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EXTRA LETTER: Elizabeth Gaskell Writes To Reverend Patrick Bronte

My dear sir,

You have no notion of the honour you throw upon me. Of course I would be delighted to chronicle the life of your beloved daughter and my dearest friend Charlotte. I will do my utmost to ensure her memory and her reputation are respected in a manner befitting such a great artist, with emphasis on her womanly attributes as well as her craft.

I pray you don’t find me presumptuous, but I did approach Mr Dickens when made aware of the venture and he assures me that he’d consider serialising portions of the book in his jolly periodical.

As we are to be serialised, it may be judicial to ensure we have material that attracts a certain breed of reader and keeps them captivated. Elements that promote the distinct quality of the book while still providing interest and intrigue. Obviously I shall be regaling the reader with delightful anecdotes that proffer Charlotte’s whimsy, such as the time she failed to include a postage stamp in a letter to her publisher. But we also require something from which we can hang the entire endeavour. Information that will illuminate the narrative. To be frank, dear reverend, what we need is filth.

That may sound somewhat shocking and abrupt, but that’s the way the biography market works. The potential reader requires an insight into aspects of dear Charlotte’s life that may initially appear unpalatable but will help the tome to be sold in mass quantities. Especially to those in the underclass (a demographic Mr Dickens is particularly interested in).

During our wonderful, nourishing friendship, Charlotte certainly revealed many intimacies to me in strictest confidence which I would be more than happy to include, now that she’s dead. For one thing I’m sure she told me her sister Emily was a complete hack (she often playfully made reference to ‘Wuthering Tripe’) and she assured me that Ann was quite familiar with the entire male population of Haworth, regardless of class or dental peculiarities. And as you can appreciate, Branwell will be all over this. That stuff is dynamite.

Any recollections, accounts or further dirt that you could furnish me with would be an absolute boon. Obviously, if we are required to stray into the realms of exaggeration, that is the prerogative of the author. So if you did half-hear of a love child that was spirited away to the colonies, or the accidental death of a servant that was hastily hushed up or even a supposed dalliance with Mr. De Quincey’s opium device, all would help sales. All the stuff about the publisher she fancied and that Belgian bloke she was dallying with will be front and centre of course. Possibly in the cover illustration.

Indubitably, the most important factor in all of this is to honour the memory of our dear Charlotte. But the second most important factor is to shift some units and we can’t do that without trash of the first order. Any thoughts, hard evidence or incriminating lithographs you have regarding this would be greatly appreciated.

Yours very truly,

EC Gaskell.

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