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Friday, 29 December 2006

Best Wishes!

Best wishes for the New Year to all who have contributed to, given advice for or passed comment on this blog during its first year of existence!


The Friends of the Brontë Society is the name of a group just formed at the Parsonage, made up of staff members. It will be concerned with raising money for the recently-finalised Forward Plan, intended to take the Society and the Parsonage into the Twenty First Century.

Fundraising will be one of the principal concerns of the Society in 2007: plans for a new centre for visitors have been in existence for a long time, needing only a massive injection of funds to make them come true. More immediate plans for an ambitious programme to further establish the Parsonage as a vibrant creative centre for the arts as well as a world centre for Brontë Studies will also need adequate financial backing, of course.

The Friends coordinator is Pat Berry. First event is a ceilidh to be held in Haworth on St Patrick's Day in March. More details nearer the date.

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

Ann on the radio

Parsonage Librarian Ann Dinsdale is on BBC Radio 4 tomorrow (Thursday 16 November) at 1.30pm. The following is an extract from the Open Country preview page -

Most of us know the Upper Worth Valley because of the work of a remarkable family – Charlotte, Anne and Emily – better known as the Brontës. Their novels and poetry has helped shaped people’s ideas of what this valley was like, and has drawn people to The Old Parsonage Museum where the family lived in Haworth. Richard chats with Ann Dinsdale, the museum’s librarian, who’s just published a book about the family called “The Brontës at Haworth.”

Next, Richard climbs to the top of a ridge to get an overview of the Upper Worth Valley with topographer Reg Hindley. Geology, poltics, economics and social upheaval had all had an effect on the look of the valley. According to Reg, each colour on the patchwork quilt of farms and moorland that can be seen is the result of some sort of change. And the landscape is still changing today.

You can read the rest on

Monday, 13 November 2006

Brontë moon crater

Thanks to Paul Daniggelis in El Paso, Texas for sending us (and many others) the following link for the Brontë Crater on the Moon.

Thanks are also due to Jennifer Blue at the United States Geological Survey in Flagstaff Arizona, who was responsible for locating the photographic file.

The crater was named for Charlotte by Harrison Schmitt, Lunar Module Pilot for the Apollo 17 Lunar excursion. Paul Daniggelis's article in Brontë Society Gazette 22 (April 2000) covers this event and quotes from Chapter 24 of Jane Eyre:

Fire rises out of the lunar mountains: when she is cold, I'll carry her up to a peak, and lay her down on the edge of a crater.

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

Genealogy and W S Williams

Norman E Penty writes:

The Discovery of Charlotte Brontë

by William Smith Williams (1800-1875)

Charlotte Brontë may have remained in obscurity if it had not been for the faith, foresight and fortitude of William Smith Williams, the literary editor of Smith Elder who first recognised her talent when, using the pseudonym Currer Bell, and after a number of rejections, she forlornly sent them a copy of The Professor. Even though this manuscript was initially rejected it was done in such a positive and encouraging manner that Charlotte shortly sent Williams a draft of Jane Eyre which was soon published to great acclaim.

Little has hitherto been known of Williams and the background of this unassuming and quiet man. Most of what we know about Williams' character has been gleaned from the large volume of letters written to him by Charlotte. Unfortunately, most of those written by him to her have disappeared. However, the extant correspondence shows that Charlotte not only leant on Williams for support and advice, using him as her mentor, but that it was a two-way affair inasmuch she keenly offered him advice on the care and education of his children, drawing on her own experience as governess and teacher. Their friendship was not just confined to a professional relationship, but one which spilled over into their personal lives when on several occasions Charlotte visited the Williams' home and was entertained by his family and friends.

My research into discovering more about this fascinating man concentrated on parish records, census returns, and wills, etc., all of which enabled me to trace the origins of his family back to 1690 in Oxfordshire; his birth in the parish of St Martin-in-the- Fields; his marriage at Broxbourne, Herts; the births of his eight children and what happened to them; and finally his death and burial at Kensal Green. My quest identified his apprenticeship with the Fleet Street publishers, Taylor & Hessey, where he was in the small party bidding a final farewell to John Keats as he left for Rome and immortality; his subsequent miserable existence as a bookkeeper, which he disliked and which encouraged him to supplement his income by writing literary articles in his leisure time and then his eventual employment as literary editor at Smith Elder.

At Smith Elder he was held in high esteem, not only by his employer and colleagues but by many literary luminaries such as Thackeray, the Leigh Hunts, Hazlitt and Mrs Gaskell. It was commented that he “cherished from boyhood a genuine love of literature and received much kindly notice from eminent writers” and that “he was by nature too modest to gain any wide recognition”.

Although it appears Williams was a close family man, a modest man, about whom no misdemeanour can be found, he was very tolerant of the more colourful characters with whom he associated and became his friends including George Henry Lewes and his wife Agnes, Thornton Hunt and George Eliot, all of whom scandalised Victorian society with their so-called progressive views on marriage.

Besides his greatest legacy in ensuring that the name and talents of Charlotte Bronte became universally recognised, his children and their descendants became highly regarded as singers, musicians, artists, lawyers and accountants both in the UK and overseas.

The above titled forty five-page booklet can be viewed at The Parsonage Museum or at The Society of Genealogists, London.

Photo of W S Williams

Friday, 3 November 2006

The Brontës at Haworth by Ann Dinsdale

Parsonage Librarian Ann Dinsdale spoke to Richard Wilcocks about her just-published book The Brontës at Haworth:

The book came about because Anne Fraser from the publisher Frances Lincoln saw the Parsonage Guide in the summer of 2004, which I had co-authored. She was so impressed with its general quality that she contacted me and Simon Warner and we took it from there.

The title? Simple and straightforward, I think. Lincoln wanted something a little more highfalutin, but I didn’t feel comfortable with their suggestions. It has such a strong focus on Haworth, so the name had to be in it. It’s simple but it sums it all up.

For research I didn’t have to stir beyond the library here, which of course contains the best collection of Brontë material in the world. I had access to parish records, contemporary accounts, newspapers, everything. After seventeen years I am quite familiar with what there is.

The people who have commented so far have been complimentary - for example Jane Sellars read the Art section and Steve Wood read the parts on social conditions in Haworth. My colleague Steve Whitehead told me he was impressed by the book’s range.

After all my time here dealing with visiting researchers I have got an idea of what people want to know, so I have tried to address relevant concerns. There are no footnotes because the book is not aimed merely at a university audience.

I am very happy with the wonderful photos by Simon Warner, which complement the text so well.

Some new or little-known items might stick in the reader’s mind, for example some of the contemporary views of the Brontë novels. One reviewer said that Wuthering Heights would ‘live a short and brilliant life and then die and be quickly forgotten’.

Then there’s the transcript of the account book of the local joiner William Wood, a good name for a joiner I think. He made coffins. His spelling gives an idea of how he spoke.

When ‘Miss Branwell’ died in 1842, her ‘coffen’ cost £5.12s.6d. When Branwell died in 1848 the ‘coffen & scroud making’ totalled only £3.15s. Then there is this:

Emlea Jane Bronty. Died Dec 19th 1848 in the 30 year of hir Age. Coffen 5ft 7” long 16” broad.

