Musing on The Brontë Sisters

We cannot talk of Victorian literature without mentioning the Brontë Dynasty; Sisters The Bronte SistersCharlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. In my moments of wool-gathering recently, I reminisced on their contributions to literature, I thought about how these clergyman’s daughters expressed outstanding understanding of society, the passion and insight they give about the realities of their time. Then in my usual frame of reference, I also considered choosing who among them wrote best for social change.

The themes of the Victorian Era novels which to me focused often on romantic love, makes it easy to dismiss some of them as being irrelevant to the present day development discourse, but I think that perspective is not totally right. The Brontë sisters did write about romantic love, but they also wrote about other things. The eldest of the Brontë’s Charlotte did impress me with her Novel Jane Eyre which I have read with pleasure over and over again, offering time to watch and critique the different movies it inspired. More so, Emily Brontë with her only novel Wuthering Heights made my jaws drop; the multi-layered novel that revolves around the wounded soul Heathcliff who is for some a Byronic hero thrilled me with the circles of life and how sometimes it takes a generation dying off before healing happens.

The Brontë sisters wrote about marriage in very romantic ways that continues to appeal to many, we saw male characters of Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre and Heathcliff in Wuthering Height express their love through arrogance, dominance and manipulation, seducing their women and even most of us readers. But all the love in the writing of the two elder sisters did not seduce me; it was Anne Brontë; the less known one, that seduced me.

These sisters who wrote these classics under male Pseudonyms (a reflection of the existing Patriarchal system of their time where women were not encouraged to write), may have tried to keep their feminism off the page, but Audacious Anne couldn’t conform.

anne brontePublished in 1847 Anne’s novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, dared to present a story of an empowered woman Helen Graham who risked it all and walks out of an abusive marriage with her son. Her rebellion against the social norms of that era was revolutionary. Domestic Violence though existing over different era, must have been romanticised at the time, with women not having property rights, income and being complete dependants of their fathers and husbands, it would have taken a lot of guts for a young single mother of a son to pull it off, and Anne Brontë’s character did it confidently to save her son from the corruption of his father.

With the character of Gilbert Markham the hero in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall who will help a victim of violence escape and take no advantage of her vulnerability, Anne shows aversion for violent men. She does not romanticise violence or view badly behaved men with rose tinted glasses as was the practice of writers in her time. Through Gilbert, she projects the model man who will bear no animosity with a woman who says NO even when he is her benefactor. Through Frederick Lawrence she modelled that men who love and care for their immediate and extended families where no lesser men.

It’s not that the act of a woman leaving her husband was new in the novel of that era, in Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff’s wife Isabella also ran away from her husband and this would have me think of Emily Brontë trying to throw a feminist punch, but being that it was not the central conflict in her book, Isabella‘s act held little water. With a matchless audacity, Anne Bronte centralised this in the character of Helen Graham. Not bowing to the prevailing sentiment of her time, she brings to the fore details of how a husband’s alcoholism destroys a home and how the only way to fight and survive his addictions might be to leave.The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

For ages, we have asked the question, why do women stay with abusive partners? In projecting issues of powerlessness and the importance of agency and space for any woman, Anne helps us understand why women stay; she exposes the stigma and discrimination suffered by divorcees and single mothers and their lack of social protection. Addressing this relative poverty and lack of financial freedom women suffered, Virginia Woolf a modernist feminist writer would proudly wrote that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”.

I am thrilled for Anne Brontë because her medieval novel is still relevant in modern times. The challenges of single mothers; their shaming, their discomfited lives of raising a child without a father, the constant judgement of their parental abilities and disdain for maternal authority is still very much alive in our time. This concept of a child being tied to a mother’s apron was introduced by her with an equally matching interpretation:

‘Mrs. Graham had brought her child with her, and on my mother’s expressing surprise that he could walk so far, she replied — ’It is a long walk for him; but I must have either taken him with me, or relinquished the visit altogether; for I never leave him alone; and I think, Mrs. Markham, I must beg you to make my excuses to the Millwards and Mrs. Wilson, when you see them, as I fear I cannot do myself the pleasure of calling upon them till my little Arthur is able to accompany me.’

