Bookmark this independent blog

Friday, 29 November 2013

Brontë Moments by Paul Daniggelis

Brontë Society US Region 3 Representative Paul Daniggelis writes:
I'd like to announce the release of my new book, Brontë Moments -- A Compilation, 149+ pages, softbound, 8"x10"  The book is self published through Createspace and may be ordered at:
This is a potpourri of several previously published articles (albeit with additional material and photos), unpublished articles, plus three fiction pieces (short story poem, novella) all related to the literary Brontë family. It is accompanied by an autographed inscription reading, "I consider myself privileged to be able to write about this most remarkable family".

The book is dedicated to the recently deceased Joan Helena Quarm, Professor Emerita from the University of Texas at El Paso. (1920 -2010) Joan was a long time Brontë Society member who has written an unpublished 1000+ page tribute to the Brontës, a copy of which resides in the Brontë Parsonage Museum Library. It is entitled Touching the BrontësProf Quarm was also considered the First Lady of El Paso Theater, having created the still running Gilbert and Sullivan Theater which has some 45 years of longevity.

My biographical stats:
I was for a half dozen years, the Region 3 (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma) Representative of the US Brontë Society and for many years before a member of the UK-based Society. As representative I compiled, wrote, edited and printed a quarterly Brontë Newsletter. I have also published a biography of Catalonian sculptor, Urbici Soler. See Rodant Pel Mon. An anti-designated hitter baseball novel (Torii Cantu is . . The DH), and a soon to be released fantasy about a boy and a pony (Aldebaran and Prince Lux). I expect to release in 2014 a book of fictional murders (Murder in New York). On the back burner is the adult novel, The Ailanthus Affair,a skip-sequel to Henry James' Washington Square.
Theresa Connors, U.S Brontë Society Representative from 2002-2009 writes:
From a 20th century reinterpretation of a Wuthering Heights' love story, to interviews with descendants of the Brontë family, the book Brontë Moments includes something of interest for every variety of Brontë fan.  I can truly say that this is a one of a kind work:  the kaleidoscope of  information in Brontë Moments can not be found in any other Brontë book.

Among the many articles, essays and appreciations [read fiction] in the book, I was particularly compelled by the novella Forever Amber What Brontë fan hasn’t fantasized about going back to the mid-19th century and spending a day in Haworth at the Parsonage?  As I read the story, I found myself right there in the parlor with Charlotte and Anne,  and watched Emily walk by as she took Keeper for a walk.  How reluctantly I had to leave Haworth and the three sisters as the teller of the tale said his farewells. This is a book that is perfect for the Brontë completist in all of us!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Ian Emberson 1936 - 2013

The unexpected death on Monday of writer and artist Ian Emberson, who was much involved with the Brontë Society, has caused great distress for all who knew him.

Ian's website -

Isobel Stirk writes:
It is with a feeling of great sadness that I write of the death of Ian Emberson who died, unexpectedly, on 4 November. Ian was a life member of the Brontë Society and was a very good friend of mine and his cheerful and friendly presence will be missed by so many people.

He had numerous articles printed in Brontë Society Gazette and Brontë Studies and his
e-book Seaport at Sunrise,  with its background of Cyprus in the 1950s, was published recently. He was an impressive artist, and his postcards and the illustrations in his own books and those of other authors show his wonderful talent. As a retired music librarian he had a great love of music, and beautiful settings have been composed for his poetry and an opera to his libretto. His knowledge of the Brontë family was vast and his book Pilgrims from Loneliness was an exploration and interpretation of Charlotte Brontë’s  Jane Eyre and Villette - drawn from books which had had an early influence on her mind. He and his wife Catherine discovered recollections of the Brontës by George Sowden, younger brother of Sutcliffe Sowden who had officiated at Charlotte’s wedding, which had lain forgotten for one hundred years. They subsequently published them.

The funeral service will be on Monday 18 November at 1.30pm in St Mary’s Church in the centre of Todmorden. Burial is at 3pm and it is so fitting for Ian, a great lover of nature, the countryside and the outdoors, that his final resting place will be in Cross Stone graveyard - high on the hills above the Todmorden valley. The four Brontë children were very familiar with Cross Stone as in September 1829 they went there with Aunt Branwell to stay with their great-aunt’s widower- the Reverend John Fennell. It was from the vicarage there that Charlotte wrote her first ever letter, a letter to her father back home in Haworth. In July 2005 Ian co-authored, with Catherine, an article, Turns in the circle of friendship: ‘Uncle Fennell’, 1762-1841, which appeared in Brontë Studies.

Deepest sympathy is sent to Catherine and I am sure that those who knew Ian will agree with me that we are much poorer for his death but certainly richer for having known him.

Catherine Emberson writes: 
Since Ian's death I have received over 250 cards, letters and messages of sympathy,  many from Brontë friends worldwide - thank you all.

