How incest became part of the Brontë family story



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The Brontë family, by Branwell, who painted over himself after realising the ‘composition was too cramped’.
National Portrait Gallery/Wikimedia

Amber Pouliot, Harlaxton College

To this day, Emily Brontë’s life story and literature continue to exert a powerful hold on the imaginations of audiences worldwide. One reason for the longevity of this fascination is the air of mystery that envelops the author and her work. Who was Emily Brontë? What does her famous novel, Wuthering Heights, mean? And how could a reclusive curate’s daughter, living on the edge of the Yorkshire moors, have written this mysterious tale of passion and revenge?

In 1896, literary critic Clement Shorter dubbed Emily “the sphinx of our modern literature”. She died early, leaving behind only a few diary papers and letters, in addition to her novel and poetry. By contrast, we have volumes of letters from her sister Charlotte, telling us about her life in her own words. Emily was private, reclusive, and difficult to understand. But the strength of collective desire to uncover who she really was, and how she came to create her masterpiece, inadvertently also gave rise to one of the coarsest and most curious legends to have attached itself to the Brontë family – the myth that Wuthering Heights was the product of incestuous longings.

Emily Brontë, painted by her brother Branwell c.1833.
National Portrait Gallery, London, CC BY-NC-ND

In Wuthering Heights, the relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy defies easy labels. Adopted by old Mr Earnshaw, Heathcliff is raised alongside Cathy, sharing her lessons, games, and even her bed. It’s no wonder, then, that Cathy’s desire to marry Heathcliff and her declaration of love and affinity – “he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same” – sometimes throws readers. Are they siblings? Are they lovers? Are they both? Cathy and Heathcliff might be “kin”, but as academic Mary Jean Corbett explains, there is no indication in the text that their relationship is prohibited on the grounds of brother-sister incest.

Still, seeming to take their cue from Cathy and Heathcliff’s relationship, biographers and creative writers have characterised the relationship between Emily and her brother Branwell as particularly close. As early as 1883, A. Mary F. Robinson argued that Wuthering Heights could be explained if one looked into Emily’s relationship with Branwell. Later, during the interwar period, as the Brontës’ lives became the subject of acknowledged works of fiction and drama, that sibling bond was sexualised and offered as an explanation for the novel.

In some of these texts, Branwell and Emily’s relationship is sexually abusive. In Ella Moorhouse’s Stone Walls (1936), for instance, Branwell tries to force a knife and bottle of liquor into Emily’s mouth. In others, it is loving and supportive. Clemence Dane’s play, Wild Decembers (1932), features a fictional Branwell indulging in masturbatory fantasies while looking at his sister. But he also supports Emily’s writing and collaborates with her to bring Wuthering Heights – their symbolic child – into the world.

Branwell Brontë – a self portrait.
Wikimedia

There are a number of texts that simply revel in the salaciousness of imagining sibling love, too. In Kathryn Jean MacFarlane’s Divide the Desolation (1936), Emily and Branwell engage in a form of childhood S&M play, with Emily delighting in the fact that her brother cares enough to hurt her. While Emilie and Georges Romieu’s The Brontë Sisters (1931) features an extended erotic fantasy in which Emily pulls Branwell from his burning bed and against her body while wearing a translucent, wet night gown.

In each of these texts, Emily’s relationship with Branwell is presented as the catalyst for Wuthering Heights. Sexually charged moments between the siblings are often followed by scenes in which Emily commits her brother’s words and actions to paper. Some of these texts even dramatise the siblings writing the novel together, and Branwell is often given Heathcliff’s lines.

But why did this incestuous idea enter the minds of other writers in the first place? Many of the Brontës’ first readers characterised their writing as coarse, which isn’t surprising. Heathcliff abuses wives and animals, uses brutal language, and digs up the body of his dead lover, after all. When Elizabeth Gaskell approached the task of writing The Life of Charlotte Bronte (1857) , she needed to excuse this perceived coarseness, to stress the sisters’ respectability, but also explain how they created characters like Heathcliff.

Gaskell resolved her difficulties by claiming the sisters misguidedly recorded the coarse behaviour of their brother, Branwell, a man who suffered from addiction and mental illness following the end of a disastrous relationship. Branwell, according to Gaskell, was the model for Heathcliff, Rochester, Huntingdon. During the interwar period, in the heyday of psychoanalysis, some writers took Gaskell at her word. If the brutal but sexually alluring Heathcliff was Emily’s portrait of her brother, then perhaps their relationship was the model for Cathy and Heathcliff’s.

