With Christmas creeping ever closer, I’m longing to visit Haworth, the home of the Brontës, in order to enjoy the festivities taking place there, some modern and some more familiar to our favourite literary family. I do usually make the trip to see the village decked out for Christmas but haven’t managed it yet this year and have had to be content with looking through other people’s photographs on social media. I’ve got my fingers crossed for a trip next weekend when the Nativity celebrations are taking place, but we’ll have to see.
In terms of their literature, the Brontës did not focus too much on Christmas. They do of course mention it in some of their works, but there is no explicitly Christmassy narrative that I’m aware of (although I’d love to be wrong on this). I know Wuthering Heights famously features a chapter set at Christmas time, but can you imagine a full length Christmas ghost story penned by Emily? A Brontë Christmas Carol set on the wild moors in December? Unfortunately, for Christmas narratives, we must turn to other authors and contemporaries of the Brontës including Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell.
Once again, we must turn to Brontë inspired texts to get a glimpse of what Christmas was like for the family. There are many books which detail the kind of 19th century Christmas the Brontës would have experienced, one of which is Maria Hubert’s The Brontës’ Christmas (1997). Hubert has also written other books focusing on Christmas time and the experiences of particular authors including Jane Austen’s Christmas so she seems to be something of an authority on historic and traditional festivities and Christmas celebrations. The Brontës’ Christmas is presented as an anthology of 19th century customs, Brontë literature, 18th and 19th century literature, and illustrations by artists including the Brontës themselves. If that sounds messy, it’s because it is. Although Hubert may have had good intentions with this book, despite it’s subject matter, it lacks focus and organisation, and just seems like an excuse to cash in on the Brontë name.
The Brontës’ Christmas features extracts from the Brontës’ juvenilia and adult work, and whilst some have a Christmas connection (Emily’s Wuthering Heights chapter, Anne’s “Music on Christmas Morning”), others do not (an extract from Charlotte’s Tales of the Islanders). It’s a puzzling selection of Brontë pieces by Hubert, some of which have either been incorrectly titled or are extracts from larger pieces which have been given a new title by Hubert. These Brontë pieces are scattered throughout the book, with no sense of order or relationship with the other extracts in the text. The other pieces come from anyone who seems to have had any kind of connection with the family including pieces by Gaskell, Robert Southey, and William Makepeace Thackeray (who was an associate and not a friend of Charlotte despite Hubert’s assertion otherwise). At least the extracts from other authors seem to be more explicitly connected with Christmas.
There are some interesting pieces including Gaskell’s Christmas Storms and Sunshine and “The Holly Tree” by Southey. These pieces have little to do specifically with the Brontës’ Christmas though, but seem intended to give a glimpse of Christmas during the era the Brontës’ were alive in. However, Southey’s poem dates from 1798, before the siblings were even born, and so doesn’t provide us with any insight to the Brontës’ themselves or their experience of Christmas. That is the main problem with the text; despite its title, it fails to provide us with any real insight into a Brontë Christmas. There are little snippets which do shed a little light on the Brontës’ Christmas experience such as the sections on Yorkshire Christmas traditions and customs, and festive foods and recipes. It’s just a shame the book is dominated by random extracts from the family and their contemporaries. I can’t help feeling that this book falls short and fails to provide the reader with details of the Brontës’ Christmas that its title promises. And whilst the front cover is pleasant to look at, one can’t help noticing that the image is in no way Brontë related, and I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it is in fact an indication of what to expect.
Unfortunately for Brontëites, Hubert’s book is heavy on the Christmas, light on the Brontës. Although there are extracts of the siblings’ works, there is no sense of reason or order regarding their selection and presentation. As stated, most of the other pieces in the text have very little, if anything, to do with the Brontës. Frustratingly, The Brontës’ Christmas provides nothing new and very little that is interesting about our favourite literary family. It’s worth a quick flick through, but this one isn’t a keeper. If you do want to track down a copy of this text, then you can find reasonably cheap editions through second hand booksellers as it’s now out of print. Reader, I wish you a Merry Christmas.
By Nicola F. a.k.a. The Brontë Babe.
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