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We Are Three Sisters
by Blake Morrison
Nick Hern Books
In writing this play Blake Morrison has used an existing work as a kind of template – Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov. The use of this template has meant that some aspects of the life of the Brontë family come into focus more than others.Much of the original structure and dialogues are mirrored in Blake Morrison's play up to the point that he has consciously altered part of the chronology of real events and introduced new characters better suited the particular structure of Chekhov's play (others like Patrick Brontë have no match in The Three Sisters). The author is well aware of that and even writes an author's note listing all the changes and deviations from the real facts. Real facts that come from Gaskell's biography, Charlotte's letters(2) and, particularly, Juliet Barker's biography The Brontës (the biographer is also credited as advisor of the play) and plenty of dialogue is based on quotations from novels by the sisters. The introduction of a fourth short act which is not present in the original play is probably the major deviation from Chekhov's text but totally necessary as Charlotte and Emily did indeed travel to London unlike Chekhov's Prozorovs who spend most of the play dreaming of Moscow as the way out of the provincial life which they feel so hard to endure(3).
It has also meant that events in the family’s real life have been condensed into a much shorter time frame and, in some instances, reordered; and some key events are omitted altogether. It is not the aim of this play to be a detailed biography of the Brontës. It’s simply one way of exploring dramatically what their lives might have been like.
Charlotte: Soon the years will have passed and we'll be gone. Our faces will be forgotten, our voices will be forgotten, all that mattered to the three of us will be forgotten. But there'll be our books. And in the end, we will be remembered.Notes:
Emily: Then we'll known what our purpose was.
Anne: What we were born for.
Charlotte: Yes, then we'll know. In the next life. Then we'll know.
Permit me to caution you not to speak of my sisters when you write to me - I mean do not use the word in the plural. "Ellis Bell" will not endure to be alluded to under any other appellation than the 'nom de plume'. I committed a grand error in betraying 'his' identity to you and Mr. Smith - it was inadvertent - the words "we are three sisters" escaped me before I was aware - I regretted the avowal the moment I had made it; I regret it bitterly now, for I find it is against every feeling and intention of "Ellis Bell".(3) Donald Rayﬁeld in Understanding Chekhov: a critical study of Chekhov's prose and drama (1999) says:
In 1895, among the books Chekhov ordered and eventually despatched to the Taganrog Public library was a biography by an Olga Peterson of the Brontë sisters.Nevertheless, there is strong evidence that probably the most important source of inspiration for the Prozorov sisters came from the Zimmermman sisters (Ottilia, Margaret and Evelyn), as several Russian scholars suggest.