Bookmark this independent blog

Monday, 28 June 2010

Sloane Hall

Libby Sternberg writes:

To celebrate the fact that my Sloane Hall is finally available for pre-order on amazon and, I'm running a contest with a chance to win a free copy of the ARC of Sloane Hall. Those who stop by and leave a comment on my post about one of my favorite scenes from Jane Eyre will have their names entered into a lottery. I'll choose one winner at random at the end of next week, and the lucky winner will receive a copy of Sloane Hall's ARC.

Here is the blog address.

Anne's grave

Blog readers' opinions are welcome on the issue of whether the graveyard at St Mary's church in Scarborough which contains the grave of Anne Brontë  should be used for car parking.

Dave Selby writes:

My family and I visited Scarborough on the weekend on 29 May.  Being members of English Heritage, we were attending an event at Scarborough Castle.  While we were there we decided to visit the grave of Anne Brontë as we had recently been to Haworth. 

It was with disbelief and horror to discover that the church graveyard had been turned into a Pay and Display car park. To compound this, the cars were actually parking between the gravestones.  This shows the total disrespect of the church and public alike.

I have already written to the Scarborough MP and also contacted the Scarborough News to run a story of how this ground is now being used.  I have also set up a Facebook Group to support a change of use for this ground.

I am looking to highlight this blight to the Brontë name and  hoping it will change the church's opinion in using the sacred ground in this way.

Monday, 21 June 2010

That letter

The hammer has descended, and the letter from Charlotte Brontë to William Smith Williams, dated October 18, 1848 – is now on its way from the auction room in New York to the Parsonage. Written just after the death of Branwell and at a time when Emily was displaying distressing symptoms of Tuberculosis (she died three months later), the letter is highly significant, even though there are no references to these things.

“It talks about her ill health,” Collections Manager Ann Dinsdale told the Parsonage Blog, “perhaps caused by her deep unhappiness.

I followed the auction online in the Parsonage library with Sarah Laycock. We watched the auction results as they came in, with some excitement, and we knew exactly when we’d got lot number 278. Because of the high estimates, we bid only for this one.

One of the three letters was withdrawn, so I suppose we could always negotiate for it. The hammer price was 55,000$, but that was the hammer price: you’ve got to add twenty five percent buyer’s premium to that."

(Full news release later)

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Patrick, Science, Darwin

Richard Wilcocks writes:

The final event of the June weekend was on the morning of Tuesday 8 June in Thornton, on the edge of Bradford, which of course has strong Brontë connections. The organiser was Angela Crow. She introduced the speakers - myself and Andrew Mitchell.

The event took place in the hall next to St James' Parish Church, which the Brontës never saw, because it was built in 1872, though the font in which Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne were baptised is in it, because it was moved from the Old Bell Chapel, where Patrick was the parson.

My theme was Patrick Brontë - Scientist. Using letters taken mainly from Dudley Green's excellent The Letters of the Reverend Patrick Brontë  (Nonsuch  ISBN 1 84588 066 8) the focus was on Patrick's clear, logical and well... scientific mind, or rather his scientific side. Letters were to the Leeds Intelligencer (which evolved into the Yorkshire Post), to its rival the Leeds Mercury and various others. I recalled my own small-time research into the history of the Leeds Festival Chorus which began in 1858, and which involved reading from microfilms of issues of both newspapers, which strained the eyes: print was tiny, pages packed, illustrations few.

My inevitable opener in Thornton was the letter to the Intelligencer about the eruption of Stanbury Bog (1824) followed by On the Muskets (1841) to the Times and Sir G. Murray and Patrick's detailed advice to the Marquis of Angelsey (1848) on how to make more effective naval mortars. These were followed by On Sulphuric Ether (Mercury 1847) and several others, with some historical context.

