Could this be Jane After All??

Literary mysteries abound.  I came across this article this morning about the disputed portrait of Jane Austen as a 13-year-old girl. The painting is supposed to have been painted by Ozais Humphry when Jane was visiting relatives in 1789. However,at some point in the 1940’s experts deemed this could not be Jane because the style of dress suggested it was painted after 1800. However, some new technology has revealed not only the name of the painter, Ozias Humphry and the date, 1789, but also the name of the subject … JANE AUSTEN! I am awash in literary mysteries these days and I am loving it!

So, how to explain the style of dress? In 1789, grown women were dressing like this:

But, how were children attired? Yes, children were usually dressed as mini adults, but I did a little research using Marie Antoinette’s,  daughter, Marie Therese, who was just a couple of years younger than Jane (born in 1778 to Jane’s 1775) and here is what I came up with:

I am beginning to wonder if maybe this IS Jane. What a lovely little face. I also think there is a resemblance between the face in the portrait and this face:

 Look at the eyebrows! The tip of the nose! Remember, the sketch was made by an amateur, Cassandra Austen, Jane’s sister.

I am beginning to think this might be Jane after all! What a wonderful revelation.

Anne Bronte: Woman of Mystery

Anne Bronte could have been a literary force

Janeites beware. The Brontes are coming to town. After a solid decade of all things Jane, it seems Hollywood and the publishing industry are running out of ways to hook themselves to Jane’s genius and they are going to attempt to launch the same sort of love affair with the Bronte sisters.

Apparently, according to Flavorwire and California Chronicle – several movies are in the works. And just yesterday while strolling the aisles at Barnes and Nobel – I noticed several Bronte knock off offerings on the paperback table. One, By Jude Morgan , is a fictional account of the Bronte’s lives. I have read Juliet Barker’s huge and absorbing biography The Brontes and don’t feel the need to read a fictional account. Although, I may have to read it to see where the general path seems to be leading.

Yet, all this ramping up to all things Bronte leaves me cold just as all the Jane knock-offs did. As a life long lover of both Jane Austen and the Brontes, I have mixed emotions about this. I appreciate the fact that these attempts to blend Jane into the 21st century might expose her to a wider audience and for that reason alone, I say well, hurrah. But, I was not one who of those who enjoyed the immensely popular Lost in Austen series. I thought it was, to put it simply, stupid. So, I stopped watching. As for the Jane Austen sequels, while I admire the authors who can carefully mimic the writing style of Jane Austen ( it obviously can’t be done by a dummy) I have never been able to finish even one.

My interest in Jane lies more in the area of her letters,the  biographies written about her  (I have read at least five and made a list) and the investigative scholarship which abounds concerning her novels. (My favorite Jane bio is Claire Tomalin’s.) The movies and BBC series have all been equally delightful. As an ex-costumer I was entranced. Again, hurrah.

So, it won’t seem odd if I say I like all the same sorts of things about the Brontes, the movies and the biographies etc. As for the novels themselves, I prefer Charlotte and Anne’s fiction to Wuthering Heights. Emily’s poetry is glorious, wrenching and lovely.

Over the years, I have come to love Anne Bronte perhaps the best of the three. She is the most mysterious of the three sisters. Only five of her letters remain extant – why? And trust me, they are really nothing letters. More like finding a thank you note from my wedding. What was contained in the ‘gone forever’ letters of this innocent, obedient sister and daughter that required they all be destroyed?

The Branwell Bronte factor is not to be over looked either, he was a force to be reckoned with in their lives. I try to put myself in their shoes and realize how enervating he must have been, the toll HIS presence in their life took on all of them. Anne was closely aligned with Branwell’s fortunes, working in the same household as the Robinson children’s governess while Branwell was a tutor. Goodness, where did The Tenant of Wildfell Hall COME FROM? I am one of those readers who thinks large swaths of Agnes Grey is semi-autobiographical.

Anne at 13

Of the three sisters, Anne was the most self sacrificing and the most responsible. Had she lived, she would have been a Bronte force. Charlotte was, as it happened, the last one standing and yes, Jane Eyre is eminently readable and wonderful and goodness knows, I love it as much as the next girl. Charlotte, however,  crafted Anne’s image and down played her success as a writer. Survival of the fittest. What was wrong? Was it subconscious jealousy? Now, that would make a great mystery book, a great knock off. The missing letters. Maybe I will write it.

