Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Return to Haworth II

Helen MacEwan writes: 
There are many delights to sample over the annual Brontë Society weekend in Haworth apart from the hearty Yorkshire fare in its pubs.

There is the opportunity to meet other members. They come from all over the world but the Society’s heart is in Haworth and the Parsonage Museum. Members include local people with a stock of anecdotes from their years in one of Britain’s oldest literary society as well as encyclopaedic knowledge of every place in Yorkshire ever visited by a Brontë or used in one of their novels (over the weekend we had a private viewing of
Ponden Hall, supposedly the model for Wuthering Heights, and a visit to Gawthorpe Hall whose owner introduced Charlotte Brontë to Mrs Gaskell). Some of these Yorkshire members even have links to families who were associated with the Brontës. Thus they form a living link stretching right back to the Brontës themselves.

There are the local researchers like Keighley archivist Ian Dewhirst who spoke about the grimness of working-class life in Haworth in the 1840s with wit and passion, conveying to us the immediacy with which the period can be experienced through the mis-spelt letters of farmers and mill workers of the time. Again, a local enthusiast acting as a living link between us and the past.

There is traditional entertainment such as that provided by the Haworth light opera group, which included one of the monologues performed in 1930s music halls by the comedian Stanley Holloway, recited in a broad Lancashire accent challenging for members from outside the British Isles!

There are the traditional, time-honoured rites of the Brontë Society, such as the annual service for its members in the church where Patrick Brontë preached for over 40 years and the cream tea always partaken of outdoors unless it’s raining too hard.

But the Society isn’t just about the past and tradition. The Museum runs an arts programme with talks and exhibitions by contemporary writers and artists. This year we listened to novelist Sally Vickers (Miss Garnet’s Angel) talking about her work and how the Brontës have influenced it. At the prize-giving for the Society’s literary competition, the winners included many young writers. The winner of the poetry section has just published her first book of poems.

And from this year the Society has a new President. The writer Bonnie Greer is from Chicago, although she has lived in Britain for decades. This was her first AGM and she was delighted to be invited to lead the Society, mingled affably with members and gave us a stirring speech about the need to work to preserve literary societies and museums for future generations.

(This report also appears on the Brussels Brontë Blog)

Below, Gawthorpe Hall:

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