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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No body of writing has engendered more other bodies of writing than the Bible, but the Brontë corpus comes alarmingly close. “Since 1857, when Elizabeth Gaskell published her famous Life of Charlotte Brontë, hardly a year has gone by without some form of biographical material on the Brontës appearing—from articles in newspapers to full-length lives, from images on tea towels to plays, films, and novelizations,” wrote Lucasta Miller in The Brontë Myth, her 2001 history of Brontëmania. This year the Brontë literary-industrial complex celebrates the bicentennial of Charlotte’s birth, and British and American publishers have been especially busy. In the U.S., there is a new Charlotte Brontë biography by Claire Harman; a Brontë-themed literary detective novel; a novelistic riff on Jane Eyre whose heroine is a serial killer; a collection of short stories inspired by that novel’s famous last line, “Reader, I married him”; and a fan-fiction-style “autobiography” of Nelly Dean, the servant-narrator of Wuthering Heights. Last year’s highlights included a young-adult novelization of Emily’s adolescence and a book of insightful essays called The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects, which uses items belonging to Charlotte, Emily, and Anne as wormholes to the 19th century and the lost texture of their existence. Don’t ask me to list the monographs.PopMatters reviews Claire Harman's biography of Charlotte Brontë giving it 8 stars out of 10.
I see no reason not to consider the Brontë cult a religion. What are Peoples of the Book, after all, if not irrepressible embroiderers of fetishized texts? The Jews have a word for the feverish imaginings that run like bright threads through their Torah commentaries: midrash, the spinning of gloriously weird backstories or fairy tales prompted by gaps or contradictions in the narratives. Midrash isn’t just a Jewish hermeneutic, by the way. You could call the Gospels a midrash on the Hebrew Bible, the lives of the saints a midrash on the Christ story, the Koran a midrash on all of the above. (Judith Shulevitz) (Read more)
When Brontë scholar Margaret Smith organized and published The Letters of Charlotte Brontë, Brontë scholars and lay readers were afforded fresh insights into one of literature’s most creative and idiosyncratic families. Now, with Charlotte Brontë : A Fiery Heart, Claire Harman draws on the correspondence to craft a biography by turns compelling and utterly heartbreaking. As Brontë was an avid, even florid correspondent, her letters reveal a passionate, headstrong, often enraged woman at times not far from her most famous character. For all Brontë‘s extraordinary gifts, her life was a short one, wracked by ill health, loss, and loneliness. [...]Keighley News features the Brontë season being put together by the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.
The reader closes Charlotte Brontë : A Fiery Heart terribly saddened and a little breathless, wondering at the unfairness of it all.
Harman does a marvelous job handling potentially fraught material. Anyone writing about the Brontës is dealing with an overhandled subject, revelatory letters or no. A writer of lesser abilities might be tempted to dip into the more sensational aspects of the Brontës’ lives: the illnesses, the unrequited love for M. Heger, Branwell’s liasion with Lydia Robinson (one imagines, shuddering, the “fictionalized” accounts of Charlotte’s love, coming soon to a bookstore near you). Reading about the deaths of Branwell, Emily, and Anne in such close sequence led to me tears. To objectively write of them likely felt little better.
That the reader never notices herself transported 200 years back in time is further to Harman’s credit. To read Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart is to inhabit Haworth Parsonage, chill, damp, and poorly lit, to walk wet and windy moors, to forget oneself reading in sunny, springtime California.
Readers whose experience of the Brontës is limited to a single book, or whose school memories are dim should not think Charlotte Brontë : A Fiery Heart strictly for experts. It is immensely readable, demanding no specialized knowledge beyond a love for literature and a curiosity about the woman who midwifed Jane Eyre, that most beloved of characters. (Diane Leach)
A theatre has commissioned three new works to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth.The College Fix reports that the English Reading Room at California State University Northridge is having a makeover.
West Yorkshire Playhouse, in Leeds, said its Brontë Season would take centre stage this autumn to celebrate the “extraordinary” works of the county’s iconic literary family.
The season will explore the family's relevance for contemporary audiences by inviting artists to approach their work from a 21st century perspective.
There will be a major new adaptation of Charlotte’s novel Villette by Yorkshire writer Linda Marshall-Griffiths.
This will re-imagine Charlotte Brontë’s ground-breaking novel whilst remaining true to its unique insights into loneliness, yearning and the redemptive power of love.
Commissions also include a work-in-progress staging of new musical Wasted – described as “the explosive crash and burn story of four young people with incredible dreams” – and a collaborative digital project Know Your Place.
These will première alongside dance performances, including Northern Ballet’s Wuthering Heights, and panel discussions.
Rebecca Yorke at the Brontë Parsonage Museum said: "We’re thrilled to be working with West Yorkshire Playhouse during this important bicentenary year.
"The Brontës are known world-wide for their novels and to be able to bring these stories to life theatrically, and to be made so relevant for audiences and visitors demonstrates that their enduring appeal resonates as much now as it has done at any point over the last two centuries."
West Yorkshire Playhouse artistic director James Brining said: "The Brontës are synonymous with Yorkshire and their impact and influence on our culture and heritage is phenomenal.
"In this 200th year of Charlotte’s birth, the Playhouse’s Brontë Season re-imagines the work of these women and invites artists and audiences to re-examine how their stories speak to us today."
Robin Hawkes, the executive director of the theatre, said: "The Brontë’s writing is both rooted in and strongly influenced by the environment in which they lived and created their enduring characters and stories, which are known and cherished around the world.
"It’s important to us that we continue to reflect this type of local resonance in the work we commission at West Yorkshire Playhouse."
The Brontë Season will also feature a series of screenings, panel events and a social media takeover, to provoke lively debate and discussion about the Brontës and their continuing relevance for a contemporary audience. More information on the Brontë Season and guest speakers will be announced by West Yorkshire Playhouse nearer to the autumn.
The original authors on display are all prominent English or American writers, including Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, William Blake, Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, Alexander Pope, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, Henry Fielding, John Milton and Charlotte and Emily Brontë. (Kate Hardiman)LA Weekly describes the sisters who opened Ripped Bodice, a bookshop devoted to romance novels, as pairing
the business acumen of the Brontës with the devotion of Austen’s Dashwood sisters. (Maureen Lenker)Can't be that good then.