Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Happy Holidays!

The holiday weekend is coming up and I have been rushing around buying gifts, wrapping paper, greeting cards, ingredients for cookies, and food for our Christmas celebration on Sunday. The tree is decorated and the house looks festive but I've hardly taken a moment to enjoy them.

Today I decided to wrap presents and finish my Christmas cards which was a very good idea as I was home most of the afternoon and got into the Christmas spirit. One of the reasons my mood was so merry was that I did it all to the accompaniment of a very charming podcast. Miranda Mills and Sophie Butler are best friends who live in England and the creators of "Tea and Tattle," a podcast "for the discerning woman" that covers topics ranging from "fashion to books to well-being and everything in between." Their current podcast is called "Christmas Traditions" in which they talk about their favorite holiday traditions and read passages from books that remind them of those traditions. Their choices include "Anne of Green Gables" by Lucy Maud Montgomery, "Christmas Pudding" by Nancy Mitford, and several others. I found myself smiling the whole time as I was reminded of being young and feeling the magic of Christmas. If you need some Christmas spirit I highly recommend this delightful podcast. Go here to listen.

The co- hosts of the podcast ask us to think about our favorite holiday traditions and books that remind us of those traditions. One of my favorite Christmas traditions is baking for my family and friends -- cookies, gingerbread, coffeecakes -- and all the delicious smells that waft through the kitchen and the house. A book that reminds me of this tradition is "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote. In that book a young boy remembers making fruitcakes with a beloved elderly relative every year and sending them to friends and strangers alike. It is a heartwarming and poignant story that always makes me a little weepy. I'm very grateful to Miranda and Sophie for encouraging me to think about this topic and reminding me of the power of memory and great books to add layers of meaning to the holidays.

I hope you are enjoying the build-up to the big holiday weekend and that you get to celebrate with family and friends. Wishing you all the merriest of holidays and a happy and healthy New Year!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

"To Walk Invisible"

A scene from the television film "To Walk Invisible"
Photo via here

If you are a fan of the Bronte sisters (Charlotte, Emily and Anne), the authors of some of the most iconic novels in the English language, you will be very happy to hear that a dramatization of their lives will soon be airing on PBS.  Sally Wainwright, the creator of television shows such as "Happy Valley" and "Last Tango in Halifax," has just completed a new film for the BBC, "To Walk Invisible." It has been shot in Haworth, Yorkshire, where the Bronte family lived, and from the photos I have seen it looks breathtaking. I have always been enthralled by the story of the Brontes -- their humble beginnings, remote setting in Yorkshire, tragically short lives, and the literary masterpieces they produced  --  a personal story as riveting as any of their books. Now it will be told in what looks to be a brilliant television production. The lucky viewers in Britain will get to see it this month. We will have to wait until March when it will be broadcast on Masterpiece Theatre.

Here are a few things I have learned about this upcoming television production:

Sally Wainwright was approached by the BBC to do something for the 200th anniversary of Charlotte's birth in 2016. Rather than do a series about their entire lives, she decided to focus on the four surviving Bronte siblings (Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell) as mature adults. Siblings Maria and Elizabeth had died of tuberculosis as young children.

The film will be 90 minutes long and covers the years 1845-1848. These are the last years of their brother Branwell's life. He was a troubled young man and during this time he sank into alcoholism, drug addiction and disturbing behavior. He died from alcoholism in 1848 at age 31.

The film depicts the domestic situation of these three women living with a disturbed brother and how they dealt with his problems. This is also the time that they tried to publish their books. It was an uncomfortable situation at home and yet they continued to write and create their literary masterpieces. I can't wait to see this!


Another wonderful event in honor of the 200th celebration of Charlotte Bronte's birth is the Charlotte Bronte exhibition in New York at the Morgan Library which I just visited for the second time. It's up until January and if you are in New York be sure to see this.

The original manuscript of "Jane Eyre" on loan to the Morgan Library
Photo via here

Here are the highlights:

A portion of the original 1847 manuscript of "Jane Eyre" ( photo above) on loan from the British Library and shown in the U.S. for the first time. It is open to the page on which Jane tells Mr. Rochester: "I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you." Seeing this treasure was very special and I have to admit to getting a little emotional.

The only surviving portrait of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte painted by their brother Branwell which has never been seen in this country before. It resides in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

A blue floral dress worn by Charlotte in the 1950's 

Drawings and watercolors by Charlotte that demonstrate her artistic talent

The tiny books written by the Bronte children in a nearly microscopic handwriting. Magnifying glasses are nearby to help viewers read them. The children wrote fantasy fiction set in Glass Town, Angria and Gondall, imaginary lands populated by aristocrats, poets and swashbuckling heroes. 

I walked out of this exhibition touched by the poignancy of Charlotte Bronte's short life. She died three weeks before her 39th birthday while pregnant with her first child. Just nine months earlier she had married the curate at Haworth, Arthur Bell Nicholls.  She had watched all of her siblings die, including Emily at age 30 and Anne at age 29. It is awe-inspiring to think of all that she wrote and the celebrity she achieved considering her personal life. After her death her father Patrick Bronte and her husband Arthur Nicholls worked hard to protect her literary legacy. Fans of her books began making the pilgrimage to the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth, England just a few years after her death. The flow of visitors continues to this day. Nothing has changed except the sheer volume of admirers and each year the streets of Haworth teem with devoted fans of the Brontes. I am planning a trip for 2017. I am so happy that I got a chance to see this exhibition twice!    

 I would love to know:
Do you have a favorite Bronte sister? What is your favorite Bronte book?
Have you visited the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth?