Last night I attended the monthly meeting of my local writers group (ACFW-Minnesota). Everyone shared what they were working on or celebrating, we discussed plotting, and then we hung out and talked for an hour after the official meeting ended. It’s so satisfying to spend time with people who “get” you!
Then today, I stumbled across something I’d somehow missed before. I learned that two of my favorite 19th century authors were friends. I know I talk a lot a lot about Jane Austen, but I admire the work of Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell as well. They were both clergymen’s daughters, both went on to marry clergymen, and both were writers in Victorian England. Elizabeth Gaskell wrote one of my favorite novels/mini series, North and South (as well as Cranford and Wives and Daughters). Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre had a strong impact on me as a girl and no doubt influenced what I write today.
Mrs. Gaskell was acquainted with several authors. Guests to her home in Manchester, England, included Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and others. We know that Charlotte Brontë stayed with the Gaskell’s at least three times. The two became close friends, although Charlotte was often shy around other people. On one occasion, Charlotte hid behind the Gaskell’s drawing room curtains because she was too shy to meet an unexpected visitor to the house. (Many writers are introverts, after all.)
When Charlotte died at the age of 38, her father asked Mrs. Gaskell to write her biography, and Elizabeth did so. The Life of Charlotte Brontë was published in 1857. The biography focuses more on Brontë as a woman than as a writer, perhaps evidence of how well Elizabeth knew Charlotte personally. Gaskell has been accused of idealizing her friend, but I think there’s something endearing about one novelist writing an affectionate biography of another.
“If we would build on a sure foundation in friendship, we must love our friends for their sakes rather than for our own.”
― Charlotte Brontë
These women knew what I have learned during the course of my writing journey: It is good to share life with like-minded friends.
Writing can be a solitary existence―in the past, and now. But friendship is the antidote. Learning about the relationship between these two women makes me realize how grateful I am to share this writing life with friends–the authors on this blog, all of you who read it, as well as others I have come to know online or in person. So, I’m sending you all hugs and thanks today!
Who are the friends you wouldn’t want to travel without through this life?