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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Bonnie Greer- absolutely magnetic

Afternoon Tea with Bonnie Greer and the Brontës

Richard Wilcocks writes:
This event was sold out soon after it was announced: the audience walked past a group of hopefuls sitting beside the ticket desk, but all seats in St Margaret’s Hall were filled. This was one of the most popular events at this year’s Ilkley Literature Festival. On each seat was a pamphlet for people who might have felt an urge to sign up for the Society.

It is likely that the urge came upon more than a few, because Parsonage Director Andrew Macarthy was pretty convincing as he talked about substantial improvements to the Museum and the many artists and authors who have participated in its Contemporary Arts programme. He was followed by the eloquent Liz Henry, who spoke on behalf of Brontë Society Council, welcoming Bonnie Greer and delivering a potted version of her résumé. Chair of Council Sally McDonald began the interview, and soon we were into Wuthering Heights.

“I saw the Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon version at age thirteen... when she said ‘I am Heathcliff’ I understood immediately... the novel brings a realization that we are the only species which knows we are going to come to an end, and it has a woman in it who talks directly about how she feels, about love...

This book doesn’t settle... we are taught that we have to ‘settle down’ when we are young... Emily was restless...”

Bonnie Greer related Emily’s condition to herself and her own writing, mentioning Obama Music and the restlessness of Chicago and explaining that when she wrote her novel Entropy, her dominant thoughts were of synaesthesia. “This is where you smell a word, or see a colour when you read a’s the primitive mind which links everything up... Emily’s state of being was musicality.

All my work is synaesthetically created... Emily heard the music of her environment and it is captured in the words of Wuthering Heights.” Sally McDonald mentioned that the novel had been compared to an overture with a break in the middle.

“The Brontës have been prettified in the movie versions I have seen.... but these are Northern women! And it was appropriate that this man (Heathcliff) was black. Look at history, and Liverpool... this part of the world was tied up with slavery... Wilberforce and Douglass spoke at meetings in Yorkshire where abolitionists predominated... but there was support in the government for a secret deal with the Confederacy... Emily would have heard the abolitionist arguments...she was born in the same year as Frederick Douglass.”

In Jane Eyre I recognize that refusal not to look down when your betters are speaking to you – from my own childhood. It’s in Obama Music.”

Tea, scones and cakes followed, all supplied by volunteers from Council and Parsonage staff, and served to a background of music from the Canzona String Quartet, which visited the Parsonage Library to look at music belonging to and played by the Brontës. They found the original versions of some string quartet movements, which included Locke's overture to Macbeth and Worthy is the Lamb from Handel's Messiah

Everybody was deeply impressed by the whole event. Liz Henry (pictured below) told the Blog: “Bonnie Greer has an amazing ability to hold an audience. She is absolutely magnetic.”

From the publicity department of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden:

ROH 2  in the Linbury Studio Theatre
Yes opens on  22 November

In 2009 the writer and cultural commentator Bonnie Greer was invited to appear on the BBC’s flagship political discussion programme Question Time alongside the leader of a right-wing nationalist political party. The BBC’s decision to transmit the programme, and Bonnie Greer’s decision to appear in it, provoked a storm of discussion. Bonnie has written the libretto for this brand-new 'docu-opera' by award-winning composer Errollyn Wallen, which is made from Bonnie’s own experiences and from the many public and private responses to the situation.  An ensemble of six musicians, including an electronic soundscape with the recorded voice of Errollyn Wallen,  will accompany a cast of eight singers, and Bonnie herself, to play out the emotional and political turmoil of a wide range of individual British citizens, each with their own personal and cultural perspective.

Monday, 17 October 2011

October half-term happenings

News release from the Parsonage:
There are plenty of reasons to visit the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth this half-term week, with lots to see and lots of activities planned for younger visitors and families. With the critically acclaimed new film version of Jane Eyre in cinemas, the museum’s displays are focusing on its author, Charlotte Brontë; including new displays of her clothes, letters, manuscripts and personal treasures.  A new adaptation of Emily’s novel, Wuthering Heights is also released next month and the museum’s special exhibition, Genius: The Brontë Story, explores how these two great books came to be written, and also includes lots of interactive displays for children and families.

