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I am Acton Bell's Metaphorical Manhood

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Anne fucking hates the whole pseudonym thing.

The politically forward reason is that, in this modern and enlightened age, the sex of the Author should have no influence whatsoever over the Reader’s perception of the Work. Art knows no Gender and all that. If Mary Shelly could go around writing about cannibalized zombie monsters under her own name, Anne doesn’t see why she needs to be a dude to wax lyrical about birds and flowers.

The more straightforward argument is that, in any case, not one of their oh-so-very-hypothetical readers is going look at their poems and believe for one second that the authors are not chicks.

The real answer is that if Anne gets published under the name Daddy Smash, she’s going to commit seppuku.




Anne is holed up in her bedroom, seated at her narrow desk.

Extraordinarily, she’s had the Parsonage to herself all afternoon. Charlotte has gone into town, tagging along Branwell, officially on some errand to meet with their Father’s banker, unofficially to spend a few hours inventing Dark and Depressing Pasts to everybody she crosses on the street.

Emily is out for a brisk walk on the moors, seeking “fresh air and Divine Inspiration”. She woke up convinced that one of her poems was “the suckiest thing ever to suck”, and determined she would have a suitable replacement by the time the postal carriage came over.

Which is roughly an hour from now.

In an hour, they are sending the whole mess off to Aylott & Jones, at which point Anne’s life will be over.

Anne looks down mournfully at the stack of paper laid down in front of her. She glares at the defaced cover page where Charlotte’s erratic scrawl is silently mocking her.









Disgusted, Anne pushes at the offending document, wondering if she could get away with double sororicide and a mad escape to a less idiotic publisher.

Sadly, Charlotte and Emily would probably find the whole thing "Fucking fierce", and Anne is not going to give them the satisfaction of dying Tragic Deaths on top of everything else.





The sound of hooves treading gravel pulls Anne out of her funk and right back into the familiar embrace of pained resignation. It’s too early for the post, which leaves one other option only.

There is a series of banging sounds, a powerful rush of wind and the loud crash of the front door slamming shut.

Judging by the rattling that follows, Anne guesses that they will need to have it replaced soon. Again. Doors have very short life spans in this house.

“EMILY!“ hollers Charlotte, taking the steps up two at a time by the sound of it. “ANNE!”

One bedroom door slams open and shut, then another, and Anne waits until the inevitable--

“EMILY, HAVE YOU GOT THE--“ Charlotte bellows as she crashes into the room. “Oh, Anne. There you are!” she says, her voice barely dropping to a more reasonable level. “Where’s Emily?”

“Who?” Anne asks, morose and refusing to turn around.

“What? Emily. Where’s Emily,“ Charlotte repeats, distracted, “Is she—“

“Don’t you mean Bruce?” Anne retorts meanly.

Charlotte pauses for a moment, then sighs dramatically. She comes further into the room, noisily, bumping against piles of Blackwood’s Magazine.

“How are you still hung up about that?” she moans, flopping down end of Anne’s bed. “We told you a million times,” she lectures, “if we get published as women, critics will write shit like: the Authors show a surprisingly deep understanding of the English literary tradition, for a bunch of old maids living on the Moors.

“Charlotte,” Anne replies, finally turning and facing her sister, “if you get published as Johnny Guns, critics will write shit like: The Author shows a surprising mastery of the English language, for an illiterate horseman from America.”

“Johnny Guns is a totally badass name,” Charlotte sniffs, dismissive. “I bet all the women reading my poems will want to make out with Johnny Guns. I bet Johnny Guns is a total hunk, who has a dozen illegitimate children with Indian women and a horse named Trigger.”

Anne groans, cradling her head over her crossed arms on the table. “Some day in the near future, you will meet the nicest, dullest, blandest man ever to be born and marry him, and I will laugh and laugh and laugh,” she says, muffled.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Charlotte snaps. “I won’t accept anyone short of a convicted felon.” She pauses and reconsiders, “Well, unless Dad totally disapproved of the union and threw a big enough shitfit. Maybe if he threatened to disown me and send me to a nunnery.”

