whetted leading into a satisfactory conclusion.

I recommend it as a good, cozy read.

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Question for you:  what did you read this past week that you really enjoyed?

Monday, May 29, 2017

Papa Hemingway by A.E. Hotchiner

Poor little Hercaloo broke his tail feathers.  We had to go to the vet and have them removed.  It was not a pleasant experience.  They had to pull them out which is like having your hairs plucked out of your head.  Hercaloo did not suffer in silence.  She kept (we think it's a "she" now) up a constant scream that had my ears ringing until we got back home.

I was afraid she wasn't going to forgive me, but she's just as affectionate as ever, even if she does look like she's been run over by a lawn mower.

Papa HemingwayPapa Hemingway by A.E. Hotchner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A.E. Hotchner started out as a young journalist who was assigned to interview Ernest Hemingway. He didn't want to do it. He felt he was much too unimportant a person to be bothering the great writer. Flying down to Cuba where Hemingway was currently living he sent him a note explaining his situation and also that he understood that Hemingway probably didn't have time for him.

What he received was a phone call from "Papa" himself inviting him to a restaurant for dinner and drinks. Thus began a fourteen year friendship between the two men, ending only with Heminway's death. It does not include anything that happened before Hotchner knew him and only includes personal transactions between the two authors.

Hotchner quotes a lot of the conversations verbatim. Hemingway apparently did not talk in complete sentences. This may give an authentic feel to the story but it makes for rather stilted reading. I'd rather he had paraphrased.

Having read Carlos Baker's unflattering biography about Hemingway it was interesting to compare the two. Because Baker in his biography calls Hotchner's biography unrealistic and fawning, I was prepared to read a biography that was biased.

Maybe it was, but I felt that Hotchner was fairly honest about Hemingway's foibles, even if he did leave out or soften some facts that would make Hemingway a less sympathetic character. Mostly it is the story about a man the author obviously has great affection and esteem for. For whatever reason, Hemingway, at least from Hotchner's telling, took a liking to him and did not treat him in the shabby way he treated a lot of people.

Even so, I still don't find Hemingway to be all that nice of a person in Hotchner's biography. Most of it is centered around Hemingway telling Hotchner what sound like tall tales, but even if they're not, they are still rather boorish renditions of what a tough guy he was. ("There I was in WWII, beating up the enemy single handedly...")

The story travels along from Cuba to Spain to Africa, back to Cuba and also the U.S. a few times. Each place Hemingway lived was defined by how he conquered powerful animals . In Spain, he is obsessed with the bullfights. Hemingway never was a bullfighter but he became close friends with bullfighters and seemed to live vicariously through them.

In Cuba he fished Marlin from his boat the Pilar. In Idaho he hunted bears and in Africa he hunted all sorts of big animals. I don't understand the psyche that pushed Hemingway to be such an avid big game hunter. He also enjoyed destroying people, although that does not come into this biography. What drove him to do it? Where did this cruel streak come from? Hotchner does not answer these questions. Baker's biography provides more clues.

Hotchner doesn't answer perhaps because he didn't see it. Or maybe hooking on to Hemingway helped promote his own career. Certainly writing a biography about a famous writer you were personal friends with guaranteed getting known.

Throughout the book Hotchner refers to Hemingway as "Papa". I wonder how the moniker started. It comes across as a little contrived and denotes a kindly, gentleness that was not a part of Hemingway's character.

But perhaps he was a "papa" to some people. Hotchner seemed to view him so and so did others. Who Hemingway showed that side to appears random.

The last part of the biography describes Hemingway's mental deterioration. Other biographies describe Hemingway's mental illness, but Hotchner gives a first hand account, allowing for a more accurate diagnosis. This book was published in the sixties so different names were used but I think that "paranoid schizophrenia" is how it would be described today. Hemingway became convinced that the FBI was out to get him, that they had bugged all his phones, and if any friend disagreed they had been "bought" and crossed over to "their side".

Hemingway was admitted into a mental hospital at different times towards the end of his life and according to Hotchner was released against Hemingway's wife and also Hotchner's advice. In the end Hemingway was able to divert everyone long enough to pull the trigger. Hotchner wrote this biography soon after Hemingway's death.