My Favourite Thing! will run throughout half-term, every day at 2pm, with members of staff at the museum and volunteers talking about the secret history of some of the most  remarkable items in the museum’s collection; whether it be a little book, a brass dog’s collar or Charlotte Brontë’s wedding bonnet, the talks will intrigue young and old alike.

There will also be the opportunity to join local artist, Rachel Lee, for a ‘drop-in’ family workshop on Tuesday 25th October. Rachel will be demonstrating an ingenious way of turning brightly coloured fleece into little felt creatures and helping children make their own fleecy, furry friend to take home with them. The event takes place throughout the day and is free with admission to the museum.

On the afternoon of Thursday 27th October, hugely popular children’s author Jacqueline Wilson, will be visiting Haworth to talk about her latest novel Sapphire Battersea and her love of the Brontës. This event is now fully booked.

The museum is open 11am until 5pm daily, with last admission at 4.30pm.

Contacts & Further Information:   
Andrew McCarthy (Director) – 01535 642323 –

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Mai più in oscurità

Maddalena De Leo (Ascea Marina, Italy) sent the Parsonage Blog this introduction to her new novel in Italian - Mai più in oscurità (No more in the dark):  

Maria Branwell  (1783-1821) was the mother of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë, British authoresses of the early Victorian Age, whose literary fame rests on masterpieces like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. We know very little- if not nothing at all - of Maria and her brief life, beside the fact that she, having moved by chance to Yorkshire from her homeland in Cornwall, met and married in 1812 a hot-tempered Irish clergyman named Patrick Brontë, giving birth later to a progeny of literary geniuses.

 I have always been fascinated by the premature death of the Brontës’ mother and, above all, by her homeland, a country incredibly rich in Celtic myths and legends. For this reason, and being myself a scholar of Charlotte and Emily, I have recently visited (or re-visited) not only all the places connected to the two writers, but also Cornwall, especially Maria’s hometown and house. I had therefore the opportunity to access a whole universe of information, anecdotes, doubts, and assumptions about the somewhat 'obscured' personality of this important personage in the Brontë saga, who has unexplainably been forgotten for about two centuries.

The book is based on real information, reliable sources, and above all on my own imagination, because I thought it was right to 're-invent' – starting with documented material – what I believe Maria’s life, cheerful character, and superstitions were, from her twenties to her premature demise.

My starting point was a real event: in February 1850, Charlotte was encouraged by her father to read the letters Maria had sent him during their engagement. With a leap of fantasy, I then had the creator of Jane Eyre herself write a fictional diary of her mother, to describe and re-live in it Maria’s character, wishes, hopes, and sorrows. In this hypothetical diary, Maria recorded the most important events of her life since she was a girl, and could therefore leave us her unintentional autobiography through her own daughter’s literary fame.

In the appendix I translated into Italian for the first time the complete text of Maria’s letters, beating heart and inspiration of the whole novel.

The book Mai più in oscurità has just been published by Photocity Edizioni and can be ordered at

Friday, 7 October 2011

The Jane Eyre for our times

Penelope Jenkins writes about a Brontë Society event with the writer of the new film, Moira Buffini, and its producer, Alison Owen, which took place on 17 September.

There have been over 30 film and television adaptations of Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre. The latest, showing until October 6th at Warwick Arts Centre, stars Mia Wasikowska as Jane and Michael Fassbender as Mr Rochester. At a recent Brontë Society event the film’s screenwriter, Moira Buffini, and producer, Alison Owen, revealed how they adapted the novel from page to screen.

Producer Alison Owen, known for her previous films Elizabeth and The Other Boleyn Girl was certain that there was room for another film of Jane Eyre. “I didn’t feel that there had been a definitive version and wanted to make a film with a younger Jane – others had been made with an older Jane. The novel is about the discovery of sexuality and emotion," she explains.