Her eyes go soft and dreamy. “We could run off in the middle of the night, steal a carriage, find a defrocked priest in-- Can you hear that?“ she cuts herself suddenly, frowning and tilting her head to the side.

Now that Charlotte has stopped rambling, Anne can hear a faint, high-pitched noise coming from the outside. She raises herself slightly from her seat to peer out the window, Charlotte coming up besides her to draw the lace curtains open.

There is a tiny figure on the hilltop at the edge of their field, skirts flying wildly in the wind, arms flailing about even more enthusiastically.

“Is that-“ Anne starts, getting up fully to reach the window’s lock.

The wailing gets significantly louder as she cracks the pane open.

A long moment of stunned silence ensues.

“I didn’t know Emily could sing that high,” says Charlotte finally. She sounds awed.

At some point, Emily has lost her bonnet, and her long hair whips around her face dramatically. Her mad gesticulating graduates to high kicks and quick twirls.

“Is she having some kind of seizure?” Anne asks worriedly.

Charlotte doesn’t seem to have heard the question at all. She crosses her arms and frowns, still looking out the window. “Is interpretive dance the new hot thing in Gothic Literature, and nobody told me?” she asks herself aloud, indignant.

The wind suddenly changes directions and the wailing gets just loud and clear enough for a few coherent sentences to reach them.


We aren’t estranged to the perils of affection
To us both, the etiquette familiar
I long for a most fulfilling courtship
With none other would you find such true devotion


“That’s-- um,” errs Anne, struggling for words.

“Well that’s certainly different, isn’t it?” replies Charlotte.

“It’s got a worrisome lack of Deep, Dark and Disturbing imagery, that's for sure,” Anne agrees slowly.

The tirade goes on:


So long has been our acquaintance
The turmoil in your heart hidden for propriety
We alone know the true nature of our thoughts
Dance with me these well-loved steps

Beloved, all these feelings I must confess!
You must know the full measure of my attachment!


“I think I like it,” Charlotte decides. “It’s catchy.”

Anne winces. Up on the hill, Emily has apparently finished her impromptu recital; she is making her way back towards the house.

“I do have to give her credit for one thing,” Anne concedes, closing the window. “She went from emo to corny in the span of an afternoon walk, and managed to completely bypass sane and tasteful along the way.” She sniffs. “That takes talent.”

Charlotte rolls up a copy of the Leeds Intelligencer lying about and whacks her on the back of the head with it.




It doesn’t take long for Emily to reach the Parsonage.

The house shakes in the wake of her arrival. Anne worries sometimes that it probably wasn’t built to withstand such repeated abuse of Dramatic Entrances.

Predictably, her bedroom door gets a similar treatment a moment later.

“You guys, I have just written the best thing ever,” Emily shouts, bursting in.

Her cheeks are red with cold, her eyes bright, her hair a total disaster. She marches into the room, clutching a piece of paper wrinkled beyond hope that she brandishes excitedly in Charlotte’s face.

“Listen to this,” she says, clearing her throat.


Nay! I shall not cast you aside!
Nay! Never will I disappoint you!
Nay! No other lover shall I seek, never will I leave your embrace!
Nay! By my doing your tears shan't fall!
Nay! Never will I bid you Adieu!
Nay! Beloved! I could never deceive nor distress you!


The room is silent. Anne’s head is silent. She worries her brain might be leaking out of her ears.

The moment is broken by the sound of a carriage coming up the road. Anne blanches.

Emily beams at them. “It’s going in the book,” she says.

Anne stands up abruptly, “Absolutely not.”

She reaches blindly for the manuscript at her side, raising a warning finger at Emily with her free hand, “If you think that you—“

Which is how she misses Charlotte sneaking up from behind, snatching the stack of paper from under her fist and practically throwing it over Anne’s head at Emily.

Emily catches it in extremis, shoving her poem blindly in between random pages as she runs out the door and goes barreling down the stairs, Charlotte at her heel.

The front door opens, slams shut, rattles dangerously and crashes down in a symphony of splintered wood and rolling hinges.

"Screw this place," Anne says to the empty room, "I’m joining Jane Austen's Fight Club Revival Society.”