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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 Conference papers will probably not be published as a booklet (Brontë Society Council is economising) but should be available on request from Bob Duckett as photocopies.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