Tag Archives: Charlotte Brontë

Nicolaas van der Waay’s Orphan Girls and Jane Eyre

4 Jan

Nicolaas van der Waay, Orphan girls from the Burgerweeshuis, Amsterdam, c. 1900, Black and red chalk and pencil on paper

Late nineteenth and early twentieth century portraits of orphan girls from Amsterdam are the most interesting and unique works of Nicolaas van der Waay’s oeuvre. He painted other things as well but these orphan girls, recognisable by their wistful faces and matching uniforms in traditional Amsterdam colours; black, red and white, are really interesting. This drawing of the orphan girl made in black and red chalk was just a sketch for other paintings of the same motif that van der Waay painted, but I prefer this drawing to other paintings because it seems so immediate and alive. The two colours of the chalk, plus the white paper, go perfectly well with the colours of the girls’ attire, which is a fortunate coincidence. I like how the girls are sketched in their everyday activities; two are chatting, one is holding a bucket of water, one is wistfully staring in the distance, perhaps daydreaming of a better life. These drawings and paintings reminded me of Jane Eyre’s life at the Lowood Institution and the uniform she had to wear there. Jane was an orphan but that school wasn’t an orphanage, but still the cold, unloving atmosphere, the strictness and deprivation of the school isn’t so unlike that of an orphanage. Here is a passage from chapter five where Jane gives her first impressions of the school and she also describes how the girls there are dressed:

Ranged on benches down the sides of the room, the eighty girls sat motionless and erect; a quaint assemblage they appeared, all with plain locks combed from their faces, not a curl visible; in brown dresses, made high and surrounded by a narrow tucker about the throat, with little pockets of holland (shaped something like a Highlander’s purse) tied in front of their frocks, and destined to serve the purpose of a work- bag: all, too, wearing woollen stockings and country-made shoes, fastened with brass buckles. Above twenty of those clad in this costume were full-grown girls, or rather young women; it suited them ill, and gave an air of oddity even to the prettiest.

Jane Eyre (2011)

When I gaze at these paintings I am not just thinking of their aesthetic beauty but also of the conditions in which these girls lived which, I am pretty sure, weren’t the greatest. Jane Eyre, in chapter 6, also mentions the freezing winter cold, which is very familiar to me in these dreary January days, and the bad conditions in general:

The next day commenced as before, getting up and dressing by rushlight; but this morning we were obliged to dispense with the ceremony of washing; the water in the pitchers was frozen. A change had taken place in the weather the preceding evening, and a keen north-east wind, whistling through the crevices of our bedroom windows all night long, had made us shiver in our beds, and turned the contents of the ewers to ice. Before the long hour and a half of prayers and Bible-reading was over, I felt ready to perish with cold. Breakfast-time came at last, and this morning the porridge was not burnt; the quality was eatable, the quantity small. How small my portion seemed! I wished it had been doubled.

Nicolaas van der Waay, Amsterdam Orphan Girl, c. 1890

Nicolaas van der Waay, Les Orphelines d’Amsterdam, 1900

John Corbet – The Tower

29 Jul

“All was moorland loneliness and midnight hush.”

(Jane Eyre)

John Corbet, The Tower, 2020, watercolour

John Corbet is one of my favourite contemporary artists; I enjoyed seeing his style develop throughout the years and I am always curious to see what wonderful and dreamy watercolours and pastels his brush and his imagination will give birth to. I already wrote about his Renoir inspired watercolour here. One of his most recent works called “The Tower” was a love at first sight for me. It’s hard to explain what particular element of the watercolour appeals to me so much because I love all of it; first of all, it’s easy to seduce me with watercolours, then I just love the colours; hushed and melancholy shades of purple, greys and blues, like a cloudy sky just moments before a rainstorm. The scene excites my imagination and the mystery compels me to further gaze at the painting. A pale young girl is seen running over the moors, her purple dress, like a fragrant and large violet petal, swamps the lower part of the paper, flowing like a deep purple river, widening down from her slender waist.

