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Sunday, 29 January 2006

Branwell the Mason

It’s Mozart’s 250th of course, and there’s plenty on him in the media. I was reading about the strong Masonic influences on his music recently.

For example, Wilfred Mellors (distinguished musicologist and composer) wrote:

The final trilogy of symphonies is the grandest possible Masonic credo: no 39, in the Masonic ritual key of E flat major, almost always associated with healing grace, and sometimes majesty; no 40 in tragically purgatorial G minor; and no 41 in ‘white’ C major, representing the triumph of light, and in the process embracing a synthesis of homophonic and polyphonic principles (sonata and fugue).

Now I am one of many who has tried to delve into the background to The Magic Flute, with limited success. I can see that Pamina is the object of conflict between the forces of light and darkness and light and so on, but not an enormous amount beyond that. Perhaps my disadvantage is that I am not one of the brethren.

So what were the Masonic influences on Branwell? What did he get up to at the Lodge of the Three Graces (currently number 408) in Haworth, which is still operating and which can date itself back to 1792? This apparently had plenty of ups and downs one and a half centuries ago (the members met irregularly and there were often financial problems) but there were connections with the Brontës in the 1830s

The official history of the lodge records:

Between 1825 and 1831 Meetings are recorded and purport to be regular and were
always closed in perfect harmony. Candidates were initiated, but obviously the
irregularity of the meetings indicate that all was not well. In 1825, three meetings were recorded, 1826 (1), 1827 (2), 1828 (2), 1829 (1), 1830 (7) and 1831 (12). In June 1831 it was proposed at a Lodge of Emergency, that a new warrant be applied for
immediately, and that five guineas for the warrant, and all incidental expenses, be paid out of the surplus of the Lodge, and that every member pays for his register fee, and Grand Lodge certificate, at his own expense.

No further mention is made of the new warrant or of the reinitiation of members.
The new warrant was granted on the 24th August, 1831, the Lodge No. being 862. A
regular meeting 19th September, 1831 is recorded and also in October as if nothing of
any moment had occurred. Here the Minutes end. But there is recorded in the back
pages of the first minute book reference to a Meeting of Emergency when it was
resolved to have a public procession on the 2nd September,1833, and that John Brown
and Joseph Redman (whose Grand Lodge Certificates are now displayed in the
Lodge) should attend Mr. Bronte who would preach a sermon in the Church to the
Brethren at 12 o'clock. The concluding resolution is that the Committee should meet
at the Black Bull, Haworth, on Monday, 2nd September, 1833, at eight o'clock in the
morning. The total cost incurred was:

Rev P Bronte preaching - ten shillings
Band wages - One pound and ten shillings
Ringers and singers - four shillings
Eating and drinking and band - one pound and ten shillings
Beer etc Band - one pound and fourteen shillings
Cheese and bread visitors - two shillings and eight pence
Beer at dinner - thirteen shillings and four pence
Writing letters - three shillings and sixpence

So, I can well imagine Branwell listening to a sermon, enjoying the band and supping ale in the Black bull….but what else was there?

I would be grateful if someone out there is more clued in than me and can supply specific details.

Richard Wilcocks

Monday, 23 January 2006

New from Parsonage Shop

Authors in Context: The Brontës by Patricia Ingham, Oxford University Press, 2006, 273pp, paperback, ISBN 0-19-284035-5 £7.99

Authors in Context examines the work of major writers in relation to their own time and to the present day. Combining history with lively literary discussion, each volume provides comprehensive insights

The Brontë Society Conference 2004: The Brontës and Education, edited by Bob Duckett, The Brontë Society, 2005, 100pp, paperback, ISBN 1-9030076-09-7 £9.95

Contributors and contents are as follows:

Tom Winnifrith The Brontës weren’t very good teachers but had the right ideas.

Coreen Turner “With what eagerness…� Patrick Brontë’s education and his influence on his children.

Carolyne Van Der Meer Education in Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Villette.

Margaret Hulmes The Brontë heroines as disciplinarians.

Yukuri Oda Wuthering Heights: education as an intermediary factor.

