The Arctic Explorer
- An 'Anne Brontë' Monologue -
by Maria Elena Torres
Introduction my Mick Armitage
Below is the openning section of an, as yet, unfinished play about Anne Brontë, by New York playwright, Maria Torres. The setting is Anne's home - the Parsonage in Haworth, England. The date is December 22, 1848; the day of Emily's funeral. It is now late evening, and Anne enters the parlor (living/dining room) alone. She lights the lamp on the table, takes a seat beside it, and becomes engrossed in her thoughts . . .
The scene: the dimly lit Parsonage parlor
The table that is usually displayed in the Brontë Parsonage Museum parlor is from Charlotte's later years. However, this picture shows the original, earlier table - on which Anne and Emily wrote their novels. The photograph was taken a few years ago when the table was on loan, from a private collection, to the museum. On the left is Anne's writing desk; and in the centre, the 'tin box' in which she and Emily kept their diary papers.
|THE ARCTIC EXPLORER
TIME AND PLACE
Parsonage parlor at Haworth, Yorkshire, England. December 1848 through end of May, 1849.
A small, cozy room, plainly furnished, plainly serving several functions from informal study to leisure. Pictures and books clutter most of the wall and/or flat surfaces in the room. Some of these pictures are of family members. Of these, Branwell's and Emily's portraits are draped in black. The room contains a fireplace, a bureau against a wall and an oblong table at center, with four chairs pushed under it. There is also a plain sofa against the wall. The table lacks a cloth, though the wood is highly-polished. The windows lack curtains, though they are shuttered. When the shutters are opened, the view is of a small, ancient church surrounded by a crush of equally-ancient gravestones. This makes the room look all the more inviting from the contrast.
The scene opens on the room in darkness, with only the moonlight coming through the window.
(Livingroom of the Parsonage, December 22, 1848. Late night. Moonlight shines in from window.
ANNE enters, well wrapped against the chill. Lights the lamp on the table. Sits at table, moves some papers away. Folds hands together. Concentrates on them. After a few moments, her concentration grows more intense, then impatient).
Where are You? Now, when I need You more than ever, must You hide? Or do You just not want to come?
(Unclasps her hands).
No. That's the easy way, blaming Him. He isn't responsible for your weakness. You know who is. Don't ask questions, why can't you learn that? No questions means no doubts, no doubts mean no probes, no holes in the faith.
(Looks at window).
Well, it's too late for praying and foolishness, anyway. Past time for bed. All you need is Charlotte wandering down and seeing you. You'll be mothered and hovered over within an inch of your life. Such as it is.
(Stands, looks at chair. Goes to it, strokes its back, then closes her hand on it).
Emmy? Emmy? We put you in the earth today. Did you know it? Did you watch? Maybe you already have other concerns. Or maybe you're just dead. Papa didn't give the sermon. Well, he couldn't; it would have been too much for him. Uncle Morgan did it. Frankly, I have to say he did better with Branwell. I suppose that would be logical. Everyone knew Branwell; no one knew you. You saw to that.
Still the morning had its moments. You would have laughed; Papa brought Keeper to the service. You should have seen it, Emmy, it was wonderful. He was such a good boy. The largest living creature in the room, his head came almost up to Papa's, and it's twice as big. And, of course, that took care of where anyone was going to look. After all, it was rare enough to see you in the church, let alone your dog. Everyone's so used to see him terrorize all the other animals, or guarding you like an ogre. And there he was, sitting on the aisle, quiet, pious, a little sad, listening to Uncle Morgan as if he could understand every word. Oh, he had a much better demeanor than you ever did of a Sunday morning. Then we all came home and he went straight up to your room. He only just stopped howling about two hours ago. Poor creature.
(She pauses and strains her attention to listen to the silence, which is broken only by the slow rhythmic ticking of the grandfather clock on the hall-way stairs. Satisfied, she goes to the hearth, strikes a light and starts a fire. Moves to big rocking chair and settles herself into it).
There. Much better. I should fix myself a cup of warm milk; I'd be asleep in a minute. Then Charlotte will come down in the morning and nag.
Now, then. Be fair. Fret. Care. She's been through so much, she has to ease herself somehow. We all do. Keeper howls. Papa works. Charlotte frets.