In conclusion, if you are a Hemingway fan, this is a good biography to include in your library. It is written with the warm affection of someone who knew Hemingway personally and carried on a close relationship with him in his old age, when he had once again invented himself, this time as "Papa Hemingway".

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For a video tour of Hemingway's house "Finca La Vigia" in Cuba, click on the link below: 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough

Above is my breakfast this morning.  In the words of that great philosopher the Cookie Monster:

C is for cookie and that's good enough for me.

Today my writing is accompanied by all three movements of Pour le Piano by Claude Debussy performed by Gina Bachauer.

Years ago, the first time I moved to New Jersey, I was facing some hard financial times so my mother came up to stay with me and watch my toddler son while I worked.  Tuesdays were my day off so my mother, one of the most organized people I know, mapped out all of New York City and each week we would go and explore some part of the city.

One Tuesday it was the Roosevelt house.  Not only was it a fascinating tour but the information provided about our 26th President provoked an interest in that has lasted me the rest of my life.  I have read Roosevelt's own writings and have a couple of other biographies lined up after this one.

Mornings on HorsebackMornings on Horseback by David McCullough

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you're looking for a book describing Teddy Roosevelt's time in office this is not it. Lion in the White House by Aida Donald or Roosevelt's own autobiography would be where to start.

McCullough brings us to the brink of Roosevelt's political career and aside from a small afterward informing us of how all the Roosevelt children turned out, there he ends.

The book is still rich with information. Starting with Theodore Roosevelt, Sr, we get a solid and colorful background in which Teddy Jr grew up, as well as what sort of child he was which gives us insight into the sort of man he developed into.

Theodore Sr. was an intensely honorable and devout man. A strong Christian and the adoring and adored father of his children. A good third of the book narrates the close relationship Theodore Sr. had with all of his children.

He married a Southern woman, Mittie, the decade prior to the Civil War. Mittie was the quintessential Southern woman. Gorgeous, charming, flirtatious but completely in control of her destiny. Theodore must have fallen hard, even besotted. Their letters are filled with ardor on his part and teasing banter on hers.

They married and she, her sister, and her mother moved up to New York to live in the Roosevelt mansion. This must have been hard in many ways for the Southern ladies, New York being a drastically different culture than their dear Georgia. But it was also a blessing because a few years later, when the War broke out, they did not suffer the fate of the rest of their family and friends. Their home and all they knew was destroyed. Mittie's mother prayed she'd rather die than see the fall of Richmond. Her prayer was answered and she did die a year after the war started.

What Mittie's feelings were on the matter, we don't know because it seems to have been the culture at the time that one's feelings were not for exhibition. We see this later in her son, Teddy Jr, after the death of his first wife. He simply never speaks of her, not even mentioning her in his autobiography, yet from the records we know he loved her extremely.

The Roosevelts' lives would probably be deemed distasteful to modern sensibilities. They were unapologetically rich and lived a lavish lifestyle. Ironically, not because many people don't live that way now, in fact with our modern conveniences, the average person lives a more comfortable life than the richest person in the 19th century, but today it's gauche to be in favor of wealth, even if we enjoy it.

Teddy Roosevelt was sickly and an asthmatic. The Roosevelts traveled all over the world, taking an entire year to visit everything from Europe to India. This influenced Teddy in many ways and years later, as a grown man, he sought to replicate those experiences by returning to India and also living out west as a rancher.

Before that we read about his experiences at Harvard, and the impression he made on his fellow students. He was deemed a strange, awkward character with a high pitched voice, but he soon commanded their respect and he never lacked in confidence. Growing up in the Roosevelt household no doubt instilled a strong sense of self-worth.

One thing I must confess that I found disturbing was the utter delight in killing animals. Teddy describes with relish all the huge and powerful animals he hunted and conquered. I know there was a time when that was fashionable but I personally abhor killing for sport.

We also get to know Teddy's siblings. Corinne, the youngest, smart, devoted sister and the only one to live long enough to see another Roosevelt in office.

Elliot, the father of Eleanor Roosevelt, a tragic figure whose uncontrolled drinking put him into an early grave.

And the one Teddy was closest to, Bamie. Bamie had different physical handicaps, one being a curved spine. Her father treated her with the utmost care, usually carrying her everywhere and making sure she was deprived of nothing. Theirs was a special, close relationship.

