What can an object tell us about a person’s life? Deborah Lutz investigates the mystery of an amethyst bracelet woven with Emily and Anne Brontë’s hair to explore the rich lives and tragic deaths of the Bronte siblings.
Deborah Lutz | The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects | W.W. Norton | May 2015 | 42 minutes (6,865 words)
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Long neglect has worn away
Half the sweet enchanting smile
Time has turned the bloom to grey
Mould and damp the face defile
But that lock of silky hair
Still beneath the picture twined
Tells what once those features were
Paints their image on the mind.
—Emily Brontë, Untitled Poem
If the Brontës’ things feel haunted in some way, like Emily’s desk and its contents, then the amethyst bracelet made from the entwined hair of Emily and Anne is positively ghost-ridden. Over time the colors have faded, the strands grown stiff and brittle. Charlotte may have asked Emily and Anne for the locks as a gesture of sisterly affection. Or, the tresses were cut from one or both of their corpses, an ordinary step in preparing the dead for burial in an era when mourning jewelry with hair became part of the grieving process. Charlotte must have either mailed the hair to a jeweler or “hairworker” (a title for makers of hair jewelry) or brought it to her in person. Then she probably wore it, carrying on her body a physical link to her sisters, continuing to touch them wherever they were.Continue reading “Death Made Material: The Hair Jewelry of The Brontës”