Bronteana: Bronte Studies Blog Archives

November 26, 2005


Rose Ann Heslip and the Living Cousins of the Brontës

Today we have a very special guest post here at Brontëana. Without further ado, here is an article written by Kate Bower, to give us all more information on Rose Ann Heslip and the modern descendants of the Irish Brontës- who are not quite so scarce as it seems. (It probably suits the mystique of the Brontes to think of their extended family fading away but such is hardly ever the case). Thank you, Kate, for taking the time to write this for Bronteana.

The commemorative event for Rose Ann was held on 6th October and the sun shone, it turned out to be a glorious day. There was a dinner held at Healds Hall Hotel attended by family members including Rose Anns’ 89 year old great grand daughter Olive Emily, members of the Bronte society and SpenValley Civic Society, and the Deputy Mayor & Mayoress and the Deputy Sheriff of Yorkshire.

“Healds Hall was one of the most fashionable residences in the district when built in 1764. It was the largest house in Spen Valley. The Hall first became famous through links with the Bronte family when it was owned by the Reverend Hammond Roberson, immortalised as the Reverend Matthew Helstone in Charlotte Bronte's novel "Shirley".”

After a very good meal and a ‘photo opportunity’ session, the party (slowly!) made its way to Dewsbury to the church of St Luke with Whitechapel. Flowers were laid on the grave and the local press were there in force – we all felt like minor celebrities for the day! Then into the lovely church for a memorial service (forgive me for saying so, but it has to rate as one of the dullest services I have ever attended). This was followed by a reading of some of Emily Bronte’s poems and a posy was presented to Olive.

Rose Ann was a very special lady I think. She was the kind of indomitable woman beset by tragedy and hardship you often find in a certain kind offiction. She was born in 1821 in Ireland and therefore lived through the famine – she must have seen some terrible things in her life.

Her parents were Sarah (nee Bronte) and Simon Collins and she was the only one of their ten children to marry. She had five (perhaps six) children only to watch them succumb one by one to consumption. Only one daughter, Emily, lived to marry. Emily, and her husband Hugh Bingham emigrated to Scotland where all their five children were born. Then Hugh moved down toYorkshire to take up work as a foreman at a gas works. By this time Emily was sick with consumption herself and her widowed mother aged over 70 came over to nurse her dying daughter.

Together the elderly lady, the sick daughter and five small children made the long and arduous journey by road from Scotland to Yorkshire. Aged just 33 Emily died and was buried at St Lukes with Whitechapel. Rose Ann stayed to look after her son-in-law Hugh and her grandchildren. What a sense of love and duty she must have had to stay in late Victorian industrial Yorkshire after the open spaces and close knit network of family and friends she had left behind in Ireland. It must have been a very grim place indeed.

“Salthorn was a deserted, forlorn place, surrounded by black pit-hills and standing amidst swamps and pools on the rough uncultivated common – at night lighted up by the lurid flames which belch from the furnaces at Low Moor and Bowling.”

Heckmondwike Herald, 24th August 1893

Eventually Rose Ann seems to have developed some kind of dementia and was admitted to the infirmary at the local work house. Full of character to the end, she climbed over the wall and made her way back home on the back of a cart on at least two occasions, according to family tradition. She lived to94. I would have loved to have known her.

Her eldest grand daughter, Mary Jane – my great grandma also died in her thirties of breast cancer, leaving three children – Leonard, Ernest andOlive Emily. But the younger grand daughter Elizabeth Anne lived to a grand old age, and I can just about remember her as a very old lady who smoked imaginary cigarettes (having been banned them by the doctor) and who frightened me very much when she once threw the ‘stub’ into the grate and asked me “Did it go in?”. I wasn’t used to grown ups behaving like this and I had absolutely no idea what to say to her! This aside, my mother and aunt tell me that she was a lovely lady, and ‘Aunty Annies’ sponge cake’ is a recipe which is still used in the family.