Andrew Mitchell performed between a series of impressive pop-up banners on which were several of his poems beautifully illustrated by Mary Kuper. These had been commissioned in 2009, when Andrew played his part in celebrations in Bradford for the Darwin Centenery. Most of the poems he read were taken from his Darwin A Voyage of Ideas. Some of the episodes and adventures of the famous voyage of the Beagle were recounted, and we were told about Darwin himself, his ailments and his belief in hydrotherapy, which led him to be treated in Ilkley with what seems to have been a kind of super-shower.

His titles were HMS Beagle's destinations. Each powerful poem was introduced with essential background information - for example about the native inhabitants of the shores of Tierra del Fuego, now split between Chile and Argentina, who have been wiped out by contact with European settlers. Four of them had been transported to Britain by Robert FitzRoy on the first voyage of the Beagle in 1830. Three of them (one died) were returned on the second voyage after a stay during which they had become celebrated curiosities. Andrew filled us in on the famous finches as well, before his poem Galapagos. We were given the backgound on those giant tortoises too: apparently they were/are delicious, and hundreds of them were taken on board ships by the British in the later years of the nineteenth century - to be eaten by hungry sailors.

Below, Angela Crow, Richard Wilcocks, Andrew Mitchell:

Monday, 14 June 2010

Elaine Showalter and Lucasta Miller

Boris Skilet writes:

To end activities on Saturday people assembled in the Baptist church in anticipation of hearing Elaine Showalter, professor emeritus at Princeton University- who is at the forefront of feminist literary criticism- in conversation with Lucasta Miller author of the erudite book The Brontë Myth. They discussed the enormous impact the Brontës have had on women’s writing from the nineteenth century to the present day.

It was interesting to hear- bearing in mind Southey’s advice to Charlotte that literature was not the business of a woman’s life- that Showalter said that in America, even in the nineteenth century American novels. Here dreamy, intelligent girls, verbally abused at home, fantasised about being rich and were sent away to school where they met devout and dutiful ‘Helen Burns’ like characters and orphans followed the trajectory of Jane Eyre. century, it would be inconceivable that anyone would ever think that the ‘Bells’ were men. After describing the battle between selfless femininity and artistic creativity- which resulted in the story of Louisa May Alcott’s own personal Civil War- the United States finally had a novel that rivalled Jane Eyre. The themes of the rebellious girl and the madwoman in the attic- who often was a metaphorical double for the heroine and the author- came together in many mid nineteenth century works.

Lucasta Miller described how, when she was supposed to be working on a thesis about Milton, she had a compulsion to read any books concerning the Brontes and her imagination was gripped by the story of their lives. Indeed she felt that the Brontes of Haworth themselves have become popular characters on a level with Jane Eyre, Rochester, Cathy and Heathcliff.

As usual questions were invited at the end of this interesting evening and the answer to one was that Anne Bronte has never been particularly popular in America and Lucasta Miller explained that her own book concentrates almost exclusively on the two eldest sisters at the expense of Anne.

I think that the majority of the audience there, if asked, would have ended the evening by agreeing with the Irish novelist George Moore who wrote- in the early years of the twentieth century- a glowing report on Anne and her novels. He said that she had all the qualities of Austen and if she had lived ten years longer she would have taken her place, possibly a higher one, with Austen. My opinion is that the jury- those present at the closing event on the second day of the Brontë weekend- would have most certainly delivered the verdict that her legacy was that she should not be judged as just the youngest Brontë but a major literary figure in her own right. 

Below, Elaine Showalter:


Lyndall Gordon on Emily Dickinson

Heidi Büchner writes: 

It was with the maximum interest that I was privileged to listen at the West Lane Baptist Church to Lyndall Gordon from St Hilda's College in Oxford on the Saturday of the Brontë Society's annual weekend in June, because she was speaking of her recent work on one of the greatest American poets Emily Dickinson, who can be profitably observed in parallel with the other Emily -  Brontë. In a space which is like a small theatre, she spoke of mystery and secrecy, at a time when the illness epilepsy was 'unmentionable' in families, like so many other items in the nineteenth century, but she was certain that Emily Dickinson was not the helpless creature who rejected the idea of living that popular myth maintains. Epilepsy, in fact, was considered as in the same box as syphilis, and related to insanity and female hysteria. The famous men who were afflicted were considered differently, to give examples Julius Caesar and the Prophet Mohammed.

