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Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Abismos de Pasión

Karol Novak writes:

Perhaps a reader of this blog is able to help me. I am writing about the surrealists and Emily Brontë, concentrating at this moment on Luis Buñuel's Cumbres Borrascosas – Abismos de Pasión - Wuthering Heights, which appeared in 1953. The themes fascinated the director's followers. I particularly want to know about the actress playing Cathy who had the stage name of Irasema Dillian – but any help will be welcomed. 

Michael Baumber

Isobel Stirk writes:
Brontë Society members and anyone with an interest in Haworth, past and present, will be saddened to hear of the death of Michael Baumber.

Michael was a retired history teacher and his book General-at-sea: Robert Blake and the Seventeenth Century Revolution in Naval Warfare was written over twenty years ago. Michael had detailed knowledge of the Old Testament and his sermons, given as a Lay Reader in the Church of England, were always interesting and anticipated with pleasure.

In 2009 his book - A History of Haworth from Earliest Times- was published. It is a mine of information which emphasises that, although the Brontë family played a big part in making the village known throughout the world, Haworth has a long and fascinating history.

Michael was always willing to share his knowledge with others and I was lucky enough to have many a conversation with him about the Bronte family and Haworth itself. He always answered my numerous questions with patience and it was a pleasure to take him, on quite a few occasions, to the County Records’ Offices in Northallerton, when he wanted look at the archives there, when he was researching for one thing or another.The miles would speed past as Michael would wax lyrical about the special project he was undertaking and the journeys were certainly never boring.

A learned man- he will be sadly missed.

His funeral service will be held at The Church of St. Andrew, Kildwick in Craven, at 10am on 18 September.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Serendipity in Penzance

Maddalena De Leo writes:
At the end of July I was again in inspiring Penzance after five years, this time as the Italian BS representative with my member friend Caterina Lerro and two other Italian Brontëites. We toured the town and had an external look at Maria Branwell’s house, still closed and without life, just to take souvenir photos on its door. Afterwards at sunset I proudly showed my mates historic Chapel Street with its important buildings such as St. Mary’s church, the Admiral Benbow’s inn, the one described in the opening scene of Stevenson’s Treasure Island, the Union Hotel, where it is believed the news of the battle of Trafalgar was first announced, and the Egyptian House.
After some time our appetite brought us to have dinner in The Tremenheere Wetherspoon pub in High Street, just aside the white marble statue of renown Penzance hero Humphry Davy. While there, looking around for a free table to sit, I made a welcome discovery, something I hadn’t found out in Summer 2010 when I had meticulously looked for any Brontë tracks in their mother’s birthtown. I saw in front of me on the left side of the pub a quite large gold framed panel reproducing the famous three sisters’ images and the ‘Gun portrait’ including Branwell in its centre, followed by a short explanation entitled ‘Penzance Literary links’; on the right below Reverend Patrick Brontë’s photo in old age and on the left lower side the portrait of the lady maybe thought to be Maria Branwell, the children’s mother and the Reverend’s wife. Of course I rejoiced for my discovery since it seemed absolutely impossible there is nothing in Penzance to commemorate the Brontës but on looking at the presumed Maria’s portrait I found out there is a mistake in the panel: the woman is not Maria Branwell at all but another much older one, presumably her own mother Anne Carne, since poor Maria died of cancer when she was just 38. I then enthusiastically took photos of me sitting just at the table nearby the panel.
Despite the mistaken picture my second staying in Penzance was surprisingly lucky and I felt fulfilled in my new search.

Monday, 27 July 2015

The trials and tribulations of being a governess

I see now more clearly than I have ever done before that a private governess has no existence, is not considered as a living and rational being except as connected with the wearisome duties she has to fulfil. (Charlotte Brontë to Emily from Stonegappe, June 1839)

IMS writes:
I enjoy very much giving lectures about the Bronte family- I go to different places and meet friendly, interesting people - I have met a relative of Mary Burder, I have spoken with a descendent of the Graham family of Norton Conyers, I have seen the names of four Brontë girls in the log book of Cowan Bridge school and I have been shown precious possessions with a Bronte connection. However to me, perhaps the most important thing is, in the course of my travels, I also learn so much myself. It is always refreshing to talk with people and hear their thoughts on that remarkable family, discover which is their favourite Bronte book and wherever I go, whoever I meet, it is heartening to realise that there is great interest in those who wrote their novels at the Parsonage in Haworth.

Last week I was lecturing on Teesside and after one lecture a lady spoke with me and told me she had once, years ago, visited the village of Lothersdale -  the village where Charlotte was a governess at Stonegappe House in 1839. She said she had taken tea in the village hall and bought a pamphlet, which she gave me, containing some delicious recipes, the menu of a dinner party held at Stonegappe and little snippets about the village and the house.

This pamphlet had been compiled by a lady whose parents-in- law had lived there for twenty years but perhaps the most interesting item in it was a short poem, author unknown, written about Charlotte’s experiences in the short time she was at Lothersdale.

Stonegappe 1839
(with apologies to Henrietta, James and Thomas)

‘Sh’ this is secret between us
Don’t tell Mama she’ll be annoyed.
But Miss Bronte is making a fuss
And she says that this is not for what she’s employed.

Quick James push the mouse under her door,
Then we will run over to the back stairs,
Don’t you think our governess is being a bore,
After all, I only did for a dare
The letter was addressed to Ellen Nussey,
I only intended it to be a joke,
Never thought she would call me a hussy
Grandpa Sidgwick looked like he would choke.

So I carefully steamed it open
How was I to know the ink would run!
As I held it to the kettle in the kitchen
Cook came in and spoiled all the fun.

Now Miss Brontë’s in her room quietly sobbing
When Mama comes home she will be fuming,
Oh come on Thomas let’s go for a ride on Dobbin
I have a feeling disaster is looming.

I was told that the James, Henrietta and Thomas were children who lived at the house in the twentieth century and I am sure that they would be not at all like the difficult Sidgwick children Charlotte dealt with in the nineteenth century.

The children are constantly with me and more riotous, perverse, unmanageable cubs never grew. A complaint to Mrs Sidgwick brings only black looks upon oneself, and unjust, partial excuses to screen the children. (Charlotte Brontë to Emily. Stonegappe June 1839)

The Brontë Cabinet - Review

Jacob Wandel writes:

The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects by Deborah Lutz
336pp, WW Norton

Keeper's collar
Having been fascinated by Lutz's Relics of Death in Victorian Literature and Culture, which is about attitudes to mourning and the habit (still prevalent today in many quarters) of collecting objects intimately associated with a deceased loved one – strands of hair in a locket for example – and having been a little shocked during my last visit to the section on nineteenth century photography in Bradford's National Media Museum, where I found myself studying the faces of dead children in their tiny coffins surrounded by flowers, I was particularly interested in the stance the author would take on the Brontës in this recently published book. I was not disappointed.

I was fascinated, not because I am acquainted with many objects associated with the family which are in the Parsonage, the result of many trips there during vacation time, but because of the elaborate connections which Lutz makes. She spins off from the heavy, brass collar which Emily Brontë's (officially her father's) mastiff Keeper wore to give the reader a wealth of information on contemporary attitudes to pets, bringing in references to Emily's poems and Wuthering Heights. What kind of frisson was induced in the author, who adored the huge creature, as she was writing about Heathcliff's hanging of Isabella's dog? Then there is the photograph of a lock of hair which belonged to Maria, the tragic mother of the sisters, who died of cancer before she became grey. Lutz goes into great detail in reminding us of the consequences. According to her, the children “never stopped trying to find in the act of writing a means to overcome death”. She reminds us, too, of Nelly Dean adding Edgar Linton's hair to Heathcliff's in the locket on Cathy's neck.