I suppose it would be best to forego the warm milk. It would be even better to go upstairs.
(Starts to get up, then settles back).
In a bit. Such a comfortable chair. You should have died here instead of on the sofa, Emmy. It is your chair, after all.
Every time I sat here today, Charlotte got upset. I don't know if she wants to make it a shrine to you, if she thinks people contract consumption by sitting in former victim's chairs, or if I just remind her too much and too soon of you.
(Puts her feet on the hearth fender, rocks the chair gently, rests her head back against the back of the chair and closes her eyes).
I feel like an old grandmamma. I should be working on some knitting. A lovely woolen cloak for my own dear grandchild. Blue. Red. No. Green. Heather-green to match his large, bright eyes. Her eyes. Your eyes, Emmy.
I wonder would it have been my daughter's son or my son's daughter. I wonder would I have had a son or a daughter. Maybe both. Why not? Why stop at one when you have none?
(Settles more into the chair, hums a few bars of "Green Sleeves". After a bit, stops and listens).
So quiet. Inside and outside I don't know how Charlotte lives with all the heat jangling inside her heart. That sort of thing burned Branwell to death, and I know it killed you, too, Emily, for all you were so distant these last months. I watched your eyes. They were always glittering. You thought you were so successfully inscrutable all your small life, but it isn't true. With a glance, anyone could read your feelings like a book. Just because you made us afraid, it doesn't mean we didn't know why. We knew. If you wanted us afraid and far away, Emmy, you certainly succeeded. But there was no mysterious force. You hurt, Emmy, very badly. You scarred Charlotte for life before you left us. She's like Keeper now, a fierce, wounded animal. Poor Charlotte.
She's done everything these past few days. It isn't like after Branwell. She won't let me lift a finger since the day you passed. I think she thinks I'm made of glass. She doesn't seem to remember I spent a number of years working for a living, and that I'm perfectly capable of getting through a day's worth of chores.
That's rather funny, isn't' it, when she's the fragile one. She's the one who collapsed in September; she couldn't even go to Branny's funeral. That's funny, too, because his death was so much easier to watch than yours. It was a relief to let him go, he was so miserable and wasted. You weren't wasted, Emmy, though you did waste.
Branny was always reaching out his hand across the chasm. We stopped taking hold. We reached out to you, but you strode away into the void. Where are you now? God forgives fools easily, and He'll cleanse Branwell, I know it. But you were no fool. You died dealing pain. Didn't that hurt you, too? It must have: when you strike out, you hit yourself as well as your victim. Look how deep a blow you gave yourself. All the way into the grave. It was willful, your death. It was a suicide, and that -
Where are you now? I wonder should I pray for you, light a candle like the Catholics. Would you need that? Would He be so cruel that He would demand groveling and melted wax, and craven bargaining before making an effort on your behalf? It should be enough to let Him know we care what happens to you. Can I reach you through Him? Can I reach Him?
He doesn't seem to want to listen to me.
I thought, for a while, I'd found Him. I thought we had found what He'd meant us to do. Oh, I thought Charlotte was crazy when she made us try, but she was right. No matter what you felt, Emmy, it was the brightest idea she's had in her whole bright-thinking life. No matter what you felt, you knew it, or you never would have sent anything out. Not you. Never. You wanted your words out there as much as she did.
And I did.
To write a book. To publish a book. People buy it; they come to you, pay for you. You don't have to drag them kicking and screaming into a schoolroom, or bore them to tears and further mischief with lectures. You're no paid servant, a stranger in a stranger's home, drilling holes in the rocks that are brains of your charges. You're a welcome guest. They take you home. They sit you on their laps before the hearth. You tell them a story. Like a mother to a child. The lesson comes wrapped in the plot, and you both have all the time in the world to whisper it to them and for them to listen, all the pages you want, if the tale's good enough. Everyone likes to be told stories. You can instruct them painlessly and repeatedly, at their leisure; at their pleasure. What a fantastic way to teach! And you can finish by teaching the whole world, if you're lucky. Now there's a mission for you.
What a marvelous thing, to find your reason for being.
I wonder now, where did it get to? I haven't lifted a pen since you caught that last cold. Maybe …
Because it was after we published that it started falling out between all of us. Then, maybe, it wasn't right. Oh, Emmy, maybe if we had never found voices in the world, you'd still be here. I know we wouldn't have had those fights. Unforgivable words. Unforgivable silence, and now you're gone.