Mary Summers Parents beware! Anne Brontë’s message on education

Richard Wilcocks Education, Education, Education: the Brontës today.

Andrew McCarthy Education at the Parsonage Museum.

Marianne Thormählen Where we are today: issue resolved and issues outstanding.

Saturday, 21 January 2006

Live in Belgium or the Netherlands?

You don't have to live there to send for a copy of Selina's book, though...

Brussels in Brontë Times
A Historic Picture Album
Selina Busch

Available from the author price £20

Write to: Selina Busch
Kerkstraat 7
4001 MA Tiel

Appeal to kindred spirits......

I am a lifelong Brontë admirer who has recently moved to Brussels, as a result of which I have become interested in the Brontë Brussels connection. After re-reading Villette and The Professor, it was enlightening to read the books on the Pensionnat Heger and other Brussels places produced by my neighbours in the Netherlands, Eric Ruijssenaars and Selina Busch.

In the glow of my revived Brontë enthusiasm it occurred to me how fitting it would be to have some sort of branch of the Society based in Brussels, to enable members here to meet each other and perhaps organise the odd event. I know that the Society recently organised a trip to Brussels, but I don't know whether members living here have ever organised events on their own initiative.

Since there are not likely to be a large number of us, the kind of meeting I had in mind would be very informal and on a modest scale: maybe just a reading-club type discussion of one of the books, an informal talk perhaps given by one of the members, or even just viewing a film version of one of the works.

I originally thought of a branch for members in Belgium; I have contacted those I have been able to locate and some people have responded very positively. But although there may be more members here I haven't contacted, there are probably not quite enough to make it feasible to organise meetings, so it seems logical to include the Netherlands as well, particularly as Eric and Selina are interested in the idea.

Could any Belgian or Dutch members I haven't contacted, and anyone else who is interested, please get in touch with me? By “anyone else� I mean members in other countries who live near enough, or have the time and inclination to travel, to a central point convenient for all such as Brussels.

Helen MacEwan

Please contact me by email:

Monday, 16 January 2006

New from the Parsonage Shop

My Mother’s Wedding Dress by Justine Picardie, Picador, 2005, 335pp, hardback, ISBN 0-330-41306-6 £12.99

Justine Picardie (who will be speaking as a guest of the Brontë Society in Haworth on the Friday of the annual June Weekend for members) is a fashion writer for Vogue and the Daily Telegraph. In this, her latest short story collection, she combines fashion with literature, adding her thoughts on the history of her family.

The history of the black wedding dress belonging to her mother is her starting point. She ends with her research into a family ring which once belonged to Charlotte Brontë.

Each chapter concentrates on a different item of fashion, some belonging to the author and some which are known to many in Western culture, like the “little black dress� or the school uniform.

Justine also examines how fashion is described in literature and how it influences the reader’s perception of the characters, quoting from a wide range of sources like CS Lewis’s The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe and Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca.

Sunday, 15 January 2006

The Family of Blogs

Greetings to the moving forces behind the other blogs devoted to all aspects of the Brontës, especially to Cristina and the mysterious M, (Manuel?) the constantly energetic and well-informed people who put up such interesting material on Brontëblog. Thanks for linking to us - now we're linked to you.

The one you are reading is young: we are green and feeling our way a bit in this blogging game. Please be patient if we make mistakes because it could take a while before we find out about all the tricks which are available.

I currently edit the Brontë Society Gazette, true, but this blog is not supposed to be a substitute for it, not least because many members of the Brontë Society do not own a computer. The printed version of Gazette is an essential part of the membership.

We will probably end up with an eclectic style of operating in the coming weeks and months: you will read about events at the Parsonage of course, and news of happenings elsewhere connected to the Brontë Society, but hopefully we will be sent photographs, reviews and creative work as well. It will be easier to talk about our emphasis or our focus after we have been running for a month or two.

Feel free to use what you find here, but say where you found it. I am sure that your blog will be 'raided' now and then - take it as a compliment.

