Monday, January 22, 2007

Open hotline to the Brontës' works

The San Francisco Chronicle has one of those articles we like so much. Catherine Watson writes about her pilgramge to literary shrines, including the Brontë Parsonage Museum, of course.

I'll admit it: I'm hooked on visiting house museums, especially ones that belonged to authors I idolize.
My penchant for tracing famous writers to their lairs started early -- at birth, if not before. I blame my mother. She named me after Catherine Earnshaw, the heroine of "Wuthering Heights," her favorite book. It was inevitable that someday I'd go looking for the author's roots. When I did, my mother went along.
We traveled to the north of England, to the humble parsonage in Haworth, Yorkshire, where Emily Brontë and her writer-sisters Charlotte ("Jane Eyre'') and Anne ("The Tenant of Wildfell Hall") spent nearly all of their short lives.
The day we were there was cold and cloudy. Black rooks were cawing above the tilted headstones in the graveyard in front of the house, and rough, dark waves of moorland crowded close in back.
All it took was one look out the parsonage windows to understand the Brontë
sisters' longing for passion and drama in their lives. Imagination gave them what daily life in their small, cramped dwelling could not.
And that, in a nutshell, is the appeal of a cultural pilgrimage -- the jolt of insight you can get from a place that was important to someone who was important to you.
You'd think that heroic deeds would be all we'd need from our heroes. But cultural pilgrims want more: We want to get close to them -- closer than their writing or painting or music or politics can bring us.
We want to see who they were when they weren't being famous, when they were off duty, when they were being ordinary. Nothing I know does it as well as visiting the places they called home.
She even mentioned Anne!

Ted Hughes's family was from Yorkshire and thus he and Sylvia Plath travelled up North to Brontë Country on a few occasions too. Many times being inspired by the landscape around them. If Al Alvarez is to be trusted, seeing Ted Hughes on the moors could have been a bonus for Brontëites, since this is how he describes him:
Ted Hughes: He reminded me of Heathcliff - big-boned and brooding, with dark hair flopping forward over his craggy face, watchful eyes and an unexpectedly witty mouth. He seemed to have easy, immediate access to his sources of inspiration, a permanently open hotline to his unconscious. (The Scotsman)
'An open hotline to his unconscious' - we like that.

And finally one more review of Polly Teale's Brontë in Wellesley.
"Bronte" takes us through many of the events and conflicts within the Bronte household on the Yorkshire moors in England during the first half of the 19th century. Life was extremely tough and unnaturally short for many people at that time, including the Brontes.
The play sets out to explore how three women, who were not particularly pretty, probably had never kissed a man or experienced much of life, could have written such successful romantic novels.
It also explores how the girls' brother, who had such aspirations and on whom their father had put so much hope, could have fallen so deeply into debt, alcohol, drugs and illicit sexual relations.
At the center of the play is a constant tension between Charlotte and Emily. Alicia Kahn brings remarkable intensity, fire and conviction to Charlotte as she fights for her own creative process and struggles to help the family work through its difficulties. Catherine LeClair, who's new to the company, gives a fresh and natural directness to Emily and her iconoclastic views, facing the bleakness of human life as if she were a 20th century woman. [...]
Teale has come up with a number of effective devices to soften the literality of biography. She introduces several passionate scenes from "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights" and has the sisters and their characters occasionally echoing each other's voices. Melina McGrew is extremely expressive and limber in the role of Bertha, a character from "Jane Eyre," who, in this play, physicalizes the innermost feelings of the other characters, as if their libidos have escaped from them and have their own body. Under Nora Hussey's sensitive direction, the entire cast moves very naturally through Teale's fluid time and space.
In a play with as much grittiness as this one, one looks forward to the lighter moments. And Hussey's cast provides them beautifully. Derek Stone Nelson gives a luminescent performance in a cameo role as Heger, Charlotte's Belgian tutor, who tries to get her to see more specifically as she writes.
Kelly Galvin, as Anne Bronte, has a real spark as she delivers a speech about illiterate blackberry pickers she envies. Both she and Kahn burst with life while describing their characters' journey to London to visit their publishers.
John Davin brings an appropriate mid-19th century toughness to Patrick Bronte, the father of Branwell and his sisters, while allowing them remarkable freedom for that time. And Dan Bolton has a nice, gentle touch as Arthur Bell Nicholls, a curate, who visits the Bronte house more than the sisters would like.
The full, period dresses that Nancy Stevenson designed for the sisters, along with the frocks and shawls to help change the scene, are gorgeous. So too is the spareness of Ken Loewit's set with three windows, one for each sister, hanging in space above window seats in which they store the clothes they're not wearing. Loewit's lighting has a rich warmth to it, while George Cooke's sound design floats hauntingly beneath the show's surface.
Throughout the play, all the sisters struggle to keep Branwell afloat. Greg Raposa as Branwell is excellent at being full of dreams and passion, while his world collapses around him. He wrings his shirt with madness while holding his head fiercely high at the same time, underscoring the complexity of his problems. (David Brooks Andrews in The MetroWest Daily News)
No doubt the play is a success wherever it goes, Polly Teale's script is simply fabulous. We suggest those of you unable to attend try and get hold of a copy of the play. It will be incredibly powerful even in writing, so imagine how it must be on stage!

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