Bookmark this independent blog

Monday, 30 April 2007

Page 99 test

Marshal Zeringue writes:
I edit a books blog that has recently run a couple of items that may be of interest to members of The Brontë Society.

The Page 99 Test invites authors to look at page 99 of their books at see if it faithfully represents the entire work. This "test" was inspired by Ford Madox Ford's observation, "Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you."

Leading scholars are also invited to apply the test to classic works.

Recently, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre made appearances on the blog.

See Patsy Stoneman's take on Wuthering Heights at

Thank you for your attention.

Friday, 27 April 2007

'Who were the Brontës?' exhibition opens

Emma King - whose photo appears below - was primarily responsible for the new exhibition at the Parsonage which hopes to tackle some of the commonly held myths and perceptions about the lives of the Brontë family head-on when it opens to the public today for two years. It was officially opened yesterday evening by Chairman of the Brontë Society Richard Wilcocks, who described it as "excellent and very accessible".

He went on to talk briefly about the enduring mythic power of some of the characters created by the Brontës, one obvious example being the 'madwoman in the attic' created by Charlotte. This Bertha, or perhaps Antoinette, was still intriguing and influencing creative spirits like, for example, the theatre director Polly Teale, who had made her a central character in the Shared Experience play Brontë.

He chose Branwell as the member of the family who was often perceived as merely a drunk and a drug-taker who couldn't hold down a job. "He definitely had talent," said Mr Wilcocks before reading an excerpt from a poem written in Branwell's despair over the end of his secret relationship with Lydia Robinson. He then read lines which Branwell had written to be set to music, adding, "Branwell was the equivalent of the boy today who gets the wrong advice after finishing high school: I am sure he could have been a successful musician."

Visitors to the Museum will be taken on a journey of discovery and invited to interpret the evidence for themselves through the fascinating collection of objects, drawings, letters and hair samples of the Brontës, to arrive at their own conclusions to some fundamental differences between reality, fiction and established Brontë myths.

The lives of the Brontës have inspired many hundreds of biographies, novels, films and plays and Curator of the exhibition, Emma King, believes many of the stereotypical ideas of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë are at least partially or wholly untrue. She said, “The popular story says that the Brontës lived a remote, rural life. It describes three sisters who lived in poverty with a distant father and unfriendly aunt. Their brother drank away the family money, forcing them to work. Yet before their tragic, early deaths they each wrote novels that would become famous around the world – the story is an attractive one, but not entirely true. This exhibition hopes to challenge some of these perceptions."

One of the earliest documented writings about the lives of the Brontës came from Charlotte Brontë’s first biographer, Elizabeth Gaskell, whose manuscript of The Life of Charlotte Brontë, published some 150 years ago, is on display at the Museum until June 2007. Gaskell made the
most of the tragic aspects of Charlotte’s life and her unkind portraits of Charlotte’s father and brother have been accepted as fact. Even 150 years ago, the book was met with libel action and threats of legal action. Mrs. Gaskell vowed never to write another biography, complaining that the book had landed her “in the hornet’s nest”.

The thoughtless critics, who spoke of the sad and gloomy views of life presented by the Brontës in their tales, should know how such work was wrung out of them by the living recollection of the long agony they suffered – Elizabeth Gaskell.

Hopefully, the exhibition will encourage visitors of all ages to decipher for themselves what is the real truth about this unique family with the help of some 21st century technology. New scientific research by The University of Bradford has recently thrown new light on a small part of the Brontë story. Dr. Andrew Wilson, an archaeological scientist at the University, carried out tests on Brontë hair from the museum’s collection for a recent ground-breaking Cornelia Parker exhibition at the Parsonage.

He discovered that the Brontës ate a healthy and balanced diet which was better than that for people living in the East End of London at the same time. The research disproves the myth that their father, Patrick, restricted his children’s

The exhibition is free on admission to the Museum.

Diane Kay

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Brussels events

Over the weekend of 21-22 April the newly-formed Brussels Brontë Group organised a day of events to coincide with Charlotte Brontë's birthday, for which we were joined by a small group from the Society's London and South-East group led by Margaret McCarthy.