‘But you have a servant,’ said Rose; ‘could you not leave him with her?’

‘She has her own occupations to attend to; and besides, she is too old to run after a child, and he is too mercurial to be tied to an elderly woman.’

‘But you left him to come to church.’

‘Yes, once; but I would not have left him for any other purpose; and I think, in future, I must contrive to bring him with me, or stay at home.’

‘Is he so mischievous?’ asked my mother, considerably shocked.

‘No,’ replied the lady, sadly smiling, as she stroked the wavy locks of her son, who was seated on a low stool at her feet; ‘but he is my only treasure, and I am his only friend: so we don’t like to be separated.’

‘But, my dear, I call that doting,’ said my plain-spoken parent. ‘You should try to suppress such foolish fondness, as well to save your son from ruin as yourself from ridicule.’

‘Ruin! Mrs. Markham!’

‘Yes; it is spoiling the child. Even at his age, he ought not to be always tied to his mother’s apron-string; he should learn to be ashamed of it.’

‘Mrs. Markham, I beg you will not say such things, in his presence, at least. I trust my son will never be ashamed to love his mother!’ said Mrs. Graham, with a serious energy that startled the company.

In a quiet way, Anne Brontë slipped in an unruly novel to harass the social conventions of the English Upper class society of her time. By challenging the laws of marriage, child custody, and the right of a divorced woman to love again, I think her work contributed instrumentally to making a case and preparing the path for present day consideration of women’s experience in global laws such as The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and other complimentary legal framework at national and state levels.

Being the lesser known of the one, Anne Brontë’s novel written with radical vigour may have been suppressed but not silenced; it will always be on my shelf.

 

Written By~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Who are we Fighting?

fbprofile-gray-dateIt’s Tuesday night, I am still relieving memories of my engagements for the 14th of February. These days, my personal life and my work life seem thick as thieves. I am reading Suey Park’s post sent to me by a friend. Suey says dating can be hard for activists because for people like her “love is not about sacrifice and scarcity but about equality, justice and community.” Hence activist are better dating them self; it is easier for activists to date one another because others would not understand when “you have to attend a street protest at night.” This is arguable but also interesting.

Like her, I spent the day rising with billions of people all over the world for ‘One Billion Rising Campaign’. While women, girls, men and boys can be victims of violence, this campaign focused on women and girls only. With my personal quote ‘Rise up, let’s Silence Violence, not Women’, I talked to friends, using all social media links available to mobilize support for the cause. Rather than ending my day on an ideal candle light dinner table with litters of red roses and wine, I landed in12729_514796935299573_2141952551_n (1) bed tired from the appreciation of my fellow justice seekers and the mockery of my anti-feminist family and friends, one of whom is my brother Godson.  Everything about our action seemed to rob off wrongly for my anti-feminist brother who feels as if I am fighting him and other men. Though I realize that the cause I stood for is far beyond me and him, his perspective provoked a food for thought; what are we fighting? who are we really fighting against? Is it the men, the system or is it those who perpetrate violence against women?

It’s a night after the Valentine’s eve and am getting more clarity to my mind’s questions. Am chatting with my Italian friend Maurizio,

‘I hate the Maman,’  he said to me.

‘Who is the Maman,’ I asked.

‘They are African women exploiting and blackmailing other African women to prostitution… they blackmail these women, with voodoo rites, threatening to kill their relatives in Africa if they do not prostitute’ he explained. ‘In Italy, women are migrated in ships for prostitution…Write an article on this please’ he requested.

Photo by Grain Media

Photo by Grain Media

I have for the past few days pondered and researched on the character of the Maman. Woven around the Maman are stories of young African girls whose minds have been raped by stories of paradise Europe and easily shipped away from family and friends and the  otherwise better life they had. Like mannequins in motion, they stand in stiletto heels, their breasts cupped in painful brassière that remind them that their flesh knows no freedom anymore. The Maman’s are their pimps who smear the windshield of the lives of enslaved prostitutes with fear and illusion buried in an oath with a promise to destroy the lives they left back at home.

Jagua Nana by Cyprian Ekwensi, is one literary book that presents us with a psycho-social case in point for prostitution. It links its characters and narratives to the realities of prostitution in our world. Reviewing it here, we had explored the dynamic sentiments around the flesh for cash business, from the legal, health and the economic angle. Bertolt Bretchs work,images (1) Der gute Mensch von Sezuan (literally translated the good woman of Setzuan) which we also reviewed here, unveiled the Johns behind the mask of prostitution. I am not going back to these lines of thinking.

What provoked me to write this is that unlike most of us will expect, the Mamans are women, not men. Yes, the Italian Mamans (or Madams as they are also called) are African women exploiting the body of other African women. Mamans blackmail their fellow women, throwing them on the sidewalks of prostitution and sometimes get them killed.

Defining Violence as a violation of human right is not new. Subsequent developments in international law and in interpreting CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) have recognized violence as constituting a violation of women’s human rights; that is disproportionately directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately. It includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.

Chatting with Maurizio, I came out thinking that the fight for gender equality and against gender based violence may as well entail women fighting their fellow women for their freedom and well-being. I am trying to be judgmental of the Maman, but again I one-bilion-rising-2ask myself, perhaps there is a vicious circle here? Are Maman’s not also one time victim of the oppressive system of violence they uphold?

Whether victim or not, the reality of this story is that women too are emerging as perpetrators of gender based violence. Women and not just men are in different ways supporting the structure and culture of violence.

A profound truth with implication for feminist interventions like ‘one billion rising’ is the realization that sometimes we must fight our self and not another person. We must dance our self off suckling and keeping faith in any system that rapes our mind and violates our well-being.

I believe in the sacredness of every human soul, in the truth that we can all live an inviolate life. This faith drives my support for social causes like the ‘one billion rising’, standing for justice and equality https://worldpulse.com/pulsewire/exchange/events/61549. Rising against violence for me means standing against the systemic structure that promotes violence and persons that support it, it is not about prejudicing and fighting men specifically. As we rise, we must keep our focus on separating the issue from the people.

Am sparing a thought today for that battered woman who lost her soul to violence, remembering she will never come home again. To her Sons and Daughters, to the women and girls who have sustained scars in their heart, souls and flesh, whose bodies have been weakened and mutilated, I hope you dance. Rise, Release and dance to the non-violent rhythm of freedom.

Come February 14th 2015 and every day of my life, I will continue to rise and dance against systems and actions that promote violence and impunity for persons that perpetrate violence, be they men or women.

fbcover

The Battered Woman

We both came forth from this world as equals.

2582299-chris-brown-rihanna-tattoo-617-409

My name is SHE, I have known HE,

I have a life, but one with fear of HE.

I have left my enemy to define me and my fate,

for everything here has the picture of he on it.

 

HE says I am more beautiful with tattoos of painful

bruises carved by violent and repeated hits.

My experience of  foreplay are, whips, kicks and throws.

My tattoos increase when I differ, when I cry forBody_art,_1907

wanting lovemaking and not sex.

 

They are more when I am rightfully barren

 and worse when I am pregnant.

When I have tattoos on my face, only few ever see it,

The veil of silence masks it.

 

I know I do not want these tattoos,

but my tattoos are justified for nothing has been done to stop it.

SHE is blamed and HE is vindicated.

My only rescue is ssshhhh… msmagazine.comblog20100519abused-women-in-maryland-arent-lying

                                                                                                

 

 

King Kalid Foundation-womens-abuse-english                                                                                 –Written by Adaobi Nkeokelonye (2004)