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Thursday, 27 September 2007

Brontë Circles

Robert Barnard - pictured here with Director of the Parsonage Museum Alan Bentley - gave a talk entitled People the Brontës Knew in Haworth yesterday, to a large and appreciative audience. It was to mark the recent publication of A Brontë Encyclopedia: the indefinite article signifying academic modesty is officially favoured, but this major (definitive?)work should soon be up there with the likes of Juliet Barker's The Brontës. Up there with Clement Shorter too.

Magazine editor Shorter produced
Charlotte Brontë and her Circle in the 1890s, and it was his title which provided Dr Barnard with the talk's structure. "Some might think that she didn't have a circle....but everyone has one....although you would be hard-pressed to find one for Emily.

"I am going to talk about two or three circles. The first is the one which Patrick and Maria gathered around themselves at Thornton."

Thornton was described as a place where the gentry (which included the clergy) was "not really impressive" but where it was more numerous than in Haworth. Thanks to Miss Elizabeth Firth of Kipping House, who welcomed the Brontës there in 1815, we know about most of the social engagements of the time. Less than three months after Maria's death, "Patrick contacted Elizabeth, then aged about twenty-one, and must have proposed marriage, because she records that she wrote back to him telling him that it was her last letter to him."

She probably considered him to be of too lowly an origin. And he was Irish, too: "Attitudes to the Irish were perhaps a little similar to some present-day attitudes to immigrant groups like West Indians or the Poles.....It was not usual for people of a humble Irish origin to espouse English conservatism."

Quoting from Dudley Green's
The Letters of the Reverend Patrick Brontë, Dr Barnard showed how Patrick, "although he cringed to the gentry he met at Thornton", and although he wrote that "a warmer or truer friend to Church and State" could not be found, nevertheless found himself bound to "advocate the cause of temperate reform".

The end of Patrick's association with "extreme conservatism" and the Thornton Circle was marked by his letter to Dr Outhwaite of 20 September 1844:

I thank You for your Laconic Letter - I will try to abide by your - prescription for in good sooth, I have much need of patience, especially, when under affliction, such as may arise from Old Age, and Old Friends. - But that God to whom you refer, will judge You and [me], on the day of Doom, when we shall be more on a Level than we are now are - You have in times past done me [and mine]good for which I shall ever be thankful, whatever you now do, or may do, in time to come -

I remain, Sir
Your most obedient Servant, P. Brontë

The second group of people which Dr Barnard selected was the clergy - part of Charlotte's circle. "We can guess her opinions from reading the opening chapter of
Shirley in which clergymen are ridiculed." Clergymen were the only ones who could be regarded as matrimonial prospects, and Charlotte did not think much of most of them - for example the one who absconded with charity money (Smith), the one with profligate habits (Collins) who was physically cruel to his wife and children, infecting her with syphilis, and her father's close friend William Morgan, referred to as a boring "fat Welshman", and whose visits she detested.

"For Charlotte, the majority of clergymen were stupid and mediocre, with few prospects. All they did was to pass the time between meals quarreling. They lacked any zest for life.

"So what an eruption of vigour it must have been when William Weightman arrived! He was exceptionally lively and outgoing, with a wonderful warmth emanating from him......such a contrast with her brother Branwell, always looking in on himself.....Weightman had a sense of love, of humanity.....all the Brontës were in love with him.....he sent them all Valentines, including Ellen Nussey."

The third circle selected was Charlotte's society of her equals. "This was the sort of society which she had been aiming for all her life. The evidence is in the Juvenilia, which is full of literary controversies."

Most of the members of this circle were connected with London, a place of "venomous literary quarrels" which Charlotte had long been aware of before her visits. She knew about disputes surrounding MacPherson (alleged Ossian translator) and Byron, and the vicious denigration of John Keats and Leigh Hunt in Blackwoods magazine ("the Cockney School of English Poets"), so she was well-primed when she met a collection of in-the-flesh critics at a dinner organised by George Smith. She found, unsurprisingly, that critics were more presumptuous and domineering than the actual writers.

In London, she met people she would never have been allowed to see previously, and her attitudes and opinions were suitably amended. Thackeray "fell off his plinth" after her earlier infatuation with him. She became disillusioned with him "and his duchesses". She also stayed in Ambleside with Harriet Martineau - an atheist. "Of course she was lucky to have such friends and guides as George Smith and W S Williams."

"I cut down on the Juvenilia in the Encyclopedia. Some characters are referred to only fleetingly, and they are all covered by Christine Alexander."

Copies of the book (read the review by M. on Brontë Blog at sold well after the talk.

Here are the details if you (or your library) want a copy. Order it from the Parsonage Shop:

Europe / Rest of World £55.00
Australia / New Zealand A$198.00
ISBN13: 9781405151191
ISBN10: 1405151196

Publication Dates

USA: Aug 2007
Rest of World: Jul 2007
Australia: Sep 2007

Format : 246 x 171 mm , 6.75 x 9.75 in

Details : 416 pages, 50 illustrations.

Robert and Louise Barnard's A Brontë Encyclopedia is an A- Z encyclopedia of the most notable literary family of the 19th century highlighting original literary insights and the significant people and places that influenced the Brontes' lives.
• Comprises approximately 2,000 alphabetically arranged entries
• Defines and describes the Brontes' fictional characters and settings
• Incorporates original literary judgements and analyses of characters and motives
• Includes coverage of Charlotte's unfinished novels and her and Branwell's juvenile writings
• Features over 60 illustrations

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Remarkable Children

Mary Haigh writes:

To all who have waited for the arrival of my children's book -

The Brontës Remarkable Children of the Moors in Their Everyday World

I am honored to have received the gift of inspiration to write and illustrate this book. At last, it is listed on

The book is self-published by XLIBRIS, and they have produced a truly beautiful book - a joy to look at, capturing the watercolors just as I painted them. The text is full of subtle biographical occurrences that were important in the development of the Brontë children's lives. It is all very exciting making use of this unseen technology available at the touch of a keyboard. All the details are available on:

Barnards in Haworth

Bob and Louise Barnard will both be in Haworth today (Wednesday) at 2pm for a talk entitled People the Brontës Knew. This will be upstairs at the Baptist Chapel in West Lane.

The talk relates to the recent (July) publication of a major work - The Brontë Encyclopedia. The definite article needs a strong emphasis, I think. More later.

*Go to Bob's obituary page here

Listen to Agnes Grey again

It's currently the turn of Agnes Grey to be on BB7. Blog readers outside the UK are reminded that the BBC's Listen Again facility is well worth investigating:

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Wuthering Heights on the Radio

Thanks, James, for reminding us about what is coming up on the radio - BBC7 to be precise. Wuthering Heights begins next Monday 17 September with an hour-long episode beginning at 11am, which will be repeated on Tuesday morning at 5am. Stand by your DAB!

The five-part adaptation runs throughout the week. John Duttine, Amanda Root and Sharon Duce are the principals. Mary Barton is coming as well...

Find out more by going to

If you are somewhere which can't receive BBC7 (North America for example) please note that the whole lot is available as an audiobook (four CDs) which can be purchased for fifty dollars - BBC Radio Collection ISBN-13: 978-0-7927-3987-6

John Duttine (best known perhaps for his role in The Day of the Triffids) is pictured below:

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Amanda Dalton: Poet in Residence


To mark National Poetry Day, poet Amanda Dalton will be resident in the Parsonage for one day. She will be working in the Parsonage, exploring its collections and engaging with museum visitors to produce material which will be developed into a series of audio installations in the rooms of the house.

Visitors will have the chance to contribute material which will feature as part of the installations. These will be in-situ from Saturday 17 November to Friday 14 December.

Amanda Dalton’s first full length collection of poetry, How to Disappear, was published by Bloodaxe Books and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. She has worked extensively in theatre and radio drama and is currently working on her second poetry collection for publication in 2008.

Amanda has also worked in education, as Centre Director for the Arvon Foundation at Lumb Bank, and is Associate Director (Education) at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.

Free on admission to the Parsonage.

Friday, 7 September 2007

The Letters to Brussels

Deep in the heart of the British Library are four letters written by Charlotte Brontë to her Belgian teacher Constantin Heger. It is nothing short of a miracle that the letters have survived at all. They were torn into small pieces, repaired with needle and thread and then left forgotten in a drawer until 1913.