One can just feel the Gothic mood of the watercolour, the mystery and suspense, shining through in dark colours and objects that seemed to serves as symbols open to interpretation, for example the looming yellowish tower on the hill; it can symbolise the captivity, a bird cage for the young maiden, or a protection from the harsh realities symbolised by the darkness and gloom of the strange moors and meadows she found herself in, it can be a prison and a safe haven, depends on what you wish you see. Its erect shape and unbreakable strength could also bring to mind other things, in a Freudian way. Also, the motif of a tower instantly brought to mind the painting “Vejez” by a female Spanish-Mexican Surreliast painter Remedios Varo. In the painting, a pink tower is shown to be full of cracks and starting to be overgrown by ivy, and it certainly has a lot of character despite being an object.

Without a doubt, there is a secret connection between the innocent Gothic maiden and the stern face vaguely yet convincingly appearing in the grey cloud. I will imagine it is her strict guardian watching over her, in spirit, even when he is not near her in flesh. “When I’m not there, in spirit I’ll be there”, to quote Depeche Mode’s song “Disease”. Her eyes are turned upwards; she can sense his gaze upon her and she knows there is no way to escape, no matter how fast or far she ran over the meadows and moors, she knows that her guardian transcends both time and space. The girl’s hair dancing in the melody of the wind and the raspberry pink ribbons on her sleeves form a repeating pattern and add to the scene’s drama and a whirlwind of intensity.

Remedios Varo, Vejez, 1948

The stern face in the cloud and the round rosy-cheeked face of the maiden in a violet-gown brought to mind the mystical connection between Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester when they both, at the same moment, around midnight, heard each other’s voices and cries, coming from kilometers afar, more through the power of mind than physically through space:

All the house was still; for I believe all, except St. John and myself, were now retired to rest. The one candle was dying out: the room was full of moonlight. My heart beat fast and thick: I heard its throb. Suddenly it stood still to an inexpressible feeling that thrilled it through, and passed at once to my head and extremities. The feeling was not like an electric shock, but it was quite as sharp, as strange, as startling: it acted on my senses as if their utmost activity hitherto had been but torpor, from which they were now summoned and forced to wake. They rose expectant: eye and ear waited while the flesh quivered on my bones.

“What have you heard? What do you see?” asked St. John. I saw nothing, but I heard a voice somewhere cry —

“Jane! Jane! Jane!” — nothing more.

“O God! what is it?” I gasped.

I might have said, “Where is it?” for it did not seem in the room — nor in the house — nor in the garden; it did not come out of the air — nor from under the earth — nor from overhead. I had heard it — where, or whence, for ever impossible to know! And it was the voice of a human being — a known, loved, well-remembered voice — that of Edward Fairfax Rochester; and it spoke in pain and woe, wildly, eerily, urgently.

“I am coming!” I cried. “Wait for me! Oh, I will come!” I flew to the door and looked into the passage: it was dark. I ran out into the garden: it was void.

“Where are you?” I exclaimed.

The hills beyond Marsh Glen sent the answer faintly back — “Where are you?” I listened. The wind sighed low in the firs: all was moorland loneliness and midnight hush.

Jane Eyre (2011): In spirit, I believe we must have met.

And here is what Mr Rochester tells Jane later on, when they meet again:

As I exclaimed ‘Jane! Jane! Jane!’ a voice- I cannot tell whence the voice came, but I know whose voice it was- replied, ‘I am coming: wait for me;’ and a moment after, went whispering on the wind the words- ‘Where are you?’ “I’ll tell you, if I can, the idea, the picture these words opened to my mind: yet it is difficult to express what I want to express. Ferndean is buried, as you see, in a heavy wood, where sound falls dull, and dies unreverberating. ‘Where are you?’ seemed spoken amongst mountains; for I heard a hill-sent echo repeat the words. Cooler and fresher at the moment the gale seemed to visit my brow: I could have deemed that in some wild, lone scene, I and Jane were meeting. In spirit, I believe we must have met. You no doubt were, at that hour, in unconscious sleep, Jane: perhaps your soul wandered from its cell to comfort mine; for those were your accents- as certain as I live- they were yours!” Reader, it was on Monday night- near midnight- that I too had received the mysterious summons: those were the very words by which I replied to it.