The Brontës at Haworth by Ann Dinsdale, with photographs by Simon Warner, is published by Frances Lincoln. ISBN 0711225729

To purchase it, contact the Parsonage shop using the link on the right.

Photo - Ann Dinsdale in the Parsonage Library

Wednesday, 1 November 2006

Kate Bush and 'Kateness'

Some years ago now, the excellent Kate Bush put Wuthering Heights on the map for many people. A group of her fans slogged up to Top Withins last Sunday (28 October) on the HomeGround Wuthering Hike. Thanks to Peter, Co-editor of HomeGround the Kate Bush Magazine for telling us about it!

Predictably, they were very wet and very happy when they returned: “If anyone ever feels they want to attend one of these bashes don't let anything stop you, you won't regret it. I nearly killed myself doing the hike but by the time we got to the top I was very wet and laughing like I have never laughed in years,” said one of them on the pages of the Kate Bush News and Info Forum, adding, “Being immersed in 'Kateness' is so good for the soul”.

Most of the walkers appear to have ended up supping ale in the back room of the Black Bull in Haworth, a fitting end for a great day out.

This photo is of Tracy at the Brontë Falls:

Saturday, 28 October 2006

Last month's conference

Last month (22 September - 24 September) The Brontës and their Background - a weekend conference - took place in the Baptist Centre in West Lane, Haworth.

Speakers were Stephen Whitehead (The Haworth the Brontës knew), main organiser Bob Duckett (Where did the Brontës get their books?), Ian Emberson ("The likeness of a kingly crown": John Milton and his influence on Charlotte), Yukari Oda (Wuthering Heights and the Waverley novels: Scott's influence on Emily), Elizabeth Leaver (Why Anne Brontë wrote as she did), Brian Wilks (Charlotte Brontë and the two churches) and Ian Dewhirst (The Real Haworth: Myths and Anecdotes)

Ian Dewhirst was the speaker at the Conference Dinner in The White Lion in Haworth.

Tom Winnifrith was in hospital so unfortunately could not contribute. Instead, a forum took place in his time slot, chaired by Robert Barnard.

One of the delegates was Marcia Zaaijer, who is an archivist from Rotterdam in the Netherlands: she recently sent the post below. Conference papers will probably not be published as a booklet (Brontë Society Council is economising) but should be available on request from Bob Duckett as photocopies. Contact him through this blog - email

A brief impression of the Bronte Weekend Conference 2006:

Every speaker impressed me with something to do or to remember. So many details of life in the Brontës’ Haworth, that both Steven Whitbread and Ian Dewhurst were able to present! Ian Dewhurst spoke in the kind of language, that in my Dutch imagination I like to think sounds like the language the Brontës heard around them.

And all those books they read, without a library next door, while I still have not read any more Walter Scott than Ivanhoe and Kenilworth. Of The Pilgrim's Progress and Paradise Lost I have nothing more than a vague notion that there was also a Paradise to be Regained, but this has more to do with me preferring happy endings than with any knowledge of English literature.

Really, maybe I should go and attend school in South Africa: I love the way Elisabeth Leaver championed Anne and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. With a bit of luck some Afrikaners might understand my Dutch.

The nicest surprise for me as an archivist was on Sunday morning. Brian Wilks realised, or someone made him realise, that the Bishop of Ripon, who visited Mr. Brontë in the parsonage in Haworth when Charlotte was Patrick's only surviving child and already a celebrated authoress, went on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury. Obviously this means that his archives are kept at Lambeth Palace, and that in his archives are notes about his visit to Mr Brontë, which reveal that Charlotte was a good hostess to him. We know about the bishop's visit, because Charlotte writes about it in a letter. Now we get the story from the visitor, someone who actually stayed at the Parsonage. Two trustworthy historical sources which tell of the same meeting: that's a bonus for an archivist.

In the first photo below, taken during the forum, from the left Stephen Whitehead, Brian Wilks, Robert Barnard, Elizabeth Leaver, Ian Emberson. In the other photo, Ian Dewhirst holds forth.

Friday, 20 October 2006

Emily Brontë's horoscope

by Maddalena De Leo

In June this year I made a wonderful discovery while surfing the net. I found an unusual web site written by a Dutch astrologist (1). In it she set forth a lengthy and detailed horoscope in Dutch for none other than Emily Brontë.

I had to share it with others. I happen to know Dutch since I studied it at the university I attended more than twenty years ago. With the help of my long-unused Dutch-Italian dictionary I was able to translate this discovery.

The author's name is Ms Iren Nooren, Dutch by birth but presently living in Curaçao. Only a few historical figures interested her enough to merit a personal horoscope.

She chose Thérese of Lisieux and Emily Brontë. As she explored Emily's personality Nooren quickly discovered that she had an exhaustive amount of character traits. Based on a very detailed astrological reading Nooren's discussion focuses especially on Emily's personality and the most meaningful parts of her novel. Her poems are never mentioned.

Very interested in everything Nooren had to say, I was curious to learn more about her actual knowledge of Brontë's work so I requested an e-mail interview. I asked her how much she knew about Emily Brontë and Wuthering Heights before charting her horoscope. She replied that she had read the book a very long time ago.

In Curaçao there is only one very small library which contains nothing about the book or the author. That is why during her analysis she searched the internet for information, finding contradictory material. Eventually she found one book with a short introduction by Daphne Merkin, a Dutch writer.

I then asked her why she chose to do a horoscope for Emily and when exactly she had read Wuthering Heights. She told me that most astrologists are interested in current movie stars and famous politicians, while she prefers long-deceased people. Her wish was to really understand Emily Brontë as a person since she admires her so much for her brooding, strange style.

Like most of us she was particularly attracted by the way Emily relates a story. Every line can be read again and again at any time when you read it in the original language as the selection of words is perfect.

Nooren actually read Wuthering Heights when she was twenty-five, having found it by chance in a library. At first she did not comprehend the violence and passion in the book and considered it boring compared to Jane Eyre. It was only many years later that she changed her opinion after reading it again. Only then could she see Catherine as a real person.

My next question was about what is known about Emily Brontë in Curaçao. She told me that the novel can be found in the public library but it is not yet possible to buy it in the bookshop. Whenever she can, Nooren speaks about Emily and her life to let people know who she was and what an amazing life she lived.

The horoscope

According to Iren Nooren, Emily’s personality is strongly reflected in her great novel, known in the Netherlands by the title Woeste Hoogten.

Woeste Hoogten reveals an incredible attraction of Venus in Scorpio. The basic data, that is to say the ascendant, the Sun and the Moon reveal a mysterious personality attributed to Emily. Pluto dominant in Pisces tells us that Emily was an astute observer who was very willing to abandon both her home and family. In the novel for example the recurring images of many open doors and windows underscore a desire to get away, and strongly contrast the power of the mind. In Woeste Hoogten all characters are unable to escape from beginning to end.

The Sun is not present in any aspect but the Moon represents the main energy: it is a sowing moon, telling us that in Emily’s time society was not ready to appreciate a novel such as hers, considering it too violent and passionate.

