In recent days, Lenore has offered an inspired series of posts entitled Two Emilies: Parallel Lives, drawing connections between Emily Dickinson and Emily Brontë. Through her posts and related comments I have learned that Dickinson was a great admirer of Emily Brontë's work, as well as a fan of the novel Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë. In a truly astonishing fact that links them very strongly, Dickinson was in possession of one of the only two copies sold at the time of the Brontë sisters' first edition book of poetry, which they self-published in 1846 (a second edition published in 1850 sold much better). It is surmised that Dickinson may have written away especially to England in order to obtain it.
The Secret Life of E.D. page went on to note,
Emily Brontë and Emily Dickinson each had one brother. Dickinson's brother, Austin, followed in his father's footsteps to become an attorney and a respected "Squire" of the Amherst community. But sadly, Brontë's brother, Branwell, failed at everything he tried. First he failed as a painter, then was dismissed from the railway for negligence. In desperation, he began tutoring to support himself, but was sent home in disgrace when he had an affair with the mother of his charges. Branwell became an alcoholic and misused drugs - his father was so afraid Branwell would harm himself that he insisted his son sleep in his bed. Branwell's alcoholism masked tuberculosis until it was too late to save him. He collapsed and died in September, 1848. He was 31. Emily Brontë caught a cold at his funeral and died just three months later.***
Art historians believe that Branwell began including himself in the picture but ultimately decided to paint himself and replaced his image with a 'pillar'. X-rays showing... his image is incomplete [which may] likely mean he made that decision before finishing the work. Since poorly mixed oil paints can become translucent with age, it is thought that Branwell's 'ghostly' image can be seen in the pillar because of his inexperience in mixing paints.***
"This painting tells a story, but tells it slant"***
-- Lenore, Secret Life of Emily Dickinson Facebook Page
This morning I attended a wonderful plein air writing workshop held on the grounds of Olana, Frederic Church's skytop estate on the outskirts of Hudson, New York. The gifted poet, writer, and wonderful writing instructor Kathe Izzo led a small group of participants through exercises designed to encourage us to observe our surroundings closely, to draw inspiration from nature, and to connect it with our writing.
With each brief exercise the group scattered to write. For the first one I found a picnic table that sat at a steep angle on sloped, uneven ground - no matter - it was in the sun on this beautiful cool morning. I looked about the landscape wondering what to write, and though we had been charged to concentrate on sensory details I found myself reminded of Branwell's haunting portrait of himself and his sisters, and his affecting (modernistic?) self-erasure.
Writing Exercise #1
I perch aslant a table.
Trees like blank columns
survey me. The Brontë
sisters mingle between.
The wind sounds through the
trees, a constant source of
music. Something gives,
groans, squeaks. A bird
squeals. There's an illumined
red tree, in a pretty dress
of red rustling leaves.
The trunks of tall trees
align, her suitors.
They ask her to dance and
she stands apart, considering.
Dry green grasses fill in the
background. The trunks rise
out of the earth, straight to
the sky, the one closest - the one yearning
most - leaning. The table is aslant.