Thankfully the film’s backers, BBC Films, didn’t need much persuading to produce a 2011 version, despite BBC television screening its own adaption as recently as 2006. Screenwriter Moira Buffini, with whom Owen previously worked on the film Tamara Drewe, was passionate about the story she wanted to write. “The novel covers society, poverty, women and men, and is not just a love story.” It was her job to distil the novel into 120 minutes of screen time, not an easy task considering the complexity of the novel and its structure. “I could imagine all the scenes dramatically but by the end of the first draft I knew the structure of the book wasn’t going to work on screen,” she says. “Until Jane leaves Thornfield it was going swimmingly. In dramatic terms you want to be tightening everything up and racking up tension, but then introducing a year, a new family and lots of characters didn’t work.”

Buffini’s solution was to begin the film with Jane’s flight from Thornfield Hall. The viewer sees her previous experiences filtered through Jane’s memory. “I think the Rivers are important and really interesting characters,” Buffini explains. “In terms of the austerity of their house and what Jane has been offered by Rochester you can see what her alternative would be.”

Owen and Buffini felt that the story became more powerful when they cut away extraneous material.

Owen and Buffini both recognise that the casualty of this structure and screen time for the Rivers (with Jamie Bell giving an excellent performance as the sympathetic yet repressed St John Rivers) is the amount of screen time devoted to Jane’s formative years at Lowood and her relationship with Helen Burns. Buffini thinks, however, that “because you are looking through Jane’s memory you can be selective”. More scenes at Lowood were shot but Owen and Buffini felt that the story became more powerful when they cut away extraneous material.

There’s powerful chemistry between Jane and Mr Rochester, with the age difference between the actors emphasising Jane’s youth and inexperience. Mrs Fairfax, effortlessly played by Dame Judi Dench, acts as a mother figure, warning Jane to keep Rochester at arms’ length until their wedding, advising that “men don’t often marry their governesses”. Buffini says that they were incredibly lucky with the casting of Wasikowska and Fassbender. “Mia’s intelligence shines through which is one of the qualities that Jane has. Fassbender made Rochester’s authority look effortless. The pair talk each other into love in very difficult language.” Neither actor wanted the language modernising to make it easier to speak.

Ellen Page, the star of the offbeat film Juno, had been the first actress the pair talked to for the part of Jane. Owen is open when it comes to the vicissitudes of casting. They needed an actress who was well known enough to draw in audiences and satisfy the financiers, but who also could equate to the budget. Page was unconfident about tackling the Yorkshire accent (Yorkshire and its moors play a key scenic role in the film) which is when the team talked to Wasikowska. She had been cast as Alice in Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland and showed potential to become a huge star. As Jane they saw a naivety about her, bringing home to the viewer that Jane is experiencing situations and emotions for the first time. Importantly she and Fassbender have the Yorkshire accent down to a tee, belying their Australian and German/Irish roots.

Jane Eyre
is, as classic works of fiction go, relatively cheap to make. Jane Eyre, Owen admits with a chuckle, is, as classic works of fiction go, relatively cheap to make. Unlike Pride and Prejudice or Vanity Fair there are no balls, street scenes and sumptuous location changes. The 2011 Jane Eyre, she says, is a film for austerity times on an austerity budget.

The film’s director, Cary Joji Fukunaga, had a clear idea for the way it was to look. Whilst he includes the wild lushness of the Yorkshire scenery there’s also a starkness to his visual direction, making use of low levels of light and gloomy rooms lit by fire or candlelight. Sticking to the original text in an almost documentary way, he avoids the pomp and finery of many classic novel adaptations that become mere heritage productions, bedecked with antiques, carriages and nostalgic representations of yesteryear. In Jane Eyre there’s no unnecessary visual detail.

“We wanted to make the Jane Eyre for our times,” Buffini says. “We wanted to show how modern she still is and how her story is still relevant to us, particularly to young women.” Will this in the future be thought of as the definitive adaptaton? “Someone will come along later and make another for their times,” she says, but the team hope that theirs will be the benchmark from which to measure it by.

