23 November - Frances Brown(e) (1816-1879) Jul 14, 2008 22:04:56 GMT 2
Post by moira on Jul 14, 2008 22:04:56 GMT 2
Frances Brown(e) (1816 - 1879)
From The Australian Emigrant (1848?)
by Frances Brown(e)
A bark went forth, with the morning's smile,
That bore the maids of the western isle
Far, where the southern summers shine
On the glorious world beyond the line.
Theirs was a weary lot of toil,
And their hopes were turned to a better soil,
While their tears were shed for the island-shore --
They should look on its greenness never more.
But one was there -- who shed no tears --
A girl, in the blossom of her years; --
Yet bloom had she none from the roses caught,
For her cheek was withered with early thought, --
And her young brow bore the written doom
Of a lonely heart and a distant tomb; --
But still, in the light of her starry eye,
There shone a glory that could not die.
Silent she gazed on the shore and sea, --
And here her glance was bright and free,
Like a spirit's, bound by no kindred ties, --
(For she had none beneath the skies)
Till the mountains faded in misty blue, -
And louder the grief around her grew.
Then, turned the maid to that mourning throng, --
And poured the power of her soul in song!
How sadly mixed was that parting strain,
That told of the talent given in vain,
And the wisdom born of deep despair: --
With the tone of triumph blending there,
Throught the faintest fall and through the wildest swell
Was heard the voice of the heart's farewell, --
As if the dream on her memory hung
Of a wasted love -- and thus she sung: --
'Whence flow these floods of sorrows? --
O, my gentle sisters, tell --
Do the heart's deep fountains send their streams
To bid the land farewell?
Like a shadow passing from us
Is each mighty mountain brow, --
But earth -- the wide green earth -- is ours, -
We have no country now.
But, oh! the od home track,
Where our first affections rest.
Alas! no time shall give them back ...
Our earliest and our best.
Oh! man may grieve to sever
From the hearth or from the soil, --
For still some hope, some right, was his,
Which lived through want and toil; --
The dwellers of the forest,
They may mourn their leafy laid; --
But why should woman weep her land?
She has no portion there.
Woe -- woe for deeds of worth,
That were only paid with ill --
For to _her_ the homes of earth
Are the house of bondage, still.
A little biography paraphrased from Margaret Reynolds and Angela Leighton's Victorian Women Poets: An Anthology (from which I took the above text):
Frances Brown(e) is one of those poets who is taken up by the wealthy as a poor and intelligent person who has somehow educated herself. She was also blind (poor woman) and that appealed to her patrons too: she was called 'the blind poetess of Ulster.'
Frances Browne's great-grandfather is said to have been a man of considerable property which he squandered so that by the generation before hers, her father was a village postmaster in County Donegal, Ireland. She did not go to school and as a result of smallpox when she was 18 months old, she was blinded and scarred for life. She is said to have learnt by listening to her
brothers read their lessons aloud, and when her sister went to school trained the sister to become her amanuensis and guide. Brown(e) must have been strongly determined. At 15 she began to write. By that time she had listened to Hume's History of England, a universal history, much of Byron's Childe Harold. At age 24 she began to listen to Irish poems and send compositions of her own to Irish Penny Journal and Athenaeum. The editor of the latter got Brown(e) a yearly pension of £20; in 1847 she moved to Edinburgh, in 1852, to London. Known as "the blind poetess" and marvelled at for "her conquest of knowledge and wisdom" (so wrote someone in an appendix to Men of the Time called "Women of the Time"), she was patronized (supported and her work put in print) by a group of English patrons, most notably Lord Lansdowne.
Brown(e)'s early verse wove folk themes; then she wrote of histories and legends. The Australian Emigrant was based on "real-life stories" told Brown(e) by the Irish who left Ireland and England for what they hoped would be a better life in Australia.
* * *
Brown(e) was the innocent occasion of a small scandal Frances Hodgson Burnett got herself into. One of Brown(e)'s books, a volume of tales for children, Granny's Wonderful Chair (1857) was hugely popular in he mid- to later Victorian period. When Frances Hodgson Burnett was a child in the US, Granny's Wonderful Chair was Burnett's favorite book. Or so Burnett said when years later Burnett was approached by a magazine for some children's stories, and Burnett retold Brown(e)'s stories without making it clear the stories were not her own. Burnett was then charged with plagiarism. Burnett defended herself by saying that she had lost her copy of Browne(e)'s and was retelling what she had remembered listening to when young. Burnett is still known for her novels for adolescents,e.g. The Secret Garden and The Little Princess. However, she also wrote novels for adults which are today being republished by Persephone, and she wrote for the stage too (The Little Princess was originally a stageplay by her.
* * *
Brown(e) has partly pictured herself in her woman singer emigrant who says she has no nationality, no pemanent ties (kindred), no land, is disenfranchised sheerly because she is a woman. She was an "emigrant" in London: Irish, poor, blind, uprooted necessarily in order to survive and have a decent fulfilling life.
Frances Brown(e)'s The Australian Emigrant first caught my eye when I was reading Anthony Trollope's Australia and New Zealand (and had just finished Patrick White's A Fringe of Leaves, a historical novel set in Australia in the 1830s). I was at the time thinking about writing a post-colonialist type paper focusing on Trollope, but I got into reading memoirs by British women of the 19th century where they travelled and also set up new homes in Canada, the US, Australia, and South Africa. Many of them witnessed this strong feeling of not belonging anywhere for sure or permanent, of having no nationality or land that was permanently theirs to hold. This sense of disenfranchisement coheres with Carole Pateman's book, The Sexual Contract where she argues men are attached to society for and by themselves; women only through men and their families run by men. In any case in the 19th century women could not own any property in their own right except after becoming widows and then only if a strong settlement had been made and they had relatives who could back them. There's a powerful short story by Trollope, "Journey to Panama," about a woman sent to Latin America to marry someone who was said to be rich. What happens is when she arrives, he has died and she is intensely relieved and now hopes to be left alone as the man left her some money (part of the bargain). Jane Campion's movie, The Piano is another such story -- only in hers the woman ends happily married to a white man who went native. Trollope's story is the more probable, even if it has a happy ending too.
Browne's poem is typical of many Victorian women's poems: sentimental, emotional, and carefully detached from real people so as to be sure not to be elicit any easy dismissal or criticism (and castigation).