Sister Scribes

Download (4)Nicola here. Today I’m musing on sisters, real, literary and fictional. I’ve always been fascinated by the relationships between siblings. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have any full siblings that I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a sister. Would we be very close, or different and distant? Would there be sibling rivalry between us or the sort of secrets you come across in books? What would it have been like growing up with brothers and sisters?

Today is the anniversary of the birth in 1817 of Branwell Bronte, the only boy amongst literary WYR_BPM_B37-001siblings Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Originally there were six Bronte children, five of whom were girls, so Branwell’s unique status as the only son of the family promised him more freedom and perhaps led to his being more indulged. Whilst the girls were sent away to school, in some cases most unhappily, Branwell was educated by his father at home (pictured above). The two older Bronte sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, died in childhood and their deaths made a big impression on all their siblings. Maria in particular showed all the signs of developing the same literary talents as her younger sisters. One wonders what might have happened had she survived and also whether Elizabeth, who was said to most resemble Anne, would also have grown up to be an author. Branwell, meanwhile, was a writer and an artist – one of his pictures is on the right – but he never achieved the literary success his sisters did, nor was he particularly successful with his paintings.

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Excellent Women

CassandraAustenSilhouetteNicola here. A fairly brief blog from me today as I’m struggling towards the end of the current manuscript and am chained to it until it’s done! A few weeks ago, when I was still allowed out, I went to a talk at a local bookshop about a new book by a local author, Gill Hornby. The book is called Miss Austen and it is a fictional look at the life of the lesser-known Austen sister, Cassandra. In particular it tackles the literary mystery of why Cassandra destroyed so many of Jane Austen’s letters. Gill gave a fascinating interview into the background and research she did for the book and gave us her view on both Jane and Cassandra’s characters. She came across, as the interviewer noted, as quite protective of Cassandra; Gill said that this was because Jane is always – rightly – lauded as a genius, but Cassandra was an unsung heroine. In her words, Cassandra was an “excellent woman.”

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