Penelope Jenkins is Editorial Assistant for the Knowledge Centre at Warwick University and a member of the Brontë Society. This article first appeared on the Knowledge Centre's website, which can be accessed here.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Contemporary Arts Programme

News Release from the Parsonage:

Autumn/Winter Contemporary Arts Programme

The Parsonage will launch its new season Contemporary Arts Programme with an event to celebrate National Poetry Day. On Saturday 8 October, poet Aoife Mannix will be resident at the museum throughout the day, inviting visitors to contribute to a crinolined dress ‘poetry installation’. Following the event, Aoife will weave these visitor contributions into new poetry which will be exhibited as a series of poetry installations in the rooms of the Parsonage in November.

Other events in the new programme, which will run from October until March 2012, include an afternoon with hugely popular children’s author Jacqueline Wilson (pictured above) on Thursday 27th October, and an event with the screenwriter for the upcoming film adaptation of Wuthering HeightsOlivia Hetreed, on Friday 9 December. Both events will take place at the West Lane Baptist Centre in Haworth.

The Parsonage will also launch a new project with Artist in Residence Rebecca Chesney. Preston-based artist Rebecca will be setting up a weather station at the Parsonage to record weather readings over the next twelve months. She will then cross-reference the data with descriptions of weather in the Brontës’ letters and novels to compare how the weather in Haworth has changed since the Brontës’ day. Working with local people to collect the information, Rebecca will use her research to create an exhibition of new work for the museum next summer.

A full list of events in the new contemporary arts programme is listed below:

Aoife Mannix: Poet in Residence
Saturday 8 October 2011
Brontë Parsonage Museum
To mark National Poetry Day, poet Aoife Mannix will be resident at the Brontë Parsonage Museum. She will be asking visitors to contribute lines of text to a crinolined dress installation that will evolve throughout the day into a sculptural piece. Aoife Mannix will weave these visitor responses into new poetry inspired by her residency, which will be exhibited as a series of poetry installations in the rooms of the Parsonage from 8th November 2011 until 1 January 2012.

Aoife Mannix is an Irish writer and poet based in London. Her first novel Heritage of Secrets was published in 2008.  She is the author of four collections of poetry; The Trick of Foreign Words (2002), The Elephant in the Corner (2005), Growing Up An Alien (2007) and Turn The Clocks Upside Down (2008).  She is currently poet in residence for BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live and for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Free with admission to the museum. Event takes place throughout the day.

Thursday 27 October, 2pm
Jacqueline Wilson
West Lane Baptist Centre, Haworth
One of the nation’s favourite authors, Jacqueline Wilson visits Haworth to read from and talk about her work, including her new book Sapphire Battersea

Jacqueline Wilson wrote her first ‘novel’ when she was nine years old. She has since gone on to write over forty books, and creating enduring characters such as the famous Tracy Beaker. Her books are loved and cherished by young readers all over the world, and have won numerous prizes including the Children’s Book of the Year, the Smarties Medal and the Children’s Book Award. In 2002 Jacqueline was awarded the OBE for services to literacy in schools and from 2005 to 2007 she was Children’s Laureate. In 2008 she became Dame Jacqueline Wilson. Jacqueline Wilson is also a great admirer of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and she has written the introduction to the Whites Pocket Classic edition of the novel.

Tickets: £5 and must be booked in advance.
Special ticket offer for talk with admission to the museum: £8.40 adult; £6.80 child.
Bookings: 01535 640188.
Age guidance 8 + and children should be accompanied by a ticket buying adult.

Olivia Hetreed: Wuthering Heights
Friday 9 December, 7.30pm
West Lane Baptist Centre, Haworth
Andrea Arnold’s new film version of Wuthering Heights will be released in cinemas on 11 November. The film’s screenwriter, Olivia Hetreed, visits Haworth to discuss how she adapted the novel for the screen.

Olivia Hetreed’s first feature film, Girl With a Pearl Earring, was nominated for multiple Oscars and BAFTAs including Best Adapted Screenplay. The film starred Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth and was adapted from the novel by Tracy Chevalier. Olivia Hetreed started her career as a documentary, drama and film editor before moving into screenwriting for ITV drama, including adaptations of What Katy Did, E.Nesbitt’s The Treasure Seekers and The Canterville Ghost

Tickets £6 and must be booked in advance from / 01535 640188.