The dominant Moon can also explain why so little was written about Emily Brontë during the 19th century. The Moon is also in opposition to Jupiter and behind Capricorn enabling her subconscious emotions to surface in the talent zone. The presence of Mercury in Leo 9 reveals an aptitude to both talk and write about death. Mercury itself in triangle with Neptune and Uranus rather than in Sagittarius draws attention to inspiration, thus enabling Emily to open up a new method of creative writing.

A further proof of Moon in Cancer are the characters without a mother in Woeste Hoogten. Brontë may have invented them as a result of her own orphaned condition. The connection between Mars and Venus points to the extremes and opposing natures within the novel. It is essentially the story of two opposite natures, a man with an active role and a woman with a passive one, each being reciprocally dependent on the other.

It is still a Mars/Venus conjunction underlining a wish for communication and an expression of personal will. This makes Emily’s dependent energy (Mars in Venus) somehow passive (Venus).

The reference scheme reveals an off-balanced distribution of crosses. The mobile cross (with seven planets) points out an easily relaxed and suitable character while the main cross (with two planets and a personal Moon) draws attention to the great effort to start and take initiatives. The division of elements is also off-balance and a lack of Air in the planets is evident. It shows Emily’s unfulfilled need for human contact.

Mars/Venus conjunction is in opposition to Saturn. This indicates a misunderstood step to carry out initiatives and get in touch with someone. Emily’s close-knit, restricted home life prevented her from looking for outside relationships to help her nourish her fantasies. Although no known relationship with a man has been documented, Nooren seems to think Emily may have met people who stirred passionate feeling within her. Maybe among these relationships there was the one with her sisters and brother (Pisces). Saturn explains why Emily wished to escape from her family although her first duty was to her home. Maybe because Emily refused to run away from her problems at home she wavered between two poles (Mars/Venus and Saturn).

There is also a third element, Uranus in Sagittarius underscoring renewal and broadmindedness, two aspects unique to Emily that indicated she was ahead of her time.

The presence of Pisces reveals an escape from the real world into one of fantasy. Pluto dominant reveals Emily’s own fantasies and inspirations which were central to her life. But it was Neptune in Sagittarius that gave her a great artistic talent which was directed toward her subconscious mind.

The Northern node in Taurus in the 6th House and Venus in Virgo in the 9th House tell us that Emily had to learn how to be concrete in real life.

In conclusion, Iren Nooren tells us that the presence of Pluto in Neptune is a recurring theme in people born between 1810 and 1826 (the Romantics). In Emily’s horoscope we see the emergence of three major themes: Transformation, Family, and a Drive to frankly express her feelings.

I would like to thank my friend Frances Gerard for her revision of the text.

1. CHTA – Astrologie – Centre for humanistic & transpersonal astrology - and

Wednesday, 18 October 2006

Contemporary Arts Programme

Cornelia Parker has just given ten of her Brontëan Abstracts works to the Brontë Society. “This is a very significant donation,” Andrew McCarthy, Deputy Director of the Parsonage, told this blog. “We are all very thankful, of course.

“The opening of Cornelia Parker’s exhibition launched the first-ever Contemporary Arts Programme at the Museum, with Germaine Greer as our Honorary Patron. We could now be considered as a vibrant creative centre as well as a world centre for Brontë studies.

“It marks a historic shift in the identity of the Society and the Museum and offers the potential for exciting partnerships with prominent individuals and organisations within the arts.

“It should lead to a revitalising development of the Museum’s collection and its physical environment, and new audiences.

“The Programme will also help the Society and the Museum to more fully reflect the radical creative energies of the Brontës by adding to a traditional reputation for conservation and commemoration of the Brontës with a new role as advocates for imagination, creativity and artistic achievement.

“There is much that is already happening, and the plans for 2007 are exciting.

“The programme of special education projects aimed at disadvantaged groups will (funding permitting) continue with The Collecting Place. This will involve working with photographer Simon Warner and a group of visually-impaired youngsters. A walk-in camera obscura will be constructed and used to create large-format images of the Parsonage and other Brontë-related sites. This will form the basis of an exhibition.

“There will also be talks by Gaskell biographer Jenny Uglow (celebrating the anniversary of the publication of Life of Charlotte Brontë), Pamela Norris, author of Words of Love: Passionate Women from Heloise to Sylvia Plath, Gail Nina Anderson from the Friends of the Laing Gallery (on John Martin), biographer and novelist Victoria Glendinning (on writers and their homes) and a panel discussion focusing on Brontë biography which will feature Juliet Barker, Rebecca Fraser, Lyndall Gordon, Edward Chitham and Justine Picardie.

“The work we are doing is groundbreaking, I think.”

Below: Germaine Greer

Thursday, 12 October 2006

More Haworth ghosts

Michele Carter writes:
As a child, I asked my Irish father if he believed in ghosts. He said, ‘No, I don’t believe in them, but they do exist.’ This philosophy came in handy at The Brontë Society Conference last September when Ann Dinsdale, Librarian at the Parsonage, took a few of us on a guided walk around historic Haworth. After a visit to the churchyard, we wandered over to number forty-three Sun Street where the Brontës' servant Tabby Aykroyd had died in 1855.

The owner came out and told us that he and his wife had just moved into the premises a few months ago and that, immediately, strange goings-on had begun.

Our group gathered closer.

‘I was coming back from a bit of shopping,’ he explained. ‘When I looked through the door’s window, I saw a little grey-haired lady walk across the hall through to the kitchen and just disappear. I went in and looked around for her, but she was nowhere about. She’d just vanished.’

A communal gasp.

‘And we keep hearing someone knocking, but when we open the door nobody’s there.’

A gasp and a nod. ‘Tabby.’

With ghosts fresh in our minds, we ventured over to Old Fold Hall on Fern Street. This house dates back to the seventeenth century and has recently been restored. The owner approached our group and invited us in to see the new décor.

‘This might sound odd,’ she began, ‘but there’s been some strange goings-on around here since we opened up the fireplace. Right here I saw several small, white shapes. Fluffy shapes really. But I couldn’t tell what they were. I went upstairs and at the same spot, by the fireplace, I saw them again. But never anywhere else in the house.’

We waited for her to continue, not believing in ghosts ourselves but knowing they do exist.

‘It wasn’t until I was in Clapham looking at livestock that I saw the same small, white shapes. They were sheep - miniature sheep. You see, there was sheep breeding here before the mills. Maybe they bred small sheep that could withstand the harsher conditions. And maybe they slept around the fireplace.’

We nodded in unison.

‘With these old houses,’ she continued, ‘it’s no surprise to hear things going boomp in the night. But we also smell damp sackcloth. They kept the wool in bags of sackcloth back then. The smell never lingers. More like onions cooking or coffee and then it’s gone. The gasman smelled it, and he said it’s not gas, it’s sackcloth.’

We casually sniffed.

‘But that’s not all.’ She stepped toward the door. ‘The other day, I was standing right here and just happened to look out the window and saw a little grey-haired lady coming to my door. She was coming right to it, but when I opened it, she was gone.’



We explained about Tabby and the knocking over on Sun Street. ‘Lately, someone’s been wiggling our latch, but when we open the door no one’s there.’


Grey ghosts, tiny sheep, spirit sackcloth. I silently wondered if the Brontës ever heard wee ghosties going boomp in the night.

