C. Brontë: Potatoes and an Old Servant

It had become necessary to give Tabby [the Brontë’s servant]—now nearly eighty years of age—the assistance of a girl. Tabby relinquished any of her work with a jealous reluctance, and could not bear to be reminded, though ever so delicately, that the acuteness of her senses was dulled by age. The other servant might not interfere with what she chose to consider her exclusive work. Among other things she reserved to herself the right of peeling the potatoes for dinner; but, as she was growing blind, she often left in those black specks which we in the North call the ‘eyes’ of the potato. Miss [Charlotte] Brontë was too dainty a housekeeper to put up with this: yet she could not bear to hurt the faithful old servant by bidding the younger maiden go over the potatoes again, and so reminding Tabby that her work was less effectual than formerly. Accordingly she would steal into the kitchen, and quietly carry off the bowl of vegetables, without Tabby’s being aware, and, breaking off in the full flow of interest and inspiration in her writing, carefully cut out the specks in the potatoes, and noiselessly carry them back into their place.

—Elizabeth Gaskell, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, reproduced in part in the Norton Critical Edition of Jane Eyre.

This is just some of the behind-the-scenes work Charlotte Brontë did to maintain a serene and orderly home life. According to Gaskell, “… the life is like clockwork … nothing disturbs the deep repose …”

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One comment on “C. Brontë: Potatoes and an Old Servant

  1. Stefanie says:

    What fun! I've heard this is a wonderful book.

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