Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Guardian tries to restore Charlotte Brontë's sartorial reputation today:
He was a mere mortal who ate too many potatoes, and she was a plain little woman with no social graces, but 165 years after a mutually disappointing encounter between William Makepeace Thackeray and Charlotte Brontë, she has at least been cleared of the mortifying gaffe of wearing a completely unsuitable dress to a grand London dinner party.
The dress has usually been in store at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, since it was donated to the museum in 1928, but is now about to travel on loan to the Morgan library and museum in New York. It has traditionally been described as the one she wore to a dinner given by Thackeray in her honour, at his own home on 12 June 1850.
The dress is a pretty but plain blue and white print, severely buttoned up to the neck – and would have left Brontë painfully out of place among the other female guests in elaborate low-cut silks, velvet, lace, ribbons and copious jewellery. [...]
Historian Eleanor Houghton, lead researcher at the University of Southampton, believes she was at least properly dressed – or at least less blatantly unsuitably than in the blue and white.
Houghton, who publishes her research in the journal Costume, says that Brontë would have been careful about what she wore to the dinner, having already got it wrong by wearing a plain day dress on another very public occasion two years earlier.
“We know Charlotte was embarrassed when she wore an inappropriate dress to the opera on her first visit to London, so with this in mind, I think we can be confident it is unlikely she made the same mistake twice by wearing a day dress to an auspicious evening occasion – particularly one of such personal and public significance.”
She has studied contemporary accounts of the evening, fashions and fabrics of the period, and every inch of the dress itself, including evidence that it was later altered for somebody taller and stouter than the tiny author. One woman who had been at the dinner recalled that Brontë wore a moss green dress. Houghton concludes that the date 1850 is right for a dress already slightly old fashioned, but the occasion wrong. The long association with Thackeray, she believes, is because Brontë probably wore it to another meeting with Thackeray, a private morning meeting.
“The white and blue delaine Thackeray dress would have been the right choice for such a meeting. Its high neck, long sleeves and mid-quality printed fabric point to pretty but unassuming morning attire.”
That meeting was scarcely less awkward: Thackeray was startled when the quiet, awkward young woman took him sharply to task over several aspects of his work.
When the dress was auctioned at Sotheby’s in 1916 it was described as made for Brontë’s honeymoon in 1854, but Houghton thinks that is also unlikely, as by then the fashion had changed from its plain tight sleeves to more voluminous pleated ones.
Professor Maria Hayward, a historian and textile expert at Southampton, said if the question marks remain, the dress remains invaluable.
“Charlotte’s blue and white dress is a fascinating piece of clothing that reveals many insights into the life of its owner,” she said. “Its size, the choice of materials and cut, and the quality, have all allowed Eleanor to piece together when it was worn, and what it reveals about the public life of this very private author.” (Maev Kennedy)
Keighley News reveals the Brontë Stones initiative:
A writer has secured funding to create a trail of engraved stones commemorating the bicentenaries of the birth of the Brontës.
Michael Stewart outlined the project – part of Bradford Literature Festival – to Haworth, Cross Roads and Stanbury Parish Council at its meeting in Cross Roads last week. (June 6)
Mr Stewart said some funding for the "Brontë Stones" initiative is coming from Bradford Council, but most is being provided by the Arts Council.
There will be a stone each for Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell Brontë, with the first to be located at the siblings' birthplace in Thornton and two others on the moors in between Thornton and Haworth.
The site for the fourth stone, commemorating Anne, has still to be confirmed, but Mr Stewart told councillors that he would like it to be placed near a small footbridge known as the Donkey Bridge, which is on the beck between Haworth and Oxenhope, close to the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway.
Mr Stewart asked the council whether it could help him find out who owns this land, so he can ask them whether they would be willing to have the stone placed there.
Mr Stewart, who also works as a creative writing course leader at Huddersfield University, explained: "These stones will be inscribed by a fine art letter carver with words commissioned from four of the world's best female writers.
"The stones will provide a walking through history trail between the Brontës' birthplace in Thornton and the parsonage in Haworth, though the Branwell stone will be at a hidden location to give people the chance of finding it for themselves.
"Yorkshire Water has given permission for the stones on the moors, and I've also got permission for the stone at the house in Thornton.
"There will be a phone app, a web page and a guide book too. I'm hoping to commission some major female writers to contribute to the guide book, as I want it to be a good read."
He said each of the four writers who will compose the words for the stones will decide for themselves what they want to write, based on their own inspirations.
"This is honouring the Brontës' legacy through contemporary writing," he said.
"So much about the Brontës is a step into the past but I'd like to make this about now.
"I've been interested in the Brontës for a long time and I live in Thornton, where they were born. I think the full extent of what can attract people to Bradford in terms of the Brontës has not yet been fully exploited.
"So I want do something that will bring positive attention to Bradford. And as the Brontës' works are read and admired all over the world this has real international potential." (Miran Rahman)
Yorkshire Post has an article on Virginia Woolf's trip to Haworth.
She is best associated with London as a famous member of the Bloomsbury Group, the circle of influential writers, artists and philosophers.
But the writer Virginia Woolf also had links with Yorkshire, which are being celebrated in the run up to a conference in Leeds, which starts today.
The novelist was 22 when she visited the home of the Brontës at Haworth on a day when “a real northern snowstorm had been doing the honours of the moors.”
She later wrote about her trip to the “dingy and commonplace” parsonage in her first ever published piece, “Haworth, November 1904.”
“There is nothing remarkable in a mid-Victorian parsonage, though tenanted by genius” she wrote, “the only room which awakens curiosity is the kitchen, in which the girls tramped as they conceived their work.” But she was moved by the ‘little personal relics” of Charlotte Bronte: “Her shoes and her thin muslin dress have outlived her.” (Alex Wood)
Coincidentally, Blogging Woolf has a post on a visit to the Brontë Parsonage Museum as a Woolf enthusiast, showing a picture of the Visitors' Book signed by - then - Virginia Stephen.

