Did you see the recent PBS presentation To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters? Perhaps British television is not your “cuppa” tea, but this one had me at “Jane Eyre.” If you’ve ever read that book by Charlotte Brontë or Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, for instance, you might have been drawn in too. (I confess I’ve never read Anne Brontë’s work, but now I think I must.)
Here’s more of what I loved about the nineteenth-century Brontë family as portrayed in To Walk Invisible and how I think we, as writers, can be inspired by them:
· In this drama, one of the sisters says something like, “I feel most alive when I write.” For twenty-first century writers who express a similar passion, her proclaim produces a stir of kinship across the centuries, doesn’t it?
· The sisters wrote even when they thought they, especially as women, had little hope of publication. When, however, they saw an opportunity to be published (as well as to earn some much-needed funds), they went for it—although at some cost to them, and in Emily’s case, with great reticence. The lesson? If you feel led to publication, you must try if you hope to ever see it a reality.
· In one scene, Emily, finally on board with the secret plan to pursue publication, is shopping with Anne. As they walk, she tells her sister a compelling story someone relayed to her. Then she halts at a shop and says, “If I’m going to write novels, I’ll need more paper.” I can’t quite explain all the reasons that scene inspires me, but her willingness to invest is one of them.
· The women’s beloved brother, Branwell, destroying his life with drugs and alcohol, was central to how these sisters thought and felt and lived. Branwell never realized his artistic dreams, but his sisters were so aware of his misery that they hid their success from everyone so as not to hurt him. This, I believe, took extraordinary compassion and humility. They could have let their accomplishments come between them and their brother, but they made another choice. If and when writers are successful, sensitivity to others who might be struggling is a good choice.
· Currer Bell, Ellis Bell, and Acton Bell were the pseudonyms the sisters chose, retaining their own initials despite their choice for absolute anonymity. They had poured their hearts and souls into those handwritten words, and I think this was one way they chose to hang on to that truth in a harsh world. This, perhaps, is one reason seeing his or her name on the cover of a book can be so meaningful to an author. There’s the heart. Right on the cover.
· When Charlotte, Emily, and Anne at last told their father they were the authors of published books after Jane Eyre’s phenomenal success, they held the printed volumes before him as though they were an offering. He told them he was extraordinarily proud of them, and had always been. May every writer have supportive family and friends! But if not, finding someone or group of someones who will offer support can make a difference.
· Charlotte had been afraid to tell their father about their books. As she’d told her sisters, “He’ll read them.” Most writers can relate to feeling some apprehension before letting those whose opinions they most value read their creative work. But Charlotte decided to be brave, and every writer can be too—at least eventually.
· The sisters told their father their novels were different because they showed what the world was really like. You’d have to be the judge on whether, as some critics said at the time, their novels are “coarse” (I don’t believe they are), but truth is a worthy goal for any writer.
· Anne and Emily died before they reached thirty, never having known public acknowledgment of their work under their own names. Charlotte died at thirty-nine. What we call early death today wasn’t uncommon then. What if they had given up on their dreams, waited too long? The lesson? It’s never too early or too late to start writing, especially if writing is a calling. The time is now.
Thank you, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, for sharing your God-given talent with us, even here in the twenty-first century. But also for your courage, your compassion, your tenacity, your inspiration.
Jean Kavich Bloom is a freelance editor and writer for Christian publishers and ministries
(Bloom in Words Editorial Services), with nearly thirty years' experience in the book publishing world. Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she sometimes posts articles about the writing life. She is also a contributor to The Glorious Table, a blog for women of all ages. Her published books are Bible Promises for God's Precious Princess and Bible Promises for God's Treasured Boy. She and her husband, Cal, have three children and five grandchildren.