Charlotte's love letters are in the book, of course – how could they not be? We picture very clearly the grim-lipped wife of M.Heger in Brussels as she pulled the torn-up fragments from the wastepaper basket and stitched them back together – perhaps to wave in her husband's face. Lutz's eye for detail is impressive, and her focus on objects is, ultimately, a way of coming back to the poems and novels. This book is one to buy, I believe.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

A photo of all three sisters?

Halifax collector Seamus Molloy bought a ninetenth-century photograph for fifteen pounds on eBay recently - of three women. He is now suggesting that they might be the Brontë sisters. It has been identified as a 'collodion positive', a type of process which became commercially available only after 1852. Judge for yourself - read this Daily Mail article: 

A meeting with Sister Julia Bolton Holloway

Maddalena De Leo writes:
Fourteen years on from a memorable meeting of the Italian Section of the Brontë Society, on 10 July in Florence,  I and Professor Elisa Fierro from Lawrence, USA, met up again with Sister Julia Bolton Holloway, a well-known medieval historian and a scholar of the English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning  (

Old Suor Julia is still the custodian of the Protestant cemetery in  Piazzale Donatello, Florence, where the imposing tomb-sarcophagus of the famous English poetess  is located. She lived and worked for most of her adult life in Casa Guidi and dearly loved Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

Sarcophagus of Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Sister Julia also has a remote ancestral relationship with one of the first students of the Reverend Patrick Brontë and is the author of a fine comparative article concerning  the two works Aurora Leigh and Jane Eyre which appeared in BS Transactions  1977.
She was very talkative and kind with me, by now the new BS representative of the Italian Section, since she remembered me well despite the lapse of time and also showed with pride all the new books in mediatheca ‘Fioretta Mazzei’, enthusiastically talking of ‘Brontë 200’ preparations.

It was really a very interesting new meeting!

Monday, 13 July 2015

Welcome in any language

Articles and reviews for this blog are welcome in any language. Please send your contribution to

Sally Wainwright reveals all

"It’s very easy for these kind of historic dramas to slip into easy cliché, but right from the start I was determined to get past the Brontë myth which has inevitably romanticised and overshadowed the lives and careers of Emily, Charlotte and Anne," says award-winning television dramatist Sally Wainwright. Read what else she said in the Yorkshire Post -

Monday, 29 June 2015

Mad, bad and dangerous to know..

IMS writes:
Lady Caroline Lamb, wife of Prime Minister, the 2nd Viscount Melbourne, took the risk when she became acquainted with Lord Byron. The Caroline Lamb who I know is certainly not dangerous to know but she is, as well as being a writer and producer, artistic director with the Dangerous to Know Theatre Company based in Manchester.

Caroline Lamb
I first met Caroline in her native Sedbergh and during our conversation it was evident that she had a great admiration and enthusiasm for everything Brontë. I met Caroline again recently in the convivial surroundings of Cobbles and Clay in Haworth. Wearing a top with Emily Brontë’s famous words emblazoned on the front, and being on the last leg of a one hundred and thirty mile walk, Caroline certainly is not in possession, either, of a cowardly soul! She has written a play - The Dissolution of Percy - about the last years of Branwell Brontë - which deals with his failed love affair and it is a drama about double standards and gender politics. Percy was the family name of the Earl of Northangerland who featured in the Brontë children’s Angrian stories.

Caroline, on her walk, has followed in the steps of Branwell, starting in Broughton in Furness where he was for a very short time, in 1840, tutor in the Poslethwaite household. Her walk led her to Kendal from where Branwell may have written a letter to his friend John Brown and then on to Cowan Bridge where four of his sisters went to school. From there it was on to Gargrave, beside the banks of the River Aire, where Frances Mary Currer had lived at Eshton Hall and also Robert Storey who was known as the ‘Craven Poet’. Storey was published in the Yorkshire newspapers at the same time as Branwell Brontë was having success in that direction. Caroline had a long trek then to Halifax and then on to Leeds before arriving in Haworth via Thornton.