The importance of these letters can hardly be underestimated. They are essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the true nature of Charlotte Brontë’s feelings for Monsieur Heger when she wrote to him from Haworth:

I would rather suffer the greatest physical agony than always have my heart lacerated by painful regrets. If my master withdraws his friendship from me entirely I shall be altogether without hope; if he gives me a little – just a little – I shall be satisfied – happy; I shall have a reason for living; for working.

It takes a certain dogged persistence to gain access to the letters, but Derek Blyth of the Brussels Brontë Group recently saw them for himself. With the letters on the table in front of him, he was able to obtain a better insight into Charlotte’s mind when she sat down to write to Heger. Study of the originals also helps to pinpoint the moment they were torn up, and to identify the person who saved these outstanding literary documents for posterity. Derek Blyth, a Brussels-based writer who has written guide books on Belgium, will be talking about the letters at the Cercle des Voyageurs Café in Brussels on Thursday 18 October.

More information on the talk at:

Or contact

Brussels tourist information:

The Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent is currently organising a major exhibition titled British Vision that highlights some 200 years of British painting. The earliest works date from the Victorian period when Charlotte Brontë and her sisters were writing their novels and so provides some interesting insights into the artistic mind of the time. Held in Ghent’s recently restored neoclassical museum, this is a unique opportunity to discover the British imagination in all its richness.

More information on British Visions at

Images below:

Derek Blyth, drawings from Charlotte Brontë's tale High Life in Verdopolis, the story that she presented to Heger and that turned up mysteriously in a Brussels secondhand bookshop in the early 1890s - now in the British Library. "Portrait of a Young Woman" c. and "King of Angria, Duke of Zamorna" c. 1834.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

The Gondal Trio

Paolo Mencarelli writes:

My great passion for the Brontë sisters originated by chance from a desire to deepen my knowledge of female literature. English literature, from this point of view, is full of extraordinary examples: Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolf to mention only a few, and the Brontë sisters, of whom until 2006 I had never read anything.

I started with Jane Eyre, a novel that impressed me deeply for the extraordinary character of the protagonist and her moral strength. After this, I continued with another enchanting Charlotte Brontë novel - Villette, then The Professor, Shirley and (with growing interest and passion) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne - and finally Emily’s poems.

These, in particular, struck me so much that I decided to postpone my reading of Wuthering Heights until August 11, 2007, at Haworth, after coming back from a wonderful walk on the moors.

This interior path urged me to involve my literary experiences also in my daily life. I am a cellist and together with my wife, Maddalena, a violinist, I am a permanent member of the orchestra of the theatre La Fenice in Venice. Our life-long interest in music prompted us to develop other experiences besides that in the orchestra and so, many years ago, we founded a piano trio. Recently we had to find another pianist for our group, and so, while looking for the name of our new trio, it was natural for me to suggest 'Gondal'.

The idea was accepted with great enthusiasm, since our new pianist, whose name is also Maddalena, is very fond of English Literature: she has prepared a dissertation on Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and a doctoral dissertation on the vocal chamber music of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gerald Finzi.

The repertoire of our Gondal trio is mainly Romantic, centred on the trios of Brahms and Mendelssohn (our favourite) and for the next year we have many projects including the performance of the entire chamber music production of Beethoven next spring and the trios of Dvorak and Villa-Lobos.

I would like to spend a few words on my recent visit to Haworth in August with my wife. We arrived Friday 10 and we stayed in a nice B&B near Main Street.

The following day we went to St Michael's and All Angels. I was a bit excited when I crossed the threshold of the church. Inside there were only two people: a woman polishing the brass and the organist. The atmosphere, in that absolute silence interrupted only by the wonderful playing of the organ and the view of the beautiful stained glass windows was really breathtaking. At 10.30 am we started our walk to Top Withins and the Brontë Waterfalls. The pathway on the moors was enchanting: the heather was blooming and the wind modified in a few seconds the colours of a bright blue sky covered by dark and white clouds.

On Sunday 12 August we went to the Parsonage Museum. It’s difficult to forget the emotion of the visit. To look at the dining room with the black sofa, Emily’s piano, the small dress and Charlotte’s shoes, Branwell’s paintings, the wonderful embroideries of the sisters, the brooches, the pins and all those photographs was something really interesting and touching.

Two memorable days, but too, too short! Many things still remain to be seen and discovered ..... we will surely come back!

Below, pictures of us, of La Fenice, Top Withins in the distance and a patch of wild Rosebay Willow Herb: