Review - Villette at the West Yorkshire Playhouse - *Review by Richard Wilcocks* Charlotte Brontë’s *Villette*, which was recognised by knowledgeable readers in nineteenth century Brussels as a close parallel...
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After 40 years in the Brontë Society, Imelda Marsden has gathered enough material for a pacy novel of her own.The Irish Times features the current stage production of Wuthering Heights at the Gate Theatre in Dublin and talks to the cast.
If she ever put pen to paper, the story might have allegations of snobbery as a central theme with added intrigue provided by “agitators” calling for sweeping changes at an ancient literary society. The 68 year old former nurse, a life member of the Society, lives and breathes the Brontës but fears “snooty” behaviour is thwarting its full potential along with that of the Parsonage.
She has watched recent events unfold with a feeling of deja vu, having witnessed the controversial departure of a director back in 2000. She has also met many wonderful leaders of the Society but, she says, some are distant and unfriendly.
“Sometimes you can be made to feel as though you are a nobody. I’m a trained general nurse, just an ordinary person. I know that some people have been made to feel inferior. One or two (among the leadership) think they are above everybody else, they are snooty. Yes, it’s a literary society but there are people who are interested in history or art too.”
The apparent disconnection between the leadership and the rank-and-file is acutely felt at meetings, she said. “People on the (Society) Council don’t talk to you, not even to say hello.”
Mrs Marsden, who splits her time between Mirfield and her beloved Haworth, believes changes are needed to widen the appeal of the Brontës and the Parsonage Museum and to boost membership.
“People like Bob Barnard (former Society chairman who died last year) must be turning in his grave. He was brilliant with everybody.” She adds that “people skills” should be a requirement for leadership, not just academic or professional qualifications.
The Society’s recent troubles have included the sudden departure in June of executive director Ann Sumner, who was in post for only 16 months, and last month’s resignation of chairman, Christine Went after just 28 days. Ms Went hit out last month at “agitators” who forced an emergency meeting in a bid - which failed - to bring in a “modernising” leadership. If the Society appoints a successor to Ann Sumner, they will be the fifth director in 15 years.
“There is a depressingly cyclical nature to these departures, as someone pointed out at the emergency general meeting (EGM) in October,” said a Society member, who asked to remain anonymous. “I believe some members of Council are not letting executive directors get on with their jobs without day-to-day interference. ‘Micro managing’ was mentioned several times at the EGM.” The member added: “It’s time to stop being so precious and exclusive and just celebrate the fact that we have this family on our doorstep for everyone to enjoy.”
It’s a view shared by Bradford-based writer Joolz Denby, who tweeted this month: “As a person who has felt the sharp end of the Brontë Society I agree they need to change their attitude.”
She has worked on Brontë -themed community events in recent years but hasn’t received invitations to Brontë Society events. “They see themselves as having an exclusive little club,” she said. “And, like all exclusive cliques, they don’t want outsiders in.” She also described the Parsonage as “deadly dull” and in need of updating.
In Haworth, work is needed to get locals and the Parsonage reading from the same hymn sheet, according to Peter Mayo-Smith, priest in charge at Haworth Parish Church, who says the village has the potential to be a “Stratford-upon-Avon of the North” if people put aside their differences.
He finds spats among members “perplexing” particularly as there have been several over the years. “It seems to keep happening, there is a little bit of a pattern. They seem to have had a high turnover of chief executives.”
Mr Smith was impressed by Ann Sumner who had got involved with the village and was a “breath of fresh air.”
He believes the next executive director must continue her good work.
“I hope and pray that the Parsonage and the Brontë Society get far more involved in the community. We have seen what happens when we do that. The 1940s weekends are run by a community group which raises tens of thousands for charity.”
He called for the creation of a forum, made up of Brontë Society leading lights and local people. And he believes Society members who have been critical of the leadership can play a big part in taking the group forward.
A month on from the EGM, the Brontë Society is keen to move on. In a statement, a Brontë Society spokesman said meetings had taken place between members, Parsonage staff and Society trustees “to build and progress a number of exciting plans to take us through the upcoming bicentenary celebrations and beyond, ensuring the legacy of the Brontë family’s achievements is further strengthened.”
The spokesman said members expressed their “clear support for the Brontë Society Council and the way forward” at the EGM.
“We are aware that some members would like to see the Parsonage Museum run separately from the Brontë Society. However, the Parsonage Museum was given ‘in perpetuity’ to the Brontë Society in 1928 and has been run by Society members ever since, achieving a world renowned collection and visitor experience. Any proposed changes to the constitution of the Society would be subject to a vote amongst the whole membership and would, therefore, need to be put to the AGM in June 2015.”
On the issue of leadership, the spokesman said: “Nominations have been invited from among the trustees for the post of Chairman, and we look forward to receiving them.”
On membership, the spokesman said it has been “stable against a trend of falling membership of Societies and we look forward to it increasing with the bicentenary enthusiasm.”
A conference in August attracted new members and a new database would “transform communication” with members and non-members, improve fund-raising and promote the Society to prospective supporters.
“The publicity that will surround the bicentenaries will generate interest around the world, and the Society looks forward to seeing membership rising as the momentum builds locally and internationally.”
He said the Society is focused on developing relationships in Haworth, including with the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, Christmas market, primary school, parish church and 1940s weekend.