Our members Eric Ruijssenaars, Selina Busch and Maureen Peeck O'Toole (all in the Netherlands) helped to organise similar events for the Society's 1993 and 2003 trips to Brussels.

This time we were guided round the Brontë places by Derek Blyth, a British writer living in Brussels who has written some of the main guide books on the city (his Brussels for Pleasure - 13 walks through the historic city includes a Brontë walk) and is fascinated by some of the unanswered questions about the Brontë places.

The weekend marked an interesting departure from previous Brontë Society events in Brussels. Although the 1993 and 2003 trips were able to benefit from Eric Ruijssenaars' findings on the Pensionnat Heger and Isabelle quarter, this was the first event organised by members actually living in Brussels who could offer our visitors an insider's view and insights.

To his main Brontë walk centred on the site of the Pensionnat, Derek Blyth added a second one, a mystery tour devised especially for our visitors. As soon they arrived we were all whisked off by him to see some spots with lesser-known or speculative Brontë connections, such as the building in front of which Derek thinks Lucy Snowe may have fainted after her visit to the cathedral.

Next day, after lunch on the roof terrace restaurant of the Museum of Musical Instruments with its fabulous view of Place Royale, so often crossed by Charlotte Brontë, and a visit to Chapelle Royale where she worshipped, came the Brontë walk proper. The territory for this one was more familiar but some novel features were incorporated: readings from Villette and from letters by an obliging "Charlotte" in the group, visual aids (old street views, pictures Charlotte saw in exhibitions during her stay), and, again, Derek Blyth's own theories about some of the routes taken by Lucy/Charlotte.

Concentrating in fascinating detail on what is geographically a smallish area, in two hours we covered a lot of ground in terms of the history of Brussels and the background to the Brontës' visit: not only where their English friends lived but the wider British community of the time and its amenities in and around Place Royale, for example.

After a "birthday" tea party and a dinner, the day was rounded off by some Brontë activities: a quiz and readings from Villette by Selina Busch and Brian Speak, introduced by Maureen Peeck.

It was wonderful to have Margaret McCarthy's group with us for this event. We are planning to make this April Brontë weekend an annual event and would love to invite more groups of members to join us in between the big excursions organised by the Society. Is anyone interested for next year?

Helen MacEwan

Below: Reading Villette in a Brussels restaurant and the whole group in front of the Cathedral.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

From the Visitor's Book

It was a poem last time - see the archive. This time, here are some of the comments made by visitors in February and March. Thanks to Liz Walton for compiling them. If you wish to add your belated comment after a visit, please email it to


Still feels like a family home
Very good exhibits and good value
Very professional
This will help me with my school work
The letters were very well presented
Liked the leaflet for children
Family tree was the best bit, it helped with my school work
An amazing, emotional place – not least because Daniel proposed to me upstairs
Well explained and maintained and a wonderful balance of information and preservation
The amount of seats was good – most museums make you tired and you fall down with exhaustion
Kids enjoyed upstairs activities
Best bit – virtual tour
It has inspired me to find out more about the Brontës, and read their books

Would have liked more linked arrows to the place – got lost twice
I loved it, but there were too many noisy schoolchildren
Very interesting and enjoyable, but would have been nice to have a proper tour
Liked it, but could be bigger
Short but interesting
Show a film of the Brontës' lives
It was great fun, but would have been nice to dress up (young girl from Leeds)

I am about to read Wuthering Heights at school – seeing Heathcliff and Cathy’s gravestone have kind of ruined it, but I know how Emily was inspired.
The house is big, but the beds very small – why?