Ann Dinsdale and some of her intrepid group can be seen below:

Friday, 6 October 2006

What did they see?

Perhaps it has something to do with the psychics who were invited into the Parsonage by Cornelia Parker so that their voices could be recorded for her current exhibition Brontëan Abstracts. It is now possible to listen to their conversations on headphones which are installed in several rooms. Quite a few visitors cross Church Street after their tour of the Museum to take a look at the Matt Lamb exhibition - Spirits of the Brontë Sisters - which fills the School Room.

The fact is that some of them may have seen a ghost, or think they have, according to the eminently down-to-earth Peter Ashton, the man in charge there. He emailed the following:

Wednesday was a quiet afternoon at the Sunday School Room until a man in his forties exited the gallery at speed. I managed to intercept him in our coffee bar area to ask what had occurred.

He told me that he had been in a room at the back of the building (my guess is the room displaying the umbrellas although he did not wait around long enough for me to confirm this) where he had seen a ghost. The only description I could get from him before he tore away was that he had seen an elderly woman dressed in very old fashioned clothes including a studded collar. With that he was off down Church Street.

Twenty minutes or so later a younger man, in his late twenties, with a baby, commented on leaving that he had had a most unusual experience in the umbrella room. Whilst in the room the atmosphere turned 'crepuscular' - his choice of word. He said that nothing of any malevolence occurred, just a damp mistiness.

As far as I am aware the men were not connected. They entered the building separately and had no contact whatsoever with each other.

At no time whilst we were open did anyone answering the description of the ghost come into the building. I checked security etc and visited the umbrella room and other rooms immediately after each report and saw/heard/felt nothing untoward.

At the time when these events occurred the vicar's husband and a friend were working in the Sexton's house next door. Whilst they didn't see the first man they had the chance to chat with the second one.

Maybe the spirits which Matt Lamb believes he lifts out from his paintings are making their presence felt !

Peter - pictured here in the place where the ghost allegedly appeared - wonders whether anybody else has experienced anything similar.

Richard Wilcocks adds:

There has always been a connection between the Brontës and the supernatural, which could perhaps be dismissed as a bit of an irrelevance, or seen as something really significant or set into a historical context.....they did live in a parsonage next to a graveyard after all. Serious papers have appeared on Rochester's voice coming into Jane's mind (influence of Swedenborg?) and then of course there's the young girl at the window in Wuthering Heights (Emily haunted by tragic Maria and Elizabeth as she wrote?) and more recently the Ouijah game which popped up in the second episode of the current television version of Jane Eyre.

My first reaction to Peter's story was to ask him what a studded collar looked like. Was the spectre some kind of Victorian punk rocker? He replied that he did not have time to ask the man for clarification (he is an ex-police officer incidentally) but he speculated that the collar was studded with jewels. That rules out Charlotte then.

Thursday, 5 October 2006

On sale very soon

Parsonage shop manager Sean Killian reports that advance orders are coming in steadily for Emily's Journal by Sarah Fermi.

This will be on sale very soon, published by Pegasus at £8.99. The following is from the publisher's leaflet:

Why did Emily Brontë write Wuthering Heights? Was it purely the product of her juvenile imagination? Or did she experience a profound and tragic relationship in her adolescent years which coloured the rest of her life and was the emotional source for both her one novel and her heartfelt poetry? Written as if in her own words, Emily's Journal explores in minute detail the possibility that Wuthering Heights was not entirely 'invented'; it gives the reader a new and exhilarating glimpse into the social circumstances which kept a young woman from the man she loved.

Few biographies of Emily Brontë have reached so far into her mind - interrogating census records, parish registers and wills - and marrying the evidence with the contents of her works. The result is truly remarkable.

Sarah Fermi (pictured above) has been interested in the Brontë family for almost as long as she can remember. Perhaps being one of three sisters may have been the starting point, but her serious interest was prompted by reading a biography of Emily Brontë by Edward Chitham. Inspired by his pertinent (and unanswered) questions about Emily, Sarah has devoted nearly fifteen years to examining the many previously unexplored personal connections of the Brontë sisters.

The book's ISBN is 1903490251

Tuesday, 19 September 2006

Nelson and Brontë

Earlier this year, Cornelia Parker - see Sunday's posting - made a proposal to the Greater London Authority which has since been lost in bureaucratic processes. Here it is, reproduced from an appendix in the catalogue for Brontëan Abstracts:

Nelson and Brontë - A Hair’s Breadth of History

A proposal to the Greater London Authority by Cornelia Parker

I want to propose a tiny enhancement to Nelson’s Column, adding a little more body to his hair by inserting real strands of the famous Brontë sisters’ hair into the fabric of his. Doing so would link the two iconic names in a literal and physical way, infusing the monument’s structure with an authentic bodily relic. It would in effect, combine the Romantic female with the Alpha male, the modest with the heroic and DNA with sculpted stone. Nelson could share with the Brontës, more than a name*, a parsonage childhood, the loss of a mother at an early age and bravery in the face of death. Together they could share a vista.

Although they lived a sheltered life in a Yorkshire parsonage, remaining incognito behind their male pseudonyms, the Brontë sisters’ novels became famous in their day, their heroes and heroines, like Nelson, capturing the popular imagination. Nelson’s column was built 1839 - 1852, their literature was written within the same time frame. Charlotte and Anne would have witnessed the construction first hand when they visited the National Gallery on a rare trip to London to see their publishers in 1848.

Now, the column is covered in scaffolding once again, this time for restoration to take place. It seems a unique chance in its history for that history not to be set in stone, but to be tweaked, albeit in a microscopic way.

May 2006


* The Brontës were great admirers of Nelson and they owed their names to his exploits.

Bronte is a town and commune of Sicily (in the province of Catania, Italy), slightly northwest of Mount Etna, on the side of the valley of the Simeto river. In 1799, King Ferdinand III of Sicily created Bronte as a Duchy, and rewarded Horatio Nelson (who had large land holdings in the area), with the title of Duke, because of his naval victory against the French. As well as being made a Duke, Nelson was given Castello Nelson, which at the time was the remains of a Benedictine Monastery. Today it is a local tourist attraction in Bronte. This allowed Nelson to sign himself ‘Nelson and Bronte’.

Just a year after Nelson had been granted his new title, Patrick Brunty, recently arrived in England from his native Ireland, changed his name to Brontë. It is generally accepted by Brontë scholars that the name change was due to Patrick’s admiration for the Admiral and a desire to recreate himself, to rise above the class into which he was born by severing links with his Irish peasant origin. The use of the diaeresis was to make sure that the name was pronounced in a more-or-less Italian way by the people around him**. He registered as an undergraduate at St John’s College, Cambridge in 1802 in the name of Patrick Brontë. His daughters would go on to make the name even more famous in their own right.

Patrick, and later the whole Brontë family, had a fascination for military leaders of their recent past. Wellington and Napoleon both appear in various guises in the juvenilia of the Brontë family and Nelson was the subject of a poem by Branwell in 1841.

** Thanks to Pietro Vazzola from Venice for this reminder.

Sunday, 17 September 2006

Myths and their generation

Pictured - Cornelia Parker with Phyllis Cheney, Friday 15 September 2006

As the evening light fades in the Parsonage garden the eyes of fifty or so people, there for the official opening of the Cornelia Parker exhibition Brontëan Abstracts, are focused on the open front door.