“The leadership team at the Parsonage and the trustees are determined to renew and develop relationships with local, national and international partners to ensure that we not only continue to safeguard the legacy of Brontë family, but add valuable new chapters and interpretations to it over the coming years.” (Andrew Robinson)
They sweep in from the Yorkshire moors together, Catherine and Heathcliff, both a little exhausted and a little exhilarated, but seeming more at ease in each other’s company than they have been for nearly two centuries.The Guardian looks at writers-turned-lyricists and concludes that,
The morning is barely over, but the adopted foundling and the daughter of the Earnshaw manor have already moved from the intimate bonds of childhood to a love so consuming that neither can imagine life without the other. Then came adult betrayal and bitter, callous revenge seeping like poison into new generations. Then, finally, the calm peace in the grave.
Now, though, it’s time for lunch, after which the vivacious Kate Stanley Brennan and the strapping Tom Canton will have to do it all over again. Rehearsals for the Gate Theatre’s forthcoming production of Wuthering Heights have reached the run- through stage, and the stars of Anne- Marie Casey’s new adaptation are beginning to experience the destiny of their characters, playing out their romance, division and supernatural reconciliation for all eternity.
Even those who have never read Emily Brontë’s novel will have some sense of it; the story has been absorbed into popular culture, ceaselessly and sometimes uneasily adapted in film and television, famously transformed into poetry and song. A few years ago the novel topped a British readers’ poll to find the “greatest love story of all time”, an odd accolade for so fevered a depiction of affection and abuse, class struggles, near-incestuous desire and scenes of borderline necrophilia.
It is a gothic romance, certainly, but that doesn’t quite cover the intensity and brutality of Emily Brontë’s only novel. It is a battle between untameable nature and the genteel strictures of culture, sure, but it is governed by more metaphysical struggles. In short, it’s a novel that means countless things to countless people. What did it mean to its latest interpreters? (Peter Crawley) (Read more)
Better, arguably, than any face-to-face collaboration is music’s plundering of pre-existing texts, liberated by the writer being uninvolved and often long dead: Led Zeppelin’s serial use of Tolkien and Icelandic sagas, for example; or the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”, inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita; Jefferson Airplane’s Lewis Carroll-derived “White Rabbit”; The Ramones’ Stephen King-derived “Pet Sematary”; Nicki Minaj’s wholesale, somewhat less forgiving reworking of Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise; and Bush’s homage to Wuthering Heights and adaptation of Molly Bloom’s monologue in Ulysses. (John Dugdale)And the Guardian Books Blog wonders what it is that attracts readers to anti-heroes yet makes the avoid anti-heroines.
So in the meantime, what makes a good “anti-heroine”? The definition usually draws on two categories: bad behaviour and unconventional life choices. Anti-heroines come in many guises. Here are some of my favourites … [...]Librópatas (Spain) lists 6 stories featuring mad women:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
She was my first. I was with her when she was made to stand on that chair and be called a liar. I was with her when she stood “so grave and quiet at the mouth of hell”. Intense, straight-talking, brave and a little bit spooky, Jane Eyre is a lonely teenage girl’s dream. Through her, Brontë challenged many Victorian preconceptions about gender and class, and told a nicely twisted Gothic romance. (Emma Jane Unsworth)
Jane Eyre, de Charlotte Brontë. Es la novela por excelencia cuando se habla de la loca del ático. Jane Eyre es una joven institutriz que llega a una mansión para instruir a una niña de filiación confusa pero que está bajo la tutoría del señor Rochester. Rochester y ella se enamoran y cuando están a punto de casarse… ¡sorpresa! El ático en el que vivía Bertha Mason (y la casa, en general, del señor Rochester) están inspirados en un lugar real.The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel suggests a literary quiz as entertainment for Thanksgiving. One of the questions is:
Ancho mar de los Sargazos, Jean Rhys. No es una historia decimonónica ni victoriana, así que de entrada no debería aparecer en esta lista. Pero, sin embargo, en justicia debe aparecer: ¿cómo se convierte una mujer en la loca del ático? Rhys lo analiza en una novela magistral, que va más allá de ser la precuela de Jane Eyre. Escrito durante el siglo XX y publicado en los 80, es una fascinante historia de una escritora no menos fascinante. Antoinette es una jovencita que vive en el Caribe con su madre, su hermano y su padrastro. Y que acabará conociendo a un hombre llegado de Inglaterra que se enamora de ella… (Raquel C. Pico) (Translation)
6. “Reader, I married him” is the first line in the last chapter of what book by Ms. Brontë? (Betty Stein)You may have overlooked that line because according to The Free Press Journal (India),
Over and above his innate charm, Nehru came to us through his books. In Form IV (Standard VIII), one of the prescribed texts was ‘The Discovery of India’, edited by the well-known academician, Prof C D Narasimhaiah. Unlike other texts like ‘Treasure Island’, ‘Jane Eyre’ and the best of Mark Twain, ‘Discovery’ needed careful and concentrated reading. (V Gangadhar)Grace and Faith 4 U interviews writer Christopher Shennan:
What is your favorite book/character? My favorite book is Jane Eyre, and my favorite character is Jane Eyre. The richness of description and noble theme of the book captures both my attention and my heart. The character of Jane Eyre satisfies my sense of justice; the downtrodden gaining ultimate fulfilment. (Keith Dixon)Kudika (Romania) lists the 'top 5' book-to-film adaptations and credits Charlotte Brontë with having written Wuthering Heights. Sofia Loves Reading posts about the novel.