A colleague I can’t stand anymore…what would happen if we met years later? A train journey and a brief chat with a stranger…what would have happened if we had met again? A man sitting with a blank stare on his face at the edge of the road…what could happen if I went up and talked to him? There are so many of those “what would happen” in our lives. One tiny incident, a momentary trigger and our mind starts spinning the wheel. It starts creating a rendezvous, a chat, an argument, a life that has been altered taking us in the past, altering the past and the present, creating a future with relish or a parallel and crazy reality. Well, we can’t help it! There is a storyteller in all of us.
For some of us, this storyteller never has an opportunity to possess the realm of words, whereas, for some, it finds comfort in being restricted to the realm of imagination, and for some others, it makes a tremulous appearance only to shy away at the thought of people and perceptions. Charlotte Brontë was no different from us. The first story she wrote was not a masterpiece, in fact, she did not even write a full story. Charlotte, along with her siblings, merely gave their imagination the form of words, at least in the beginning, and these were kept well hidden and only for the eyes of the siblings. Their stories were figments of imagination, without a beginning or an end, without the burden of explaining or pleasing readers.
Like many children of their age, they created imaginary games while playing with their toys but what is interesting and different is that they gave these games the form of stories and plays and even went ahead to create their own magazines in “tiny writing, squared off to look as much as possible like print” (Harman 62). They were trying to ape “the forms and styles of real books and magazines” (Harman 68-9).
This shows that the Brontë children may have been instinctively imaginative but they certainly did not become prolific writers overnight. On the other hand, they were engaged in all the activities that any budding writer would be encouraged to do today.
They were reading classical Literature and Literature of the period. Not only were the Brontë children reading and creating Literature, they were extremely enthusiastic and invested in news. Charlotte writes “[W]ith what breathless anxiety we listened, as one by one they [terms on which the Catholics were to be let in] were disclosed & explained & argued upon so ably & so well” (qtd in Harman 65). This shows that even at such an early age Charlotte and her siblings appreciated language and the way in which it was used to convey arguments. It is an indication of their inherent appreciation for the art form of writing.
Moreover, writing was akin to playing for them and they wrote continuously over the years. Charlotte was producing copious amounts of writing every year and as she wrote even more, her writing became more sophisticated.
However, some of us will argue that we have jobs today, we have responsibilities and it is not possible to devote time to writing as Charlotte Brontë may have done. Well, Charlotte too had responsibilities. She did not come from a family that could have supported her financially. She knew that after the death of her father, she along with her siblings would be homeless and without money. Therefore, she was acutely aware of the need to be independent and support herself financially.
Charlotte’s biographer, Claire Harman writes that “Charlotte was left in no doubt about her responsibility to get on as fast and as successfully as she could in order to equip herself cost efficiently for the best career open to her, that of governess” (Harman 72). The kind of pressure she found herself in is not far removed, and perhaps even greater, from the pressure that students of her age experience today. While it is absolutely certain that Charlotte had great abilities it is also evident that her zeal to perform was driven by the necessity to perform and a fear of the consequences that she and her family would have to face if she slacked.
Even when she returned home after her education at Row Head in 1835, she had to take charge of the education of her sisters Emily and Anne (Harman 80), and also started teaching at the Parsonage school constructed by her father (Harman 84), until in 1835, forced by the financial strain in which her family found themselves, and by the need to fund Emily’s education, Charlotte took up the role of a teacher at Row Head (Harman 93). Nevertheless, Charlotte continued writing while fulfilling all her responsibilities with docile submission.
Well, I am not planning to be docile and neither do I expect those of you reading this article to be so, however, we have to accept that not all of us have the same responsibilities and pressures as Charlotte did in her time and yet she managed to write. It is definitely a feat to take inspiration from.
Charlotte too was an inspired being. What transpired in her life ended up in her stories. A lively moment spent at a friend’s house became an inspiration for a scene in Shirley, the harsh and rowdy moors that surrounded her home in Haworth inspired her sister, Emily Brontë, to create the melancholic moors in Wuthering Heights. A friend Charlotte trusted and cared for became a character in Jane Eyre. Her stories were original, not because she came up with a story that had never been told before, rather they were original as she infused these stories with events that strongly influenced her, so much so that these stories assumed a shape hitherto never seen before.
In my opinion we too can start creating our stories now. Take an incident that prompted you to think “what if” and paste it on your paper. Pick up your pen or hammer away at your keyboard and add body to that “what if”. Read a bit of the past, read a bit of the present and smudge it in if you can. Now, go and colour in your work with a strong emotion you experienced in your life and voila you have a truly original creation by a truly unique and original creator before you!
Ah! I feel inspired! While I do not claim to have responsibilities pressing down upon me, I do have the responsibility to do absolutely nothing for certain long periods during the day. I sincerely hope I can make time to give shape to my imagination that becomes vigorously active during these blissful spells of aimless mindful wanderings.
In obeisance to the divine in you,
-Harman, Claire. Charlotte Brontë A Fiery Heart. Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.
Before you go
Check out this amazing video where some of Charlotte Brontë and her sibling’s miniature manuscripts are shown.