Backlit from within, a number of speakers stand one by one on the threshold to address the audience, beginning with the person whose idea it was to invite the artist in to do all this, deputy director of the museum Andrew McCarthy. Praise and thanks are duly distributed.

We are told that most of the people involved with the project are able to be here with us today. The two psychics - Henrietta Llewelyn Davies and Coral Temple - who led a séance here a few weeks ago to see who, or what, they could make contact with are not present. “But they are here in spirit,” adds Cornelia, smiling. The Radical Brontes Festival has now started, officially.

Before BBC Culture Show presenter Andrew Graham-Dixon declares the exhibition to be properly open, he apologises for the fact that he has not prepared anything for us(“I’ve only just had my personal preview”), then gives us what is almost a full item-by-item commentary, working from memory and a little blue notebook. Impressive! The usual rook chorus gets louder and louder.

We queue to go in, and we talk (I am with my daughter Daria) with Phyllis Cheney, who at ninety is amazing - extremely articulate and perceptive. A veteran member of the Brontë Society living in Plymouth, and a frequent visitor to Haworth, she has voiced her well-researched claims to be Branwell’s great-granddaughter before, most notably in a 1996 issue of Brontë Society Transactions. “You’ll see me on a television screen inside later on,” she promises.

In the downstairs rooms, the quiet voices of the two psychics are coming out of little speakers on the floor. We find it hard to make much conventional sense out of them: occasional words and phrases can be registered. These are fragments of sound and meaning - appropriate for the occasion. The effect would be different if the crowd in the house was smaller.

Cornelia Parker’s additions, or rather enhancements, are in neat, unobtrusive frames on walls, objects connected with the Brontës seen afresh. Anne Brontë’s needle is the fallen mast of a tall ship on a bed of tangled rigging, a darn in her stocking a barred window, her stained handkerchief a record, we imagine, of when she once coughed blood into it. It might be of doubtful provenance, but what matter? This exhibition is about myths and their generation.

Emily’s hair is an underwater plant, thin fronds waving in a tropical sea, her burnt comb a series of stalagtites, her ink-splattered blotting paper worthy of display next to a Jackson Pollock, perhaps.

We talk about the blown-up deletions from the original manuscript of Jane Eyre, semantic exercises trapped under glass. Why vex rather than annoy, why conceived rather than imagined, why no sleep rather than no rest?

A grey image of Charlotte’s pen nib is nearby, transformed by the magnification, a monumental slab of split stone, a menhir.

We browse the catalogue to dip into an interview by Andrew McCarthy. Cornelia is asked “Did you want to add to the mythology or try and strip it away?” She replies:

It’s a mythology I am very captivated by, the same as everyone else. The mythology is created by people’s imaginations and what I’d like to do is find a new space within it, a new way of looking at it, by returning to the source. By taking the objects that the Brontës owned, or actual physical traces like locks of their hair, and examining these very closely to try to see something that they might not even have witnessed themselves.

We reach the television screen to watch Phyllis reading her Transactions article and talking with husband Arthur. Her great grandmother, Mary Ann Judson (b 1839) was, she is convinced, the illegitimate child of Branwell Brontë and Martha Judson. She stands beside us to watch it again. “Some people believe it, some don’t of course,” she says. I tell her that she has convinced me. “I know that Tom Winnifrith, who made a study of Branwell, is scornful, because he told me so, but I am not so sure about what Brian Wilks thinks.”

Downstairs in the shop, where there is a wine reception, I talk with the artist, mentioning that a number of people have claimed that Branwell was an ancestor over the years. “Yes,” she says, “but not all of them have the same credibility. I sensed that Phyllis was special as soon as I knew about her. I’m like a Geiger Counter!”

Richard Wilcocks

Thursday, 7 September 2006

Note the date

The new four-part Jane Eyre begins on Sunday 24 September at 9pm on BBC ONE.

The production has its own page in Wikipedia, which will no doubt be expanded shortly:

Wednesday, 6 September 2006

Festival Launch at Parsonage

The Parsonage is making final preparations for the launch of Cornelia Parker’s new exhibition Brontëan Abstracts on Friday 15 September 2006 at 7 pm. The exhibition will be officially opened by Andrew Graham-Dixon, art historian and presenter of BBC2’s Culture Show.

The launch, which will be attended by Cornelia Parker, kicks off the Radical Brontës series of events which will see various artists, authors and actors interpret the Brontë family and their novels in different and creative ways throughout September.

Running with this theme, Cornelia’s exhibition, which is on from 16 September to 31 December 2006, will be displayed throughout the rooms of the house alongside original artefacts to encourage new ways of looking at the museum’s collection and at contemporary art. It aims to celebrate the connections between creativity, past and present, and to reflect the ways in which the Brontës’ lives and works have continued to inspire writers and artists across three centuries.

Cornelia worked with the Parsonage throughout 2005/06, the results of which are a collection of stunning exhibition pieces which include twenty five works based on items from the museum's collection. These include scanned and electron microscopic images of Brontë artefacts, including images of Anne Brontë’s hair and Charlotte Brontë’s feather pen. Also on display will be images of amendments to the original manuscripts of Jane Eyre, held in the British Library.

In addition there are sound installations in certain rooms which document a visit made by two psychics to the Parsonage, and a video recording of Brontë Society member Phyllis Cheney who claims descent from Branwell Brontë.

Over the years the Parsonage has been the inspiration behind many events and exhibitions which interpret the Brontë family and their novels in a new and dynamic way. The Brontë Society, which was founded in 1893 and is the oldest literary society in the world, has welcomed contemporary interpretations of the Brontë family and hopes new exhibitions and events will appeal to younger audiences.

Richard Wilcocks, Chairman of the Brontë Society says:

“For many years the Brontë Parsonage Museum and the Brontë Society have worked hard to appeal in new and different ways to today’s audience. In recent years the Museum has brought the lives of the Brontës to life using new technology such as video projections on the façade of the Parsonage and contemporary artwork by world renowned artists using electron microscopes.

“The new and improved educational workshops also hope to bring the joy of literature and poetry alive for children of all origins. The Brontë Society is delighted that the Radical Brontës series of events, part of the Illuminate festival, has proven popular with so many visitors both at home and abroad”.

With a new Brontë film due out in 2007 starring Brokeback Mountain star Michelle Williams and the serialisation of a new TV production of Jane Eyre in the pipeline, interest in the Brontë family has never been stronger and the Museum is seeking to ensure that visitors to the original home of the Brontë family provides an authentic and realistic glimpse of life in the 1800s.

The Parsonage is famous throughout the world as the Brontës’ home and the place where great novels such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights were written. The house is now displayed as a ‘period home’, with the Brontës’ furniture, domestic objects, artworks and personal belongings set out to give an impression of the house in their own time.

The Parsonage’s Contemporary Arts Programme, which has Professor Germaine Greer as its Honorary Patron, will include visual arts, theatre, music, poetry, talks and workshops involving visiting authors, and more. Look at the Brontë website for more detailed information:

This post is from a recent news release from Diane Benn.


