Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Many sites reports the latest episode of the constant fight in the Brontë Society. Let's be cynical and consider it part of the bicentenary celebrations too. From The Telegraph:
Arguments started at the AGM, which was held at the West Lane Baptist Centre in Haworth, West Yorkshire, after a member disagreed with a journalist, who is also a member of the society, being present and taking notes.
Rev Peter Mayo-Smith, treasurer for the society, proposed a vote to exclude the journalist, who he allegedly said represented a “conflict of interests”.
Patsy Stoneman, the society’s vice-president, also objected and said she was concerned a speech made by Alexandra Lesley, who quit as Chairman after only six months, would be reported. Ms Lesley said she was determined to be heard, despite the journalist’s presence.
During the uproar, one woman allegedly yelled: "When I read all these rules and regulations we had put together I felt like I had come into the Stasi. We need fresh air and openness."
Another man was told he would have to leave the room if he continued to shout at the top of his voice, one witness said. Ms Stoneman, meanwhile, who is the author of the Cambridge Companion textbooks on Brontë, was allegedly sneeringly referred to a "Cambridge".
Mrs Lesley said it was unfair the council would not let her speak. "You don't even know what I'm going to say yet," she said. "We have a long history of arguments and a lot of the time feelings are left to fester because they are not properly explained."
She claimed decisions had been taken which contravened the articles of the society and best practice. "It's impossible to explain properly because it would take too long. The leadership team stepped down because they felt their position had become untenable," she added.
The row continued when Ms Stoneman cut Ms Lesley off after three minutes. Ms Lesley allegedly retorted: “I may have had my three minutes but have not had my say.”
Members voted 56 to 46 for the reporter to remain with 35 abstentions. John Thirlwell, the president’s new chairman and a former television reporter, later addressed the resignations with members asking why they had stepped down.
Richard Wilcocks, who attended the meeting, asked: “Why have so many people resigned? It is not entirely a mystery but can we have an explanation?”
Mr Thirlwell admitted the society had been “knocked back”. He added: “But we rallied. I was very sorry indeed to see some of these people resign.”
Mr Mayo-Smith told The Times the disruption had been caused by “two or three people” at most, adding: “I’m excited for the future.”
Information about the AGM on the society’s website said members were welcome to the meeting if they showed cards on admittance. (Lydia Willgress)
The Daily Mail has a feast, of course.
A modernising movement which seized control last year wants the Society, which has around 1,500 members, to become much more business minded and ambitious.
They believe that the Haworth parsonage and moorland nearby has the potential to become a tourist attraction akin to Stratford-upon-Avon, and had warned that the society was trapped in a timewarp under a 'snooty' leadership, and risked losing out on the Brontë legacy.
But traditionalists fear the Society will over extend itself, and lose sight of its ideals as it becomes more commercial.
There have also been rows over the Society's links to the local community.
Calls to split the organisation so that one half took care of the literary side of the society, and the other in charge of the museum have already been discounted after consultants said the Society was too small to sustain two separate charities.
The infighting is threatening to put a dampener on the 200th anniversaries of the births of the Brontes. Charlotte's bicentenary was marked with the laying of a wreath at Westminster Abbey in April, brother Branwell's birth will be remembered next year, Emily in 2018 and Anne in 2020, while 2019's events will focus on the siblings' father, Patrick. [...]
As Mrs Lesley struggled to be heard over the din one man screamed 'Let her finish' over and over as Ms Stoneman visibly flinched.
Ms Stoneman told the man, who was by then shouting at the top of his voice: 'If you continue in this manner I will ask you to leave the room. I'm in charge of this meeting.'
Another woman yelled: 'When I read all these rules and regulations we had put together I felt like I had come into the Stasi. We need fresh air and openness.'
She had been sitting at the back of the hall and when initially mistaken for man by the Vice Chairman snapped: 'Should have gone to SpecSavers.'
Mrs Lesley said it was unfair the council was trying to gag her.
'You don't even know what I'm going to say yet,' she stormed.
'We have a long history of arguments and a lot of the time feelings are left to faster because they are not properly explained.
'I had to resign because I felt there had been a lot of bad behaviour.'
She claimed decisions had been taken which contravened the articles of the society and best practice.
She continued: 'It's impossible to explain properly because it would take too long.
'The leadership team stepped down because they felt their position had become untenable.'
Me Stoneman then cut her off again, saying: 'Alex - you've had your three minutes.'
Mrs Lesley retorted: 'I may have had my three minutes but I have not had my say.'
Members voted 56 to 46 for Mr Branagan to remain with 35 abstentions. All the council voted for the press exclusion.
Forced to deliver his report including the resignations with the reporter present, new Chairman John Thirwell was clearly rattled.
When interrupted again by a female member he snapped: 'I'm just trying to deliver my report of that's all right with you.'
Members were aghast at the sheer number of resignations and wanted to know why they had stepped down.
There was fury when the reply from the platform was: 'You will have to ask them.'
Member Richard Wilcocks 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 counsel has been elected to find a 'harmonious way forward' but had instead 'presided over a catastrophe'.
Mr Thirwell said the resignation 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.' (Lucy Crossley)
The Bookseller and Newsweek report it too:
A spokeswoman from the Bronte Society tells Newsweek that the details of this year’s AGM have been unfairly taken out of context and that the society’s tumultuous period is firmly in the past.
“It is a membership society, people care passionately and not everyone likes change,” she says. “Sometimes people fall out. The AGM is an opportunity for members to express their views.
“When it became clear that there was a journalist in the room covering the meeting for a national paper, people were very dismayed at what they saw as a member being disloyal. These meetings are meant to be private. The Society feels very disappointed that he used his membership for his own pecuniary gains to make a big story in the press.
“I’m not sure why the comment was made by the woman, it was in the heat of the moment. As a Society we have been moving on for quite some time. Our membership is up, our visitor numbers are up, we have a new executive director. There are lots of positive things going on.” (Elisabeth Perlman)
And Evening Standard even has a punchline:
Fight of the day at the Brontë society, where traditionalists and modernists had a “shouting match” at the AGM. Reader, I punched him?
Additionally to what we said yesterday, we would love for everyone involved to read all these reports now with cooler heads and see if they are not at least a bit ashamed of what happened. The problem was definitely NOT the journalist in the room, the problem is the constant fighting for no one knows what anymore. And we ask - does this benefit anyone? Certainly not the Brontës.