Her retiring was a pose, and in real life she was energetically opinionated and a little sharp. The pose was so successful that the citizens of Amherst actually referred to her as 'the Myth'. She lived her life according to what she wanted. She was not an ordinary New England puritan. Even as a young student at Holyoke College she stood up to the authoritarian pressures from the principal, Mary Lyon, who wanted a strict and rigid acceptance of her view of Christianity, refusing to be 'saved'.

Emily was attracted to a scientific outlook, and Lyndall Gordon quoted:

"Faith" is a fine invention

When gentlemen can see -

But microscopes are prudent

In an emergency

She wanted to be clear and truthful, and rejected social chatter and formal piety, responding to The Soul's Superior instants.

Sickness appears in many places, especially when she was in her thirties, with mention of convulsions: I dropped down, and down. She might not have had a severe form, just suffering from a mild petit mal, but the epilepsy was in her family, so it could have been a genetic matter. Did cups and plates slip from her hands because of it or for another reason?

Lyndall Gordon knows she does not have final pieces of the evidence, but it was a reasonable gamble to claim the theory. She treated the questioning members of the audience with a friendly spirit, because she is not the sort of academic one is unable to approach.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Follow a Shadow

The glimpses continue, and will not necessarily appear in chronological order - and readers may have to wait for the reportage...

Robert Swindells was in conversation with Sally McDonald, Chair of Membership, on Saturday morning. He has twice won the Children's Book Award, as well as the Carnegie Medal for his novel Stone Cold. He was at the annual weekend to read from and to speak about Follow a Shadow, which was first published in 1989 and which has just been issued again by Five Leaves Publications.

He tried to retire recently, he told us, but it didn't work: he just sloped around the house for a couple of weeks before returning to writing, though he is touchy about 'returning to the circuit'. This means he is not sure whether he could stand the adulation of a myriad secondary school English teachers, who have over the years found that reading from his novels is just the thing "for a class of fourteen year-olds on a Wednesday afternoon" in the words of Sally McDonald, who met classes of fourteen year-olds in need of motivation when she was a secondary school teacher.

Follow a Shadow is about young Tim, who is studying Jane Eyre at school and who is taken to the Parsonage on a group visit. He bears a remarkable resemblance to Branwell, he discovers. In the novel, Swindells speculates on what Branwell did in London in 1835, when he was eighteen, when he was supposed to have sought admittance to the Royal Academy Schools as a student. No record exists in the Royal Academy archives of his ever having shown his specimen drawings there, and according to Juliet Barker, he didn't actually make the trip at all. She hadn't written that when Swindells was writing though, so we should fantasise that he did...

The audience fell about laughing when he read extracts. This stuff still works! It would work for modern secondary school students too, if English teachers were allowed to wander from the officially prescribed path and simply inculcate a love of reading and literature. 

ISBN 9 781905 512867

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Annual Weekend - more glimpses

 Richard Wilcocks writes:

It was nearly ten o'clock, a warm dusk, when the turn of my group came for a very special performance. Hushed voices, the usual rooks arguing outside in the tops of graveyard trees, the clock in the church tower striking. We stood inside and outside Mr Brontë's study, taking turns, moving quickly between the piano solos and the songs. There sat Maya Irgalina, looking quite like Emily in the drawing, hair in a bun, and there stood Catherine McDonald, beaming at their guests.

Maya Irgalina had arrived in Haworth in the afternoon, having just completed a final examination - a Rachmaninov piece - at the Royal Northern College of Music where she is studying for a Postgraduate Diploma. Since winning first prize in the Pro-Piano Romania international piano competition (Bucharest 2003), she has performed in Belarus (her country of origin), Russia, Poland, Italy, France and Estonia as both soloist and accompanist. Catherine McDonald was once an Angrian with the Brontë Society, and now has an MA in Playwriting from the University of Birmingham. She is currently studying classical singing.