And despite her physical challenges she turned out to be the most brilliant of them all, advising Teddy on everything from personal relationships to political directions. And I was glad to see that she did finally marry and marry happily, especially since everyone at the time had consigned her to "Old Maid" status. I would very much like to find a biography of this fascinating woman.

In conclusion,

If anything struck me the most it was the strong commitment and tender devotion Theodore Sr had towards his family.

The next thing would be the political shenanigans of the late 19th century and how Theodore Sr. did his utmost to eradicate the political corruption in New York and how this mantle was taken on by his son after the father's untimely and unexpected death while he was still a young man.

The courage both Theodores had in striving to remove the entrenched corruption and cronyism in the political arena of their time, how they fought against the majority of politicians, powerful crime bosses and indifference by the middle and upper classes toward the plight of the exploited lower classes is reminiscent of William Wilberforce's fight against slavery.

 I found this book to be an inspiring account of one of my favorite presidents.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

The Bewitched Parsonage: The Story of the Brontes by William Stanley Braithwaite

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The Bewitched Parsonage The Story Of The BrontesThe Bewitched Parsonage The Story Of The Brontes by William Stanle Braithwaite

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is so far the best, most interesting biography I have read. It's the first I read of the Bronte sisters and I do not know if it is the most reliable, but it is highly readable and informative.

Mr Braithwaite wrote this biography in the 1950s. I think perhaps that is one reason why I trust his biography. Unlike Elisabeth Gaskell who was a personal friend of Charlotte Bronte and possibly biased or protective of her reputation, and also unlike today's University Professors of Literature who insist on interpreting all woman's literature through contemporary social constructs (woman oppressed, victimized, miserable etc.) Braithwaite writes about his subjects with a cool eye and even-hand.

His biography starts with the Bronte's Great- grandfather, then Patrick Bronte, the father of the Bronte sisters, who was born and raised in Ireland.

Apparently, the great-grandfather came home one day with a swarthy orphan, whom he named Welsh because of his dark skin. When Welsh came of age, he inherited the property of his adopted father. It was understood that when Hugh, Patrick's father, came of age, he would receive his fair share.

This did not happen. Welsh took everything and outcast Hugh who then lived in poverty all his life as well as his wife and ten children. This was the world Patrick was born into. Coming from a family of wealth but being condemned to live as peasants.

This did not deter Patrick who went to school, became highly literate in classical literature and, with the help of a couple of Ministers, went to University and became a clergyman himself.

He moved to the Moors of England and married an English woman, Mary Branwell. It was a marriage beneath her, as they viewed things in those days, but her family agreed and she was devoted to her husband.

Patrick was stern, unemotional and Spartan. The house they lived in was dark, cold and damp and probably contributed to the demise of his wife after eight years of marriage and also to all of six of his children, except his son who drank himself to oblivion. He survived them all.

After his wife's death, Patrick locked himself up in his library and left his children to raise themselves. This they did as well as they could and, since their father forbade them to associate with the village children, they kept each other company and created their own worlds in writing.

Although they were kept from the world, they were acutely aware of it. Their parents had given them a rich heritage of stories from their family histories and also from their father's extensive library of books, of which they were given free use.

They also learned of the local village lore and gossip through a woman who came to take care of them after the their mother's death. This woman was the basis for Nellie in Wuthering Heights and also housekeepers in some of the other novels.

They eventually were sent away to a school that was to become the model for the school of abuse and neglect Jane Eyre was sent to as a girl. As teenagers they went to work as governesses for rich families, an occupation they all deplored. However, it gave them experience that expressed itself in their books.

A well-to-do Aunt sponsored Emily and Charlotte to study in Brussels for a time. What happened there is sketchy and somewhat controversial. Elisabeth Gaskell refused to make any mention of it in her biography but apparently Charlotte fell in love with the Professor presiding over the school.

How far this went, whether there was an actual affair, a mere dalliance on the professor's part or simply a product of Charlotte Bronte's imagination, is anyone's guess. What cannot be denied are the letters that she sent M. Constantin Heger. M. Heger threw the letters away, but his wife retrieved them and kept them, later giving them to the Bronte museum. Six of these letters survive and are included in Braithwait's biography. In my old fashioned opinion, they are not the sort of letters one should write to a married man.

