I don’t think I’ve ever made a secret of how much I love the Brontes. Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are two of my favorite novels, but more, the story of their childhood in Yorkshire, their strange fantasy kingdoms created between the four of them and the Parsonage and everything, everything. Back in the day my MSN username was iamabrontesaurus. I MEANT IT.
And in a literary world where everyone and their aunt adores Austen and writes pastiches, homages, fan fiction, and stories set in Austen-analogues, I sometimes feel alone, out on the moors in a black dress with my blind lover and a burning house insisting that Bronte is where it’s at, always, forever, I am not Lizzie Bennett and never was, I have been Jane and Cathy and Heathcliff in my heart since I was a child.
So right now I am researching a story about Angria and Gondal and the child Brontes. Honestly, I think I might have bitten off more than I can chew given that it’s due by month’s end, the research is gargantuan, even for someone who knows a fair amount about them. That doesn’t even bring into the case that I’ve never been to Yorkshire and I’ve gotta get my head out of Eastern European fairyspeak and into 19th century British fairyspeak and probably should read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in addition to my other materiel, some of which is still in transit.
But as I read about the tiny Brontes and their twelve wooden soldiers and their little magazine and newspaper and grand nations of their minds (even if Glass Town makes me a little uncomfortable as our small colonizers set their magical adventures in Darkest Africa) I am filled with longing.
I, like Charlotte, am the oldest of four siblings. (Actually five, as Charlotte was actually third oldest of six, but her sisters died, and one of my brothers lived with my mother and so I didn’t really grow up with him.) The thing is, I was six years older than the nearest brother, and until I was 12 the only girl. And my siblings and I are not so terribly alike in temperament or interests, though I surely told them stories endlessly when we were young. Also, I moved to my mother’s house at 13 (this is a long story I will not tell now) and my many siblings grew up mostly without me.
But whenever I read of these imagined shared worlds, I am filling with yearning like unto a literary heroine. Moonwise made me feel the same way. The Secret Country. I want to have had that. I want to have had a close little circle who made up elaborate, endless tales of a country we all agreed on. I want to have that secret language and that private symbolism. I especially want to have had close siblings I could have experienced that with. I want that interior landscape, and I want to share it with others.
Which is, of course, probably the same longing that led me to become a fantasy writer. So that I could share worlds with everyone. But it’s not the same as the close heads-pressed-together letsputonashowforjustus thing.
Then I think–but I have so many sisters now. I could do this.
And I come to the sad realization that I am burning all my engines at full to make worlds that can be published and shared on a big stage. I don’t know what I’d have left to devote to a thing that would live in the shadows and be gentle, silent, and secret. and of course all the Brontes had every intention of being famous writers, they were hardly without desire for publication. But now that it’s my job I just don’t know how that nursery feeling will ever come again. Youth is the time for that, I guess? I hate saying that about anything. If I weren’t doing it for a living I would happily indulge now. And maybe when I have a child I can have some sliver of it.
But still. I read about those kids and I long for a childhood I never had. Long for a secret Tarot like the Moonwise girls, for a world so very near real, but contained in the woods behind my house. For make believe and ballgowns out of autumn leaves. To be so close to someone(s) that we’d make between us not a child but a world.
We’re in the autumn that never ended here in Maine. The Autumn Provinces–it stubbornly refuses to get really cold and the snow comes but won’t stick. We’re at the end of autumn forever, it feels like. And maybe that makes me melancholy and extra Bronte-y. I have no moors but I have a lonely seaside and a forest, and had I but a great billowing black hoopskirty dress I’d wander it like some lost waif of Gondal.
Not enough sighs in the world.