The Brontës, War and Waterloo shows the influence of the Napoleonic era on the literary family

By Edward Lowton | 18 June 2015

The Brontë Society is exploring how the Battle of Waterloo influenced the famous sisters for the 200th anniversary of the Battle

Photo of a painting of a man in armour on a battlefield
‘Terror’ – a painting by Branwell Brontë© Brontë Parsonage Museum
The Brontë family’s fascination with the bloody battles and prominent figures of the Napoleonic era captivated and inspired the siblings and even influenced their writing according to a new exhibition at the Brontë Parsonage Museum timed to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

“Although the Napoleonic battles took place far from the moors of Yorkshire, the Brontës had access to military accounts in periodicals and newspapers,” says Ann Dinsdale, Collections Manager.

“Their imaginations were fuelled by what they read and they recreated events with toy soldiers, transforming the Napoleonic campaigns into exciting fantasy sagas.”

Included in the exhibition are a fragment of Napoleon’s coffin, given to Charlotte Brontë in Brussels; a letter to Patrick Brontë from the Duke of Wellington and a fragment from Charlotte Brontë’s History of the Year 1829 recounting the moment when Branwell Brontë showed his new toy soldiers to his sisters who named them Wellington and Napoleon.

Photo of a drawing of a man in bed with a skeleton standing over him
Branwell Brontë's caricature of himself being summoned by death (circa 1847)© Public Domain
Brontë scholar Emma Butcher, who assisted in the curation, believes the exhibition presents the work of the Brontë siblings in a new light and establishes them as “significant post-war authors”.

“The violent, masculine landscapes of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre can be traced back to the Brontës’ early engagement with militarism and warfare,” she adds.

The war certainly formed a background to the Brontë’s writing, Emily hinted at a military background for Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, “His upright carriage suggested the idea of his having been in the army,” says Butcher, while Charlotte’s The Green Dwarf, written aged 17, depicts Napoleon’s encounter with a spectre.

The Brontës, War and Waterloo Will run until January 3 2016, for more information visit, www.bronte.org.uk.

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