No, they weren't hot and sweaty, filled with passion, but definitely they were the words of someone who missed a person of interest very much. The letters are filled with complaints that her letters were not being responded to.

It wasn't as though Charlotte did not receive marriage proposals. She received a number, but from nobody she felt she could love. I wonder if her longing for a man out of reach was an unconscious desire to keep love firmly rooted in a powerful imagination that no real person could live up to.

Charlotte Bronte's novels, Shirley and Villette were inspired from her time in Brussels and by her mysterious relationship with Professor Heger.

And speaking of mysterious...

Emily stayed briefly in Brussels but quickly returned. Her life was for the Moors. She wrote mountains of poetry that expound on her soul united with the desolate landscape she grew up with. Emily is a kind of cross between Emily Dickenson and Thoreau. She was rarely seen, although she had detailed knowledge of everyone in the village and she was a mystic. Her poetry is the type George Herbert wrote, except her god is nature.

Very little is known about her. Charlotte destroyed most of her sister's work so what might have been known is gone forever.

All three sisters were otherworldly. It has been speculated that they suffered from Autism, Asbergers, or had Radical Attachment Disorder due to being orphaned by their mother and neglected by their father.

Anne wrote the Tenant of Wildfell Hall and it is considered to be the most revolutionary in its treatment of woman who defies conventions and stands against the confinement imposed by society conventions by creating a heroine who leaves a drunken, abusive husband.

The man could very well have been patterned after the Bronte's brother, Branwell. I would also say that John Reed, the spoiled, dissipated cousin of Jane Eyre is a good likeness as well.

Branwell caused the sisters a lot of heartache and they spent what little money they had trying to erase his debts. But Branwell went to his grave a never-do-well. He spent his short life drinking and it finally ended his life.

After giving historical information of the Bronte's lives, Braithwait describes the writing, giving each book a chapter for analysis, not his but the contemporaries of the Brontes. It is remarkable and also humorous to read some of the reviews. Because the sisters wrote under male pseudonyms, some reviewers remarked on how accurately men were able to describe life as a governess or inside a school room. They were also excoriated for writing about women in unbecoming terms. Very shocking at the time. He also describes how they eventually got their books published.

They wrote under male pseudonyms and would have been content to leave it at that except for a rumor that their publisher was going to sell the rights to an American company without their permission.

Anne and Charlotte traveled to London by themselves, Emily of course refused to go, and confronted their publisher. The publisher had no idea who these two small women, hardly bigger than children were or what they wanted. It took a while for Charlotte to convince him that they were, in fact, Acton and Currer Bell, the writers of Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey. We can imagine his shock.

Someone who was not shocked was their father. He did not have an inkling that his daughters were published authors and it took them a while to convince him. One would have thought he might have left his library after that but apparently not.

Another valuable contribution the book provides is showing the inspiration for many of the characters. I've already spoken of a couple. Rochester and Heathcliff seemed to have stemmed from the same inspiration, which was a stern, very masculine teacher at the school they attended.

But Heathcliff also has family history. Remember Welsh in Ireland? Emily was familiar with this story as it had been told countless times.

Charlotte believed that her sisters' untimely demise was due to the deplorable living conditions at the school there. Both Anne and Emily were dead of tuberculosis by their thirty-first birthdays. Unfortunately, Charlotte did not long outlive them. TB claimed her life at thirty-seven. But not before she married and, according to Braithwait, there is every indication it was a happy marriage, although her husband was not seen as her intellectual equal. He was, however, extremely devoted to Charlotte.

As she was dying, she opened her eyes to see him on his knees, fervently praying over her. Her final words:

"Am I dying? But we have been so happy."

One final irony: During their lifetimes, the Brontes were poor and not considered of the class that could be recognized by the gentry (although Charlotte became good friends with contemporary writers after she became known, such as Thackeray and Gaskell). How satisfying it would be to know that your works are now bulwarks of British literature.

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The Bronte sisters.  Painted by their brother Branwell.  Originally he included himself, but later painted himself out of the picture.

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Just chillin' with my peeps.