And so, while Hollywood and the publishing industry will blandly focus on the ubiquitous Jane Eyre (don’t get me wrong, I love it, but really, enough is enough) and the never done quite right Wuthering Heights, I think they are all missing the boat.

Anne is the jewel in the rough, the uncharted waters, the hook…

Literary Mystery: Why No 19th Century Blockbuster American Women?


Young Girl Ironing - Boston Museum Fine Arts
Young Girl Ironing - Boston Museum Fine Arts

From the Guardian:

“Did housework really prevent a George Eliot or Emily Brontë emerging in 19th-century America?”


A very interesting question. Where were the great American women novelists in the 19th century? They can’t say they were busy ironing because Charlotte Bronte ironed AND dashed off Jane Eyre –  


“Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of the Brontës. In 1839 Charlotte wrote wearily to an old schoolfriend, “I manage the ironing, and keep the rooms clean; Emily does the baking, and attends to the kitchen.” True, there was an elderly female servant, Tabby Ackroyd, who had been at the parsonage for years, but her increasing frailty made her more of a hindrance than a help.”

I think American women were more devoted to writing poetry. Much of the published poetry was of the Helen Hunt Jackson variety :






What freeman knoweth freedom? Never he 

Whose father’s father through long lives have reigned 

O’er kingdoms which mere heritage attained. 

Though from his youth to age he roam as free 

As winds, he dreams not freedom’s ecstacy. 

But he whose birth was in a nation chained 

For centuries; where every breath was drained 

From breasts of slaves which knew not there could be 

Such thing as freedom,–he beholds the light 

Burst, dazzling; though the glory blind his sight 

He knows the joy. Fools laugh because he reels 

And weilds confusedly his infant will; 

The wise man watching with a heart that feels 

Says: “Cure for freedom’s harms is freedom still.” 


(HMMMMMMM….well – not my cup of tea)



Helen also wrote books – so American women were writing, just not writing the 19th century equivalent of the blockbuster. Helen wrote “Ramona” a book about Native American rights – pretty ground breaking, but not nearly as famous as the Brontes or Eliot or Helen’s contemporary – Emily Dickinson who like Helen, came from Amherst, Massachusetts. She was, however, well received during her time by the likes of Thomas Wentworth Higgins who chose to publish her poetry in The Atlantic over Emily’s. At the time, Ralph Waldo Emerson considered Helen the greatest American woman poet. 


I suppose Ramona just doesn’t have the staying power of the Brontes or Middlemarch. It is free on line, try it and see what you think…

The Meaning of Night


Michael Cox has died - how sad
Michael Cox has died - how sad

I know I ramble on quite a bit about the Brontes, Jane Austen and I even have an Emily Dickinson page. But, I also adore Wilkie Collins. The Woman in White is a favorite, favorite book. 

Consequently, whenever I see the words “like Wilkie Collins” in book review, I rush out and use my gift certificate. I discovered The Meaning of Night in this manner. Today, I read Michael Cox has died. I hate it when a great story telling voice is silenced.

So sad.

Charlotte Bronte’s Nurse – Nancy Wainwright


The Fate of Charlotte's Nurse?
The Fate of Charlotte's Nurse?

I was searching around through old news stories the other day. I find it very intriguing to read what was written about people like Jane Austen and the Brontes during the century they actually inhabited. It is interesting to compare the writing style to today’s columnists and jounalists. It also serves to track the evolution of the public persona of these literary giants.

Imagine my surprise to see the headline Charlotte Bronte’s Nurse in the New York Times December 24, 1884. Her name was Nancy Wainwright. Naturally, this sent me on a clicking spree. Oh, the story is tragic. I wonder how old she was when she was the Bronte nurse? They were born in the 18-teens. She must have been just a young girl. I had to know more about the workhouse and it is grim.  Poor Nancy Wainwright. Unfortunately, no one responded to the first article. She died there. I am still trying to figure out if she avoided the fate of a pauper’s grave.

Scrooge asked “Are there no workhouses?” Unfortunately, for Nancy Wainwright, the answer was yes, long after Scrooge had his epiphany…

Continue reading “Charlotte Bronte’s Nurse – Nancy Wainwright”