How Stuff Works is an Atlanta-based organization with a staff of authors, editors and researchers hard at work researching, writing, blogging and podcasting. The website may look ultra-conservative and business-like, but the content includes interesting blogs from staff members. The most interesting element – at least to me – is the family of podcasts the staff produces. The podcasts are short, informative, humorous, entertaining, and free!

There are others, but I subscribe to Stuff You Missed in History Class, Stuff to Blow Your Mind, and Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know. Just search for “How Stuff Works” in iTunes for a complete list. This morning, I listened to the most recent Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast, “Growing Up Brontë”.

Stuff You Missed in History Class hosts, Sarah Dowdey and Deblina Chakraborty, talk about the Brontë family, but instead of a dry history lesson of which famous Brontë sister wrote which famous book and when, the hosts discuss the growing-up years of the Brontë children, their strange and often tragic childhood, and how those experiences may have affected the life decisions of each child.

For instance, the only house that Patrick, the patriarch, could afford overlooked a cemetery in a community of poor health where many people died young. The family heard the constant ringing of church bells, signifying that yet another person had died. The Brontë children could look out their windows and see grave diggers at work at all hours. This makes it easier to understand why the inventive Brontë kids created imaginary lands and characters to escape the harsh realities of 19th century England.

I’ve heard that Charlotte Brontë was so near-sighted that when she read, her nose almost touched the surface of the open page. The podcast says that because of poor sight, Charlotte was not able to play with other kids her age. Instead, she spent her days reading and writing about the imaginary worlds that she and her sisters obsessed over. Was this the origins of Jane Eyre?

I didn’t know that the Brontë siblings included a brother named Branwell, or at least I didn’t remember. Branwell was considered to be the genius of the Brontë family, but he seemed little more than an artist-daydreamer – something I can relate to! The father expected his son to be the successful one of the family, but Branwell seemed to fail at nearly every venture.

Branwell tried to make his living as a painter. His work was not considered master-quality, and he had trouble competing with the new medium of photography. He worked as a tutor for a while, but the parents of his students complained that the only things that their children learned were how to write stories based on Branwell’s sketches, and how to make their own sketches from Branwell’s poems.

Later, Branwell tried his hand as a railway station clerk, but wasted away his days doing what the podcast calls, “doodling in the ledgers”. I guess writing these blog posts over lunch is my way of doodling in the ledgers.

Now back to sounding church bells and digging graves, the lot of ya!