(Shudders suddenly and bolts out of chair. Calls:)
(Brings herself down to a whisper).
No. No Charlotte. Calm. Calm. That would cheer her up, having her one remaining sister and only sane member of the family crash into her while shrieking about our dead sister. She'd have to lock you up for your own safety. Fuel for further fiction: Jane Eyre, the Continuation, wherein Mr. Rochester drives Jane mad, and moves her into the cellar, after which he flees to America, meets Mr. Waldo Emerson and becomes a Transcendentalist. What do you think, Emmy? Do you like it? I'd suggest it to her, except she'd "break me pate across", to quote Uncle Hugh. Touch her precious Jane. It's precious little she's done on the new book. Well, maybe now that things have settled . . . I wonder is she awake in her room, talking to you like this. She'd want to give it a try. So much to tell each other. So much to say and all too late. No one wants to listen.
(Gives herself a mental check).
Better. When in doubt, a little sarcasm brings one back to sanity.
(Brings herself back to the chair, but then retreats from it. Goes to the sofa, then backs away from it).
Oh. This is intelligent. Sane, are you? Have a seat. Go on.
(Moves to chair again. Stands before it for a moment).
Are you worried? You're a fool, Annie Brontë. Even if she were there, what would she do to you? She was your sister. Besides, it was Charlotte she was angry at. She just ignored you. At the end, anyway. She's no further from you now than she was then. Just as much emptiness when you spoke to her and she was in front of you.
It used not to be empty. It used to be a silence so full of delicious secrets, so close between us, I could feel your thoughts even when I was six months and seventy miles away. I'd come back home to find we'd been working on the same tales. Words needed to be only the briefest syllables to each other. But since September, I cast ream after ream at you, while you never bothered to catch them.
You said the world had hardened me, but you were Gibraltar. You were a diamond; you had to be the hardest substance imaginable, to watch Charlotte tag after you with her soul in her eyes, and to give nothing. Callous as I may have grown, I hope I'd never do that.
In any case, if I have grown harsh, it was being out in the world that caused it. There's no choice. It was mean of you, Emmy, throwing things in my face. You wrung my heart with Heathcliff and Cathy. I remember that day you wrote for them, when I lost my shoe on the moor. I remember the wild roaming with you, one for all and all for one. And I remember the glances you shot at me when you had civilization steal Cathy away from Heathcliff. And your tiny, mocking smile. Do you know how much it cost me to smile back and sit quiet when I want to . . .
But I can sit quiet. I can go more and more calm with each degree of anger you climb at my quiet. With each wrench you gave my heart. You couldn't goad me, Emmy. I've been a governess: I've been goaded by experts. If that grows a good, strong shell, I'm sorry; that's the way of it. What was your excuse? You did what you wanted: You stayed home. You and Papa had the house to yourselves. The only demand on your time were the household chores, and, no, I don't say that was light duty; I know it isn't. But they can be done at your pace, and in solitude. No one interrupted your explorations. You had no conflicts, except whatever you gave yourself.
Well. Well, of course, that life can make a shell, too. Like a chick drawing back into its egg and nestling down into the hay. That's a fragile enough shell. Poor Emmy, and you so brave and strong. Only no. You couldn't have been if that . . .
Did my stone heart shatter your shell? O, dear Lord, did I do that to you?
(Begins an agitated pace around the table, stops short, anchors herself into position).
Stop it. Don't lose your head, but face up to it. If you caused this, there'll be a penance, or you'll never see Heaven.
Is this why He won't answer you? How can he give you strength and help your faith if it's dropped out of you, and you didn't even notice it? What did you do? What's the judgment? Wait.
(Secures the warm wrap around her, goes to window and opens the shutter. Looks out on snow-covered graveyard and church).
All right. All right. Look out there. That's where Emily is. But it couldn't have been her fault to start with. Branwell's there. I was sure he was the cause, how he destroyed himself. Ah, but he couldn't have done that if not for you, my girl, could he have? You brought him to that house. That's right. It must have started when Aunt died. Yes, because you still felt the old way then. Those were still the days when words could hit dead on target and you'd show the effect in face and form.
. . . .