Maria Branwell, Mother of the Brontës & A Poem by Sarah Fyge Egerton, 17th-Century Feminist

In this episode, Roli Okorodudu reads The Emulation, a poem by 17th-century poet Sarah Fyge Egerton about the oppression of women by men, and Naomi Clifford interviews Sharon Wright about the life of Maria Branwell, the mother of the Brontë sisters, who died of cancer in her 30s.

Sarah Fyge Egerton: The Emulation

Roli Okorodudu reads The Emulation by the feminist poet Sarah Fyge Egerton (c.1670–1723), published in Poems on Several Occasions (1703).

Image: Minerva and the Muses (1788). Francesco Bartolozzi RA, (1728–1815) after Giovanni Battista Cipriani RA, (1727–1785). Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

The Emulation by Sarah Fyge Egerton

Say, Tyrant Custom, why must we obey
The impositions of thy haughty Sway;
From the first dawn of Life, unto the Grave,
Poor Womankind’s in every State, a Slave.
The Nurse, the Mistress, Parent and the Swain,
For Love she must, there’s none escape that Pain;
Then comes the last, the fatal Slavery,
The Husband with insulting Tyranny
Can have ill Manners justify’d by Law;
For Men all join to keep the Wife in awe.
Moses who first our Freedom did rebuke,
Was Marry’d when he writ the Pentateuch;
They’re Wise to keep us Slaves, for well they know,
If we were loose, we soon should make them so.
We yield like vanquish’d Kings whom Fetters bind,
When chance of War is to Usurpers kind;
Submit in Form; but they’d our Thoughts control,
And lay restraints on the impassive Soul:
They fear we should excel their sluggish parts,
Should we attempt the Sciences and Arts;

Pretend they were design’d for them alone,
So keep us Fools to raise their own Renown;
Thus Priests of old their Grandeur to maintain,
Cry’d vulgar Eyes would sacred Laws Profane.
So kept the Mysteries behind a Screen,
There Homage and the Name were lost had they been seen:
But in this blessed Age, such Freedom’s given,
That every Man explains the Will of Heaven;
And shall we Women now sit tamely by,
Make no excursions in Philosophy,
Or grace our Thoughts in tuneful Poetry?
We will our Rights in Learning’s World maintain,
Wit’s Empire, now, shall know a Female Reign,
Come all ye Fair, the great Attempt improve,
Divinely imitate the Realms above:
There’s ten celestial Females govern Wit,
And but two Gods that dare pretend to it;
And shall these finite Males reverse their Rules,
No, we’ll be Wits, and then Men must be Fools.

line drawing of patrick and maria bronte on their wedding day in 1812

Maria Branwell Brontë (1783–1821)

The chances of Cornish gentlewoman Maria Branwell even meeting the poor Irish curate Patrick Brontë in Regency England, let alone falling passionately in love, were remote. Yet Maria and Patrick did meet, making a life together as devoted lovers and doting parents in the heartland of the industrial revolution. An unlikely romance and novel wedding were soon followed by the birth of six children. It is time to bring her out of the shadows, along with her overlooked contribution to the Brontë genius.

Discover what books and magazines Maria read and how young Charlotte used them to entertain her school friends, the extraordinary ‘triple wedding’ coordinated between Yorkshire and Cornwall, and the tragedy of Maria’s early death.

Journalist, playwright and author Sharon Wright was born in Bradford and lives in London. Her first book was Balloonomania Belles.

You can contact Sharon Wright through her website sharon-wright-agency.co.uk.

The Mother of the Brontës: When Maria Met Patrick
Sharon Wright
Pen and Sword, 2019

Image: Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell on Their Wedding Day, 29 December 1812. Pen and ink drawing by Eleanor Houghton, 2019 (© Eleanor Houghton)

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