At every venue she had given readings from the Brontës’ poetry and prose and  also items from individuals who have been inspired by them- including  a piece of writing which fires the imagination with how a second novel by Emily may have begun.  The evening in Haworth ended with three Brontë poems- the first was Life by Charlotte which perhaps shows that the spirit can bounce back from adversity. The second poem was Farewell written by Anne after the death of the well regarded curate at Haworth, William Weightman. No Brontë readings would be complete without hearing Emily’s great poem No Coward Soul is Mine and this is how a very pleasant evening ended.

The appreciative audience wished Caroline, who will take the part of Emily Brontë, all the very best as the play gets nearer to its first performance.

To echo Charlotte’s words as Caroline prepares for her final stage of her journey walking over the bleak moors from Haworth to Sowerby Bridge-

Oft a little morning rain foretells a pleasant day. I hope so.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

June Weekend - excursion to Plymouth Grove

The journey to Manchester was a little hot and dusty- but otherwise pleasant enough - Charlotte Bronte July 1851.

Isobel Stirk writes:

Our journey on the Brontë Society’s excursion to Manchester was certainly pleasant. It took us through some beautiful Lancashire countryside with the brooding Pendle Hill lurking in the background and soon our driver was skilfully negotiating the busy traffic of Manchester and we arrived at our destination- Plymouth Grove.

Plymouth Grove
I had visited the home of Charlotte’s friend, Elizabeth Gaskell, a few years ago and as we disembarked, and made our way towards the front door, I did wonder if on that previous occasion I may have imbibed too much in the White Lion the night before as in my memory the house had been a bright pink. All was revealed as our very knowledgeable and charming guides gave us a tour of the house and explained how the house had had a complete refurbishment. I was relieved to hear that, when used as student accommodation for the university, it had indeed been painted pink!

I feel it is not surprising that Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell became good friends because listening to our guide I realised that there are quite a few similarities between them. Elizabeth Gaskell (Stevenson) was only a baby when her mother died and of course we know that Charlotte had very little recollection of her own mother. Both were taken care of by their mothers’ sisters and both were sent away to boarding schools run by maiden ladies. In Elizabeth’s case the Miss Byerleys in Warwickshire, for Charlotte the Woollers at Roe Head. Elizabeth would have empathised with Charlotte as she too had suffered the loss of loved ones in quick succession. Her brother disappeared on a sea voyage and then within a very short time her father died.

The Parsonage at Haworth was home to many animals wild and domestic - the famous Keeper and Flossy, the hawk Nero, a little black cat and two tame geese. At Plymouth Grove Mrs Gaskell was very keen to recreate a little of the   gentle town of Knutsford, where she spent her formative years, and in Manchester she created gardens for fresh produce and keptchickens. Plymouth Grove is very much set out like the Parsonage at Haworth and in the rooms we saw quite a few original items and things contemporary to the Gaskell’s time there. Just as at the Parsonage scrapings had been taken from walls, scraps of wallpaper discovered and then these papers were specially recreated by experts and now line the walls.

It was interesting to hear one or two stories about Charlotte’s time at Plymouth Grove:

I mounted into the window-seat: gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement Jane Eyre. Chapter 1.

Maybe the bashful Charlotte took a lead from her heroine for, when on a visit to Plymouth Grove and unable to face a caller, she took refuge behind the curtains in the drawing room and did not reappear until they had left. In one of the rooms we were shown a facsimile of a manuscript of Wives and Daughters. We saw the last word Mrs Gaskell ever wrote - ‘shawl’ - for she died before the novel was finished. Here again is another Brontë connection for the work was completed by Frederick Greenwood. Greenwood was at one time joint editor of the Cornhill Magazine with G.H.Lewes, whom Charlotte met, and then he went on to be sole editor for four years. He was the first editor of the evening newspaper The Pall Mall Gazette which had been founded by George Murray Smith, Charlotte’s publisher and friend.