The Cornelia Parker Exhibition was made possible with support from Illuminate, The Esmee Fairburn Foundation and The Henry Moore Foundation. The Illuminate festival is a programme of arts and cultural events taking place in the five Yorkshire cities of Bradford, Hull, Leeds, Sheffield and York from October 2005 to October 2006 and has been funded by the DCMS. The Brontë Parsonage Museum will be contributing to the festival with the start of a week long programme of Brontë events from Saturday 16 September 2006 to Sunday 24 September 2006.

Cornelia Parker Biography

Cornelia Parker was born in Cheshire in 1956 and lives and works in London. She studied at Gloucestershire College of Art and Design, Wolverhampton Polytechnic and at Reading University. She is best known for a number of large-scale installations including Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991), and The Maybe (1995), a collaboration with actress Tilda Swinton, who appeared sleeping inside a vitrine at the Serpentine Gallery. In tandem with large projects like these she has also made an ongoing series of smaller works entitled Avoided Object, working in collaboration with numerous institutions including HM Customs & Excise, The Royal Armouries and Madame Tussauds.

In 1997 she was awarded a residency at ArtPace in San Antonio, Texas and was shortlisted for the Turner Prize, Tate Gallery, London. In 1998 she had major solo exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery, London, and Deitch Projects, New York. A retrospective of her work was held at the ICA Boston in 2000. In 2001, the Galeria de Arte Moderne in Turin presented a major one-person show, and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London commissioned a permanent installation for the British Galleries. Recent group exhibitions include The Tate Triennale, Tate Britain 2003 and The Disembodied Spirit, Bowdoin Museum of Art, USA. She has works in the Tate Collection and in numerous public and private collections in Europe and the USA. She is represented by Frith Street Gallery, London.

Thursday, 17 August 2006

Radical Graphics

A page from the new Wuthering Heights graphic novel

As part of a season of events to paint Haworth's literary sisters in a whole new light, a brand new adaptation of Wuthering Heights is released next month - in graphic novel form.

David Barnett, Features Editor of the Bradford Telegraph and Argus spoke to Richard Wilcocks about his article, which appeared in the paper last week and which is reproduced below. He was asked to define a "Brontë purist" and his reply was:

As far as what I meant by a Brontë purist... possibly a fan of the Brontës' work who might not consider a (necessary) abridgement of the source text for adaptation purposes a positive move. Whether such people exist outside of the brains of journalists is a point for debate.

The Parsonage's Arts programme is 'radical' anyway (see previous postings, for example those relating to Cornelia Parker) so it should fit in well with the Radical Brontës Festival opening in Bradford in September. Here is the article, which has appeared on the B & A's website at

Heathcliff and graphic detail

It's often said that if Shakespeare was alive today, he'd be writing comic books. No longer the preserve of unfeasibly muscle-bound crimefighters in tights or funny talking animals, comics - or graphic novels, to give them their grown-up name - are now considered to be a valid, adult form of storytelling.

Go into Waterstone's in Bradford and there's a whole section devoted to contemporary comics, from the high-octane and often violent Japanese manga to the off-kilter monochromatic nightmares of Charles Burns to the fabulist source material of many major recent blockbuster movies such as V for Vendetta, Sin City, From Hell and Road to Perdition.

A fine addition to this canon is a graphic novel that adapts Emily Brontë's classic and much-loved novel Wuthering Heights. With its generous helping of sex, violence and death, its rain-streaked, barren backdrop of the Haworth moors, its gothic obsessions, make it a perfect topic for comic book treatment.

The book has been specially commissioned for the Radical Brontës Festival, which runs from September 15-24 and, as its name suggests, aims to paint the women and their work in a very different light to the common misconceptions surrounding them - that they are cosy, romantic novels written by genteel sisters with nothing better to do.

Graphic novels generally begin life as a script produced by a writer with dialogue and "stage directions" for the artist to interpret in a series of sequential panels, which was why Keith Jeffrey, who is heading the umbrella initiative Illuminate, under which Radical Brontës falls, brought West Yorkshire poet and playwright Adam Strickson on board.

Adam says: "Keith knew I was a Brontë enthusiast and got in touch. My first reaction was I don't know anything about graphic novels', but when I started looking into it I realised it wasn't too distant to scriptwriting for the stage."

Adam, who has worked as director of inter-cultural stage company Chol Theatre and had a writer's placement at Birmingham Repertory earlier this year, then had to break down Emily's original novel into a narrative suitable for the comic book treatment.

So what will Brontë purists make of his adaptation? "It is quite a complicated story when you get into it," says Adam. "There are a lot of flashbacks and I had to do away with a lot of the long narrative passages but at the same time keep to the style and preserve the language of the novel.

"But by and large, I think I've been fairly faithful to the original while endeavouring to keep the pace moving. I'm not really worried that I'll upset the Bronte faithful because there haven't been any major changes to the story."

He is hoping that those already fans of the Brontës will enjoy this fresh take on the book, while at the same time the format might draw other people who have never read the original into Emily's text.

For the art duties, an industry professional who will doubtless help the book cause a stir within the comics fraternity was commissioned. Siku is a Leicester-born artist who went to Nigeria at an early age and mastered his craft there. He has worked in commercial graphic design and computer games design, but is perhaps most well known for his work on the pioneering British science fiction comic 2000AD, for which he has illustrated a variety of strips including the comic's flagship character, Judge Dredd.

Siku's work has an almost dreamlike quality to it, heavily shadowed and perfect for the gothic tragedy of Heathcliff and Cathy. His art is quite unique in the mainstream comics world, eschewing the god-like anatomy usually associated with superheroes for a more elongated, almost otherworldy effect - sometimes to the annoyance of fans. Before he was accepted as a contemporary master of painted comics, he received hate-mail from fans who didn't like the way he drew Judge Dredd's famous jaw!

Siku says: "I suspect it was the moodiness of my work and the heavy amounts of shadow and black, which drew Keith Jeffrey to me. The gothic story actually suits what you might call my sci-fi' style."

In keeping with the original text, which describes moody anti-hero Heathcliff as the "child of a Lascar" (Asian seaman) or a "gypsy" - a fact often ignored in movie and TV adaptations - Siku wanted to highlight what he saw as the character's exotic nature.

He says: "I was always aware when working on the book that I was adapting a classic story - it's a great project to work on and I'm exceptionally proud of my work on Wuthering Heights."

Whether the Brontës' father Patrick would have allowed comics or graphic novels - had they existed in those days - into the Parsonage as suitable reading matter is a moot point. A new take on a classic story has been created, and might possibly create a mutual respect between graphic novel fans and Bronte enthusiasts.

Wuthering Heights: The Graphic Novel will be launched at Waterstone's in Bradford on Saturday, September 16.

Tuesday, 15 August 2006

Heritage secured?

Richard Wilcocks writes:

Catching up on the details of the ‘other’ news after flying back to England, I see that last Wednesday’s Guardian carried an article headed Minister secures place of ‘heritage’ novels on schools list.

Two of the Brontë sisters, we are told, will be staying in the Key Stage 3 (11 - 14) curriculum, along with Austen, Dickens and Trollope, and George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway and Doris Lessing ‘may be removed’. So that’s Charlotte and Emily in, Anne out, Animal Farm no longer essential.

