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Bitter infighting which has plagued the Brontë Society for the past two years erupted into a shouting match at its annual meeting yesterday.The Times reports it too.
After trying to put the simmering tensions between traditionalists and modernisers behind them, following a string of resignations that included president Bonnie Greer after last year’s AGM, the warring factions soon re-emerged at yesterday’s gathering in West Yorkshire.
The members of the world’s oldest literary society, whose new president is Dame Judi Dench, who was absent due to filming commitments, were stunned to be told another five guiding lights of the organisation had stepped down from the governing council since Christmas.
In a further blow, staff from the Brontë Museum in Haworth, who had formed a senior management committee to help run the society because it was so light on trustees, have also quit.
As a result they have handed management duties back to the council.
Members have accused the council of acting like the Stasi in the way they have compiled lists of regulations for the society to make it more inclusive.
A woman in the audience shouted: “When I read all these rules and regulations I felt like I had come into the Stasi. We need fresh air and openness.”
New chairman John Thirlwell was clearly rattled as he tried to present his report to the meeting held in a Baptist Hall across the road from the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth.
When interrupted by one member he snapped back: “I’m just trying to deliver my report, if that’s all right with you.”
There were then furious exchanges as members fought to be heard over each other, with society bosses threatening to expel the protesters.
Alexandra Lesley, who quit as chairman after only six months in the post, was determined to be heard, with a man supporting her screaming, “let her finish” over and over.
Vice president Patsy Stoneman, who was chairing the meeting in Dame Judi’s absence, told the man: “If you continue in this manner I will ask you to leave the room. I’m in charge of this meeting.”
Members were aghast at the sheer number of resignations and wanted to know why people had stepped down.
They were unimpressed by the reply from the platform: “You will just have to ask them.”
Member Richard Wilcox said: “I’m looking at this big swathe of resignations and wondering why is this?
“Why have so many people resigned? It’s not entirely a mystery but can we have an explanation?”
There were also cries that the new council had been elected to find a “harmonious way forward” but had instead “presided over a catastrophe”.
Mr Thirlwell said the resignations had been for a number of different reasons.
He said: “It knocked us back but we rallied. I was very sorry indeed to see some of these people resign.”
When it was found a journalist working for the Sunday Express, who is a member of the society, was present at the meeting a vote was held to exclude him.
Treasurer the Rev Peter MayoSmith said his presence represented a “conflict of interests” and the meeting was private.
Members voted 56 to 46 for him to stay. (Mark Branagan)
But I propose another, probably greater source today for knowledge and thought about history, and hence about what is valuable in society: romance novels. While the number of visits to movie theaters has stagnated, sales of romance novels climbed to $1.08 billion in 2013 and continue to grow. Yet that figure hardly reveals the extent of their distribution. More so than old movies, romances are widely available in libraries and on ubiquitous e-readers for free, while quite a few other stories are priced at 99 cents. Tales of love found can be durable; Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë are doing fine on the web. Anytime, anywhere is good for opening works in print or on an e-reader. Hundreds of clubs and individuals absorb romance to an extent unrivaled by movie-goers; the Romance Writers of America (RWA) found in a 2014 survey that 64 percent of readers went through at least one book a week. (Robert W. Thurston)AnneBrontë.org has a post on the Brontës' use of pseudonyms.