Richard Wilcocks

Two Poems

Photo taken in Milan 2005

Two of my poems inspired by Haworth and the Brontë atmosphere:


Grey thundering morning clouds
In a rainy August day
What a gloomy atmosphere
For this new happiness of mine

It was only some hours since
I saw the best of all dawns
An orange cloudy golden heaven
Mixed with violet shining spots

It’s incredible to have it so dark
On this huge heather-flowering moor;
It might only be a little Brontë spell
To let me feel somehow a part of them!

MADDALENA DE LEO Haworth 5/8/1999


Always was I haunted
By an urgent desire
It is now fulfilled
And found its way at last.

‘…To live in Haworth
As its real inhabitant
To ramble the moors
All over by daylight

To reach Top Withens
And see its ruins
To feel that atmosphere
And the Brontë world around’

And this I really saw
A sort of paradise
With nature at its best
And no contamination at all.


Haworth 12/7/2005

Saturday, 14 January 2006

Sezione Italiana

The new website of the Brontë Society's Italian section is well worth a visit. It can be found at

Creative Writing Weekend

This will take place at the Parsonage on Saturday 8 (10am - 4pm) and Sunday 9 April 2006. The weekend will include a unique opportunity to view some of the more unusual and rarely seen objects in the museum's collection.

These remarkable artefacts, along with the powerful atmosphere of the Parsonage and its surroundings, will be explored as starting points for writing.

Workshop leader will be poet and short story writer Sue Wood.

Booking in advance is essential. The fee for the whole weekend is £30 per person, £20 concessions.

To book, contact the Education Officer

Wild Workshops

Art and craft workshops for children between the ages of 5 and 11 will be held at the Parsonage on Friday 24 February. The price is £3.75 for each child. Contact the Education Officer by ringing 01535 640185 or by emailing

Friday, 13 January 2006

Reading this in the USA?

To join the American Brontë Society, email Theresa Connors:


The annual poetry competition for children sixteen years and under is now underway. The closing date for entries is 31 July. Entry is free.

Forms are available from the Education Officer -

Mythic Power

Shared Experience's play Brontë has received much attention and many positive reviews in the last few months. This one appears in the most recent Brontë Society Gazette, which is distributed to members:

Shared Experience’s Brontë goes beyond the surface of everyday life and makes visible what is hidden: this play successfully does just what director Polly Teale intends.

Ten years ago, with Nancy Meckler, she performed the same service with her Jane Eyre. At the West Yorkshire Playhouse one evening in September I was impressed to such an extent that I felt inadequate chatting about it on Radio Leeds the following day in a four minute slot between the music requests: I was just pulling out random raisins from a very rich cake. Brontë is significantly nutritious.

Along with Paula Rego, whose images appear on the set - the facade of a burned house - Polly Teale is intrigued “by the mythic power of the mad woman, by Charlotte Brontë’s repulsion and attraction to her creation, by the mad woman’s danger and eroticism.� A central character returning, she writhes into the action from the shadows whenever approriate, grovelling, growling, slithering and crouching on the floor. A Christian whore in the tradition of Mary Magdalene perhaps, her clothing is in shades of red, just as it was in Jane Eyre.

Her accent, when she manages to gasp out a few distinguishable words, has a strong Jamaican flavour. She is the Bertha in Wild Sargasso Sea, the creole removed from respectability, the poor ghost whose life was written for her by Jean Rhys.

From the start, it is made clear that we are watching make-believe. Diane Beck (Emily), Catherine Cusack (Anne) and Fenella Woolgar (Charlotte) come on to speak to us as themselves, becoming their characters only after they have put on their corsets and dresses. In the spirit of Brecht, Shared Experience believes that the audience will become a mass of mindlessness if there is too much immersion. We must remain sharp.

Yet there is still much of the supernatural about the production, as there must be. Cathy drifting on the moor is ectoplasmically white, scattering feathers; a young Jane sees herself as a spirit in the mirror of the Red Room at Gateshead Hall; the female beast is a recurrent nightmare; the denizens of the Parsonage are constantly haunted by their creations, the mysterious threatening the rational.

Charlotte definitely burns Emily’s unfinished and unknown novel, holding the pages over a bucket. There is a hasty mention of the fact that this remains unproven. Fenella Woolgar brings out Charlotte’s practical, organisational side brilliantly, her front against what is submerged.