Friday 24 February, 7pm
A horror of great darkness: Gothic from the Brontës to Twilight
West Lane Baptist Centre, Haworth
From Dracula to Twilight, the gothic has thrilled, disturbed and drawn out our darker sides for centuries. Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights played an important part in the Victorian reinvention of the genre, and continue to have an influence on the contemporary interpretation of the gothic. Dr Catherine Spooner explores our continuing obsession with zombies and vampires, and shows how the gothic influences contemporary culture, from literature and film through to fashion, advertising and music.

Tickets £5 and should be booked in advance from / 01535 640188.

The Garden of Oblivion
Friday 2 March – Thursday 5 April
Brontë Parsonage Museum
Franklin is an artist based in Brussels, Belgium, and has spent many years creating a body of intricate drawings inspired by the Brontës’ lives and works. Franklin has used brush, pencil, pen and china-ink to create this series of detailed drawings, each work taking months to complete. The small-scale works are layered with symbolism, taking inspiration from the Brontës’ imaginative and spiritual world. Franklin’s work draws heavily on poetry and literature, and has been exhibited in Belgium, including Musee Arts et Marges, Brussels and Ermitage Saint Hadelin, Belgium.

Exhibition free with admission to the museum

Ross Raisin
Wednesday 7 March, 2pm
West Lane Baptist Centre, Haworth
Novelist Ross Raisin discusses his new novel, Waterline.
Ross Raisin was born in Silsden in 1979. He went to Bradford Grammar School, studied English at King’s College London and has an MA in Creative Writing from Goldsmith’s University. 

His debut novel, God’s Own Country was published to critical acclaim in 2008, and tells the dark tale of a teenage farmer’s son living on the Yorkshire Moors. Ross was shortlisted for 8 separate awards for the book, including the Guardian First Book Award, John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and Portico Prize, and won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award 2009. He lives in London.

Tickets £5 and should be booked in advance from / 01535 640188.

For further information please contact the Arts Officer:
01535 640188

Sunday, 2 October 2011

New Wuthering Heights survey

Paul Daniggelis writes:
This brief survey below was prompted by reviews and trailers of the new
It is primarily designed to satisfy my curiosity of how people see WH. 
Wuthering Heights (WH) film presentation by Andrea Arnold.
It is not a requirement that you have seen this version but if you
respond to these questions it would help if you note that you have seen it.

You may explain or not any of your answers as you will.
You may pass the Survey on to others who may wish to respond
but it is primarily designed for those who have an abiding interest
in the Bronte legacy, not for the casual observer.
I will at the appropriate time compile the results for the perusal
of all who respond.
If you would like to ask your own questions regarding this new film
please do so.
Thank you for your responses.
 1A. Do you consider WH to be primarily a Romantic novel?
 1B  A novel of Obsession and Revenge?
 1C  Other?
 2A  In your opinion is Heathcliff evil?  
 2B  A person to be admired?
 2C  A product of an abusive background?
 2D  A sympathetic character
 2E  Other?

 3A  In your opinion is Cathy selfish?
 3B  Confused?
 3C  Normal?
 3D  Other?
 We know there is sex in WH but it is not explict.
 4   Will you welcome explicit sex scenes in WH?
People use offensive language all the time. Presumably
there was explicit language excised from WH.
5. Will you welcome explicit langauge in the new WH
    including the "N", "F" and "C" words?
Interpreters of the Brontes and their novels have
occasionally implied "incest" as part of either their
lives or their novels or both.

6. Will you welcome the introduction of incest as a theme in WH?
Ms Arnold has filmed only half the novel as has Hollywood far more often than not.
7. Can you accept yet another half-told story?
The film cast a black person for the first time in a Bronte story.
8A  Do you find this offensive?
8B  Acceptable?
8C  Other?
 9. In this politically correct world, will your opinion of Heathcliff be
altered because he is black in this film?
Thank you for your interest.
Paul Daniggelis
El Paso, Texas, USA