The house boasts a delightful tea room and we were offered tea or coffee and delicious cakes. We were told that when Charlotte was in residence there she asked, one evening, to be served only black tea as green tea made her very restless. Mrs Gaskell was in somewhat of a dilemma as the only tea they had was a mixture of both. She did not inform Charlotte of this but when asked next morning if she had slept well Charlotte answered very much in the affirmative. After partaking of this mouth- watering repast it was time to move on from this house which had been restored so well and sensitively- with not a touch of pink in sight!

I am not familiar with Manchester so as our coach took us back towards the city centre I did wonder if we would go anywhere near Boundary Street West which is about a mile from Plymouth Grove. In the District Ward of Hulme Boundary Street was formerly known as Mount Pleasant and this is where Charlotte and Patrick stayed when he was recovering from his cataract operation.

We had a very brief time in the city centre and then went on to Whitworth Art Gallery. This gallery was opened in 1889- a gallery within Whitworth Park, a delightful setting away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city. There were many paintings to gaze at and admire - from the Brontës' contemporary J.M. W Turner and works by John Ruskin and Holman Hunt to the more modern portraits by Francis Bacon and David Hockney. We passed through galleries resplendent with the photography of Johnnie Shand Kydd and a wallpaper installation by Sarah Lucas. It was interesting to read that Cornelia Parker had featured at the Whitworth : Brontë Society members may recall that this Turner prize nominated artist had an exhibition at the Parsonage in 2006.   It took a fascinating, detailed, look at Brontë items - blood on Anne’s handkerchief, blots on blotting paper, locks of hair.

It was time to re-board the coach and we were soon going from Red to White Rose country. Passing through the little village of Cowling I glanced to the left and saw Stone Gappe House basking in the early evening sunlight. During her brief sojourn there perhaps the unhappy Charlotte had looked out of one of the windows longing to be over the moors in Haworth. We were happy to be heading back there but perhaps a little sad that this would herald the end of a wonderful day out, and we would soon be parting from good friends. The Brontë weekend was over for another year.  

Sunday, 7 June 2015

June Weekend - Simon Armitage

Poetry today has many forms and styles, not always connected with the generation of the practitioner, though Simon Armitage is often described in words and sentiments similar to those employed by Melvyn Bragg in his New Statesman review of the recently-published Paper Aeroplane: Selected Poems 1989 - 2014 - "...he has established himself as the poet of his generation". Although most of us on Saturday evening in the West Lane Baptist Centre, Haworth's best and only intimate theatre space, could have been said to be of another generation, possibly that of Sir Geoffrey Hill at the other end of some kind of poetry spectrum, Armitage charmed, entertained and moved us with enormous success. He was accessible, utterly intelligible and above all funny. He must be the poet of our generation as well.

He introduced his new memoir Walking Away, revisited poems written a couple of decades ago, spoke about the differences between walking the Pennine Way, where mists can be a menace and where you need to carry a good map, and the coastal walk from Minehead to the tip of Cornwall, where you do not get lost unless you turn sharply to the right, about the town of Marsden, where he was brought up, his father, and about inspiration. We got it. We laughed. We loved him.

June Weekend - Emily Brontë and Beethoven

Ken Forrest       Photo by Richard Wilcocks
Current chair of the Brontë Society Alexandra Lesley sang a Lied (in English) and read selections from the work of Emily Brontë, and extracts from the music of Beethoven were played with great panache on the Parsonage piano by Isabelle Oehmichen on Friday 5 June.

This was followed by a fascinating talk on the potential influence of Beethoven on Emily's literary creativity by John Hennessy. Is there anything written on this topic in German? Gibt es etwas über dieses Thema in Deutsch geschrieben?

Two sonatas in particular - the Pathétique and the Appassionata - can provide parallels in terms of form and content to passages in Wuthering Heights. 