If forced to prise an individual from such a powerful ensemble, I would choose Diane Beck as Emily. She reinforces the established view of Emily with her need to be alone and her contempt for convention, and adds much more. I was particularly interested in her relationship with Branwell, the bringer of knowledge, carnal and otherwise. The insight was in the empathy, the lack of recoil.

Matthew Thomas’s Branwell is a slightly lovable binge drinker, forgivable in spite of his abuse of Charlotte and his describing her as a weasel. When he stands on the table wearing a green sash and shouting “Land ahoy!� we immediately recognise his early inspirational qualities.

David Fielder is very professionally versatile as Patrick Brontë, Arthur Bell Nicholls, Rochester and Charlotte’s tutor. Nicholls comes across as creepy and clumsy, a pathetic extra on the turbulent scene, almost funny.

Brontë has been cut back to the essentials: the second part is a miracle of pruning and of timing, and the result is a triumph. The production’s first tour started at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford in September and ended at the Lowry, Salford in December, but we can be sure that it will run and run.

Richard Wilcocks

(Photo of Charlotte burning Emily’s novel by Mark Pennington)


Dappled dusty rays dance
On well-worn smoke-laden upholstery.
I lean back in the unforgiving oak chair,
a battered copy of Jane Eyre in hand,
overwhelmed by the passionate, witty exchanges
between her and the treacherous Rochester.
Flipping pages, madly scribbling notes,
I begin, in my warm solitude,
to hear the laughter of patrons,
their loud voices competing for the floor,
the publican drawing rounds
of foam-headed dark ale.
here at the Black Bull,
his own father’s church
looming powerfully beside,
watchful, judging.
And Branwell?
Did he feel it?
No, he felt only the drink,
I think to myself,
as I watch the steam from my cup
of richly-brewed coffee, two parts milk,
coil into the hazy view,
today and yesterday
melting into that brief moment
of sun on tired chintz-covered benches.

I walk decidedly
on the cobblestone path,
my bag slung loosely over my shoulder.
I hear a distant echo,
horses’ shod hooves
clattering unevenly.
The fog is held captive, a heavy
damp shroud possessed by the moors.
I perceive in the wandering light
a mossy gravestone, fungus-inhabited letters—
H E A T H C L I F F, it says,
and for a suspended interval,
it is wholly believable
that he should
occupy this ground.
I am stone still,
caught between the pages,
party to his desperate clawing at
Catherine’s coffin;
his meeting death without resignation,
joining her at last.

The loud voices at the Black Bull
fill my head;
Branwell returns to the frame.
The weak soul
of one
bound to the
savage cruelty
of the other—
and I mourn
their passing,
each one.

Carolyne Van Der Meer

(Pictured above in Haworth at the Brontë Society Education Conference in September 2004)

Brontës in Bath

If you live within reach, you should note these dates!


Thursday 9 March 7.30-8.30pm

Exploring the Brontës : Polly Teale in conversation with Caroline Maynard
Victoria Art Gallery, Bath
Tickets £7 (£5 concessions)
Shared Experience theatre director Polly Teale discusses her new play Brontë and its use of Paula Rego's Brontë prints with director Caroline Maynard. An unmissable chance to view the prints and get a glimpse into a working relationship between artist, theatre director and the inspiration to both: the Brontës themselves.

Sunday 12 March 1-2pm

Michele Roberts and Patricia Duncker - Exploring the Brontës
The Guildhall, Bath
Tickets £6 - £4 concessions
Michele Roberts and Patricia Duncker both acknowledge the powerful influence of the Brontës on their own novels (Charlotte Brontë is a central character in Michèle Roberts's The Mistressclass) and bring their skills as leading literary critics to bear on the passionate world of the Brontë sisters, exploring in particular the significance of their portrayal of domestic violence and cruelty.

The brochure for the 2006 Bath Literature Festival is published this month with the website at Bath Festivals Box Office on 01225 463362 or

The Parsonage in winter

The Parsonage is currently closed to the public. This is so that staff can clean up exhibits, change displays and examine precious artefacts before re-opening on February 1st 2006.