I like to flatter myself that the Education Secretary Alan Johnson was deeply moved by the interview with me on page three of the previous Friday’s Times Education Supplement, so much so that he rushed to his publicity department to prepare a statement, but of course everything must have been put in motion months previously. If he was moved by anything, it would have been by charges that the government dumbs things down in the curriculum.

Probably , the news release was just another item on the normal August agenda for Johnson and the newspapers. Advanced level (taken by 18 year-olds just before starting higher education) examination results come out on Thursday, and as usual some of the newspapers will take note of a large number of A grades and leap to accuse schools, examination boards and the government of dumbing things down to make things easier. Perish the thought that students could be working harder.

Editors might feel the need to take a break from pictures of airline passengers clasping little plastic bags or stories about conflict in the Middle East.

Therefore, it is a good strategy for the minister to get in shortly beforehand to make sure that the public registers the fact that the national heritage is being promoted and that the government is not in favour of dumbing down.

In fact, all that will happen is that a long list of prescribed authors will be tweaked. It does not mean that the current situation will automatically improve, or that the problem with what is termed ‘extended reading’ will be adequately addressed.

It is relatively easy to make a list, harder to deliver proper sympathetic advice to teachers to make sure that it is well used. And if you happen to be a teacher or lecturer reading this, remember that the Parsonage does supply that sort of advice.

A lucky and unforeseen meeting

Maddalena de Leo writes:

I chose to spend my holidays in August this year to celebrate the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Mozart’s birth.

Just a week before leaving I received a letter from Wilhering, a market town near Linz in Upper Austria, in which a certain Mr Kent Shire, an ESL teacher, complimented me on my article about Brontë-Shakespearean research in the July 2005 Brontë Studies. He found that my five methods of comparison between the two authors sounded straightforward and interesting and, since he is a new member of the Brontë Society, that he would like to read a fuller version of my work, originally written in 1982.

I knew I would have stayed in Salzburg for two whole days, so I immediately answered by priority mail telling Mr Shire about the possibility of meeting in Mozart’s celebrated town of birth. We met on 7th August in front of Mozart’s birthplace.

As soon as we were leisurely seated in the famous Cafè Tomaselli for an Austrian tea, I and Mr Shire had a very pleasant and interesting Brontë talk ranging over many topics. An American by birth, he has been living in Austria for fifteen years where he now has family and teaches English as a foreign language.

It was for him the first time he had met a fellow member of the Brontë Society - even in Austria. In the space of an hour, we talked a lot about Emily and her wonderful novel, the theme of which we both agreed is mainly love, not just hatred and revenge. We also discussed our role as teachers in conveying what Brontë knowledge and culture we can in both Austrian and Italian schools.

At the end of our literary chat, he was kind enough to hand me a precious little book of Emily’s poems in German and English that he signed as a momento of that lucky and unforeseen meeting.

Although it rained all the time, the Brontës lit up my stay in Salzburg!

Monday, 31 July 2006

Open Day pictures

Last Saturday's celebrations were, by any measure, a great success. The sun shined on the front lawn most of the time, and the rain fell only when the last event had finished.

A few photographs give a flavour of the day, which was to celebrate the seven millionth visitor. To be strictly accurate, it was to celebrate visitors seven million and seven million and one - retired toxicologist Derek Stringer and his wife Nancy, from Bowness-on-Windermere, both 73. They are pictured below just before a press photocall on the front steps, with Alan Bentley, Director of the Parsonage Museum, Keighley MP Ann Cryer and Brontë Society Chairman Richard Wilcocks.

Stephen Whitehead talked about the history of the Parsonage and the Brontë Society:

Deputy Director Andrew McCarthy was in role for his fifteen-minute show Branwell's About. This involved the recitation of a poem allegedly by Branwell and comic interaction with members of the audience, three of whom are seen here as Anne, Emily and Charlotte.

Sunday, 30 July 2006

More on the new Jane Eyre

Latest information from the BFI - the names of the cast members who will be on stage on 16 September in London have not been announced, so we can't definitely say that Ruth Wilson will be there.

Also, members in the United States will be pleased to note that the series will be shown in two two-hour slots on Masterpiece Theater in January 2007. Thanks to Bronteana (see link) for that.

Wednesday, 26 July 2006

Special TV Preview at the BFI

Ruth Wilson as Jane and Cosima Littlewood as Adele are shown here in a break from filming at Haddon Hall in the Peak District. Photo courtesy of Linda Bussey, taken in April this year.

Thanks to the British Film Institute for providing the information that there will be a special preview of the first two parts of the new BBC Jane Eyre on Saturday 16 September, beginning at 5.50pm.

This does not yet appear in their publicity ( so it might be wise to check the time nearer the date.

Ruth Wilson, Toby Stephens and other cast members are booked to be on stage after the showing. Try getting hold of your tickets early. The BFI box office number is 020 7928 3232

Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Timetable update

7 Millionth Visitor Day – Saturday 29 July

Drop in art and craft activity taking place throughout day – education room or meadow

10.30am - Ten Minute Tabby (Sue)

11.00am - Free guided walk around Haworth (Andrew)

11.45am - Ten Minute Tabby (Sue)

12.15pm - An Introduction to the Brontës (Ten minute talk by Andrew)

12.45pm - A Short History of Haworth Parsonage (Ten minute talk by Stephen)

1.30pm - Ann Cryer MP arriving

1.45pm - Branwell’s About (Andrew)

2.30pm - Ten Minute Tabby (Sue)

3.00pm - Peter Hill leader of Haworth Parish Council arriving

3.00pm - A Short History of Haworth Parsonage

3.20pm Branwell’s About (Andrew)

4.15pm - A Brontës’ Eye View (Ten minute talk by Andrew)

Monday, 24 July 2006

What is taught, or not taught

Most of what follows here is based on a press release sent out last Friday. It gives an outline of my opinions on how classic literature is taught (or not taught) in English schools.

Because I am posting it, it seems inappropriate that it should be in the third person, so I have tweaked it a little.

Thanks for the emails so far received, incidentally (by way of which are all more or less in tune, which is heartening and disappointing at the same time, because I was hoping to engage in a little back-and-forth.

For the benefit of a couple of American correspondents, I must state that I know precious little about the curriculum in the high schools there, so I’ll leave it up to the locals to find similarities and differences and to pass judgement.

Please note the sentence - This is often in spite of the best efforts of teachers. I happen to know some excellent ones, who find ways round officially prescribed practices and who plant seeds.

I am aware that in the last couple of years, a number of well-informed teachers and advisers have deplored the lack of real “opportunities for extended reading” in the curriculum, so there are moves to correct imbalances, but this usually involves currently-practising authors like David Almond, whose brilliant novel Clay features strongly in the Carnegie Shadowing Project .

This is a nationwide reading challenge where students read five books that have been on the shortlist for the Carnegie medal. The official website is at

So, I think that:

Young people are given insufficient time in the classroom for in-depth study of texts. This is often in spite of the best efforts of teachers.

Many more people are drawn towards the Brontës by forces outside schools, for example by new adaptations of novels like Jane Eyre by the BBC.

A series of Government initiatives in schools - with the admirable objective of improving standards of literacy - has led to a situation in which love of reading and literature generally is being rather neglected in favour of a rigid 'framework' approach.