Keighley News has an article on a more pleasant aspect of the weekend at Haworth: the Great Charlotte Brontë Debate.
TV actress Maxine Peake visited Haworth on Saturday to read from Jane Eyre during the Great Charlotte Brontë Debate.
Maxine was invited to the Brontë Society’s annual weekend to bring Charlotte’s prose to life during an event to decide which was the writer's best novel.
Viewers are more used to hearing Maxine’s voice in TV series and films such as The Theory Of Everything, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shameless and The Village.
The entertaining debate saw biographer Claire Harman and novelist Joanne Harris arguing for Jane Eyre and author Kath Langrish and historian Lucy Hughes-Hallett arguing for Villette.
The packed house voted Jane Eyre the best novel, by 85 votes to 27.
Brontë Society spokesman Rebecca Yorke said the very successful weekend recorded good audiences for all events, including a well-received new film by comedy duo LipService about Charlotte Brontë.
Members at the Brontë Society annual general meeting heard about the appointment of a new executive director, Kitty Wright, and saw a short film about Charlotte’s bicentenary celebrations.
It was reported that visitor numbers at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth were up, and society membership was rising.
On Sunday members were able to tour the museum and view treasures of the collection in the library with collections manager Ann Dinsdale.
A social evening and quiz hosted by Barry Simmons of Eggheads was held at the Old White Lion. (David Knights)
The Brontë Parsonage Blog (maintained by Richard Wilcocks by the way) has a couple of posts on the weekend's events too: on Claire Harman's lecture and Lip Service's humourous tribute to Charlotte.