The Sentinel reviews Northen Ballet's Jane Eyre.
The stage is effortlessly transformed from the restless open moors to the confinements of Thornfield Hall by the talented designer Patrick Kinmouth, and the score, compiled and composed by Philip Feeney, perfectly complements the plot.
To tell a story which is so rich with characters, themes and motifs, through the art of dance, is an incredibly brave undertaking, but in this instance the Company succeeds beautifully.
The stellar cast wonderfully bring to life the characters from the novel.
Throughout the production, Jane's inner demons are strikingly represented by the male dancers, perfectly capturing Jane's struggle, both with the outside world and her own internal attempts to balance moral integrity with love and passion.
The inhabitants of Thornfield Hall deserve particular mention, including the playful Adele (Rachael Gillespie) and the fidgety housekeeper Mrs Fairfax (Pippa Moore).
But it is the wonderful portrayal of the relationship between Jane and Mr Rochester (Hannah Bateman and Javier Torres) that renders this ballet such an overwhelming success.
The dancers flawlessly capture the complexities of the two, from the importance of intellectual equality to the almost violent intensity of their passion.
A wonderful evening that perfectly combines the beauty of the ballet with the telling of a story that still has the power to resonate today. (Danielle Booker)
The Huffington Post thinks that the Brontë Society is as 'melodramatic as the Brontës would have wanted'. Le trégor (France) announces that its latest issue includes an article on Stéphane Labbe's book Les sœurs Brontë à 20 ans. Wuthering Heights is the subjects of blog posts on Writers Melon and Imaginary Bookclub. Athenaeum posts about Claire Harman's biography of Charlotte Brontë. Multicatable posts about Romancing Miss Brontë by Juliet Gael. Lit Crit and Wit discusses 'patriarchal oppression' in both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea. The Next 50 posts about Wide Sargasso Sea. Dans le manoir aux livres writes in French about The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë by Daphne Du Maurier. Elaine Simpson-Long from the blog Random Jottings reviews Nick Holland's In Search of Anne Brontë for Shiny New Books. Victorian Musings interviews Nick Holland about his interest in Anne Brontë and his biography of her.
The research process was the most enjoyable aspect of writing 'In Search Of Anne Brontë'; it wasn't a chore, but an opportunity to get closer to the writer I had so much respect for. I took a holistic approach to it, beginning with reading as much about Anne and her sisters as I could, as well as reading her novels and poetry again of course. I then wanted to walk in Anne's footsteps,  and visit all of the locations that she did. With Anne this wasn't an onerous task, as in her brief life she only once ventured outside of our mutual home county of Yorkshire. One highlight was visiting Roe Head School, the place where she was a pupil and Charlotte a teacher, now called the Holly Bank Trust and a school for people with severe disabilities. Walking into her old classroom, my guide said: 'this to you must be like me walking into Graceland'. Even more magical, of course, were my visits to the Brontë Parsonage library, and holding Anne's actual handwritten letters and poems.
In many ways, we live in a perfect age to write biographies. When Winifred Gerin, for example, wrote about Anne in the 1950s finding source material could be a long and laborious task, and a hit and miss one. Now, so much information is cataloged and available on the internet. Sat at home with a laptop I was able to read newspapers from the time of the Brontës and gain lots of background information, even details of what the weather was like on pivotal days for the family can be fascinating and is now readily available.
The Brontë Society Facebook page shares a couple of pictures from last Sunday's walk to the three Withins Farms led by Steve Wood and Peter Brears.

On the Society's website you can now register any Brontë bicentenary-related being organised.

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