My article in Bronte Studies

My article in Bronte Studies
My article

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

A wonderful review of Charlotte Brontë's Devotee in Brontë Studies

I couldn't be more thrilled than to read the review of Charlotte Bronte's Devotee in the autumn edition of Brontë Studies written by its editor, Amber Adams. In her editorial piece, she refers to him as 'that splendid man William Smith Williams'.

Bronte Society Members can access the review through the members area of the website. Otherwise, it is available to read through Taylor and Francis on-line.

Here is the opening paragraph of the review:

You can buy Charlotte Brontë’s Devotee by following this link 

Friday, 24 July 2020

My William Smith Williams blog

I am so pleased that this blog continues to welcome a good number of visits each day. 
I have included in it my research into the life of William Smith Williams as it progressed over four years of exploring archives. The fruits of that research were gathered together, first, in the article I wrote for Brontë Studies, and this has been downloaded a gratifying number of times. 

There is then the book itself which has received some wonderful reviews, and is available in both paperback and Kindle editions. 
William’s home in Kensington where he and his family entertained Charlotte Brontë 

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Reduced price of Kindle edition until Easter

I have reduced the price of the Kindle edition for the period up until Easter in case there are Brontë lovers, stuck at home at the moment, who are quite interested in William Smith Williams, but not interested enough to buy the paperback at £9.95!
My purpose in writing the book was to get William’s story better known. In this, I was thrilled to have had an article accepted by Brontë Studies, which has now been downloaded over 100 times; my blog on the article has had 900 views. 

Monday, 23 March 2020

Belgravia and William

Charlotte Bronte wrote of seeing William and some of his children at a Ball. Having seen William's relatively modest house, I wondered what such an event might have been like. If you are watching Julian Fellows’ Belgravia on ITV, you may gain a sense of the social life on the fringe of which William and his family lived.

I was fascinated to find another connection with my current work in progress which, amongst much else, looks at aspects of the industrial revolution. Fellows has a character who as a young man owns a cotton mill in Manchester importing raw cotton from India. I am discovering the huge impact that the cotton industry had.
A third connection is with another of my books, MacRoberts Reply. Alexander MacRobert went as a young man in 1870 to Cawnpore in India (known as the Manchester of India) where he grew the British India Corporation with interests in all manner of textiles.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

William Smith Williams and Women

William Smith Williams was a son of the 19th century, and so we may expect to see in him attitudes from a society where women are viewed as second class. Is this though what the evidence reveals? In my writing of Charlotte Bronte’s Devotee (CBD) I came across quite a lot which sheds helpful light.

His mother died when he was aged ten, or thereabouts. He had an older brother, my great grandfather. His father was in business with a woman, Mary Nethersole the widow of the former owner of their wax and tallow chandler’s business. He had an aunt, Rebecca, but I found no evidence of contact with her. He had an extended family in Oxfordshire; certainly one maiden aunt, great-aunt Susanna, is mentioned. The truth is we know little of his childhood until he came within the embrace of the Hill family at Broxbourne.  The father, Francis Hill, was a rather austere school master and cleric. He and his wife had four daughters, one of whom, Margaret, William married and another became the wife of  William’s close friend, Charles Wells. I see the close relationship with the Hill family underscored when William and Margaret return to Broxbourne for the baptisms of their first three children. They became William’s family.

During his apprenticeship, William met John Keates and his poem about Keats, written after his death, perhaps offers ambiguity in its import. William writes ‘Mixt admiration fills my heart, not can I tell which most to love – the Poet or the Man’. (CBD p.30.) A decade later, William was in a social circle with radicals George Lewes and Thornton Hunt, and there are suggestions of a somewhat alternative way of life in the form of open marriage, certainly enjoyed by Lewes until he became the long term partner of George Eliot. (CBD p.66.)

We know most about William from the letters Charlotte Bronte wrote to him. Although she was writing as Currer Bell to disguise her gender, I believe that, from early on, William suspected that she was a woman. I infer from her letters that he treated her in every sense as an equal, unlike George Lewes whose laboured attention to her gender caused her great annoyance. (CBD p.140.) Women move to the centre stage when he writes to her about his four daughters, most particularly the profession they should follow, since he clearly does not want them to be beholden to a husband. He wants for them, independence.

There is perhaps a contrast when William thinks of his wife, and that he observes the absence of close friendship. (CBD p.139.) It may be that Margaret didn’t have close friends, or perhaps that William was too busy to notice. We do know that Margaret had strong family relationships as evidenced by letters to sisters in New Zealand. William would have experienced nothing of this kind.

We see William having professional relationships with a number of women. Mrs Lynn Linton was critical of him, perhaps for not publishing her manuscript. (CBD p.66) Elizabeth Gaskell looked to him for reassurance. (CBD p.180) He had a portrait of George Eliot on the wall of his office. (CBD p.184). In 1874 Millicent Fawcett wrote to William to ask his advice on publishing her novel, Janet Doncaster, asking whether she should publish it anonymously given her other writing on Political Economy. (CBD p.210)

Possibly the most difficult area comes with John Ruskin for whom William published his later writing on political economy and education, particularly the education of women. It is here where we confront attitudes that are so far adrift from contemporary thinking that it is difficult to get near. Having said this, Ruskin was advocating the education of women and not just for the home. (CBD p.205) It was only that it was education different to that available for men.

We can finally look at William’s legacy for evidence. (CBD ch12.) Jane Eyre shines bright at his belief in talent irrespective of gender. His youngest daughter was a celebrated and well regarded concert soprano. His eldest daughter was wife to a celebrated portrait painter Lowes Dickinson and mother to equally celebrated sons, Sir Arthur, an accountant, and Goldie one of the thinkers behind the League of Nations. For Goldie, his mother was the perfect woman. William’s two other daughters lived their adult lives as independent women, one a widow and the other divorced, but both gainfully employed.

Margaret Dickinson

Monday, 10 February 2020

Review in Brontë Gazette

I was thrilled by this review in the Brontë Gazette:
I reproduce this with permission from the Brontë Society. Patsy Stoneman is an acclaimed literary critic who specialises in 19th-century English novel. She is Reader in English at the University of Hull.
You can buy Charlotte Brontë's Devotee from The Bronte Society and on Amazon.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Review of Mother of the Brontës by Sharon Wright

Sharon Wright’s Mother of the Brontës is a book as sensitive as it is thorough.

It is, in truth, a love story, and, as with so many true love stories, the end is desperately sad. In arriving at this point, though, Sharon weaves a most engaging tale, drawing on Maria’s wonderful letters. I found myself laughing at them, as I read about half forgotten feelings in romance conducted by letter. She paints a lively picture of 18th century Penzance for the well to do. Her images of early 19th century travel are as vivid, as they are uncomfortable. Her Yorkshire is cold and grey, with the occasional break in the cloud to reveal Maria's wonderful social grace.

Having read it, I can much better understand Charlotte, scarred as she was by witnessing so much pain and sadness at such a young age. I can also sympathise more with Patrick. It is a ‘must’ for Bronte fans.