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Monday, April 4, 2016

Charlotte Bronte & The Jews

A short wander outside Haworth

‘You have no binding engagement at home perhaps, Caroline?’ (Robert Moore asks).
‘I never have: some children’s socks, which Mrs Ramsden has ordered, to knit for the Jews’ basket; but they will keep.’
‘Jew’s basket be — sold! Never was utensil better named. Anything more Jewish than it — its contents, and their prices — cannot be conceived."

Curiosity over what Charlotte Bronte was referring to in her novel Shirley led me to a post of The Jewish Quarterly, written by professional author Tamar Yellin. In her article, Ms. Yellin explains that she became aware of the Bronte sisters' fiction at the tender age of ten. During her teens she read very little that was not written by members of this famous, literary family. And yet, she is Jewish, and every time Charlotte, or another family member references the Jews, they do so in a negative context.

So great was her love for the Bronte family's stories that she grew up dreaming of being a Bronte. She wrote fiction inspired by the Brontes. When she reached adulthood, she moved to a small village near Haworth, in an area of England she affectionately labels Bronteland. There she could live out her lifelong dream of wandering through the hills and valleys, and woods and moors, where Emily, Anne, and Charlotte Bronte once strolled.

And yet, every time Charlotte, or one of the sisters wrote something negative about the Jews, it hurt her.

The best stories aren't merely inoffensive pleasure-reading. They're meant to hurt, and bring us pain. Why? Because when we are in pain, that helps us glimpse the truth. Pain helps us see the world, and our place in it, all that more clearly. Pain helps define us, challenges us, and hopefully, makes us better people. 

Many people would have noticed these anti-Jewish remarks, labeled the book offensive, and never picked up another Bronte book. Some might have organized Bronte book-burnings. Others might have become critics, and written scathing reviews of the Bronte sisters' stories and poetry. Tamar Yellin chose to find something meaningful and positive in the Brontes' writings. She chose to look past the little she did not like, and embrace the riches beneath the occasional slur. She channeled the Brontes' work to mold herself into a stronger, better, more fulfilled person.

That's tolerance. That's love. That's...


Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links
Tamar Yellin in The Jewish Quarterly

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