Tuesday, 12 June 2007

June Weekend - 4

Helen MacEwan writes -

Coming back to reality (and the office) after a weekend in Haworth, I think I know something of what the Brontë siblings must have felt on returning to their teaching duties after a holiday at the Parsonage, exchanging literary enthusiasms on moorland walks!

It is of course not just the organised events, good as they are, that make the Brontë Society's June AGM weekends so memorable and bring members back year after year. It is the combination of the setting - Haworth and the rolling moors around, with long summer days to walk on them - and the opportunity to meet lots of other members. It may not be the best weekend of the year for communing in solitude with the spirits of Charlotte or Emily, but no-one who welcomes the chance to talk over Brontë passions with like-minded enthusiasts on café terraces in Main Street, in the lounge bar of the Old White Lion or while striding over the moors, should miss the June AGM.

Brontë Society members are such a varied lot, coming from such a range of ages, nationalities, occupations and backgrounds. Some grew up in the area, others run overseas branches of the Society at the other side of the world, in America or Australia. Some were brought to the Parsonage by creative projects requiring research (I met a choreographer who has created a ballet about the Brontës and a playwright who's written a play about them). Each member has his or her specific interest or story to tell. There's the lady who has a Brontë room in her house, and the member who's amassed a collection of around 500 Brontë-related books over the years. I spoke to couples who had met through the Society and people who'd formed some of their best friendships with other members.

The 2007 AGM weekend followed the usual pattern. By Friday evening the Haworth Bed and Breakfasts were bursting at the seams. The meat of the weekend was on Saturday, with a morning lecture, a garden tea party, the AGM itself, and a discussion on "Brontë lives" by the biographers Juliet Barker, Lyndall Gordon, Rebecca Fraser and Edward Chitham (biographer of Anne). Barker, Gordon and Fraser told the audience why they had believed that new lives of the Brontës were necessary. They had all wanted to demolish myths and stereotypes created by previous biographers, starting with Mrs Gaskell. Juliet Barker, who had approached her subjects as a historian rather than an English literature expert and chosen to write about the whole family instead of an individual member of it, had in particular set out to correct the stereotypes of Patrick, Branwell and of course Haworth itself.

The programme on Sunday was lighter: readings in the morning and an afternoon walk on the moors, followed by a film. Interestingly for Selina Busch and myself, as representatives of the Brussels group, the readings this year included a substantial Belgian component: one of Emily's Belgian essays and William Crimsworth's first impressions of Belgium in The Professor.

The 2008 AGM will be held over the weekend of 7 - 8 June.

Below, tea at Ashmount -

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