Really interesting, excellent displays and friendly staff
People who work here are friendly and lovely
The numbered rooms are a good idea
I was amazed at how talented as artists they were
Great collection of letters
A wonderful place to show the children (teacher from Huddersfield)
Friendly Pam
I thought there was really good info and liked the Bonnell Collection
Very enjoyable to wander at one’s own pace
Nice and cheery
Exhibition panels clear and readable. Liked layout of rooms and items in them – airy (Visitors from the Wordsworth Trust)

You need to have loos!
More on laptop would have been useful as I cannot always see clearly
Need more text in Spanish
The atmosphere is wonderful – shame some parts have to be ill lit
Original artefacts should be here, with reproductions in the National museums
Would have appreciated guides to answer questions (American visitor)
Bit of classical music/piano?
I was shocked – came many years ago & it was the Brontës' home. The Brontës wouldn’t recognise it. It was stark and cold like the moors – such a disappointment. Where are all the little books, soldiers and Emily’s paintings?
Very impressed by its presentation. Would like to have some interactive presentations to show my students in Pakistan
Poor signs to get here (confusing)
It was great but too short

Thursday, 19 April 2007

In the Blood

A large and appreciative audience listened to Andrew Motion yesterday evening in Haworth. In the first half, the Poet Laureate read a number of his poems, one or two dating from his early twenties, others more recent, and extracts from his recently-published In the Blood, subtitled 'A Memoir of My Childhood'.

In the Blood is about growing up in post-war England, and is an evocation of family life, school life and country life. It also tells the story of how these worlds are shattered when his mother suffers a terrible riding accident. It is written from the point of view of a teenager, without the benefit of adult hindsight, capturing the pathos and puzzlement of childhood with great freshness of memory.

The main extract read out in Haworth was about a cricket match in which his father played, against a team called 'The Gentlemen of Essex'.

Questions from the audience occupied most of the second half: Motion spoke about the poets he reads ('More great ancients than great moderns nowadays'), about his opinions on how classic texts are poorly treated in schools and on what he does with the butt of sack given to him each year as payment. Apparently, he hates sherry.

Friday, 6 April 2007

Andrew Motion at the Parsonage

Yet another reminder that Andrew Motion will be coming to Haworth on Wednesday 18 April at 7.30pm, at the invitation of the Parsonage. Contact Andrew McCarthy by phoning 01535 640194 or by emailing if you intend coming.

Here are some preliminary comments:

'Compelling, simple and mysterious' Sean O'Brien Sunday Times

'His voice is unlike any other' Lavinia Greenlaw New Statesman & Society

'Motion is a beautiful lyricist unpretentiously and precisely describing those things worth having even as he casts unsettling shadows across them' Robert Potts The Guardian

Andrew Motion was appointed Poet Laureate in 1999. ‘I see myself as a town crier, can-opener and flag-waver for poetry’ His work has received the Arvon/Observer Prize, the John Llewelyn Rhys Prize and the Dylan Thomas Prize. He is Professor of Creative Writing at Royal Holloway and recently co-founded The Poetry Archive.

During the evening he will introduce his acclaimed autobiography In The Blood A Memoir of my Childhood (Faber), poems old & new and his work as Laureate.

‘Andrew Motion’s childhood memoir In the Blood is funny and spare and honest and clear. He captures perfectly the anxious yet optimistic incompleteness of being young.’ Julie Myerson Independent on Sunday

‘The great value of a memoir such as this is not only its revelation of someone else’s experiences, someone else’s consciousness, but the realisation of how much we share. He does write beautifully, of course, but I expected that; what’s given me even more pleasure is the amber-like quality of his memory, and the things I found myself recalling in sympathy.’ Philip Pullman

‘Deeply engaging … the innocence and the hardness of childhood are beautifully put together ... it’s a strikingly good book, framed by tragedy but full of intense life.’ Helen Dunmore

His website is at

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

John Brown's for Easter?

Visiting Haworth at Easter or after? Need a place to stay? In February, this blog gave news of the refurbishment of John Brown's House. Perhaps February was a little early, so here is the item again:

The Brontë Spirit blog - - has an item which might be of interest to you: John Brown's House, aka The Sexton's House aka Haworth Church Cottage, can now be booked. Could you get any closer to the Parsonage without camping on the lawn?

Visit the blogsite to find the whole story and the phone number.