The ConversationQuite apart from the fact that we have no evidence for incest in the Brontë family, the incest myth is problematic because it makes Branwell ultimately responsible for Wuthering Heights. It reduces Emily from a spontaneous genius or deliberate artist to a woman grappling with forbidden desires or subject to sexual abuse. Let’s hope that in the year of her bicentenary, Emily’s genius will finally be allowed to stand on its own.

Amber Pouliot, Teaching fellow, British Studies, Harlaxton College

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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The rise in personalised story books and what it means for children’s privacy


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Natalia Kucirkova, UCL

When was the last time you read a good book? If it was quite a while ago you might want to head to the library or the nearest bookstore, because research shows that reading makes you happier. In fact, adults who read books regularly are on average more satisfied with life, and more likely to feel that the things they do are worthwhile.

Research has also revealed that reading for pleasure can be a key factor in children’s levels of happiness. It has been shown that reading is more important for children’s cognitive development than their parents’ level of education. And is also a more powerful factor in terms of life achievements than socioeconomic background.

Yet despite all the benefits reading can bring, statistics from 2014 show that one in five children in England cannot read well by the age of 11. And with this in mind, anything that helps to encourage children to read is often seen as a good thing.

Personalised reading

Over the years, personalised children’s books have become increasingly popular. This is when children’s names, addresses, their likes and dislikes are inserted into a story book – the characters can even look like the children. These books are sold online and have become big business with many new children’s publishers popping up creating these one of a kind story books.

‘It’s all about me’.
Shutterstock

Wonderbly, one of the biggest publishers of personalised books, has sold over 2.7 million copies of their leading title “The Little Boy/Girl Who Lost His/Her Name”. Children tend to like personalised books because they are specially made for them and often feature themselves or their friends and family members as story heroes. And reading a personalised book together can be a really lovely experience for parents and children.

But personalising books in this way means that how children’s publishers work is now changing. Because as well as producing books, they are now also data managers – responsible for the privacy and confidentiality of children’s data.

Privacy fears

There are no official national guidelines regarding the amount, storage or sharing of data collected by publishers and producers of personalised books, so parents must trust the integrity of individual companies and that their family data won’t be misused or misplaced. This data often includes information such as a child’s date of birth, gender, address and photographs.

The way children are reading books is changing.
Pexels.

Though some progress is being made – from May 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation will apply throughout the EU (including the UK) – it is still the case that children’s personal data can become ensnared in a web of complex legal and technical challenges if it is ever reused, consolidated, or organised by publishing companies.

Interviews with UK children’s publishers and app designers also show that many handle large amounts of children’s personal data, but don’t necessarily know how to use it effectively.

Making data safe again

This is why the UCL Institute of Education is developing new personalised reading technologies and also working to address the challenges of personalised books.

As part of the project we are working with the HAT Community Foundation and the The Hub of All Things – a technology designed to help the internet exchange and trade personal data. HATs are “private data accounts” that let anyone store their personal data for themselves, so that they don’t have to rely on governments or corporations.

As we explain in our white paper, if publishers use HAT technology, a child’s private data account could hold their personal data in a contained, self-owned database. This means that children and their guardians would be able to own their personal database in the same way they own physical assets, and share the data within it on terms they control.

The ConversationChanging the way this data is stored and used is important because there is a big future for these types of books. And it is clear that children’s publishers need a straightforward means of effectively leveraging personalisation – both economically and educationally – to improve both the reading experiences of children, and the peace of mind of their parents.

Natalia Kucirkova, Senior research associate, UCL

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

J.K. Rowling’s Newest Story Caters to a Harry Potter Audience That’s All Grown Up


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No shade to The Hunger Games or John Green, but no YA phenomenon is ever likely to recapture the sheer scope of the mid-aughts Harry Potter craze. With seven core books, multiple spin-offs, eight movies, an amusement park, and at least one more film written by J.K. Rowling herself, the Potter franchise is almost as impressive for its longevity as for its initial popularity. Part of the Harry Potter books’ long shelf life is thanks to Rowling’s impressive willingness to keep fans supplied with new information via the gradual rollout of fan site Pottermore. The updates are mostly tidbits of wizard history in the form of world-building details or character bios, but today Pottermore unveiled the mother lode: a 1,500-word update on Harry’s life, in the form of a delightfully passive-aggressive dispatch from gossip reporter and occasional beetle Rita Skeeter. 

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Amazon StoryFront


The link below is to an article that takes a look at Amazon StoryFront, Amazon’s new short fiction imprint.

For more visit:
http://www.teleread.com/amazon/amazon-launches-imprint-storyfront-for-short-fiction/

Article: United Kingdom – Lambeth Palace & the Stolen Books


The link below is to a fascinating story of books that were stolen from Lambeth Palace over a number of decades.

For more visit:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22249700