In the same way, we know the face in the cloud cannot be real but we can imagine what powerful bonds connects their spirits that the girl can feel his gaze upon her even when she is out on the meadow.

You can visit the artist’s page here.

Jane Eyre: ‘…utter solitude and leafless repose…’

16 Nov

This is a fragment from the book Jane Eyre which is very dear to me and is very fitting for this time of the year, so I thought why not share it. It describes Jane’s walk not long after she arrives at Thornfield Hall, and before she meets Mr Rochester.

jane-eyre-solitude

It was three o’clock; the church bell tolled as I passed under the belfry: the charm of the hour lay in its approaching dimness, in the low-gliding and pale-beaming sun.  I was a mile from Thornfield, in a lane noted for wild roses in summer, for nuts and blackberries in Autumn, and even now possessing a few coral treasures in hips and haws, but whose best winter delight lay in its utter solitude and leafless repose.  If a breath of air stirred, it made no sound here; for there was not a holly, not an evergreen to rustle, and the stripped hawthorn and hazel bushes were as still as the white, worn stones which causewayed the middle of the path.

—Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
jane eyre 22

1840s – ‘Fashion of Sombre and Wilting Demureness’

28 Apr

Since the story I am writing is set in the 1840s, I came up with a cunning plan to write a post about women’s fashion at the time! Decade of 1840s represents both the first, and the simplest and most romantic decade of Victorian fashion.

1848. fashion 17

In cultural dimension, the 1840s were a fruitful period for Bronte sisters (1847 in particular), Chopin, Franz Liszt, Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, the Pre-Raphaelites, and it also the first decade of applicable photography (Robert Adamson and David Octavius Hill were active in this decade).

This is also the the first decade of Victorian era; Queen Victoria married Albert in 1840 and six out of their nine children were born in this decade. Movies set in the 1840s with accurate fashion are: The Young Victoria (2009), Jane Eyre (2011), Effie Gray (2014), La Dame aux Camélias’ (1980), Cranford (TV Series) and Return to Cranford (2009). Costumes in Sweeney Todd (2007) bear resemblance to the 1840s fashion as well.

young victoria blue gown 5

1840s Queen Victoria by Franz Winterhalten1846. Marie-Caroline de Bourbon-Siciles, duchesse d'Aumale by W.

Fashion in the 1840s represents a muted version of the romantic and flamboyant fashion of the 1830s. Sombre colours and simplicity were in vogue after a decade of exaggeration and flashy colours. The biggest changes in the silhouette occurred in two spheres – firstly, natural waistline came into fashion after more than forty years of high-empire waists, and, secondly, the volume of the sleeves had collapsed.

1843-1848. Elizabeth (née Rigby), Lady Eastlake by David Octavius Hill, and Robert Adamson calotype1845. three dreamy ladies

1841. May court fashions (England)1841. May court fashions (England)

The silhouette of the 1840s was that of a bell shaped skirt, narrow waist and slopping shoulders. Sleeves were tight and simple, without excess decoration, as was the bodice. Skirt was simple as well; bell shaped, sometimes with delicate flounces of lace, but for day wear the appearance was kept modest. The fashionable look of the 1840s could be described as modest, sombre and demure, and, I’d dare to say, a bit gothic, especially with evening dresses, accesorise and details such as black lace, mitts, roses.

1843. house dress1840s grey silk satin gown 2

1840s Dresses, Striped and Bonnets

In the early years of the decade sleeves still resembled those of the late 1830s; fulness of the sleeves has moved from the shoulder to the lower part of the arm. From about 1843. narrow sleeves were fashionable, and they continued to be so until the late 1850s. Skirts faced changes too; they were gradually becoming wider and wider, richer in flounces and details, and worn with many layers of petticoats to achieve the desirable fulness.

1840. November fashion

To keep in touch with the overall moderate and dark spirit of the decade, popular colours were rather gloomy and toned down, especially for the day wear. Rich shades were popular for evening dresses, but white was favourable as it symbolised innocence and naivety and was therefor perfect for debutantes. ‘In the 1840’s, soft shades of yellow, greenish gold, blues and pinks were worn; but from the late forties stripes, plaids and the more brilliant shades of blues, greens red, and yellows came into fashion.‘ I have also noticed plaid being a popular fabric for day dresses. As for walking and outdoor dresses, my personal remark is that eggplant purple, cobalt blue and dark greens (darker colours in general) were common, at least judging by the fashion plates.

jane eyre 25

An interesting and accurate description of colours in Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre which was written and set in the 1840s. Blanche Ingram’s evening dress at a small gathering at Thornfield Hall:

She was dressed in pure white; an amber-coloured scarf was passed over her shoulder and across her breast, tied at the side, and descending in long, fringed ends below her knee. She wore an amber-coloured flower, too, in her hair: it contrasted well with the jetty mass of her curls.‘ (Chapter 16)

Dresses that Mr Rochester wanted to buy for Jane Eyre:

‘The hour spent at Millcote was a somewhat harassing one to me. Mr. Rochester obliged me to go to a certain silk warehouse: there I was ordered to choose half-a-dozen dresses. (…) I reduced the half-dozen to two: these however, he vowed he would select himself. With anxiety I watched his eye rove over the gay stores: he fixed on a rich silk of the most brilliant amethyst dye, and a superb pink satin. (…) With infinite difficulty, for he was stubborn as a stone, I persuaded him to make an exchange in favour of a sober black satin and pearl-grey silk.’ (Chapter 24)

1842. eveninng dresses,  Petit Courrier Des Dames 1848. fashion 20

To balance out the dreariness of the day wear, evening dresses were, although simple in cut, often in rich shades of colours, usually decorated with a deep flounce of black lace and roses – the particular look is evident on many portraits of the time. Evening dresses were worn with lace mitts, opera gloves and sheer shawls which were quite popular during the decade.

Colours that I have noticed being popular for evening or dinner dresses are different shades of green such as lime and emerald green, raspberry pink, lilac, silver grey, sapphire and sky blue, amber and honey yellow. I have also observed that red wasn’t as popular in the 1840s as it shall be in the following decade; if worn, currant and garnet red were favourable.

1848. January ballgowns, France

Hairstyles of the 1840s are rather distinctive; hair was centrally parted and, while the back of the hair was shaped into a bun, front tresses could either be curled tightly or smoothed back over the ears and looped or braided. Compared to the hairstyles of the 1830s, these are quite simple.

Bonnets were toned down too; they became smaller and less extravagant and were decorated only by subtle flowers and tied with ribbons. For evening wear hair was in most cases worn curled and decorated with flowers, and occasionally, by the most fashionable ladies, little turban style caps were also worn.

1840s Back view of a Victorian coiffure 1840s headdress1847. Abendfrisur

The wedding dresses of this decade are, in my opinion, the most beautiful Victorian wedding dresses. They were worn with long veils, and a dash of lace, with the hair decorated with roses or other small flowers. Queen Victoria married Prince Albert on 10 February 1840, and successfully started a trend for white wedding dresses. However, wearing white for wedding wasn’t as special and new as it seems now; white wedding dresses were worn in the Regency era too as white was the most fashionable colour, and, in addition, white was, as already mentioned, extremely popular choice for evening dresses, especially for young women.

1844. march wedding dress and day dress

1844. nice shawl, Le Moniteur de la Mode1844. December Le Follet.

Still, as a Queen, Victoria popularised white for brides and made it a standard colour for wedding dresses, but also strengthened the Ideal of Womanhood. ‘Women were told from all quarters that their job was to stay close to the home and shape the world only through their calm and morally pure influences on the men in their domestic circle.’ Therefore, white colour for wedding dresses was more symbolic than ever. Image of Queen Victoria as an adoring and innocent bride, really captured the public’s imagination and along with the common character of a ‘modest bride in white’ often found Dicken’s novels, she cemented the ideal image of a bride.

1844. April Le Follet.

Mr Rochester remarked, upon seeing Jane in a white wedding dress and a simple white veil, that she was ‘fair as a lily, and not only the pride of his life, but the desire of his eyes.

Queen Victoria described her wedding dress in her journal: ‘I wore a white satin dress, with a deep flounce of Honiton lace, an imitation of an old design. My jewels were my Turkish diamond necklace & earrings & dear Albert’s beautiful sapphire brooch.

1842. A young Queen Victoria 1840. Queen Victoria's Wedding Dress 1839. sketch by Queen Victoria, Design for her bridesmaids dresses                                      1839. sketch by Queen Victoria, Design for her                                                                                       bridesmaids dresses

Shawl was very fashionable for outwear as it fitted perfectly with the silhouette of sloping shoulders and a bell shaped skirt, and it gives, if I may add, a romantic touch to the outfit. As the sleeves were tight, jackets and coats came into fashion again, but for walking dresses, especially on the north where the Brontës lived, pelerine was both fashionable and practical as it protected the wearer from the strong wind.

1840s Blue plaid winter cloak1845. Dress and mantle, England

As for footwear, 1840s are sadly the last decade of flat shoes. Fashionable shoes for women were satin slippers tied with ribbons around the ankle, and decorated with bows or lace.

1845. evening slippers, england 1845-1865. Evening slippers Queen Victoria's wedding shoes

That’s it! I sincerely hope that this decade of fashion appealed to you and captivated you as much as it captivated me.

Jane Eyre’s wedding dress

25 Nov

Have you read Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre ? Even if you haven’t read the book, you must have seen one of the films. My favourite version is the one from 2011. with Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre. Though I love all the dresses from the film, one of my favourites is Jane’s wedding dress so I wanted to share this with all of you.

jane eyre 31

Jane Eyre 5

1840s wedding dresses are absolutely gorgeous and unique, and yet simple and romantic. It’s not surprising at all that I’m in love with this one. It’s so elegant and dreamy, but still subtle, it’s not, thank God, too much. I love everything about this dress; creamy-beige colours, subtle white flowers, roses on the bosom, lace detail on the neckline and most of all beautiful white veil (which is not seen on the picture.) Fingerless gloves are also a nice detail, characteristic for Romantic era fashion (1820s to 1850s).

I love all the dresses in the film but my heart stopped when I saw this beautiful wedding dresses which was, indeed, one of the nicest I’ve ever seen. Queen Victoria set the era of white wedding gowns and this one was no exception. I’ve also found some wonderful fashion plates dating from 1844., published in magazine Le Follet. It’s possible that Mr. Rochester brought Jane’s wedding dress from France, because he often went there (that’s where he met Adele’s mother.)

1844. march wedding dress and day dress

I love both wedding dresses and veils too. I think they’re fairly similar to Jane’s dress, especially the details and the veil. I love the veil on the plate above; it’s so romantic but toned down compared to previous romantic styles such as 1830s. Both of the dresses are long-sleeves but Jane’s dress has slightly lower neckline than the ones shown on fashion plates.

I love soft curls hairstyle shown below, but Jane’s hairstyle in the movies looked more like the one above. I actually liked the combination of a veil and a hat, though a thought it a little strange at first. I must confess I quite keen on 1840s fashion and on wedding dresses as well, considering that wedding dresses followed the fashions of the day.

1844. nice shawl, Le Moniteur de la Mode

What did you think of Jane’s wedding dress ? Did you liked it as much as I did ?