Curator Polly Salter, who is in charge of the operation, is anticipating welcoming the seven millionth visitor this summer.

The museum opened in 1928. Roughly calculated, one million visitors have walked through the front door each decade.

Every exhibit must be carefully scrutinised, displays must be updated and essential maintenance must take place. A new exhibition called Face to Face with Charlotte is being set up - in her bedroom, where she died in 1855.

Staff can still be contacted, and would love to hear from you. For details of events, email

To join the Brontë Society email

When will Heath play Heathcliff?

Heath Ledger

The 26-year-old Heath Ledger is "straight and guyish" according to Howard Feinstein in his piece in the Guardian on Friday January 6, but he has not balked at playing the part of gay cowboy Ennis Del Mar in Ang Lee's exquisite, Wyoming-set Brokeback Mountain, an adaptation of Annie Proulx's 1997 short story.

His mining engineer father and French teacher mother named him after Emily Brontë's Heathcliff, who might also be described as straight and guyish.

"...there is something seductive about him," says Feinstein, who goes on to quote Lena Headey, who co-starrred with him in Terry Gilliam's Brothers Grim: "I can't imagine anyone anywhere being able to say no to him. His energy is infectious."

Milton Rosmer as Heathcliff

Thursday, 12 January 2006

Remember Milton Rosmer?

The search is on for what might be the first ever film version of Wuthering Heights, one of the few adaptations to have stuck closely to what Emily Brontë actually wrote.

Only a few stills and photographs taken in and around Haworth during the filming remain as clues to its whereabouts. The search was launched after the Parsonage was given an album of these which were presented originally by the film's producer, A V Bramble, to Jonas Bradley, a very active Brontë Society founder-member and a teacher at the school in Stanbury, who had helped find appropriate locations for the crew.

The film, shot in 1920, was a six-reeler which lasted for about an hour and a half. It was made by the long-gone Ideal Film Company, based in London's Soho .

Milton Rosmer starred as the adult Heathcliff, with three other actors playing the character in his youth. Rosmer was considered by some to have been one of England's answers to Rudolph Valentino, and would have boosted box office takings.

Cathy was played by three actresses including Anne Trevor and child star Twinkles Hunter.

"No-one seems to have a copy," Parsonage Librarian Ann Dinsdale told this blog. "We have contacted an impressive number of people and organisations, from the Academy of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles and the Library of Congress, to Kevin Brownlow, an acknowledged expert on silent films.

We believe it may be in private hands.

It would be wonderful to have in our collection. We have a huge number of programmes and stills of all the many adaptations and in recent years there has been a huge interest in the films.

The film's makers went to a lot of trouble to ensure the accuracy, shooting it on location. It covers the entire novel while most modern adaptations end half-way through."

More than eighty years ago, canisters of the film, billed at the time as 'Emily Brontë's tremendous story of hate' might have remained in Yorkshire after the showings, but are more likely to have been taken to some central distribution point, probably London.

Although some early films have survived fairly well, many forgotten classics have decayed beyond the point where they can be restored. Thinking optimistically, it is possible that Wuthering Heights on its cellulose nitrate base was once copied on to modern safety film.

Ann Dinsdale is optimistic: "Previous curators have tried to find it, but did not get far. We decided that the time has come to make a concerted effort.

We want to hear from anyone who might have any information at all about the film. Perhaps your grandparents talked about the fascinating events in the village, which must have caused a stir.

And ultimately, has anyone got a copy?"

*Email this blog if you have details!

Milton Rosmer (pictured above, but not as Heathcliff)had a lengthy and successful career as an actor, director and writer. He appeared as Mr Bennett in a 1952 television version of Pride and Prejudice and in many popular films in the preceding decades, for example Goodbye Mr Chips, made in 1939.

His direction of Dreyfus in 1931 was much praised.

In 1920 cinema audiences would probably have known him for his roles such as Theodore Lawrence in Little Women (1917) or Sir Roger de la Haye in The Chinese Puzzle (1919).

As a stage actor, he was much admired, and was briefly (in 1943) Director of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford.