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Monday, 29 June 2009

Help from the Lottery Fund

A news release from Andrew McCarthy, Parsonage Director:

The Brontë Parsonage Museum has been awarded a grant of £50,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to support a programme of exciting new developments.

The museum has ambitious plans to completely refurbish the historic interiors of the Parsonage over the next two years. This will involve researching and introducing a new decorative scheme to the Parsonage rooms, the renewal of interpretation giving visitors of all ages information about the house and the family, and installing new object cases and displays. The project will also seek to create a greater focus in the museum on Haworth’s history and the social-historical context in which the Brontës lived.

As part of this initiative there will be a programme of community activity to involve local people in the project. The Heritage Lottery Fund grant will fund stage one of the project which will involve the introduction of new interpretation, object cases and displays and the community programme of events which will begin with a local residents’ free admission day on 8 August.

The museum, which was home to the famous Brontë family for over forty years, and is where Charlotte, Emily and Anne’s great novels were written, recently completed a major refurbishment to its permanent exhibition space located in an extension to the original Brontë house. The refurbishment was the first major development at the museum in over twenty years and the new exhibition space,
Genius: The Brontë Story, which includes the treasures of the museum’s collection as well as fun interactive displays for children, has proved a big hit with visitors. This latest project will see further improvements to the museum.

Fiona Spiers, Head of HLF, Yorkshire and the Humber Region, said: "This fantastic project will really bring the museum’s collections to life for everyone to explore. HLF is dedicated to supporting projects that open up our heritage for locals and visitors to learn about and enjoy."

We are delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund is supporting us with this work. The Brontës are the heart of Haworth but they were part of a broader community when they lived and wrote here and the museum has an important role in reflecting that and in forging links with the twenty-first century Haworth community.

This project will hopefully allow us to work in partnership with that community to reinterpret the Brontës and the Parsonage for the next generation.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

More on the Annual Meeting

Brussels delegate Helen MacEwan writes:

One of the joys of the annual Brontë weekend in Haworth  is the encounters with the other members who converge on the village each year. They (we) are a very diverse group of people ranging from academics who have devoted their lives to researching the Brontës to local people who grew up with them, so to speak, and have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the family and of local lore. Some even have family links with Brontë connections, like Audrey Hall, who has inherited a scrapbook of Ellen Nussey's containing newspaper cuttings about Ellen's beloved friend Charlotte Brontë.

Then there are the claims made by some enthusiasts. There's the lady who claims to be a descendant of an illegitimate child of Branwell Brontë. Or the one who took a photo of the Parsonage and believes that a shadowy outline in the doorway is the ghost of Charlotte.

Of course the Brontës were keen on the supernatural so it is perhaps natural that ghosts should come up sometimes in the tales that are swapped over pints and generous helpings of Yorkshire pudding in the pub after the day's events. Have you heard the story about the London taxi-driver who saw Charlotte's ghost sitting in his cab? 

Enjoyable as these stories are, however, few Brontë Society members claim to see ghosts or dabble in any way in the supernatural! True, most of us have our passions and enthusiasms. Such as adding to our libraries of Brontë-related books. The Brontës must be the most written-about literary family in the world and we always live in hopes of picking up first editions or rare biographies in the many second-hand bookshops in Main Street.

The Brontës have always attracted creative people. In the pub I talked to the Italian cellist Paolo Mencarelli who belongs to a chamber music group called the Gondal Trio and is interested in the similarities between Emily's writings and Beethoven's music, and jazz singer Val Wiseman who's brought out an album of songs inspired by members of the Brontë family and by characters in their books.

Turning to the scheduled entertainment, one of the highlights was a concert given by Veronica Metz, who recently performed for the Brussels group, of her Celtic settings of Emily Brontë's poems.

Another was the panel discussion with novelists Joanne Harris (author of Chocolat), Jude Morgan, Amanda Craig, and Kate Walker who writes for Mills & Boon, on the influence of the Brontës on their work. Look out for Jude Morgan's The Taste of Sorrow, a fictionalised biography of the Brontës, which has just come out.

Interesting insights were provided during the discussion both by the writers and by members of the audience. For example, Patsy Stoneman said one gets the feeling from their novels that the Brontës somehow wanted to be women and Romantic heroes at the same time.

We also had talks by Juliet Barker, THE Brontë biographer, who started her career working in the Parsonage Museum. She refutes many of the "myths" about both Haworth and the Brontës perpetrated by Mrs Gaskell in her Life of Charlotte Brontë, and spoke to us about the motives that led Gaskell to deliberately distort some of the facts. But despite its inaccuracies, the Life is still a wonderful introduction to the Brontës. Our Brontë weekend in Brussels in 2010, the bicentenary of Mrs Gaskell's birth, will focus on her and we'll be exploring the ways in which she researched the material for her biography.

The revised edition of Juliet Barker's own Brontë biography is about to come out and she told us that some new facts have come to light, for example fresh evidence discrediting the story that Branwell went to London to study art at the Royal Academy and returned penniless having failed in the attempt and spent his money on drink.

The Society's annual general meeting, which all members can attend, always takes place over the weekend, with the Society's Council members reporting on developments in the past year. Financially, the Society relies heavily on revenue from visitors to the Parsonage Museum, and this year has seen an exciting revamp of the exhibition area. Every year there is an extensive arts programme. The Museum promotes works by contemporary writers and artists inspired by the Brontës and offers a wide range of educational activities.

