on the Brontës

Spaw01_3922_01Alice Sprawls at the LRB:

What is strange about such images isn’t just the extrapolation from fact to fiction, or from bits of fictionalised fact to consummate fiction, or their indiscriminate blending of sources, or the way they alter and animate portraits that are known to us – filling out a dress, making a sitter stand – but the extent to which they are a product of, and perpetuate, a wild biographical knowledge, where unproved or contested facts are written into the story, and even when disproved retain a charge stronger than argument. We see this here: look closely at Patrick’s left hand, which appears to be resting on his infamous pistol. Gaskell reported that Patrick liked to fire his gun out of the bedroom window ‘to work off his volcanic wrath’. He contested this – he had carried one since the Luddite riots only for protection – but later writers took up the pistol as evidence of his uncontrollable anger, his unsociability and supposed neglect of his children. The story becomes a symbol; the symbol works its way back into the picture.

Lots of cavalier things are done with portraits. Images of Charlotte are used to represent Emily and Anne. The surviving part of a group painting by Branwell that almost certainly depicts Anne is often claimed to show Emily. George Richmond’s drawing of Charlotte, taken from life, was later copied by printmakers: engraving reverses the image but not everyone worried about that. A print of the Richmond portrait was the basis for a new painting (is it still right to say ‘of her’?) by J.H. Thompson, which is now the cover of the Penguin Classics edition of Gaskell’s Life. What relationship does this woman bear to the original?

more here.