The rare cabinet piano in the Parsonage, which Emily would have played, was tuned before the recital by the man who restored it - the illustrious Ken Forrest.

June Weekend - Brontës and War

Emma Butcher                Photo by Richard Wilcocks
Emma Butcher, based at the University of Hull, is the co-curator of the current exhibition in the Parsonage, which is entitled The Brontës, War and Waterloo, and her lecture on Friday 5 June was complementary to it. At first sight, the topic might seem thin, but it was made very clear that there is a lot in there! As it says in the leaflet for the Museum's current  Contemporary Arts Programme: Ferocious battles and violent, military men dominate the landscape of Charlotte and Branwell's juvenilia...  Emma Butcher looks more closely at the military material the Brontës read...

The aftermath of the Napoleonic wars seems to have been much more drawn-out and traumatic than a glance at standard histories might convey: the young Brontës were developing when many returned soldiers were still at a loose end, on reduced pay - "it was no easy ride for them back in Yorkshire", we were told. French soldiers too - thousands of prisoners of war were turned out of their prisons, to wander about the country in a state of confusion, picking up small jobs where they could. And did Charlotte and Emily ever get to see that famous battlefield at Waterloo, not far from Brussels - possible, probable... highly likely? Certainly, Charlotte was given a fragment of Napoleon's coffin - it's in the exhibition. And the children and their Wellington-fixated father had plenty of access to military news and reminiscences in newspapers and magazines.

Terror by Branwell 1830

It was not just the  1829 gift of toy soldiers to Branwell: the children were surrounded by real, close-to-home conflicts and memories of recent atrocities - the Luddites, the deadly attack on civilians by sabre-equipped yeomanry at Peterloo. Their juvenile fantasies were well-fed.

"The violent, masculine landscapes of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre can be traced back to the Brontës' early engagement with militarism and warfare," we were told. A strong case was made.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

June Weekend 2015

Warmth and sunshine for the annual weekend in Haworth - a chance for old friends from all over the world to meet, for connections to be re-established and for decisions to be made.  This was the Parsonage yesterday - everything in the garden beginning to bud and bloom.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Virginia Rushton

Virginia Rushton, who died recently, was a well-known and very hard-working member of the Brontë Society who will be greatly missed. A singer, she was also well-known in the world of music, and was largely responsible for an extraordinary operatic project for schools in 2006 entitled The Wind on the Moor. It was featured on this blog and can be accessed here:

This obituary appeared a few days ago:

More to follow.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters

Sally Wainwright
Keep your eyes open for the BBC's new Brontë-based television drama by BAFTA Award-winning Sally Wainwright, well-known for Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax.  A few details can be found here.

The two-hour drama is currently entitled To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters. Charlotte Moore, controller of BBC One commented: “The Bronte sisters have always been enigmatic, but Sally Wainwright’s brilliantly authentic new BBC One drama brings the women behind some of our greatest literary masterpieces to life. It’s an extraordinary tale of family tragedy and their passion and determination, against the odds, to have their genius recognized in a male nineteenth century world.”

It will be produced by BBC Drama Wales, but filmed in Yorkshire. Of course.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Glasstown, Angria and War

Coming to listen to Emma Butcher from the University of Hull (pictured) on the first day of the June weekend?

She's on at 3pm Friday 5 June. You might like to read her fascinating, well-illustrated blog article (from last August) as a preview of her talk - just click here. It's entitled Making sense of war in Charlotte and Branwell Brontë's Juvenilia.

'What your favorite Brontë sister says about you'

Here's an interesting blog piece written by Deborah Lutz, sent by American member Paul Danigellis (US Region 3), which seems to assume that Brontë writings are just for women. Deborah Lutz is the author of The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects . Contact her if you want to say which sister you identify with most. The blog can be accessed by clicking here.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Bad Boy Branwell

Click here if you want to stay at  Ponden Hall - a 'real-life Wuthering Heights'.