Ian was incredibly gifted in many of the arts and in addition to his articles and lectures many will know his beautiful poetry and artwork, especially through book illustrations and postcards - all of which sprang from a well of deep and  highly sensitive creativity.    Anne's insightful comment (see below) sums up Ian's contribution perfectly '...he brought love to his scholarship and this is the best kind...'     Ian's was an important legacy and when I regain my strength somewhat I will do my best to maintain it.

My ever grateful thanks are due to Isobel Stirk for the lovely tribute, for her dear friendship over the years, and especially for her comforting support at this difficult time."

Monday, 21 October 2013

Kirsty Wark at the Literary Luncheon in Ilkley

Richard Wilcocks writes:
Ruth Pitt, Ann Sumner (BPM Director) and Kirsty Wark.  Photo by Richard Wilcocks
A familiar face for most of her audience, which was sitting around tables in the long restaurant room of the Wheatley Arms in Ilkley, Kirsty Wark spoke engagingly – of course – about the books which have influenced her since her early days and which she can not live without. For the enlightenment of non-British readers of this blog, Kirsty Wark is best known as the long-term female presenter of the nightly BBC current affairs programme Newsnight. She has also hosted the weekly Arts and Cultural review and comment show, The Review Show, and has interviewed a long list of famous and infamous people. On this occasion, she was interviewed by the accomplished Ruth Pitt, a television veteran who knew exactly which buttons to press.

After a message from Chair of Brontë Society Council Sally Macdonald, who was unable to be present, and which included a tribute to Bob Barnard, Kirsty Wark revealed that she had entered the game herself as a novelist, with The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, described as ‘a multi-generational story of love and belonging set on the Scottish island of Arran’ after fielding jokey comments about her second place in a Celebrity Masterchef series. “I used a different part of my brain I didn’t know I had,” she told us. “The power of research is very important. There was a prosaic start to the whole business. I had the bones of an idea when I was on Arran a long time ago, then picked up the threads years later… I don’t work quickly…and it is exhilarating to work with an editor. She calls what she does ‘invisible mending’" The novel will be launched in March 2014, but can be ordered now.

The first book she picked was a poetry book for reading out loud published in 1957 which contains Boats sail on the rivers by Christina Rossetti, and the second was The Rattlebag, the poetry anthology put together by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney. “I just adore Seamus Heaney – a wonderful man – humane and sympathetic.” She has interviewed him, naturally.

After diverting briefly to architecture (“I love the buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright, but when I read about him I found he was an absolute bastard who treated women very badly”) she moved on to Robert Burns, and revealed that, unsurprisingly, she had grown up learning Tam O’Shanter. “Oral literature is so important, especially for your children.”

Sylvia Townsend Warner’s 1920s satirical novel Lolly Willowes, about a woman who moves out of town to escape her appalling relatives and who becomes a witch, is greatly admired, by herself (and by Donna Tartt, whom she has recently interviewed) because it is “about the otherness of women” and it was at this point that she broke off to speak about “the new misogyny”, quoting Germaine Greer, who thinks that “we are in danger of losing all the gains made” for women. She was appalled (in tune with everybody in the room, probably) by the “extraordinary fuss” and the vicious comments from some which had accompanied the putting of Jane Austen’s head on a banknote.

“I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott when I was about ten, sitting in a window seat. It has never been out of print for good reasons… I recognized the scenes where they are making jam and bottling plums, because that is what we did in our home when I was a child.”

The theme of displacement came next, and we were told about No Great Mischief by Alistair McCloud, the title being a phrase from a statement by General Wolfe, famous for the storming of the heights of Abraham at Quebec, who describes the members of the MacDonald clan who fought under his command by writing in a letter, "They are hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country, and no great mischief if they fall." It is mainly about leaving home and the old country, which links with her own family history.

Ellis Lacey is the biddable daughter of at the heart of Colm Toibin’s novel Brooklyn, an exile from County Wexford who ends up in New York. “Toibin writes so brilliantly about women.”

Rider Haggard’s She was a surprising item on her list: “It was originally chosen possibly simply because it was in the bookcase at home. Yes, it is dated but it is a strong adventure story and it gives an insight into how conservative colonialists thought at the time.”

After mentioning that she does not like using Kindle, she moved back to strong women with Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, which she considers to be better than The Handmaid’s Tale, “a lovely book which was made into one of the most rubbishy films I have ever seen.”

We got to Wuthering Heights in the end. She has read it to her children:  horrified by Heathcliff, they thought that the character had no redeeming features at all and that the novel is full of cruelty. Perceptive children. She elaborated on the theme of landscape-based writing and on timeless relationships (“Everybody makes bad choices sometimes…”) and said that she disliked the film directed by Andrea Arnold. 

Donna Tartt must be fresh in her mind after the recent chat on the occasion of her new book Goldfinch. “She is a wonderful author…she takes her time… she is captivated by the research… and she left eight months of work on the floor.”

