Show Reveals Bronte Sisters Beyond Just Literary Feats

The following story could happen in almost any family: A father gives his nine-year-old son a dozen toy soldiers. Not only is the boy thrilled, but his three sisters end up liking them just as much as he does. The soldiers figure into the children's play as they invent imaginary kingdoms, plots, and characters.

But the year is 1826. The family is the Brontes, best-known for the literary works of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne.

Behind the fascinating story of how three sisters successfully published under the pseudonyms Arthur, Ellis, and Acton Bell are childhoods filled with imagination, cultivated by isolation and creative initiative in the literary and visual arts.

Delivering insight into the lives of the Brontes is the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York with ''The Art of the Brontes: Drawings and Manuscripts.''

What could be a dry, scholarly look at the lives of literary siblings is actually an intriguing exploration. As you go along from case to drawing, manuscript to sketch, you are pulled into the dramatic lives of the Brontes, connecting the visual artistry to the prose to the real-life events that in turn affect the others all over again.

Having lost their mother and two older sisters, and living in near isolation, the four remaining Bronte children - Branwell, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne - had to entertain one another. They developed complex characters and plots often derived from their readings of the Bible, classics, and news magazines. Unfortunately, paper was scarce in the Bronte house. It was a tremendous feat to get the most out of a single piece of paper. Branwell, for one, fit 2,500 words per small page to recount the battle of Loango and other events in ''Angria and the Angrians.'' Many viewers consider these minuscule manuscripts the highlight of the exhibit, regarding them with Guinness-Book awe.

As a whole, the exhibit is organized by sibling. Artwork ranges from pencil sketches, such as Anne's ''Landscape with Trees'' (1843) to simple watercolors, such as Emily's portrait of her dog, Keeper. First editions include ''Jane Eyre'' and ''Wuthering Heights.''

Several personal items, including Emily's hair necklace, Anne's Bible, and Charlotte's tiny kid gloves, enhance the exhibition's intimacy.

* 'The Art of the Brontes' continues through April 14.

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