All the music was taken from the Brontës' music books which are now in the Library. Photocopies were used. The first item was Sonata in E flat op. 7 by Muzio Clementi, at the time of the Brontës often known as 'the father of the pianoforte', and it was just right, but possibly too difficult for Emily. Did she struggle with it? Maya didn't appear to, and we got the same professional sweet smile and bow after that as we did after the other items - Beethoven waltzes in F minor and in E flat major, and his Grand Waltz in A minor, then Handel's Harmonious Blacksmith. Catherine sang with great commitment and a fine sense of the dramatic - Ye Banks and Braes o' Bonnie Doon (which had great significance for Charlotte, Ann and Branwell, Charlotte using it as a narrative device in Shirley),  The Old Oak Tree and  My Mother Bids Me Bind My Hair.

Mahogany, ebony, iron, silk, ivory, skill, charm, beautiful sonority in combination... a wonderful and unforgettable experience.

Annual Weekend - more glimpses

Friday evening, the musical evening - later:

Parsonage Director Andrew Macarthy gave praise where it was due, to the people without whom the restoration of the piano would not have happened, and the first was American member Virginia Esson, "who had the dream of hearing it played and then did something about it". It was largely because of her great generosity that the work took place. Then there was the brilliant and remarkably modest Ken Forrest, who had devoted three years to the instrument, both in the Parsonage and in his workshop. Virginia Esson stepped forward to stand beside a slideshow, receive flowers and speak about how she was moved by the experience of hearing the instrument played, and then Council member Virginia Rushton spoke.

She took the audience briefly through the musical context, drawing on her extensive knowledge of the period. Branwell had begun taking music seriously in 1831, painstakingly writing out tunes, and the following year Charlotte had effectively given up playing. Patrick Brontë was passionately fond of oratorio, which in 1834 had led him into conflict with some of the members of the choir, but excerpts from Handel's Messiah played by the celebrated organist John Greenwood at the inauguration concert for the new organ at St Michael's Church, Haworth had made a big impact on the whole family - especially Branwell. Charlotte had written about this in My Angria and the Angrians. Sheet music had been bought, and you didn't do that lightly, with no intention of using it, because it was very expensive. Several chorus pieces and solos from Messiah are in the Parsonage library. Lessons with increasing levels of difficulty had taken place, conducted by the organist at Keighley Parish Church, Mr A S Sunderland.

On the screen was   John Green   Music Agent  33 Soho Square  London. "We don't know much about him," Ken Forrest said. "We are not sure if he made it or not, because it is likely that cabinet pianos were bought in, possibly from a firm called Black. We're not sure whether it was bought new or whether it was second-hand. There was quite a market in used pianos at the time.

Rapid advances in piano technology caused people to want to keep up to date, to get hold of the latest models. A typical price for a piano at the time was ninety guineas, but they were often sold at a discount. How did Patrick afford it when he never earned more than two hundred pounds a year? This one is top of the range as well, with brass mouldings. Had there been some kind of trade-in?"

He had searched for clues in many places, because when he had first examined it, he had seen "a kind of grey blanket", with many items missing (for example the dampers and the damper levers) or "disposed of". The adjective he used for the inside was "manky", and it was the right one, because the pictures on the screen showed what appeared to be an irreparable ornament, an artefact grossly neglected for many years and subjected to sporadic and insensitive attempts by unknown and cack-handed persons to get it to do something apart from just sit there against a wall.

Ken Forrest is very far from cack-handed: he had visited the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in his search for clues, information on how things should be, but had found very little. "The rail which held the bottom levers was still there, along with some strips of felt, but we were hampered by the soot from a century of coal fires, and I had to wash my hands every time something was cleaned. The more I looked at it, the more I took things to bits. Few if any people know how cabinet pianos worked. Because of the lack of clues, I had to rebuild the action from scratch. I replaced the leather over the hammers, using chamois. Felt was used only in later years, so would not have been right."

