What did our beloved sisters eat in Nineteenth-Century Yorkshire? In the magazine “New Statesman” Bee Wilson, author of an article appeared on January 24th, 2000 under the title “Swill for tea food”, wished that Charlotte ate better than Jane Eyre. All those who have read this very well-known novel may remember that on Sundays, at Lowood, students could only have tea or coffee and milk, and half a slice of bread with a very small portion of butter for breakfast, and for a more considerable “lunch”, they had oat bread – sometimes burnt- and some water. This is what, according to Charlotte-Jane’s words, inevitably caused the death of Helen Burns -killed by tuberculosis and starvation -and the death of many other vulnerable students.
According to Bee Wilson, Charlotte had the same kind of problems with food; affected by dyspepsia -just like her father- Charlotte found the smell of burnt food repulsive for years. Back from Cowan Bridge, everyone at the Parsonage could enjoy Tabby’s meals prepared with care like mutton legs and boiled potatoes, but also tasty cakes and treats. However, even as an adult, Charlotte suffered from liver pains and nausea at the sight of food. After Charlotte’s death, people in Haworth really missed the “puddings and Christmas cakes” that she generously used to distribute – as the author of the article reports; moreover Mr Willson quotes the regional cooking expert Florence White, who affirms in her book that the Brontё sisters used to eat with enthusiasm delicious blueberry cakes stuffed with baked apples juice. Small consolation, isn’t it?
MADDALENA DE LEO