Teresa Roberts, Guest Writer
I have long loved the works of the Bronte sisters, Emily, Anne, and Charlotte. Such disturbing stories like Jane Eyre provided me with endless hours of entertainment as a young person. I was forbidden the reading of fiction in my devout Christian home, but I managed to hide books from the library and read them after dark with a flashlight under the sheets of my bed. As a young person, I related with the bleak outlook that the Bronte sisters captured in their books. Growing up in such harsh, backward times under the crushing limitations of a pious father and an era of little technological advancement — their personal lives were even grimmer than mine. Two older sisters and their mother passed away while the three authors were growing up. Their mother had six children between 1814 and 1820. She died at 38 of ovarian cancer. In 1825 the two oldest sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, died after falling ill at boarding school. They were 11 and 12.
This was a common story back in the good old days.
Their brother Branwell grew up to fight addiction and depression problems. He was the hope of the family because he was the only boy. He died at age 31. Emily died of tuberculosis at age 30. Anne died of tuberculosis at 29. Charlotte died of pulmonary tuberculosis at age 38 while carrying a child. The father outlived his entire family.
All three girls wrote in secret and published under pen names.
It was still considered doubtful that girls could produce literature of merit. They were also afraid that it would disappoint their father because he was a devout Christian who was uncomfortable with certain topics. They remained anonymous authors to even their father for some time even though Jane Eyre was very popular and was making the family much needed money.
Just another tale of women supporting a family without consent.
All of this culminated with Charlotte’s death in 1855, a mere 162 years ago. I have to remind myself every day how far we’ve come as a species, how much personal autonomy women now have in many parts of the world. I have to remember that we have more than doubled the lifespan and eradicated many diseases that use to wipe out entire families.
Our old cemeteries are full of these graves.
I was fortunate to get to visit the parsonage in Haworth, England where the Bronte sisters lived. This was where they allowed their pens to transport them away from the grim realities of their everyday lives to a world created by their potent imaginations, a place where love might triumph and second-hand adventures served as a cathartic exercise. I was moved to tears more than once. I, too, had been forced to write in secret while living at home, but reading forbidden books and writing stories kept me alive. The Bronte sister’s books had helped me escape my life as a child living under the tyrannical rule of a religious cult. We were sisters in all the ways that counted. Every time I get discouraged with man’s inhumanity to man, unbridled greed, the harm done by radical religions, inequality, political failures, fascism, slow progress and the forever wars that never cease to steal the lives of our young, I try to look back to former days. That gives me hope.
It’s imperative that we keep making progress, because I brought two children into this world.
One of my children has produced a child. I have a responsibility to do what I can to make this world a better place, not for me, but for them. Otherwise, what’s the point in all of this casual breeding down through the ages, thousands upon thousands upon thousands upon thousands of lives. For what? Why be the species with the big brain and continue to produce offspring if we can’t provide an environment where being alive is worthwhile?
The world has made a bit of progress, dear Bronte sisters.
The evolution of societies and technology is our only hope. I’m pinning my dreams for my offspring on that.
I’m a myth buster. My recently published book – Have We Been Screwed? Trading Freedom for Fairy Tales.
October 28, 2017