For at least the last decade the definition of English as a subject has been increasingly prescribed. The emphasis on capital L Literacy is becoming a significant encroachment on English as a creative and humanistic domain, because it does not appear to give more than a token acknowledgement for the value of literature.

I believe in the sharing of 'real' texts, whether described as classic or popular. This enables personal growth and the study of literature to come together. This sharing - through reading, creative writing and improvised drama - was the feature of the Brontë children's early educational experiences which led to the great works which followed later.

The forces which drove them in a nineteenth century parsonage are universal, and can be harnessed in many other environments including that of a twenty-first century classroom.

Currently-prescribed practices in the official literacy strategy require pupils to focus on fragments of text, seldom on whole texts which might elicit a 'whole' response. This discourages the formation of a profound personal relationship with a work of literature.

The best teaching is based on the stimulation of the imagination, of course, and teachers can get plenty of advice on that from the Parsonage, which is rapidly developing into a regional centre for the Arts.

Richard Wilcocks
Chairman of Council

Friday, 21 July 2006

Seven Millionth Celebration

Parsonage Museum director Alan Bentley is seen here with retired toxicologist Derek Stringer and his wife Nancy, from Bowness-on-Windermere, both 73. They were the seven millionth visitors to the Parsonage, in June.

Mr Stringer, who had never even opened any of the Brontë novels before being presented with a ‘goody bag’ containing all of them, has now been stimulated into starting Wuthering Heights.

The Stringers have also been given a year’s free membership of the Brontë Society, and have been invited to be guests of honour at the Parsonage open day next Saturday, July 29th.

The highest number of visitors ever recorded at the museum since it opened in 1928 was 221,000 in 1974. The figure was attributed at the time to the popularity of the TV series, The Brontës of Haworth, and the recent success of the Wuthering Heights film starring Anna Calder-Marshall and Timothy Dalton.

Soon after, it was decided that the large numbers of visitors were damaging the 200 year-old building and the numbers were regulated. Now the museum sees about 88,000 visitors a year.

"It's my wife who is the Brontë fan,” Mr Stringer said. “She has read all the novels.

"We went because, of course, we are aware of the Brontë heritage and the importance of them in English literature. We also wanted to see the environment in which the books were written."

It was their first visit, and they were surprised to learn they were the seven millionth.

Next Saturday’s open day will be free to people living in postcode areas BD20, BD21 and BD22. Identification will be required.

The day will include a dramatic interpretation, free guided walks around Haworth and short talks on the Brontës. Here is the timetable:

Throughout the day - in the education room or the meadow - drop in art and craft activity.

10.30am - Ten Minute Tabby (Sue Newby)

11.00am - Free guided walk around Haworth (Andrew McCarthy)

11.45am - Ten Minute Tabby (Sue Newby)

12.15pm - An Introduction to the Brontës (Ten minute talk by Andrew McCarthy)

12.45pm - A Short History of Haworth Parsonage (Ten minute talk by Stephen Whitehead)

1.45pm - Branwell's About (Andrew McCarthy)

2.30pm - Ten Minute Tabby (Sue Newby)

3.00pm - A Short History of Haworth Parsonage

3.20pm - Branwell's About (Andrew McCarthy)

4.15pm - A Brontës' Eye View (Ten minute talk by Andrew McCarthy)

Monday, 17 July 2006

Cornelia Parker Exhibition

Sample of Anne's hair

The Cornelia Parker Exhibition launches the Brontë Contemporary Arts Programme.

An ambitious project to establish the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth as a vibrant centre for the creative arts will be officially launched with a stunning new exhibition by one of Britain's most famous artists, and Turner Prize nominee, Cornelia Parker.

Cornelia Parker's Brontëan Abstracts exhibition will run from Saturday 16 September to Sunday 31 December 2006 and will, most unusually, be displayed within period rooms of the Parsonage. Cornelia has been working with the Museum over the past year developing new work which will offer visitors a unique opportunity to see the Brontës interpreted through the work of a major contemporary British artist.

She has been exploring the Museum's collection, viewing original Brontë manuscripts in the British Library and working with the University of Bradford analysing samples of Brontë hair, using electron microscope imaging technology. The exhibition will include a series of images of Brontë artefacts, including samples of hair produced using this method.

“By capturing images of the Brontës' relics through a microscope,” she explained, “I have been using the tools of science to try to understand the power of the myth. Whether it is a split end of Anne's hair or pinholes made by Charlotte or the tines of a comb burnt by Emily, they are abstractions made by them, unconsciously.”

The Brontë Parsonage Museum has, over the years, attracted international artists, authors and film-makers all keen to interpret the lives of one of the most famous literary families of all time. The Museum is seeking to use the historic home of the Brontës in a new and dynamic way to bring the collections to life for visitors and make new connections with the creative arts.

Andrew McCarthy, Parsonage Deputy Director, said, “Exhibiting work by such a prominent artist is very exciting and an historic opportunity for the Museum.

“Cornelia Parker is interested in people, places and objects which have become so established within public consciousness as to have taken on a monumental quality. This is certainly true of the Brontës.

“The problem with monuments is that they can become caricatures and Brontëan Abstracts will challenge some of our preconceptions about the Brontës and give us a new perspective on them”.

The exhibition was made possible with support from Illuminate, The Esmée Fairburn Foundation and The Henry Moore Foundation. The Illuminate festival is a programme of arts and cultural events taking place in the five Yorkshire cities of Bradford, Hull, Leeds, Sheffield and York from October 2005 to October 2006 and has been funded by the DCMS.

The Parsonage will be contributing to the festival with a week-long programme of Brontë events from Saturday 16 September 2006 to Sunday 24 September 2006.

The Parsonage Contemporary Arts Programme, which has Professor Germaine Greer as Honorary Patron, will include visual arts, theatre, music, poetry, talks and workshops involving visiting authors, and more Please see the Parsonage website for further information -

This media release is from Diane Benn

Cornelia Parker Biography

Cornelia Parker was born in Cheshire in 1956 and lives and works in London. She studied at Gloucestershire College of Art and Design, Wolverhampton Polytechnic and at Reading University.

She is best known for a number of large-scale installations including Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991), and The Maybe (1995), a collaboration with actress Tilda Swinton, who appeared sleeping inside a vitrine at the Serpentine Gallery.

In tandem with large projects like these she has also made an ongoing series of smaller works entitled Avoided Object, working in collaboration with numerous institutions including HM Customs & Excise, The Royal Armouries and Madame Tussauds.

In 1997 she was awarded a residency at ArtPace in San Antonio, Texas and was shortlisted for the Turner Prize, Tate Gallery, London. In 1998 she had major solo exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery, London, and Deitch Projects, New York. A retrospective of her work was held at the ICA Boston in 2000. In 2001, the Galeria de Arte Moderne in Turin presented a major one-person show, and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London commissioned a permanent installation for the British Galleries.

Recent group exhibitions include The Tate Triennale, Tate Britain 2003 and The Disembodied Spirit, Bowdoin Museum of Art, USA. She has works in the Tate Collection and in numerous public and private collections in Europe and the USA. She is represented by Frith Street Gallery, London.