Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Brontë Connection - a review

Ann Dinsdale - Collections Manager at the Brontë Parsonage Museum and author of The Brontës at Haworth (nominated for Yorkshire Book of the Year) - generously sent us a copy of her just-published booklet The Brontë Connection.

The premise of the book is to show the places in Brontë Country connected for some reason to the Brontës as similarly as possible as the Brontës would have seen and known them in their time. In order to achieve this, Ann Dinsdale has compiled around 40 old photographs of all kinds of places around Brontë Country.

Each page has a photograph which sometimes takes up all the page and sometimes is centered on it in varying sizes - always clearly shown, or as clearly as the old photograph allows. Under each photograph or, in the case of the full-page ones, in the photograph itself, there is a short, concise text which explains the connection to the Brontës, the changes the places has undergone since the Brontës' time and its current state in Ann Dinsdale's clear, informative, knowledgeable writing.

The pictures are wisely and helpfully arranged in chronological order. Thus we begin at Thornton and end up inside the old Haworth Church. This way, the explanatory text on each page serves also as a brief biography. The final result is not only a visual tour of 19th century/early 20th century Brontë Country but also an interesting overview of the Brontë family history, particularly as far as Charlotte, Emily and Anne are concerned.

Brontë aficionados and people familiar with the area will find this big little booklet is a treat and will have fun contrasting the old look and the current look of places, if only where possible since many of them have been demolished.

We were surprised to see pictures we had never seen before. Another side of Law Hill School were Emily Brontë taught for some months; the now disappeared Middle Withens with what looks like the Haworth Ramblers in front of it (some of them curiously peeping into the already empty house); Easton House at Bridlington (formerly Burlington), where Charlotte stayed twice and which she drew an accurate watercolour of; Wycoller Hall in a less ruinous state; the little house in Manchester where Patrick and Charlotte Brontë stayed during his cataract operation; or the small cottage where Anne Brontë died in Scarborough are among the most surprising images.

However, the good quality both of image resolution and paper makes the pictures you may be more familiar with look quite different and can now be seen in a new light. The details come alive and you can nearly behold these places through the eyes of the Brontës.

As Ann Dinsdale says in the short but insightful introduction, 'it was established early on that the settings of all the Brontë novels had real-life counterparts' so that many of these places scattered around Brontë Country may or may not be the real-life models for places such as Thrushcross Grange, Thornfield Hall, Wellwood or Fieldhead. Ann Dinsdale also reminds us that Charlotte did utter the famous 'we only suffer reality to suggest, never to dictate'.

All in all, this booklet will add to any Brontë bookshelf (or bookshelves) and will become the perfect time/space-travelling device for any Brontëite.

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