Kirsty Wark was definitely a popular choice of speaker, warmly received, as they say, and much commented upon afterwards. Plenty of people could be seen jotting down the titles. She went on to be interviewed by Ann Sumner at an event organised by the Ilkley Literature Festival at the King's Hall, before driving back to Glasgow.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Robert Barnard Obituary

Robert Barnard 1936 - 2013

Bob died in his sleep yesterday at the Grove Court Nursing Home in Leeds, after weakening frighteningly quickly. Well known in the Brontë Society (he was Chairman twice), he was a professor, a scholar, an opera lover and an award-winning crime writer who was also a good personal friend of long standing, for me and many others. It is shocking news, even though it is not completely unexpected. Fuller tributes and obituaries will follow in the coming weeks. (RW)

Funeral: Wednesday  2 October   11am  Armley Hill Top Cemetery  Leeds LS12 3PZ

Memories of Bob (Sally McDonald)

Guardian Obituary

Yorkshire Post Obituary

Telegraph Obituary

New York Times Obituary

Independent Obituary

Black Mask Obituary

Crime writer Martin Edwards remembers

Obituary for Brontë Society Gazette

Richard Wilcocks writes:

Bob Barnard, who died in September after weakening frighteningly quickly, was encyclopaedic - a reference point, a source of knowledge, a repository of facts – but more importantly he was generous, friendly and open with just about everyone with whom he came into contact.  I first came to know him, and to take a place in his network of friends, back in the nineties in our home town of Leeds. Although he was the reason I joined the Society, I remember that when we met, usually at his house, Brontë matters were not always prominent, because his interests and enthusiasms were wide-ranging.

We were often at the same meetings of Brontë Society Council. He was Chairman twice, and for most of the time he was meticulous in his attention to detail (he kept a rule book to hand), an obvious believer in the principles of democracy at all levels, amiable and reasonable in the face of turbulence, and efficient. In difficult periods, he was a reliable helmsman in spite of the fact that the crew was occasionally peevish. His gravitas, that of a man everyone knew was the principal scholar in the room, was always there, but he never talked down, presenting himself with modesty and a kind of mischievous charm, a fact which would be confirmed by any member who chatted with him during a June weekend. He was a strong influence on the Society’s development.

The significance of his Brontë –related publications, especially his learned, attractive and accessible Emily Brontë in the British Library’s Writers’ Lives series, seems to be growing amongst academics and non-academics, and they have been well documented elsewhere, for example in Brontë Studies, as has his position in the world of crime fiction by other writers who revered him, so in this brief valediction I shall stay on the personal level.

Bob loved Dickens - he defended his 1974 thesis on him at Bergen University, where he was a popular lecturer, in “a large hall which was completely packed” according to his wife Louise – and the dogs he rescued were given the names of characters in the novels, like Pickwick, and Jingle. A cat still thrives, called Durdles, from The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He admired Ibsen, whose plays he had read and seen performed in both Norwegian and English, especially The Master Builder, and he was “easily disgusted”, he once said, by ‘true crime’ writing.

He had a passion for opera, choosing to live in Leeds after his return from Norway because Opera North is based there, and we often saw the same performances, discussing them later at length. Donizetti was one of his favourite composers, but the music which most moved him, he told me, was from Britten’s Peter Grimes – the Sea Interludes. Two of these, Dawn and Moonlight, were played at the funeral in October.

Our sympathies are with Louise, who wishes me to give her personal thanks to the many people who have sent her cards and kind letters.

Joan Bellamy writes:
Robert Barnard was a creative force in the endeavours of the Brontë Society, based in Haworth. A member of its council and chairman for many years, he encouraged and contributed to academic research into the works and lives of the Brontës while ensuring that the interests and enthusiasms of the less professionally engaged were catered for. After steering it through some quite stormy times, in the end he guided it safely into port. He will be much missed; the success of the society's activities today is largely due to him. (from The Guardian 30 September 2013)

Guardian Obituary

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Next weekend at Red House

The Brontës and the Railways - Professor Ann Sumner

Professor Ann Sumner2pm - Friday 20 September - The Barn, Red House

Professor Ann Sumner took up the role of Executive Director of The Brontë Society in early 2013. She has always had a passion for the Brontës and was interviewed about their relationship with the railways by Michael Portillo for his BBC programme ‘Great British Railway Journeys’. In this fascinating lecture she considers the impact railway travel had upon the sisters, the journeys they took and the investments they made in shares, as well as Branwell Brontë’s employment on the railway. She is currently undertaking research on this subject and will be bringing her latest thoughts to our festival ahead of the programme being aired in January 2014.
It's all part of the first North Kirklees Literary Festival. This session is £3  There's more related to the Brontës too -

Friday, 6 September 2013

The Roots of Arthur Bell Nicholls

Marina Saegerman writes: 
A woman with a Brontë mission: tracing the Irish roots of Arthur Bell Nicholls in Banagher, Ireland