We saw the before and after pictures, and gasped appropriately. Ken Forrest should be world famous for this! Now we wanted to hear it!

He was presented with a beautiful box, which he opened. Inside was this scale model.

References to Emily and Anne's abilities on the piano:

'...later on there was the addition of a Piano. Emily played with precision and brilliancy when she did play - which was not often if others than the family circle were within hearing. Anne played also but she preferred sweet harmonies - she sang a little - her voice was weak but very sweet in tone.'   (From Ellen Nussey's Reminiscences of Charlotte Brontë)

'The ability with which [Emily] took up music was amazing, the style, the touch and the expression was that of a Professor absorbed heart and soul in his theme.'  (Ellen Nussey, quoted in Clement Shorter's Charlotte Brontë and her Circle.]

'Miss Emily was learning the piano, receiving lessons from the best professor in Belgium, and she herself already had little pupils.' (M. Heger in a letter to Patrick Brontë, November 1842)

To be continued...

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Annual Weekend - Glimpses

Friday, early evening:

Most of the members have arrived, and the temperature is high. Smiles are on faces, sweat on brows. What are they anticipating? Here's what a few of them said, with their photos below:

Well I'm looking forward to the ghost hunt tomorrow though I know it's not Brontë Society strictly speaking, but the real attraction is the restored piano later this evening. Oh, and I'll be singing, on Sunday evening in the Old White Lion, which should be fun. Jazz of course!      Val Wiseman from London

I am looking forward to hearing the piano being played in the out-of-hours Parsonage atmosphere, and I particularly want to listen to Lucasta Miller because I think she's a very sane voice.    Chris Went from York

We have arrived only recently from Belgium - Brussels actually, and we have not seen inside the Parsonage yet! I would love to see just where they lived and worked. This is my first time in Haworth.    Patricia De Gray

Yes, the first time! So far we have been walking on the moors - we got as far as the Brontë Falls.   Patty Simou

I must listen to the piano in Mr Brontë's Study, of course, which promises to be wonderful, and this weekend I'll be taking photos as usual, perhaps with this Leica, and enjoying Brontë Society company.   Brian Speakman from Dagenham

I'll be walking on the moors a lot because this is my home away from home: my soul is here.  Judith Watkins from Toronto

I'm going to walk around Haworth on Sunday because there are so many things I still don't know after all these years.  Stephen Loftus from Birmingham

I am thinking of what was announced this afternoon by Andrew Macarthy - the appeal. This is for three Charlotte Brontë letters which are coming up for auction in New York on 17 June. One of them is very important, and we're looking at between seventy and a hundred thousand dollars.   Ann Dinsdale from the Parsonage.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Wearer Unknown

An exhibition of paintings, Wearer Unknown, by artist Victoria Brookland has opened at the  Parsonage as part of the museum’s contemporary arts programme. The series of new works have been inspired by the dresses in the Parsonage collection, and each is hand-drawn in ink and watercolour.

It is the second time that Victoria Brookland has exhibited her work at the Parsonage. Her first exhibition, Secret Self, in 2007, explored the contradictions between the constricting dresses that the Brontës wore – with their corsets and crinolines – and the brilliance of their limitless inner imaginations. This is a theme that Victoria has returned to and has developed further in her latest series, Wearer Unknown.

“The items of Brontë clothing in the collection are amongst the most striking and popular exhibits here at the museum and in these paintings Victoria Brookland uses the dress as a symbol to question our over-familiarity with the Brontës. Her work is incredibly powerful and beautiful, and prompts us to think about the sisters’ lives in new ways”.
Jenna Holmes, Arts Officer

All of the paintings in the exhibition are for sale. Victoria Brookland will be talking about her work at an event in Haworth on Friday 4 June at 3.30pm. The event will take place at the West Lane Baptist Centre and tickets are £5 on the door. She will be in conversation with Jane Sellars,  Curator of Art at the Mercer Art Gallery in Harrogate.

The exhibition runs until Sunday 18 July 2010.