Saturday, 20 January 2018

Literary wish fulfilment

I’m briefly immersed in the longings of Charlotte Bronte (who died in 1855) and E Nesbit (who was born three years later in 1858).

Reading or re-reading their biographies and their work seems important professional development for a newish Rector of Haworth.

So, most recently, I’ve read Villette for the first time.  The denouement has the spinster narrator, a governess turned teacher, have a suitor taken away and the independence of her own teaching establishment almost miraculously given to her.  The knowledge that, at just the time she wrote, one potential partner married someone else and one actual suitor was made to move away is touching enough.  But somehow the deeper more abiding sadness is the knowledge that she had invested her own hopes of some level of independence in an attempt to launch a school in Haworth which had in fact failed.

And now I am reading a biography of E Nesbit, who has no Haworth link other than the filming of The Railway Children here.  The biography begins with the observation that the death of her own father when she was very small clearly lies behind the recurring theme of the absent father in many of her stories, most famously in The Railway Children itself.

So the apparent wish-fulfilment of the end of both books is palpable.

Similarly, but less emotionally striking, I’ve enjoyed this week the further discovery from the Nesbit biography that girls’ red flannel underwear was popular when she was a teenager living near a railway cutting (the development of aniline dye from 1856 was the trigger, I find) but wasn’t by the time of the Edwardian setting of The Railway Children.

The picture across the Worth Valley from our house was taken in the week; the steam railway is hidden in the dip behind the house in the foreground.

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