Every year during our annual holidays in Ireland, my husband Paul and I set ourselves a target or a mission: we follow the trail of a well-known Irish person. In the past years we have done the Michael Collins’ trail (Co. Cork and Dublin), we have followed the poet William Butler Yeats (Co. Sligo and Dublin), the Irish writers James Joyce (Dublin and surroundings) and Oscar Wilde (Dublin, Co. Galway, Co. Longford), and last year we went to Edgeworthstown, the hometown of Maria Edgeworth, and visited her grave. It is usually more my personal mission than Paul’s because of the literary, historical and cultural interest I have in Ireland. Each year we also try and find Brontë links in Ireland, we even found a shop called 'Brontë' in Carrigaline (Co. Cork), selling shoes of all things.
This year my mission was really Brontë-related: a visit to Banagher (Co. Offaly) to trace the Irish roots of Charlotte’s husband Arthur Bell Nicholls. The day of this mission was to be Saturday 20 July 2013, when we were travelling from Boyle (Co. Roscommon) to Dun Laoghaire (Co. Dublin) on our way back home. We planned to make a small detour to Banagher, the village where Arthur Bell Nicholls returned to after the death of Rev. Patrick Brontë, the town where he had spent most of his childhood and where some of his relatives still lived at that time.

It had become more my personal mission , especially since I had read the book Mr Charlotte Brontë. Paul is not so interested in literature and the Brontës but he was quite willing to drive me all the way to Banagher, because the town is situated in beautiful surroundings. I was very excited about the whole expedition. And the nearer we got to Banagher, the more excited I became. Finally I saw the sign indicating that we entered Banagher. Now, we had to locate the churchyard where Arthur was buried and the house where he had spent the last years of his life. As a way of preparing myself for this mission, I had just finished reading the book My dear boy, telling the story of Arthur’s life. I knew from that book that the house and the church were 'at the top of the hill'. When entering the centre there was a road going uphill. We took this road and noticed there was more than one church along that road, which seemed to be the main street, but at the top we saw a church spire and we were convinced that this was the church we were looking for.

St Paul's
At the top of the hill we found a beautiful old church surrounded by an old graveyard and a stone wall, which was indeed St Paul’s Church of Ireland, mentioned in the book. However, there was one big problem: the gate was closed and there was no other way of entering the churchyard. Climbing over the gate and the wall was certainly not an option. In vain we tried to call the rector whose telephone number was mentioned on the board at the entrance. I then went to one of the neighbouring houses to ask whether they knew who was in charge of the key, but although they were very helpful, they could not get hold of the person responsible.

Apparently, at that particular moment there was a funeral of a young local man going on in one of the other churches and everybody in town seemed to be at it. I was referred to the house known as 'Hill House' where perhaps they might be able to help me further. I was very excited because that was in fact the house where Arthur lived with his second wife and where he died. Following the directions and description I was given, I finally found the house in question, located on the same road very near to the church. Charlotte showed me the way! The house at 'The Hill' was known in Arthur’s day as 'the Hill House', now it was a B&B and renamed 'Charlotte’s way' - I noticed the sign at the entrance.

I really would not have recognized the house from the pictures I had seen in My dear boy: it was a beautiful yellow-painted house with a beautiful porch entrance, and a paddock in front where two ponies ran around, flowers everywhere. I was so thrilled to be there. I saw a man coming out of the house and explained the situation. I asked him whether he could help me locate the person in charge of the churchyard key. His name was John Daly and his daughter owned the house. He told me that up to six months ago he would have been able to help me with the key, but since the church had been vandalised six months ago, and nearly burned down,  the gate was kept closed at all times except for Sunday church service. He would try to sort this out, in the mean time I could go in the house to meet his daughter Nikki. I just could not believe my Irish luck: was this a fairytale? Was I dreaming in broad daylight?

In the house I met Nikki, who gave me a very warm welcome, the Irish way. She showed me around the ground floor pointing out a few items of interest related to Charlotte : a portrait of Charlotte painted by a friend artist based on the Richmond portrait, the crest of the house, a copy of the pillar portrait of the Brontës (the original was found in the attic of Hill House after Arthur’s death) which had a very prominent place in the sitting room, the room where Arthur ‘s body was laid before his burial. I was allowed to browse around on my own in all the rooms of the house and I could even take pictures. I really could not believe it. 

Hill House is a beautiful 17th century Georgian house, lovingly refurbished inside to modern standards but keeping the spirit of the house intact. It made a wonderful impression upon me. The ground floor contains a small sitting room, the dining room with a large sitting room, where the portrait of the three sisters is exhibited, the hall with Charlotte’s portrait and the crest of Charlotte’s Way, and the kitchen. A beautiful staircase, though not the original staircase which Arthur would have known, leads us to the first floor where there are four bedrooms. One of these bedrooms was Arthur’s room, another bedroom was the room in which Charlotte had tea when she visited the house and the family on their honeymoon. At the top of the staircase, the former attic, there is one more bedroom. The basement was converted to a storeroom and a bedroom with a large window opening up to the garden in the back.

