Letter to Ellen Nussey, dated Swarcliffe, Harrogate, 30 June 1839
Henry H. Bonnell Collection, bequest of Helen Safford Bonnell, 1969
Brontë spent a few months during the summer of 1839 caring for what she called the “riotous, perverse, unmanageable cubs” of the Sidgwick family. Not only did she detest the work, she felt awkwardly marginal within the family circle. She was so ill at ease that she preferred to write this letter (to her close friend Ellen) in pencil rather than venture into the drawing room to procure some ink.
only ask you to imagine the miseries of a reserved wretch like me – thrown at once into the midst of a large Family – proud as peacocks & wealthy as Jews – at a time when they were particularly gay – when the house was filled with Company – all Strangers [–] people whose faces I had never seen before – in this state of things having the charge given me of a set of pampered spoilt & turbulent children – whom I was expected constantly to amuse as well as instruct – I soon found that the constant demand on my stock of animal spirits reduced them to the lowest state of exhaustion – at times I felt and I suppose seemed depressed – to my astonishment I was taken to task on the subject by Mrs Sidgwick with a stern[n]ess of manner & a harshness of language scarcely credible – like a fool I cried most bitterly – I could not help it – my spirits quite failed me at first [–] I thought I had done my best – strained every nerve to please her – and to be treated in that way merely because I was shy – and sometimes melancholy was too bad. At first I was for giving all up and going home –. But after a little reflection I determined – to summon what energy I had and to weather the Storm – I said to myself I