History Extra publishes an article from the February 2017 issue of BBC History Magazine in which Professor Kathryn Hughes discussed how Branwell's red hear may or may not have affected him.
Branwell Brontë’s red locksThe Business Desk reviews the Birmingham Rep performances of Sally Cookson's Jane Eyre.
Did ‘gingerism’ help the feckless painter to an early grave?
While there has always been heated discussion about what the Brontë sisters looked like, everyone agrees that their brother Branwell was a flaming redhead. Contemporaries describe the diminutive young man as having a “mass of red hair”, carefully brushed upwards to make him look taller.
Branwell’s famously tragic life – he failed both as a painter and a writer and was sacked from jobs as a tutor and railway employee – was to a large degree down to his own bad behaviour. After a string of personal disappointments, including an abortive affair with his married employer, he sunk into dependence on alcohol and opiates and died at the age of just 31.
But what perhaps has never been considered is the way that gingerism – a prejudice against people with red hair – played a part both in Branwell’s and his sisters’ defensive and self-defeating dealings with the world. Although the siblings had been born in Yorkshire, their father Rev Patrick Brontë had grown up in a humble cottage in Ireland. In early Victorian Britain, Irish immigrants, who were employed to build the burgeoning railway network through Yorkshire, were believed to be lazy and dishonest, racial throwbacks to an earlier stage of human existence. Rev Patrick Brontë may have managed to graduate from Cambridge University, but there was no getting away from the fact that he belonged to one of Britain’s most despised and downtrodden colonial groups, one that was popularly believed to be recognisable by its red hair.
The Brontë siblings’ locks – Charlotte and Emily’s might best be described as ‘auburn’ – were a reminder to the world that they were only one generation away from what was routinely described as ‘the bogs of Ireland’. Even at the age of 16, Charlotte spoke with an Irish accent, something that surprised her fellow pupils at the genteel Roe Head academy.
There is no direct evidence that the Brontë siblings were the victims of anti-Irish prejudice as they sallied forth from Haworth to find work. But that, of course, is the nature of prejudice – it goes unspoken. For you can’t help noticing that Branwell, who had the reddest hair, had the hardest time keeping a job, while Emily and Charlotte both found themselves bitterly uncomfortable in their short-lived careers as governesses. Only Anne, whose hair was barely red at all, managed to sustain a long and affectionate relationship with her employers, the snobbish Robinson family.
“Do you think I’m crazy?” asks the singing mad lady in the attic, Bertha Mason. In the style of Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 earworm mega-hit.The Hindu features Miss Temple:
By that stage I’d already thought that it wasn’t just Rochester’s dog, Pilot – played with admirable enthusiasm by Paul Mundell – who might be barking mad.
Jane Eyre director Sally Cookson acknowledges that “adapting a novel for the stage is a challenging prospect – especially when that novel is cited as many people’s favourite of all time”.
That concern does overshadow the play in parts as it tries too hard to keep the audience from becoming complacent.
Or as Gnarls put it, “it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough, I just knew too much”.
So instead we get a high-energy opening section full of sound and fury, as Jane’s mind becomes independent before, as a young teacher at Lowood, she seeks her freedom.
“If I can’t have liberty, then I must have change,” she said, before she heads off to her new situation as a governess that puts her in the path of Mr Rochester.
But Cookson’s ambition of creating a production with “the essence and the magic of the story” has the result of feeling at times like it’s trying too hard to be memorable, when there is plenty worth remembering.
Melanie Marshall as Bertha, adds ephemeral emotion with her singing punctuating the narrative – even the Barkley indulgence is worth a listen.
The musical trio who form part of the set add atmosphere and tempo, while the 10-strong cast switch between roles effortlessly – Evelyn Miller in particular catching the eye as Bessie, Blanche Ingram and St John.
And Nadia Clifford as Jane Eyre, who is on stage for the whole three-hour performance, is great as the free-thinking title character.
The audience loved it, with some on their feet at the end, and the touring production has been well-received throughout its run.
But for me, squeezing so much of Charlotte Brontë’s 38 chapters into a single production creates an occasionally-discordant narrative. Instead I was left wanting more of the slowly-revealing romantic tension between Jane Eyre and Tim Delap’s Rochester.
Does that make me crazy? Possibly. (Alex Turner)
Miss Temple is the teacher of Jane Eyre, the protagonist of Jane Eyre (1849), a novel by Charlotte Bronte. Jane is an orphan, raised by her unkind Aunt Reed. When she is ten, she is sent to Lowood School, a charity boarding school for orphan girls. Miss Maria Temple, the superintendent of the school, is a maternal figure at Lowood, looking after the girls with great kindness.Hyperemesis gravidarum - which in all likelihood killed Charlotte Brontë - is back in the news now that the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant again and suffering from it as seen for instance in Herald Sun. From first page to last posts about Agnes Grey.
Mr. John Brocklehurst, the head of the school, is cruel and stingy. The conditions at the school are miserable — students are given meagre meals and the rooms are freezing. Miss Temple provides the students with extra bread and cheese when the meals are inedible.
Jane admires Miss Temple for her quiet strength, and it is probably due to her that Jane becomes a teacher at Lowood for two years. When Miss Temple leaves the school after she gets married, Jane does not feel at home at Lowood anymore. She leaves the school too, to work as a governess.