While I was browsing around the house Paul came back to let me know that (by coincidence?) someone had turned up at the church gate with the key and was waiting for me to show me around the graveyard and the church. Finally, my mission could be completed: I was going to see the grave of Arthur Bell Nicholls and his second wife Mary Anna (née Bell). Mrs Fay Clarke, church warden of St Paul’s church, was indeed waiting for us at the gate. She brought us straight to the graves of the Bell family. Arthur’s grave was the grave at the right hand side of the plot.

I had brought a pot of lavender with me and on behalf of the Brussels Brontë Group I put it on Arthur’s grave together with a poem of Charlotte (Memory) and some Connemara pebble stones. The poem reads as follows:

“Though sunshine and spring may have lightened
The wild flowers that blow on their graves;
Though summer their tombstones have brightened,
And autumn have pall’d them with leaves;

Though winter have wildly bewailed them
With her dirge-wind as sad as knell;
Though the shroud of her snow-wreath have veiled them,
Still how deep in our bosoms they dwell!”

I held a moment of silence in memory of Arthur Bell Nicholls and his second wife, and in memory of the whole Brontë family. For me this was a very emotional moment. Then we went inside the church, such a quiet and peaceful place. There was a beautiful stained glass window dedicated to the Bell family of Cuba House, where Arthur grew up with his uncle, aunt and cousins. Fay told us that Cuba House was demolished many years ago (in the 1980’s). What a shame! And the same could have happened to this beautiful old church: Imagine that all this could have been destroyed by fire six months ago, if the vandals had had their way. Luckily there was an alert fireman staying in Charlotte’s Way who heard the noise and reacted immediately. The church was badly damaged, but saved. The vandals were prosecuted.

We thanked Fay for taking the time to show us around the graveyard and the church. I really was very grateful that I was given this opportunity. It really was my lucky day.
We returned to Hill House (Charlotte’s Way) where we were invited for coffee/tea in the garden. The landlady Nikki proved to be very passionate about the house. She knew and loved the house from her childhood, because her mother was a housekeeper there. When the house came up for sale, she jumped at the opportunity . She is a nurse and initially it was her intention to turn the house into a nursing home, but it proved to be an impossible task to comply with all the requirements needed for a nursing home (e.g. lift). So she turned it into a B&B. She is running the place on her own, but she said she never feels alone in the house because there are so many good spirits still present in the house. The house is steeped in history, and breathes warmth and hospitality, ........ and Brontës. She has been writing a book on the history of the house, which will be published in the near future. I’m really looking forward to reading it.

In the past...
During our chat in the garden (it was such a lovely warm and sunny day) Nikki told us that she had many English fishermen staying in the house at regular times (the region is a well-known fishing spot), but that she wanted to emphasise the Brontë link of the house a little bit more in future. She was planning to visit Haworth in the autumn this year. The fishing link got Paul interested in the house, and he got talking to Nikki about all angling events in the area. So who knows, one day soon we might come back here to stay: angling and Brontës – a perfect combination for us! We said goodbye to Nikki and John and thanked them for the warm welcome and hospitality we received. A last picture from me in front of the house was taken, and then we left Hill House..... and Banagher.

It was wonderful that everything turned out so well in the end. Not only did I reach my initial target but I got more than I expected. My personal mission was accomplished. But since there is so much more to explore in Banagher and its surroundings I’m sure we will be back here, rather sooner than later.

My dear boy - the life of Arthur Bell Nicholls - Margaret and Robert Cochrane

Mr Charlotte Brontë – the life of Arthur Bell Nicholls - Alan H. Adamson

This article first appeared on Brussels Brontë Blog

Monday, 19 August 2013

To the Core of Charlotte's Heart

Maddalena de Leo writes:
On 5 August I went to England on a new Brontë pilgrimage, this time not in Haworth but in London and Wales. First of all, I was determined to see with my own eyes the four letters written by Charlotte to M. Heger in the years 1844-5, the same ones to which sadly no answer followed. 2013 marks the centenary of their donation to the British nation by Heger’s children Paul and Louise so it was really important for me to have the chance this year. I went to the British Library in King’s Cross, London, and having obtained first online and then in person a Reader’s Pass, not without difficulty I might add, I could see at last the so wished-for letters, one by one in a glass frame. I eagerly read the four of them, especially the third, so moving (and stitched), and also the neatly written fourth sad one. Poor Charlotte’s pain was palpable in them and I was highly impressed while deciphering her words in her usually neat calligraphy. Regrettably no photo was permitted in the Manuscript Room while holding these precious ‘selected’ documents.

Afterwards  I went to Conway in Wales since I knew my Charlotte had spent her first night there after her marriage in June 1854. I looked for and stopped outside The Castle Hotel for photos and videos, knowing it was the inn where Charlotte and Arthur Bell Nicholls had taken a rest before leaving for Bangor and Ireland some days later for their honeymoon. A few moments and I suddenly had the idea to enter the now elegant and luxurious hotel just  to ask someone to show me Charlotte’s wedding room. I thought it as a joke but who knew, I might be lucky! And so it was with my utmost surprise that after some minutes a very kind Welsh person from the reception came to my assistance and really took me in the room that had seen Charlotte Brontë’s presence more than a century and a half ago.

But my emotion reached the maximum level when nice, bald Brian showed me the double bed, a dark, carved, seventeenth century tester bed, telling me it really was the bed where Charlotte and her husband had slept that night. I then took a lot of photos and Brian smiled at my being so taken by the bed. When I could breathe I asked him if there are many Brontë fans coming there asking to visit that room but he told me that no, there aren’t any and also the room is the least booked in their hotel since the ancient fearful bed bears the following mysterious inscription on it: ‘God protect me through this night’. When I added that Charlotte’s husband was a curate, Brian burst into a loud laugh that meant, as he explained afterwards, she was well protected!

To feel Charlotte’s anguish so vividly and to see her wedding bed were for me two great incredible moments and this August I felt near her more than ever!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Shanghai Ballet - Jane Eyre - 上海芭蕾舞團

Click here to read the review of this in Dancing Review

It's on in London now. We'd love to read your review (or your comments) as well...

Send it to

Lynne Howell comments:
Whilst visiting my daughter in London today, we happened upon this production of Jane Eyre. There were some very beautiful moments during the ballet and some baffling ones too. Sadly Jane's time at Lowood was completely glossed over. However there did occasionally appear during the performance a ghostly figure of a girl whom I presume was Helen. Her strange zombie like movements which interspersed her otherwise beautiful dancing , were rather off putting and unnecessary. Bertha Mason was centre stage and incredibly powerful, contrasting delightfully with our shy, small and reserved Jane. Bertha did however appear to come back from the dead towards the end of the piece, to re join Rochester and Jane. All three then for some reason took off their clothes. 

On the whole an enjoyable evening of ballet, with the fire scene being the stand out moment, and the ending being the low point.

Sent from my iPad (15 August)

The Stage review (thanks Paul):

Click here to read Xinhua on the ballet.

We were in stitches

IMS writes:
I joined a small group of Brontë Society members on a sunny afternoon at East Riddlesden Hall, a seventeenth century manor house on the outskirts of Keighley, and we were in stitches. You may be forgiven for thinking that the group had gone to watch an Ealing comedy or to take part in some hilarious game show but the stitches in question were of a far more serious nature and had been worked nearly four hundred years ago.

The Parsonage Museum director, Professor Ann Sumner, shared her expert knowledge of the seventeenth century samplers which were on display in the Hall. She explained that, after the growing emergence of the middle classes in the seventeenth century, needlework really came to the fore and it was really the golden age of sampler making. These samplers demonstrated the skills, in needlework, of young girls, skills which started quite simply at around the age of five. After hours and hours of practice and work, the girls were producing such things as embroidered mirror frames and book bindings and beautifully worked panels for caskets. These panels were sent away to be made into the caskets which had small drawers and secret compartments.

Seventeenth century sewers would buy kits for their samplers from pedlars and these kits contained all the sewing material required and pattern books which would be resplendent with flowers, birds, leaves, fishes and animals. 
The three samplers discussed were all different. The oldest, surrounded by an authentic tortoiseshell frame, had a biblical theme, which was very common - this one featuring probably Rachel at the well - and was embroidered with butterflies and caterpillars. These two things were a symbol that the sampler had probably been worked in a Royalist household. The second was thought to depict Charles the Second with his wife Catherine of Braganza because the royal lion and stag could be clearly seen. All the samplers were worked in ‘stump’ work or ‘raised’ work and after surviving so long were very faded, but originally the colours would have been extremely bright.

‘She overwhelms me with oceans of needlework, yards of cambric to hem, muslin nightcaps to make and, above all things, dolls to dress.’  
Charlotte to Emily from Stonegappe- written in June 1839.

In a later age all the Brontë sisters were proficient needlewomen and it is known that Charlotte made her first linen chemise at the age of five, probably taught by Sarah Garrs, the servant, and each girl made a sampler, following in the footsteps of their mother and their aunt. Aunt Branwell  instructed the girls in sewing, thinking that really it was only the culture they needed, and when there were plans for a school at the Parsonage needlework was planned to be part of the curriculum.

We can see in all the Brontë novels that sewing is a theme running through them all - Grace Poole mends in an upstairs room and Nelly Dean sews as she narrates her story to Mr Lockwood. Caroline Helstone bemoans the fact that the sisters of local men have no earthly employment but housework and sewing.

Brontë samplers are on display today in the museum and it is remarkable when looking at the intricate and delicate work of them, and indeed of the seventeenth century ones we saw at the Hall, that all this beautiful work was produced without the aid of our modern electricity.


Saturday, 10 August 2013

Les Soeurs Brontë - a review

Thanks, Paul Daniggelis, for sending us this link:


The Brontë Sisters

Poetry in emotion.

Aimee Williams August 10th, 2013

Friday, 14 June 2013

June AGM weekend - Oakwell Hall

‘”The old latticed windows, the stone porch, the walls, the roof, the chimney-stacks, were rich in crayon touches and sepia lights and shades.”

