Friday, January 28, 2011

Charlotte Bronte's "Biographical Notice"

+JMJ+

I'm rereading Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights with a tutee this month. The text includes an "Editor's Preface" and a "Biographical Notice" written by Charlotte, which have been reprinted in (as far as I can tell) all subsequent editions. I found this passage from the Biographical Notice, which is about herself and Anne as much as Emily, especially interesting:

Too often do reviewers remind us of the mob of Astrologers, Chaldeans, and Soothsayers gathered before the "writing on the wall," and unable to read the characters or make known the interpretation. We have a right to rejoice when a true seer comes at last, some man in whom is an excellent spirit, to whom have been given light, wisdom, and understanding, who can accurately read the "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin" of an original mind . . . and who can say with confidence, "This is the interpretation thereof."

Living authors like Heather King can show up in the comboxes and make everything more interesting, but we can only guess what the dead ones might think of us!

Interestingly (perhaps ironically!), this Biographical Notice is also where we find Charlotte's famous description of her other sister Anne's Tenant of Wildfell Hall as "an entire mistake." She was never happy that Anne had had it published, and after Anne's death, she kept the publisher from printing any new editions. She clearly believed she had accurately read the "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin" of her own sister's mind--and I suppose that of all the critics who have ever lived, she has the strongest basis for saying so. But were her actions condescending or what?

1 comment:

Emily J. said...

Yikes! Mean old Charlotte.

Only I'm feeling uncomfortable here because I had an anxiety dream after reading Parched (so memoirs were on my brain) that Betty published her memoirs, and when I called to question her, and she kept saying, "It's only fiction!"