I have known that we had a Bronte connection for as long as I can remember. When I was around 16 I wrote to the Bronte Society to try and confirm this particular family tradition. Sadly, they were not really very helpful. They confirmed that Emily Heslip had married Hugh Bingham, but stated that they had no record of any children of the union. It was clear from the tone of their letter that, as far as they were concerned, the matter was closed.

It was only this year, when Imelda Marsden of the present day Bronte Society, ‘found’ us as the present day descendents of Rose Ann. She is researching a book on the relations of the Brontes and she is particularly interested in Rose Ann. This provided the first concrete proof that we did have a blood connection with the Brontes. After the brush off I had previously received, I wondered if Mary Jane and the others were perhaps Hugh’s children from a previous or subsequent marriage.

Because of this I can trace an unbroken maternal line back almost 250 years to Eleanor (Alice) McClory, born around 1759/60, the mother of Patrick and Sarah and the grandmother of the Bronte sisters and Rose Ann. Since I have a particular interest in womens’ history, and tracing a female line is usually quite difficult, this has been a source of special satisfaction to me – even without having famous cousins.

November 23, 2005


Filed under: Uncategorized — by bronteana @ 1:44 pm


It is always a good idea to write things down once you have thought of something. It has taken me many years to get over my horror of writing in books. It still horrifies me, but now I have certain copies devoted to scribbling my observations in. It is hard to lose track of them this way. Previously I wrote my commentaries on separate sheets. I have lost most of these, and other times the notes loose their meaning. I often draw pictures of what I want to express in my essay as well. These are also very… interesting afterwards.

I came across an interesting note, which would have been completely forgotten if not for a quirkly turn of events last semester- and indeed, this one. The publisher I study with invited us to write poetry for a book we are publishing. The bulk of the manuscript is from another class, and it is not necessary for us to write something ourselves. I had decided not to give it a try, but today he passed around a book of photographs which inspired me so strongly that I went home and wrote two and a half drafts. I wrote them in a certain notebook I have. The first time I used it was last semester. After I took a class on the Brontes, the following semester I studied Restoration literature including a work by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. The coursework demanded a 10 research paper. At that point in the year I did not feel that I had another research paper in me. Something prompted me to suggest an alternative. I ended up writing the research paper in verse.

I had forgotten that I also jotted notes down in the process of writing the poem. When I finished writing today, I flipped back and found them tucked in the back of the poem (perhaps it was for revision? I don’t remember why I wrote it). Anyway, the interesting point is the last:

‘Rochester’s seduction of Anne Temple’

This is puzzling for more than one reason! Not only did I not write about Miss Temple, it further deepens the mystery of just what is going on between Wilmot and Mr Rochester. Sadly, I have no more notes- or at least I cannot find them! I recall reading about her, but I cannot remember any of the details of their relationship.

Another Brontean note about this notebook of mine? I’ve written a few inspirational notes on the inside covers. On the back I’ve inscribed the ‘lamps’ of Monsieur Heger, although I have never given them a try. I ought to someday!

November 20, 2005


Filed under: Uncategorized — by bronteana @ 7:03 pm

Whatever Next?

It occurred to me that although some people have already heard of Jasper Fforde and his novel, The Eyre Affair, perhaps not many are aware that the other books in the series are likewise Bronte-infused, although not to the same degree. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, why here is the back cover copy from the British/Canadian edition of The Eyre Affair I have right here:

There is another 1985, somewhere in the could-have-been, where Thursday Next is a literary detective without equal, fear, or boyfriend. Thursday is on the trail of the villainous Acheron Hades who has been kidnapping characters from works of fiction and holding them to ransom. Jane Eyre herself has been plucked from the novel of the same name, and Thursday must find a way into the book to repair the damage.

She also has to find time to halt the Crimean conflict, persuade the man she loves to marry her, rescue her aunt from inside a Wordsworth poem and figure out who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Aided and abetted by a cast of characters that includes her time-travelling father, Jack Schitt of the all-powerful Goliath Corporation, a pet dodo named Pickwick and Edward Rochester himself, Thursday embarks on an adventure that will take your breath away.

It’s a truly delightful book. Just a lot of fun, especially for someone like me who loves intertextuality. Fforde has created, in the ‘Thursday Next’ series, a world where the world of fiction is as real as anything else. Where ‘backstories’ are created and sold in ‘the well of lost plots’ inside ‘the book world’ (our world is the ‘Outland’). When these two worlds collide, Mr Rochester can save the day in more ways than one, fictional characters can try to take over England, and… platypodes (-pi, if you like) are revealled to be fictional. Escapees, you know- ‘pagerunners’. Nothing that silly looking can possibly be natural.

There are three other books in the series: Lost in a Good Book, Well of Lost Plots, and Something Rotten. If memory serves, there’s something in all but the last book to delight Bronte fans. Even small references are enough to make me smile (just a hint, keep a sharp eye for the Gondal reference!). You’ll get no spoilers here, you’ll simply have to read the books yourself!

Oh, but that’s not all! The books have inspired some fan tributes at Jasper Fforde’s website. One of these is a cute little tale called ‘The Brontes at Home’ by Jon Brierley.


Filed under: Uncategorized — by bronteana @ 9:51 am

Oh dear.

Everyone has heard of the short hand textspeak version of Jane Eyre by now- it has been reported on several times at bronteblog for instance and google news is full of nothing else (when it comes to Bronte news). However… why hasn’t anyone else caught this yet?

PlainOrfanJaneBcumsGuvunes”Thornfield. J&MrRochster(eventuly)Fal4EachOtha. Bt,DayOfWedin,ItTurnsOutHeAlredyHasAWyfInThAtikHuIsMad. MadWyfSetsFyr2Haus. YrsL8aJFyndsMrR-Blind&WidowdAftaFyr. TheyGetMaryd .

Jane returns about a year after she left Thornfield- not “years later” (for those who stumble over the elegance that is textspeak).


This took me awhile to find. It is the product of a form online which will turn any text into textspeak. (NB: ‘OMG’ = ‘oh my god’, ‘LOL’ = ‘Laughs out loud’, and ‘WTF’ = ‘what the f*ck’. Ye be warned!). I had tried to bury it in the deepest oblivion, but it survived somehow:


*This was actually posted early this morning (about 1 AM) but for some strange reason it disrupted formatting on Bronteana.

November 19, 2005


Filed under: Uncategorized — by bronteana @ 8:57 pm

Brontë Sisters Links

This resource is truly amazing- a labour of love comprising aproximately 3 000 links to websites, articles, etc. all about the Brontës. The list dates all the way back to March 15th, 2005! And I see that there have been 337 links added this week alone. For easy reference here, I’ve listed them according to their subdivisions but (as soon as I work up the courage to tamper with my links list again- doing so has deleted posts on Brontëana in the past!) the group’s main page will recieve its own place of honour on the Brontëana links list.

The Links:

About the Victorian Era (570 links)
About the Brontes (1230 links)
Rev. Patrick Bronte
Maria Branwell
Maria and Elizabeth Bronte
Charlotte Bronte
Branwell Bronte (Patrick Branwell Bronte)
Emily Bronte (Emily Jane Bronte)
Anne Bronte
Elizabeth Branwell
Relations of the Brontes
Rev. Arthur Bell Nicholls
Friends of the Brontes
Bronte places

Photo is of the Bronte waterfall, taken by Martha, the list owner. I’ve scare seen anything more lovely! Thank you for sharing this treasure with us! 🙂

November 18, 2005


'Cottage Poems' by Patrick Brontë

At last! The Cottage Poems have been published by Project Gutenburg! Click here to read the full texts. They were released on november 16th. Could 'Maid of Killarney' be far behind? How very exciting! Other Bronte texts available through the Project include:

A, C, and E Brontë: Poems by Currer, Ellis and, Acton Bell
Anne Brontë: Agnes Grey, Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre, Villette, The Professor.

Il y a Jane Eyre ou Les mémoires d'une institutrice>>, le roman en Francais aussi. Je ne sais pas qu'est le traducteur de cet roman. C'est tres intéressante. Je pense qu'il est comme lire la roman encore- pour le premier fois. Il a un peu plus …de melodrame. Ou plus de poésie, peut-etre. D'accord. Chacun langue chante son poésie. And, no, there is no text for Shirley! Shame, shame! (Nothing for Branwell either).

Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights.

Also: Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell: The Life of Charlotte Brontë volume one and two.

A friend of mine is responsible for Really Slow productions of Shakespeare. People volunteer to record their lines, and then this is all pasted together with the magic of the internet into… a really slow production of Shakespeare. Some of my other friends and I were then inspired to try a really slow production of Jane Eyre the Musical. The trouble here was that all of my friends are ladies (the ones who sing, at any rate). And so, we had a soprano Rochester and myself who plays St.John Rivers (also a soprano, although I can sing alto as well). I forget how Brocklehurst came out… Our Jane was a certain classicist from Nova Scotia. Alas, before we ever even took our little horrendous productioni seriously, she ran away to a religious order.

And now, she's back! And she's not a nun. She found true love… in the religious order. I am astounded and amazed, and it is beautiful. She is no longer my soon-to be nun friend who despaired of leaving behind her copy of Villette. I now have a deliriously happy non-nun friend who can have as many books as she likes- and the true love thing is rather nice too.

ps. Don't worry, Martha- I got your email! I think this deserves a post of its own 🙂

November 16, 2005


Filed under: Uncategorized — by bronteana @ 5:56 pm

The Stratford Playscripts

I am not sure when these two plays, both by Reg Mitchell were written, but for those interested in perhaps staging a Brontëan play, information regarding obtaining reading copies of the scripts and performance rights can be found here. From the same source, here are their brief synopses:

The Thorp Green Scandal

The Brontë children were, for different reasons, unable to hold down any job. Charlotte failed as a governess, Emily as a school teacher and Branwell wasted his talents in several positions. The exception was Anne, the youngest of the family, who managed to retain her second appointment as Governess to the daughters of the Robinson family. She joined them at Thorp Green, near York in the summer of 1840. Returning home to the Haworth parsonage, Anne fell under the spell of the new curate, William Weightman, who had something of a reputation with the ladies. He died of cholera. Two years later, Branwell joined his sister as tutor to the young Edmund Roninson, but became besotted with Mrs Lydia Robinson, seventeen years his senior. They had a three-year affair before Branwell was dismissed by her husband. Anne resigned her post, writing that she had some very unpleasant and undreamt-of experiences of human nature during her five years at Thorp Green. Branwell took to drugs and drink, fell into a decline, eventually drinking himself to death at the age of thirty-one. He died in his fathers arms.

The Bell Brothers

The Brontë children were unemployed. Charlotte had returned chastened from her teaching post in Brussels, Emily had left her teaching post in Halifax, and Anne had resigned her position as Governess to the Robinson’s daughters. All except Emily had suffered the pangs of unrequited love. When Charlotte came across Emily’s poems she had the idea of publishing a selection of their poetry, which they did under the pen name of the Bell Brothers. Although a failure, their three novels became instant successes, taking the literary scene by storm. But success was followed by tragedy with the death of Emily from tuberculosis. Anne also fell to the disease a few months later leaving Charlotte the only surviving child of the Rev Patrick. During the publication of three more novels, she became the toast of the London literati, whilst her relationship with her young publisher blossomed, only to be later doomed to failure. Against her fathers wishes, Charlotte married his curate, Arthur Nichols.

November 14, 2005


Filed under: Uncategorized — by bronteana @ 9:46 pm

The Phantoms of the Royal Alex?

In my ongoing quest for material on the early versions of Jane Eyre the Musical when it played at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto for its world premiere, I ran into this interesting website. Apparently some people believe the theatre may be haunted by ghosts. However, the team of investigators were only able to find one shiny thing near the stage, and a few reflections from the lamps. Thinking the theatre was haunted might make a performance of Jane Eyre quite interactive! To the right is a picture of the theatre circa 1906.