On Tuesday drizzle took the place of sunshine as we disembarked from our coach at Oakwell Hall. The hall was used in 1921 as the location for the silent version of Shirley and is a building which has survived from the late 16th and 17th centuries and was almost certainly built in the Elizabethan age by John Batt whose initials appear on the porch. Charlotte Brontë knew one of the Cockill girls who with her two sisters and mother, Hannah, occupied Oakwell from 1830-1865 and ran it as a girls’ boarding school

Charlotte must have been very familiar with the hall because in Shirley, ‘Fieldhead’, the home of the eponymous heroine incorporates many things that can still be seen in the house today:

‘”The brown panelled parlour was furnished in an old style, and with real old furniture. On each side of the high mantelpiece stood two antique chairs of oak.”

Every house with a long history has a ghost story to tell and Oakwell is no different. We were told of unknown figures appearing, of shelves being unscrewed from walls and of the bloody footprint which never disappeared- until the floor was taken up- despite the vigorous efforts of scrubbing brushes and soap and water! Anyone moving from room to room could have been forgiven for thinking that they had been transported back in time for the hall frequently entertains school children, and on that day groups of children, dressed in  Elizabethan style, were happily occupied in interesting looking activities.

They were making lavender bags, writing with quills and one eager little boy told me, as he was concentrating on winding wool round four sticks, that he was making some kind of lucky charm. We saw in the kitchen that the children had prepared vegetables which were in a suspended iron pot over the fire and which they would partake of later from wooden plates.

It was an interesting morning and in these times of cutbacks and talk of closures it is hoped others in years to come will have the same opportunities to enjoy Oakwell Hall. What really made the day for me was to see how deeply the school children were involved in the educational activities there.

June AGM weekend - Excursion to Levens Hall and Silverdale

IMS writes:
After a warm and sunny weekend, full of interesting events, where friendships were renewed and new ones made, members travelled up the A65 - the destination Levens Hall near Kendal. The very understanding coach driver incurred the wrath of an impatient motorist –lights flashing, horn beeping- as he slowed down to enable his passengers to catch a glimpse of the Reverend Carus Wilson’s school building in Cowan Bridge, which the four eldest Brontë girls attended in 1824/5.

Passing over the busy M6 we soon arrived at the Hall- the building of which is divided into three periods. A Pele tower was built firstly in the thirteenth century, the second period was in the sixteenth century when the mediaeval structure was turned into a gentleman’s residence. The last period in the seventeenth century was when the South wing and brew house were added and the house exquisitely furnished. The rooms, resplendent with Elizabethan plasterwork and panelling, contained treasures such as beautiful Charles II gilded brass candle sconces and a George I burr walnut long case clock. There was furniture dating from the William and Mary period to an early nineteenth century. In each room pictures by painters of note, such as Rubens and Peter de Wint, and drawings by Edward Burne Jones, adorned the walls.

Moving around the house it became obvious that there were perhaps some tentative connections with the Brontës. It was thought that Colonel James Grahme - who married, in 1675, Dorothy Howard, one of the maids of honour to Catherine of Braganza and a daughter of the Levens Hall family -  had been born at Norton Conyers. The Graham family still live there today and Charlotte visited when she was governess to the Sidgwick family.

At the hall there is a charcoal drawing and a watercolour by George Richmond, the very same painter who painted Charlotte’s portrait in 1850. It is well known that Charlotte had been thrilled to see, in the flesh, her hero the Duke of Wellington in the Chapel Royal when she was taken there by George Smith. Wellington’s favourite niece, Lady Mary Wellesley, married Sir Charles Bagot of Levens and there were many items relating to Wellington given by him to Mary and in one of the bedrooms is his campaign bed. Many houses of this ilk attract the media and are used for films and television programmes and Levens is no different -  film versions of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Mrs Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters were made at the hall in the nineteen nineties.

Visitors can wander outside through herb gardens and pleached lime tunnels lead to a pond and fountain and in a quiet corner there are headstones where beloved family pets with the names of Tarka, Sheba and Jock are buried. Dominating all these features are the yew trees at various stages of their development into fantastic topiary shapes- the great umbrella dwarfing everything else and apparently requiring the use of scaffolding for trimming.

The next step of the Monday excursion was down narrow country lanes which led to Lindeth Tower in Silverdale and which afforded a wonderful view of Morecambe Bay looking across to Grange over Sands. Mrs Gaskell first visited Grange in 1836 and with her growing family made an annual migration to the seaside and stayed in the Tower House- which was built in 1842.  The Gaskells and other Manchester families who often stayed in Silverdale would, before 1846, travel by train only as far as Lancaster. After that date it would have been possible to get by train to Carnforth- the station made famous by the emotional film Brief Encounter.  A carriage ride would then bring them to Silverdale which, with its sense of isolation and peace, Mrs Gaskell is said to have enjoyed. In 1858 she wrote, “One is never disappointed in coming back to Silverdale”.

It was my first visit to the area and I was not disappointed!

