Sunday, 10 June 2007

June Weekend 2

Selina Busch writes:

For those who weren’t there, here are my recollections of the Brontë Society AGM I attended last weekend.

I had been looking forward to it so very much, not having been there last year; I have attended several AGM events in previous years and come to know and love so many friendly people. It was mainly because of the people I wanted to go back to Haworth, and to my beloved England.

When the bus from Keighley slowly approached the Haworth valley, and I saw the village appear on the horizon, I knew I would soon be at my favourite place; my ‘home from home’.

I felt terribly excited and happy to be back again, having last seen it two years ago; but at the same time, it was all so familiar, it seemed I had seen the pleasant rolling hills and walked the cobbled Main Street only the day before…

Friday kicked off at 2.00 pm with an interesting and entertaining talk by Victoria Glendinning, called Writers and their Houses. She discussed how the research of biographers and the curiosity of us readers makes us want to know all about the private lives, including the homes, of our favourite writers. Since the unromantic reality frequently fails to satisfy our curiosity and preconceptions, we hope to get closer to the creative origin of the fictional world of the writer by visiting their homes, now often turned into museums or owned by the National Trust. She dwelt in particular on the special atmosphere of the Brontë Parsonage, how small it is, and on Haworth.

In the evening, the AGM weekend saw its first Book Auction. A private collection, by Brontë society member Arthur B. Walker who died last year, was being auctioned and anyone who was interested could bid for books. My M. Heger, Brian Speak, with whom I did readings from Villette when he came over to Brussels in April, bought a lot of items; he told me he collects Brontë books. I only bought two, but I’m very pleased with my purchases. (Emily Brontë, by Winifred Gerin and The Brontës and their Background: Romance and Reality, by Tom Winnifrith)

The following day saw the usual Saturday programme of a lecture, church service, tea at Ashmount and the AGM. The lecture this year was given by Scottish professor Douglas Gifford, and was called: Border cousins: James Hogg and Emily Brontë.

James Hogg made his reputation in 1824 with his popular novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (a gothic novel about religious mania with a psychopathic hero). Gifford explored the thesis that Emily, who would surely have read his work, took inspiration from characters of folklore, such as the ‘Brownie’, for the creation of Heathcliff.

This year is the 150th anniversary of Mrs. Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë, and during the annual service in the Parish Church, we were treated to an excellent address by Patsy Stoneman about the enormous impact of this ‘novel-like’ biography, and some readings of the book by Jean Bull. Afterwards we had a pleasant afternoon tea at Ashmount, made even more agreeable by the lovely weather we had been blessed with all weekend, and the setting of the beautiful garden. Time passed by very quickly, as it always does on this busy day, and we had to rush off to the AGM, which started at 4.30. It was, on the whole, business as usual, but some eyebrows were raised with regard to the Society's continuing financial deficit and the new development plans, with seemed to cause concern to some members.

I had been looking forward all day to the evening programme, which I anticipated would be the highlight of the weekend. At 7.30 we were gathering in the West Lane Baptist church once again (all the comfy chairs were quickly occupied!) for a panel discussion chaired by Justine Picardie, featuring some big names in the Brontë biography world: Lyndall Gordon, Edward Chitham, Rebecca Fraser and Juliet Barker, no less, were all present at the table.

These great biographers, whose works I have read, discussed their first recollection of reading Mrs. Gaskell’s Life. We heard what new grounds, left untouched by Mrs. Gaskell, they wanted to explore, and what impact this important biography had and continues to have on subsequent biographers. The question time after the discussion ended with the very good question “What would have happened if Mrs Gaskell had NOT written the Life, and who did the panel think might have written the first biography of Charlotte Brontë?” They all had their own interesting and daring ideas, which set us thinking in our turn. The whole evening had been full of exhilarating and thought-provoking ideas and views. As far as I was concerned the talk could have been allowed to go on even longer. Open forum discussions have proved to be very popular in recent years, and this was no exception. There can’t be enough of this kind of events, where individual members have the opportunity to voice their own thoughts about the Brontës.

Afterwards, I somewhat nervously approach Juliet Barker, introduced myself and told her about our new Brussels group. She said it sounded like a very good idea. I suggested she look at our website and the report on our group in the BS Annual Report....

Readings also are one of my favourite events, as the original work still speaks volumes, and on Sunday morning Angela Crow hosted readings from the Brontës, read by Ian and Catherine Emberson, Robert Barnard, Helen Newman, Richard Wilcocks and Alexandra Lesley, who helped to transport us to another world.

Sadly, this was the last event I was able to attend; I was unable to join the others on one of the walks organised in the afternoon since I had to catch my plane back to the Netherlands.

It had been a whirlwind of emotions for me, full of discussions, readings, talking to friends, listening to people, looking, exploring, thinking…

Pure exhaustion, once back home, seemed like a very fair price to pay after such a brilliant weekend!

* more on the June Weekend soon...

James Hogg (The Ettrick Shepherd) below -

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