Thursday, 18 December 2008


A while ago, I read about something which English critic GH Lewes said to Charlotte Brontë about her writing; his original letter has not remained but this is what she replied:
To G. H. Lewes, Esq.

"Nov. 6th, 1847.

"Dear Sir, - Your letter reached me yesterday; I beg to assure you, that I appreciate fully the intention with which it was written, and I thank you sincerely both for its cheering commendation and valuable advice.

"You warn me to beware of melodrama, and you exhort me to adhere to the real. When I first began to write, so impressed was I with the truth of the principles you advocate, that I determined to take Nature and Truth as my sole guides, and to follow in their very footprints; I restrained imagination, eschewed romance, repressed excitement; over-bright colouring, too, I avoided, and sought to produce something which should be soft, grave, and true.

"My work (a tale in one volume) being completed, I offered it to a publisher. He said it was original, faithful to nature, but he did not feel warranted in accepting it; such a work would not sell. I tried six publishers in succession; they all told me it was deficient in 'startling incident' and 'thrilling excitement,' that it would never suit the circulating libraries, and, as it was on those libraries the success of works of fiction mainly depended, they could not undertake to publish what would be overlooked there.

"Jane Eyre was rather objected to at first, on the same grounds, but finally found acceptance.

"I mention this to you, not with a view of pleading exemption from censure, but in order to direct your attention to the root of certain literary evils. If, in your forthcoming article in Frazer, you would bestow a few words of enlightenment on the public who support the circulating libraries, you might, with your powers, do some good.

"You advise me, too, not to stray far from the ground of experience, as I become weak when I enter the region of fiction; and you say, 'real experience is perennially interesting, and to all men.'

"I feel that this also is true; but, dear Sir, is not the real experience of each individual very limited? And, if a writer dwells upon that solely or principally, is he not in danger of repeating himself, and also of becoming an egotist? Then, too, imagination is a strong, restless faculty, which claims to be heard and exercised: are we to be quite deaf to her cry, and insensate to her struggles ? When she shows us bright pictures, are we never to look at them, and try to reproduce them ? And when she is eloquent, and speaks rapidly and urgently in our ear, are we not to write to her dictation?

"I shall anxiously search the next number of Fraser for your opinions on these points. - Believe me, dear Sir, yours gratefully,

"C. Bell."

I strongly agree with Ms. Brontë and the power of imagination. Yet at the same time, we see how great masterpieces are nearly always created after years of lifetime experience. We hear of the great detail which goes into a genius' research before he is ready to begin the creative process. I have so often felt stymied by my own lack of experience when I want to write something.

Recently, I have been unable to write anything other than that relating to myself. Everything I seem to produce is centred around me, my world and my emotions. I try to base a story in a single experience, one which could almost be universal and completely incontrollably it pours out into rapidly typed words all about me, me, me. Even I am almost bored of reading about me!

Something I have thought is that you don't need the real, physical experience to create something. All you need is the emotion, that feeling of joy, anger, grief, whatever and the rest can come from there. But still that does not seem to be working because all I can do is reflect on my own emotions. How do you find out how someone entirely different to yourself would react to that same emotion.

As Brontë says, of course it is the imagination. But what happens when our imagination, our muse, does not come? When she does not whisper in our ears a fantastical story of a whole new world to explore? Or can writing, even if it is autobiographical, use the imagination in its choice of words, and how it flows?


  1. Bronte was a genius. But I wonder how many great works are out there that got passed over...

  2. If the muse doesn't come you court her. You read The Artist's Way. You take your artist on dates. You frequent where you muses are likely to show up. You keep showing up and the page and show your muses you are dedicated and are willing to write crap if that is what it takes and if you keep doing that I promise they will show up. Also, best not to tell the muses that you don;t like what they have inspired you to write about. That makes them grumpy and then they are likely to go on holiday.

  3. Brilliant, I hadn't come across that letter before. I know exactly what you mean, I have written a few fairy tale type stories but though set in worlds alternative to this, on reading back I noticed they are direction reflections of my personal views and feelings.

    It's for this reason that I have always thought myself not ready to begin the novel I know I will write. I feel that I don't know enough, am not good enough.. but maybe we should use our self-indulgent notions? It represents a stage in life that perhaps would be interesting to preserve?

    I would love to read some of your writing sometime :)

  4. Argh, where did my reply go???

    Anyway - interesting point Sarah Edwina Rose.

    I think if you look under the label 'look what I made', I might have posted a couple of pieces of writing on my blog


  5. When that happens, we go with what we know: ourselves.

    It's valid to write about youyouyou.