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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: