The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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July 30, 2017

Only connect: Anne Brontë and Queen Victoria

      Anne realised that at some point you have to stop living in someone else's stories and write your own. She was sick of the way ... women were all 'blighted lilies' who lost their minds over men and swooned and moped and faded. Was this all women could do?  ... Instead, Anne and Emily decided to write heroines. Like Augusta Geraldine Almeda -- AGA for short -- who was a mash-up of Mary Queen of Scots and the future Queen Victoria.
      Both Anne and Emily were fascinated by Victoria, who was almost exactly between their ages. Their 1837 diary paper records that Charlotte is sewing in one room, their aunt is sewing in another, Branwell is reading to Charlotte, and 'Papa gone out, Tabby in the kitchen -- the Emperor and Empresses of Gondal and Gaaldine preparing ... for the coronation which will be on the 12th July. Queen Victoria ascended the throne this month.'  It's a jolt to go from the humdrum household routine to Gondalian royalty [in their stories] and then to a real queen and a real coronation. Ironically, while the Brontës were weaving stories about someone very like Victoria, the princess was longing for a life like theirs. Victoria was lonely, brought up strictly and separated from other children. At seven, the desolate princess and her governess would squeeze into a miniature phaeton, pulled by a pair of tiny Shetland ponies, and a footman would drive them round and round the empty grounds. Victoria's mother tied holly under her chin to make her keep her head up straight, controlled her access to books and newspapers, and read all her journals and letters. Victoria's first command as queen was to be left alone for an hour.  She would go on to choose a husband because she fancied him, to stay on the throne for six decades,  to have nine children, and to survive eight assassination attempts. She refused to carry the bulletproof parasol she was issues, with its chain-mail lining. She surrounded herself, in her long widowhood, with handsome young men, including a bluff Balmoral ghillie and an Indian servant who taught her to say 'hold me tight' in Hindustani. And she wrote. Sixty million words in all, sometimes two thousand words a night in her diaries, about everything from her pleasure at her husband putting on her stockings for her, to the state of her prime minister's teeth. She also wrote fiction. The heroine of The Adventures of Alice Laselles, a book Victoria wrote when she was ten (but which was only published in 2015), goes away to school, vanquishes injustice, and very poignantly, makes friends.
      Victoria would have been enraptured and maybe a bit shocked by Anne and Emily's stunning, ruthless queen who loves, uses and leaves men to die of broken hearts, or get killed by her other admirers, or go to prison, or commit suicide (there are lots of them, so they need various grisly ends). When her past catches up with her, AGA is murdered on the moors.
      At least I think that's what happens. ...

from Take Courage:  Anne Brontë and the art of life,
by Samantha Ellis

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