Posts Tagged Videos and Media

The True Story of the Lowood Institution

17 September 2011

Like most writers, the Brontë sisters drew upon their own life experiences in composing their novels and particularly, it is sad to say, in their more tragic elements thereof. The most striking example is the story of Jane Eyre’s experiences at the Lowood Institution, and the heart-breaking death of Helen Burns. 

“Lowood” was Cowan Bridge, a Clergy Daughters’ School that was attended by the Brontë sisters, where they were referred to as “charity children,” fed burnt porridge, and made to wash in freezing water. The character of Mr. Brocklehurst was inspired by William Carus Wilson, a Calvinist reverend and moral tyrant who operated the school. Something of his doctrines can be gleaned from a magazine he published, The Children’s Friend, which has been described as “part of a wholesale attempt to christianize fairy stories,” filled with tales of punishment, deathbed conversion and evangelism. 

The character of Helen Burns was based upon Charlotte’s older sister Maria Brontë, who, like her other sibling Elizabeth, was not fortunate enough to survive the “cold, implacable cruelty of Mr. Brocklehurst.” Something of their story is related in James Parton’s 1886 book Daughters of Genius:


La Loïe Fuller – The Serpentine Dance

20 August 2011

This 1896 Lumière Brothers film captures a performance of Loïe Fuller’s “Serpentine Dance.” No, there was no LSD in the 1890’s, but yes, there were colorized films. In the technique used above, each frame was individually hand-tinted using stencils and colored dyes. It was a laborious, manual process, and it was first employed to recreate Loïe Fuller’s stage magic; acclaimed for its early use of chromatic theatrical lights that illuminated the dancer’s flowing white silk.
On a visit to Notre Dame, Fuller became enthralled by the kaleidoscopic light that shone through the cathedral’s stained glass windows. She lost herself in a bedazzled reverie, catching the colors upon a white handkerchief that she waved through the air…and was promptly taken for crazy and escorted out of the building. For Fuller, color possessed a natural harmony that could be honed into new art form, in the same way that sound had been transformed sound into music. “Colour,” she wrote, “so pervades everything that the whole universe is busy producing it, everywhere and in everything…The day will come when man will know how to employ them so delightfully that it will be hard to conceive how he could have lived so long in the darkness in which he dwells to-day.” 
To this end, she developed new compounds and techniques for stage lighting for which she held numerous patents. She was a member of the French Astronomical Society, and a friend to Marie Curie, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and countless other French artists, scientists and intellectuals. Some of the most well-respected members of the French creative class featured her in their work, and through her performances she became a prominent figure in the Art Nouveau movement. 


The Moonflowers Bloom at Night

6 August 2011

Datura inoxia -- Photo by Clinton and Charles Robertson

Datura inoxia -- Photo by Clinton & Charles Robertson


THE sun has burned his way across the sky,
And sunk in sultry splendor; now the earth
Lies spent and gray, wrapped in the grateful dusk;
Stars tremble into sight, and in the west
The curved moon glows faintly. ‘T is the hour!
See! Flower on flower the buds unfold, until
The air is filled with odors exquisite
And amorous sighs, and all the verdurous gloom
Is starred with silvery disks.
                            Oh, Flower of Dreams! —
Of lover’s dreams, where bliss and anguish meet;
Dreams of dead joys, and joys that ne’er have been;
Keenest of all, the joys that ne’er shall be!            

                                    —Julia Schayer 

The common name “moonflower” has been applied to a variety of fragrant, vespertine plants that ranged across Europe and North America during the Victorian period. One in particular is Datura inoxia, which evokes the name not only for its ethereal white, night-blooming flowers, but for the deadly madness it produces when ingested.

Like all members its genus, Datura inoxia is a potent deliriant that contains malignant alkaloids chemically similar to those of deadly nightshade. Its effects include acute psychosis, lasting visual and spatial distortion, itching and dryness, disruption of the urinary tract, amnesia, and, all too often, death. In spite of a history of shamanic use, it is notorious, even among psychedelic luminaries, for producing the sort of drug trip that leads to such questions as “How did I get here?” and “What chewed off my fingers?” With its toothed flower and thorny fruit, D. inoxia signals danger to those who would unlock its secrets. 


Explore Haworth and the Yorkshire Moors

26 March 2011
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Enjoy a virtual tour of the Brontë sisters’ birthplace with Google Streetview. The village of Haworth is certainly proud of its literary heritage, taking its street and business names from the Brontë sisters and their fictional universe. Explore the main street, but also the residential areas and country roads and you will come appreciate how genuinely beautiful Brontë country remains to this day.

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The setting of the Yorkshire moors was particularly important in Emily Bronte’s novel, Wuthering Heights. The Earnshaw family house is said to have been inspired by a ruined farmhouse called Top Withens. This tourist video seems to capture a sense of the place very well:


The Brontë sisters grew up at Haworth Parsonage on Church Street. For more on that:

Haworth Parsonage
Visit the Brontë Parsonage Museum