As always, there were guided walks and happily the weather, which for the first part of the weekend was much more conducive to ghost stories round the fire than to walking, cleared up in time for our tramp over the Moors.

Next year's Brontë weekend in Haworth will be from Friday 4 June to Monday 7 June 2010. The main events are from Friday to Sunday, with an all-day excursion on Monday for those wishing to prolong the weekend.

Hope to see some of you there!

(See also the Brussels Brontë Blog in Links)

Below, concert by Veronica Metz of the band Anois in the Baptist chapel in Haworth used for many of the events:

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Sex, Drugs and Literature

On Thursday evening the new exhibition Sex, Drugs and Literature: The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë was viewed by an appreciative crowd. Branwell's life is presented in a balanced way, with recent research appropriately incorporated. We saw Branwell the impressive translator, Branwell the accomplished musician and Branwell the inspirational child as well as Branwell the drunk, Branwell the mediocre painter and Branwell who was hopelessly in love with his distant Lydia: her name appears in Greek lettering on one of the documents. It is beautifully set out and well designed, with banners by Den Stubbs.

"Branwell with his red hair would have been bullied had he been sent to school," Juliet Barker told her audience yesterday. "The only reason he wasn't sent was because his father couldn't afford it." She was speaking on her own, efficiently introduced by Jenna Holmes from the Parsonage, and without Justine Picardie, who is ill. The listeners included a contingent of younger aficionados, sitting cross-legged on the floor, an excellent sign.

Later yesterday, Director Andrew McCarthy talked about the new permanent exhibition and how problems installing it were overcome, using a slide show. Today, there's the church service, the AGM in the afternoon and  The Brontës and Romance. Tomorrow, there's music and walking - hopefully not too lashed by the Pennine weather.

Below, four of the overseas members - Maddalena and Paolo Mencarelli from Italy, Judith Watkins from Canada and Helen MacEwan from Belgium.

Full details of the weekend can be found on the Museum website at

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Annual Meeting 1954

The Writing the Century programme on BBC Radio 4 yesterday evening was fascinating on several levels. The series explores the twentieth century through dramatisations of diaries and letters belonging to what are described as 'real people' - as opposed to politicians, presumably, who are unreal. The real person on this occasion was Linton Andrews, whose diary from 1954 was brought to life beautifully by Vanessa Rosenthal. He was the editor of the Yorkshire Post and lived in Alwoodley in Leeds.

We heard about his blood pressure, something called 'purchase tax', a wedding reception at the Polish Club on the Chapeltown Road in Leeds and how he changed his black Ford Prefect for a grey Hillman Minx. We also heard about the Annual Meeting of the Brontë Society, of which he was chairman - the Society in those days was strongly connected with journalists. This took place in May (it was later changed to June, of course) and the main speaker was Rebecca West, with whom he had cocktails before returning her to the Queens Hotel.

"She was a lively companion, perhaps too lively," he commented. "The famous flowing of wit sounded too much like a dripping of malice." West had previously dined with Dr Phyllis Bentley, novelist, author of The Brontës and their World and prominent citizen of Halifax. "Isn't she pure?" said West to Andrews. "Of course, she's all for Hopkinson in his row with The Daily Sketch."  She then went on to describe Hopkinson as  "a CP member and a slimy soon as I open my mouth on the subject of the Communist Party, I am accused of being a McCarthy supporter, according to J B Priestley."

Andrews was careful with his replies. You can listen to the whole fifteen minutes, wherever you are in the world, by clicking here.

Can anyone shed any light on this Hopkinson? Or the conflict with The Daily Sketch?

Rebecca West below:

Monday, 1 June 2009

Linton Andrews on Radio 4

Richard Wilcocks writes:

A little late for a reminder, but you might catch it: on Radio 4 this evening (19.45) - in the Writing the Century programme - Linton Andrews holds forth. He was Editor of the Yorkshire Post - and Chairman of the Brontë Society half a century ago. 1954 is the year for today....

American women writers and the Brontës

A message from Rachel Page:

Monday 15 June: American women writers and the Brontës

Elaine Showalter

Chaired by Ion Trewin

One of the first essays that Virginia Woolf had published, in The Guardian when she was 22, was about a ‘pilgrimage’ to Haworth. She was writing 50 years after the death of the last of the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, but the ‘thrill’ of the bleak Yorkshire vicarage and the sisters’ small relics was vivid and powerful. Haworth had already become a place for pilgrimage not just for British admirers, but also for Americans, many of them writers.

Elaine Showalter discusses the enormous impact of the Brontës – through Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Villette and Mrs Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë – on American women’s writing in the 19th century: writers black and white, novelists and poets, from Emily Dickinson to Sarah Orne Jewett, who used the lives and novels of the Brontës as inspirations for American stories. A professor emerita at Princeton and former chair of the judges of the Man Booker International Prize, Elaine Showalter has just completed a new book, A Jury of Her Peers: American women writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, published by Virago Press in May. Her previous books include A Literature of Their Own: British women novelists from Brontë to Lessing.

The talk will be held, as usual, in the Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre at the Courtauld Institute, Somerset House, WC2, and will begin at 7pm, with doors opening at 6pm. The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception. Free for Fellows and members of the RSL; £8 for non-members; £5 concs.

Rachel Page
Royal Society of Literature
Somerset House
London WC2R ILA
T: 0207 845 4677 (direct line)
F: 0207 845 4679