Another Janian connection- Orson Welles once appeared upon the boards there. An excerpt from their brief (and seemingly credible) history of the theatre:

Designed by John M. Lyle and commissioned in 1906 by on of the richest millionaires of the time, 21 year old Cawthra Mulock , the Royal Alexandra Theatre was to be Mulock’s grand vision as the “finest theatre on the continent”. Mulock purchased the King Street lot on May 8, 1906 and wasted no time in utilizing the talents of John M. Lyle telling Lyle that no expense was to be spared in the building and detailed completion of the theatre. Taking Mulock for his word, Lyle was to find the best of the best to install in the theatre. Such elegance as fine marble, hand-carved hard woods, silken wall coverings and crystal chandeliers were purchased for the project. A little over one year later in August 1907 the Royal Alexandra opened her doors to the public.

The “Royal Alex:” as it has become affectionately known, boasted a seating capacity of 1525, which was later reduced to 1497 when the seats were enlarged. It is the only theatre in North America to be deemed ‘royal’ by charter of King Edward VII, whose wife, Queen Alexandra; it was named for (the great-grandmother of Elizabeth II).

In my experience, Canadian Edwardiana tends to be not at all mysterious. I grew up in an Edwardian model town built by a gentleman I call ‘the Whiskey Baron’. He bought all the land, and was effectively king there for a good while- giving his name to the environs. The main church there is actually named for his wife! he forbade any other churches within his dominions. I digress… the manor house is now a park, and was quite close to my home. I used to hear stories about its secret passageways, and- bestill my heart- a hidden library! I also remember being told about how an insane slayer of children lived in one dark stone building-

it was the church, actually…


Filed under: Uncategorized — by bronteana @ 7:57 pm

Canine Conflations…

It is a sad thing to see a good article go bad, to sink into absurdity. I speak now of ‘Canine Familiars of Masculinity in Three Brontë Novels’. Things are going quite well, it seems, until the argument is made that the dogs symbolise male power- always- in all of the novels. The leap from dog as companion to dog as extension of power leads down some very very strange roads indeed… Mr. Ben P. Robertson sites the ‘wanning’ symbolic masculine power of Pilot- Mr Rochester’s dog, and exemplifies this wanning with Jane’s assistance with Mr Mason.

Now, if Mr Rochester should call on Pilot to give Mr Mason volatile salts and sponge his wounds… as much as I love Miss Bronte, I would have to agree with the critics saying the novel was ‘untrue’!

The horror! A fearsome black and white Newfoundland- some modern Newfoundland’s are a little stockier than their Victorian counterparts.

“Do you need help, Sir?”
“All’s right, all’s right, Miss Eyre- Pilot has the situation under control.”

Oh dear… “Rochester begins to accept Jane as a replacement for Pilot”. Okay, so she’s clever but can she play fetch? This is the crutial point to be decided in the third volume! Now that’s drama… He also implies that Rochester views Pilot as his son. Didn’t know things were quite so disturbing at Thornfield, did you?

And it could have been such a good article! It sadly also suffers from one of my academic pet peeves- that of not proving the main point but simply restating it preceeded by some variant of ‘clearly,’ ‘surely,’ ‘undoubtedly’ etc. It is true that the men in the Bronte novels are associated with dogs. And at least in jane Eyre we are encouraged to see this connection- Mr Rochester draws attention to this at least twice, and Jane sometimes refers to him as reminding her of a sheepdog.

Yet another area of interest for me just happens to be the dogs of the Bronte novels, surprise, surprise. This began when a friend pointed out how there seemed to be correspondences between the dog breeds used in films of Jane Eyre, and the relative instability of their masters. Usually the dogs are fearsome creatures when their masters are glaring, striding types who wear capes perpetually flapping in the wind- martial marches blaring as they walk across the lawn… Michael Jayston gets an upgrade from a dog to a wolf-hound; far more impressive looking perhaps but incredibly docile. Mrs. Fairfax leans on him at one point, as though he were a bench, while she talks to Jane. At the end of the film, as he gets up to greet Jane, he takes some of the carpet with him. Never utters a sound. There is also this:

That’s Mr Rochester on the left. I wonder if Pilot is brooding too. Hard to tell.

Some more …shall we say, pertinent observations can be made, in the case of Pilot for example. Charlotte is very clear that he is a Newfoundland dog. Being from Canada, I’m familiar with these and with their immanent identity as a breed. Newfoundland dogs are immediately associated with rescue. They have a peculiar desire to assist people- especially people drowing at sea. This association goes back at least to the period of the Brontes when paintings of black and white Newfoundland dogs- in particular- were so commonly painted by the painter Lanseer that the dogs of this colouring are now known as Lanseers. Pilot is a black and white Newfoundland. Other characteristics that are significant are that they often exhibit exactly the behaviour we see of Pilot in the novel- when unable to assist (ie, Hay Lane) they instinctually seek help from others (Jane).

From my perspective the most interesting aspects are that they demand a certain type of master. They are not easy to train- they are sensitive dogs and need to be won over to a degree. They are especially sensitive to tones of human voices. It takes a great deal of sensitivity and care to gain the loyalty of a Newfoundland. Once you have their trust, they are extremely loyal companions. In the Victorian era they were also considered ideal companion dogs for children, despite their imposing size. It does debunk, in a subtle way, the idea that Rochester is a cruel man- a view sadly common in articles I’ve come by.

November 13, 2005


Filed under: Uncategorized — by bronteana @ 6:23 pm

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester film to be released in North America.

This post from Brontëblog reminded me that there is soon to be a film released that marginally pertains to Brontë studies. The film is called The Libertine, starring Johnny Depp as John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. The film itself was made sometime last year, I believe, but until now it has been very difficult to track down and hasn’t been released in the theatres in North America at least.

Briefly, there is much to be discussed regarding to what extent Lord Rochester provided material for the character of Edward Rochester. Clearly, the relationship isn’t as profound as that of a model per se, at the very least he is his namesake. There are several important similarities, however, which do indicate a conscious decision to utilise certain aspects of Wilmot’s life. Many of these are symbolic resonances: names, and places in Jane Eyre such as St.John (the name of one of the Earl’s relatives), Elizabeth- the ancestress of Mr Rochester- is also idenitifed with one of the Lord’s relatives, and the battle in which Mr. Rochester’s fictional ancestor Damer de Rochester was slain is the same in which the first Earl of Rochester was created. During this battle (of Marston Moor), one of the generals in the conflict was named Fairfax. Other key elements, a little more profound, are the Lord’s penchant for ‘drawing out’ ladies while in disguise, his poetry (he is best known for being a poet, and a rakehell) is often bittingly cynical about the human race- in his Satyr on Reason and Mankind, he refers to Reason as being an ignis fatuus leading into error- a motif appropriate for Jane Eyre in which he is lead into error (and much is made, of course, of the similarity between ‘eyre’ and ‘err’).

Not much work has been done on this subject so far, but it will certainly be rewarding. I’ve already written on it, and there really is more to it I’m sure (If I had but time!). We must alo keep in mind what Charlotte had to say in Mr Rochester’s defense:

Mr. Rochester has a thoughtful nature and a very feeling heart; he is neither selfish nor self-indulgent; he is ill-educated, misguided; errs, when he does err, through rashness and inexperience: he lives for a time as too many other men live, but being radically better than most men, he does not like that degraded life, and is never happy in it. He is taught the severe lessons of experience and has sense to learn wisdom from them. Years improve him; the effervescence of youth foamed away, what is really good in him still remains. His nature is like wine of a good vintage, time cannot sour, but only mellows him.

One last interesting point is the casting of the film. The plot deals somewhat with the affair between Rochester and his mistress Elizabeth Barry, played by Samantha Morton. For those readers unaware of what is so interesting here, Samantha Morton played the part of Jane Eyre in the latest film (A&E 1997). The picture above shows her and Johnny Depp in a production photo from

The film opens: November 25th, 2005 (LA/NY); January 13th, 2006 (expands). The trailer and other information can be found here.

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