Thursday, March 01, 2012

Cats, "Truelove", a Bracelet... - A Review

Our thanks to the Brontë Parsonage shop for providing us with a copy of this booklet.

Cats, "Truelove", a Bracelet...
Edited by Sarah Fermi
Brontë Society
ISBN 978-1-903007-14-3, 44pp

This booklet contains the fifteen winning entries of the Brontë Society's 2011 Literary Competition as edited by Sarah Fermi. The three categories were Poetry (judged by Professor Michael O'Neill), Essay (judged by Professor Heather Glen) and Short Stories (judged by Brontë Society President Bonnie Greer).

According to Sarah Fermi's introduction, the category which received fewer entries was Essay perhaps because the word 'sounded too much like work - too much like a tutorial assignment'. The winner entry was 'Truelove': Names and Jane Eyre by Steven Earnshaw (fitting name, isn't it?). When we first started reading this piece, which claims that '[f]rom the point of view of names, Jane Eyre is the most perfectly realised novel we have in English Literature', we were expecting the usual tirades on Eyre-air, Rivers-water, etc. But we were in for a very pleasant surprise, as the research digs much, much deeper than the usual name analysis. As with this this sort of interpretation, we are always left wondering how much of what we now see was actually put there intentionally by the writer, such as, had Charlotte Brontë actually heard of one Truelove Eyre? But reading this wholly informative and entertaining essay, we are reminded of that Italian saying: 'se non è vero, è ben trovato'. We read in the biographical note that Mr Earnshaw's 'current research is on 'names and naming' in literature and beyond, a large part of which involves close attention to Brontë novels'. So we certainly expect to read more essays by him. The Second Prize winner Jacqueline Bain's Haworth 'Tails' will be a particularly delightful read for those who have ever visited Haworth accompanied by a four-legged friend.

According to Sarah Fermi, the poetry and short story categories received a 'large number of excellent entries' and this, we daresay, applies especially to the poetry category. The winner entry, Mourning Bracelet by Carole Bromley, somewhat reminded us of Katrina Naomi's Brontë-inspired poetry. Although of course the love for the Brontë family is implicit in participants in such a competition, the poetry category brims with admiration. If the Brontës were to read something written in their honour, we would suggest these poems, which may make them blush a little but would also help them realise just how well-loved they still are a century and a half afterwards. Patrick Brontë, of course, would read them a bit sceptically, like he did Jane Eyre, but we think he'd find it hard not to be a little smug afterwards.

The two Honourable Mentions in the short story category are the more tangential entries. And, though good, they feel a bit forced, as if any other writer/book, could have been added, had another literary competition taken place in connection with another author. However, the three winning entries are all delightful to read, and highly varied too. Still Cats and Birds by Catherine Spinks is a wonderfully concise and imaginative take on the lives of the Brontës. When we first heard of this competition we had never imagined that we would see an entry not directly connected to the Brontës, but to a film adaptation of their works: Yorkshire Voices by Andrew Stoba seems to mix a love both for classic Hollywood and the Brontës and is brilliantly crafted. The Agent by Alan Hall features Branwell Brontë and an imaginary errand of his.

All in all, we sincerely hope that this isn't just a one-off. This Literary Competition feels like an extension of the successful Contemporary Arts Programme carried out by the Brontë Society, with the added bonus that this is open to anybody: anybody can participate and anybody can enjoy it.

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