June AGM weekend - Saturday

This year's annual lecture was given not by an academic but by an enthusiastic local historian - Steve Wood. It was accompanied by a fascinating selection of slides, some of which came as a surprise for many members of the audience in the Baptist chapel, an appropriate space for events like this because it is like a compact theatre.

The subject was The History of the Withins Farms, 1567-1930 . Most Society members tramp up to Top Withins at some time, usually in good weather. Steve Wood read a few minds when he suggested that perhaps we should have made good use of the fact that the moors around Haworth and Stanbury were significantly bucolic and that the talk should have taken place on the tops, near the set of restored ruins which are possibly one of the inspirations for Wuthering Heights. But then it would have been awkward for him to show us the old photos, and the drawings.

We saw a set of three farms in various states of repair - not only Top Withins, but Middle Withins and Low Withins as well. Only Top Withins remains, the other two having been demolished. Steve gave us a brief survey of the families which had once survived up there, some of them managing hay meadows and keeping cattle, some of them installing hen coops and pigsties. The animals had to come in with the human inhabitants, separated by walls and doors. We saw the careful plans which Steve had drawn. It would have been almost comfortable in winter in the bothy, near the beasts' heat. In one photo, oatcakes could be seen, draped over a beam to dry. They lived mainly on porridge and oatcakes, it seems. Even the dogs were served porridge.

The 'upkeep' of Top Withins farm, if it can be called that, has often been insensitive and neglectful: Keighley Town Council once made interventions, cut stones were stolen - a Yorkshire tradition going back to the Dissolution of the Monasteries and before - and various charitable parties turned up to do something, notably a class of schoolchildren from Barnsley. At one time, it was covered with names and graffiti, not the work of early members of the Brontë Society, I hope and trust. The sycamores have lasted well. Yorkshire Water bureaucrats are currently the keepers: they own just about everything on the moors around here, and have strong views on the keeping of farm animals, because of concerns about water pollution. Sheep have escaped their gaze.

There was plenty of it left when Sylvia Plath drew it, which shows the extent of the recent deterioration. The views are still stunning, but will change soon when tall new wind turbines appear on the horizon. It is, of course, still a popular tourist destination, and the paths are well looked after. Most walkers today might wear fleeces and anoraks - not so a century ago. One photo showed a group of mostly male members of the Brontë Society looking into the farm's open windows dressed in dark suits and bowler (derby) hats. The women with them were wearing long Edwardian dresses a couple of inches up from the turf and huge, elaborate headgear. They had style in those days.

Monday, 10 June 2013

June AGM weekend, Friday

The weather was unbelievably warm and windless. All the events should be held out in the open - possibly in the meadow behind the Parsonage - or so it was often said, humorously. All of the delegates were full to the brim with good humour. Here's a slideshow of just a few of them:

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Branwell on Friday

The forgotten Brontë sibling will get his time in the spotlight on Friday with a performance of award-winning play The Brontë Boy in the Baptist Centre.

Former Bradford Telegraph & Argus journalist Michael Yates wrote the play about Branwell Brontë three years ago, and a performance will form part of the coming AGM weekend. The play starts at 7.30pm at the Baptist Centre. Tickets for the performance plus a cheese, wine and paté supper are available from uk.

Read Chris Went's review here.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Dedication of plaque at the foot of Anne Brontë's grave

Sally McDonald, Chairman of Brontë Society Council, writes:
The new plaque
When planning the Spring Walk this year it was agreed to have a break from the usual ramble and instead design the day to include a service of dedication of the Society's new interpretative plaque which was placed late on in 2012 at the foot of Anne Brontë’s grave. We are delighted to say that the day was a great success and are looking forward to a full report of the occasion in the Scarborough Post later this week.

Members travelled from all over the country (Durham, Manchester, York, Keighley, Staffordshire, Suffolk and London to name but a few) to join the day. It was great to see old friends and to welcome some first timers!

Tour of Scarborough led by Trevor Pearson
As the service started the rain stopped and though it was chilly the skies were blue. We were very grateful to the vicar of St. Mary's Martyn Dunning who officiated (some members will remember him from our last visit to Scarborough). As Chair of Council I had the joyful task of welcoming everyone and explaining how the plaque was arrived at: to ensure that those who make pilgrimage there in the future see as generations have before the headstone and its inscription while leaving the grave undisturbed. A selection of readings followed including two of Anne's poems and her last letter. Flowers were set down and a moment’s silence concluded the service.

By the time we gathered outside of the Grand Hotel for a walk around Anne Brontë's Scarborough the sun was with us. Led by Trevor Pearson of English Heritage we were given an outstanding tour of the town. I had never visited the site of Christchurch before and what a poignant moment it was to see the site of Anne’s funeral now re-developed. Trevor was able to point out the buildings that Anne would have known, the town she arrived at, loved and spent her final days in.

My sincere thanks to Chris Went who arranged the day. Thanks also to trustees Susan Aykroyd, Anne Simpson and Doreen Harris and Membership Officer Peter Morrison who supported this special day.