New Responses to the Brontës – Zodwa Nyoni on Finding a Connection with Charlotte

Zodwa Nyoni tells us more about how she found a connection with Charlotte.

I’m standing in the dining room looking down at the small table where Charlotte, Emily and Anne sat around and wrote together.

My desk is situated on the top floor of my house. It is away from everyone. I spend lot of time with the door closed. Writing is a private act for me. The sisters would walk around the table until late at night, reading and discussing their writing plans and projects. My rituals involve big pieces of paper, colored pens, teapots of Earl Grey Tea and pacing late at night to the dismay of my family.

I do not come from a family of writers.

I scribble as I think. The paper ends up on the walls. When you enter the room it is like walking into my mind. I choose who and when to let people into this space.

I’m standing, looking at this small table in an equally small room; trying to imagine three writers in this space. I find the early stages of writing are the most intimate and vulnerable. I think of the trust the Brontës must have had within each other. I think of their closeness.

I’m standing, looking at this table, reading about Charlotte walking in solitude long after Emily and Anne are gone. How did she do it? With such loss in her heart.

As I walk around the rest of the house I find nuggets of Charlotte. Her clothing, portraits, anecdotes of her life and writings on the wall. I know of Jane Eyre, of Wuthering Heights; both half read novels that sit on my shelf. I’ve watched film adaptations. But have not spent time with Charlotte, the woman.

Charlotte, the one who grew from an anxious young poet to renowned novelist. The one whose ambition came up against misogyny and social expectations of women. The one who struggled between teaching to earn a living and yearning to write more often. The one who carried unrequited love for a man she couldn’t be with.

I start to wonder why I didn’t find her earlier. Why I didn’t pull her closer into my own world. I connect with her resilience in character and profession.

I wonder how many female writers I spent time with when I started writing. How many fill my book shelves now in comparison to men.

My 10 year old and 8 year old nieces have started adapting fairytales and placing little black girls at the center of the narratives. I want them to have the resilience to keep writing even when they don’t often see themselves reflected in the stories.

As I leave the parsonage, I’m inspired to write of a young girl discovering her own love of writing. The yearning to tell her story will keep her going against her life’s adversity.

New Responses to the Brontës
7.15pm, Saturday 15 October, Ilkley Playhouse, £6/4
More Information

Or you can see New Responses to the Brontës at Off the Shelf on Friday 14 October, including a special light projection created by Word Life, and Beverley Literature Festival on Tuesday 18 October.