The Longreads Blog

The Summer Break Where Charlotte Brontë Started ‘Jane Eyre’

Charlotte Brontë
Charlotte Brontë

Black Cardigan is a great newsletter by writer-editor Carrie Frye, who shares dispatches from her reading life. We’re thrilled to share some of them on Longreads. Go here to sign up for her latest updates.

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In the summer of 1843, Charlotte Brontë was staying at the school in Brussels where she was both a student and a teacher—at this time, more the latter. Over her time at the Pensionnat, she had developed an unrequited passion for the directrice’s husband, Constantin Héger, and she’d been present as he departed for the seaside with his handsome wife and their young children. The other teachers and the school’s boarders had already left for their own holidays, and Brontë was the only person left remaining except for the cook. Her friends outside the school had left the city too. Summer in the city: everyone who can, leaves. Her relationship with the cook, one suspects, was cordial but necessarily distant, and the cook would have had her sleep quarters in another part of the house. Brontë was alone at nights in the dormitory.

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The Secret Nazi Attempt to Breed the Perfect Horse

Commemorative stamp for the Olympic summer games in Berlin. Via 
Wikimedia Commons
Commemorative stamp for the Olympic summer games in Berlin. Via Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth Letts | The Perfect Horse: The Daring U.S. Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis | Ballantine Books | August 2016 | 19 minutes (4,567 words)

 

The excerpt below is adapted from The Perfect Horse, by Elizabeth Letts. The book describes an American colonel’s quixotic mission in the waning days of World War II: to rescue Europe’s purebred horses from a secret Nazi stud farm mere hours before the starving Soviet army arrived and likely slaughtered the animals for food. In this excerpt, Letts explains the origins of the Nazis’ secret horse breeding project. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

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Like Hitler himself, the horses, once quintessentially Austrian, would be given a distinctly German stamp.

A herd of mares left Austria in October 1942. The herd made the 350-mile trip northwest from Piber to Hostau, Czechoslovakia, without incident, and were settled into the Third Reich’s most sheltered stud farm, located in Bohemia, just a few miles from the Bavarian border. Beyond the farm’s serene green pastures, golden valleys stretched toward distant mountains crested by dark waves of evergreens. The Böhmerwald, or Bohemian Forest, served as more than a beautiful backdrop for the farm; it formed a natural barrier between Germany to the west and Austria to the south and had withstood invasion and attack for centuries. During the Nazi era, this locale was known as “the Bohemian bastion.” Among Germans, it was thought to be the safest place to ride out the war, least likely to be invaded from east or west. It was here that Gustav Rau had secreted the Lipizzaner, as well as the finest Arabians from Janów, including Witez. Even in the middle of a war, here, all was deceptively tranquil.

Quiet villages dotted this part of Bohemia, each graced by a Catholic church with an onion-domed spire. Flanking each cluster of tidy whitewashed houses were well-kept farms growing crops that thrived in the region’s rich agricultural soil. But in the wake of Hitler’s annexation of the area following the Munich Agreement of 1938, its bucolic appearance was deceiving. Once a multicultural region where Czechs, Germans, and Jews lived side by side in peace, Bohemia, now called the Sudetenland, had turned into a firm cornerstone of Hitler’s Third Reich. When the Nazis annexed the area in September 1939, the local German-speaking population had lined the streets cheering to welcome Hitler’s forces. Local Czechs and Jews had either fled or been forcibly evicted. Those who remained had been transported to concentration camps. By 1942, when the first Lipizzaner arrived in Hostau, the local Nazi apparatus held a firm grip on the region, but Czech partisans also operated in the area, finding refuge in the hideaways offered by the Bohemian Forest. Though the border with Bavaria, Germany, was less than fifteen miles to the west, the mountainous barrier made it seem much more remote.

The stud farm at Hostau, located next to the village of the same name, had been known for breeding cavalry horses long before Hitler’s time. The most prominent local landowners, the Trauttsmansdorff family, had historically served as imperial equerries for the Habsburg Crown. In addition to the main complex of stables adjacent to the village, there were pastures in three neighboring villages—the entire establishment covered fifteen hundred acres and could accommodate more than a thousand stallions, mares, and foals. All in all, it was more than twice as big as Alfred Vanderbilt’s showplace, Sagamore Farms, which Rau had visited in 1938.

Rau had selected this expansive facility to put into motion the most exalted part of his grand plan. Throughout 1942, he had systematically transported all of the purebred Lipizzaner from the stud farms of Italy, Austria, and Yugoslavia to this sheltered location for safekeeping. He had also sent a personal emissary on a mission to purchase purebred Lipizzaner from wealthy noblemen who raised smaller strings of purebreds for private use. By the end of 1942, Rau had gathered almost every Lipizzaner in the world into a single location.

Austrian-born Hitler’s goal, expressed in Mein Kampf, was to bring all of the German-speaking peoples of Central Europe, including Austria, into the fold of the Third Reich. Just as Hitler aimed to eliminate “impure strains” and combine the different Germanic groups into a single “Aryan race” of people, so Rau planned to use the science of selective breeding to erase the individual differences characterizing the several strains of purebred Lipizzaner that had emerged since the end of World War I and replace them with a single mold: pure white, imperial, identical, and ideally suited for military use. Like Hitler himself, the horses, once quintessentially Austrian, would be given a distinctly German stamp. Read more…

‘Booze Is the Oil in Our Motors’

wineglass

Is it really that hard, being a First World woman? Is it really so tough to have the career and the spouse and the pets and the herb garden and the core strengthening and the oh-I-just-woke-up-like-this makeup and the face injections and the Uber driver who might possibly be a rapist? Is it so hard to work ten hours for your rightful 77% of a salary, walk home past a drunk who invites you to suck his cock, and turn on the TV to hear the men who run this country talk about protecting you from abortion regret by forcing you to grow children inside your body?

I mean, what’s the big deal? Why would anyone want to soften the edges of this glorious reality?

– Newly-sober Kristi Coulter, in Quartz, writes on sobriety, misogyny, and why so many women reach for wineglasses to celebrate their lives — or deflect the blows.

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The Mask of Deception: The Ultimate Test to My Recovery From Porn Addiction

Illustration by: Katie Kosma
Illustration by: Katie Kosma

Benjamin Obler | Longreads | August 2016 | 24 minutes (5,908 words)

 

When we first talked, it was on tenuous terms. That is, both telling implicit lies.

My lie was wearing a leather jacket and smoking cigarettes that night, which cast me as carefree and rebellious. In reality, I was a bookish Senior Editor with an educational publisher, a teacher, and a writer with aspirations. I loved my tennis and workouts—usually kept fit.

Her lie was the exact opposite: she cast herself as more straight-laced and serious than she was, and literary, noting that she was reading a challenging novel in the literary realism vein. But she wasn’t really of a literary disposition. I would learn soon that she was much more visually oriented, a photographer. She liked to go dancing, and to shoot guns at a range just for the thrill.

On the surface, these lies were harmless, but they masked deeper deceptions. She had no idea I was a recovering porn addict. I had no idea she was into taking semi-nude photos of herself and posting them online.

Her name was Franny, and I fell madly in love with her. Read more…

On Beauty: A Reading List About Makeup

Photo: Melissa Segal

My makeup routine is nonexistent. I wore mascara to a presentation on my birthday last week, and before that, I had my friend apply my red lipstick in an Au Bon Pain in New York City. I’m uncoordinated, anxious and fidgety—my idea of hell is eyeliner application. But I appreciate the artistry that goes into the creation and execution of gorgeous makeup. I’ve watched tutorials, and I’ve watched my friends draw wings on their faces. They enjoy it, and I am glad for them. Beauty criticism analyzes the ways we can subvert a society that would have us subsumed by self-loathing. We use the tools we’ve been given. Makeup, then, can be a weapon. And it can be damn fun. Read more…

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Image via YouTube
Image via YouTube

Below, our favorite stories of the week.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox. Read more…

The Slow Death of Restaurant Kitsch

restaurant-676893_1920 (cc0)

Tiffany-style lamps. Candy-striped uniforms and/or candy-striped tablecloths. And tchotchkes: tchotchkes as far as the eye can see. The 20th-century chain-restaurant aesthetic is immediately recognizable — but where did it come from? At Collectors Weekly, Lisa Hix digs into the history of restaurant kitsch right at the moment where its earliest proponent, T.G.I. Friday’s, is beginning to impose a minimalist, clutter-free look on its locations. Along the way, she unearths the surprising origins of Friday’s as a hip singles’ bar chain, closely aligned with ’70s sexual liberation movements and a new taste for cocktails:

The Commercial Appeal newspaper called it “a place with so much atmosphere you have to push it aside to get in.” Again, 20-somethings lined up for a table, and patrons mobbed the bar. This Friday’s became a hotspot for the Memphis counterculture, known for its boozy adventures, drug experimentation, and sexual subversion—including an underground queer scene. Bands played on a stage in back, while local rock stars like Big Star lingered at candy-striped tables under leaded-glass lamps.

“Friday’s was the first place in Memphis where you could actually go in and buy a mixed drink,” Rush Bowman, who took a job there as a bar-back before becoming a bartender, tells me over the phone from his home in the Dallas metro. “Before that, you’d had to take your own bottle to a bar, and the bar would hold on to it for you. They’d make your drinks with your own bottle and charge you a setup fee. Friday’s was first real bar in town, and the employees were young people with long hair, so they looked like the customers they were trying to attract.”

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Living With a World on Fire: A Reading List

Photo: U.S. Army/Flickr

Below is a guest reading list from Daniel A. Gross, a journalist and public radio producer who lives in Boston.

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As a teenager growing up in Southern California, I remember looking up one day and seeing a fine white powder falling from the sky. It was the middle of summer, and for a moment I wondered, absurdly, if it was snowing. The flakes crumbled between my fingers and left streaks like flour on my clothes. They were ash.

Every summer, swaths of California burn. Grass, brush, trees and even houses go up in smoke. In the worst years, they drift back to earth in the form of a thin gray coating on windshields and awnings. On local TV, between late-night car chases and tanned weather reporters who know every synonym for sunny, I remember images of hillsides that glowed orange and black.

It’s fire season again. So far, nearly 30 major wildfires have torn through 12 states. As this year’s blazes seem to reach their yearly peak, here are four stories about risk and resilience in the face of fire. They’re a glimpse into the lives of those who fight fires, those who flee them, and those who rebuild, literally, from the ashes. Read more…