Express and Star reviews Northern Ballet's Jane Eyre.
The storyline is true to the original text too, so those who have not read the book will easily understand the plot and Jane Eyre devotees will not be disappointed either.
Marston's choreography has a wild, untamed and even dangerous feel to it, with her dancers expressing total abandonment even though deep down you know of course every movement is honed to perfection.
The sexual tension between Hannah Bateman as Jane and Javier Torres in the role of Rochester is tangible from the moment they meet and the chemistry between these two extraordinary dancers is evident. When they touch, you imagine sparks fly, and their partner work is intimate and effortless. Individually the duo execute the intricate choreography to perfection, while at the same time expressing a degree of musicality which only comes at a world class performance level.
A special mention must go to Antoinette Brooks-Daw whose portrayal of the young Jane is fresh and feisty and also Rachael Gillespie as Adele who is a joy to watch and captures the mischief superbly in her role as Rochester's young ward.
Pippa Moore is amusing and charming as Mrs Fairfax and in complete contrast, Victoria Sibson is manic and deranged as Bertha, Rochester's insane spouse.
Eight male dancers appear depicting Jane’s darkest fears; the demons in her subconscious. Within in this largely female dominated piece, their dexterity, technique and performance skills transport the audience into the deepest corners of their own mindset, leaving in its wake a somewhat uncomfortable sense of foreboding.
Similarly the female ensemble display precision in their stylised performance in the orphanage scene.
The ballet offers a new score by Philip Feeney and the exceptional Northern Ballet Sinfonia fills the theatre with waves of wonderful sound taking the audience on a journey through music alone.
The creative team offer a perfect representation of the novel,with atmospheric lighting effects, tiered scenery which gives the illusion of depth to the stage and the rolling moors, as well as superbly ravaged costumes in muted tones, which fit seamlessly into the turbulent, brooding mood of the piece. (Alison Norton)
There's a review on Broadway World as well.
Marston has distilled Brontë's epic Gothic novel into a 90 minute ballet by concentrating on Jane's story and her relationships with the different men she encounters. The narrative is cyclical in nature; as Jane watches over her younger self before the two Janes switch over with beautiful mirrored movements. Scenes merge and change fluidly, reminiscent of the way memory can be hazy and elusive.
Marston uses the men of the company to represent Jane's inner demons, constantly obstructing and blocking her path. This device gives the Northern Ballet's males a role in an otherwise female-dominated production, and clearly conveys the frustration and anger Jane feels when she is constantly let down and mistreated by men. However, these demons interfere with the action at times (particularly a powerful, synchronised scene in the orphanage) and I am particularly pleased when Jane finally banishes her inner demons at the end.
Patrick Kinmonth's beautiful stage design reflects both the wild moorland and dark interior spaces occupied by Jane Eyre. Cloths are printed with abstract designs which hint vaguely at trees and hills, fireplaces and hidden doors. Light and flexible, the cloths are drawn across the stage by various characters, keeping the pace quick and again reflecting the fluid, dreamy nature of the story.
Marston's choreography is the driving force of this production. Her abstract, often contorted movements express Jane's emotions more clearly than dialogue possibly could. Antoinette Brooks-Daw is stunning as the young Jane. Every fibre in her body brims with tension, as though boiling over with Jane's anger and resentment. Marston's choreography for young Jane is packed with wild movements, clenched fists and rigid isolations, showing a girl at war with herself and her cruel world.
The choreography for the elder Jane is much more smooth and lyrical. Upon arrival at Thornfield, she bourrées backwards onto the stage with caution and uncertainty. We do see flashes of the child, in the way Jane deliberately clasps her hands together and restrains her legs from wildly kicking out. Hannah Bateman gives a polished performance as Jane; her height and strength making her a match for Javier Torres' Rochester. However, she relies on the choreography to convey the narrative and emotion, and could explore additional layers of characterisation. (Emma Cann) (Read more)
USA Today's Happy Every After has asked several romance writers about their 'favorite romance reads that feature children in the plot'.
Lane Hayes, author of A Kind of Romance
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is the obvious choice, but I have to add one of the first romance novels I ever read: On the Night of the Seventh Moon by Victoria Holt. (Jessie Potts)
On The University of Kansas website, Dorice Elliott, a University of Kansas associate professor of English considers Mr Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights a 'failed father' because he
Ignores his own children and spoils Heathcliff, an orphan he finds in Liverpool and bring home. It all ends in disaster for everyone after Earnshaw dies.
We would say it's not as simple as that. Much has been written as to Mr Earnshaw's possible reasons (some of which would still make him a 'failed father' of course) and intentions.

A couple of Italian blogs post about the Brontës: Il Tempo Ritrovato has a post on Shirley and Sempre di lunedi on Wuthering Heights. Lectito in Spain vlogs about Wide Sargasso Sea. On Facebook, Haworth Village shows how the Parsonage set built for To Walk Invisible is now being dismantled.


  1. Let's be cynical and consider it part of the bicentenary celebrations too

    LOL!!! Laugh of the day. Thanks!

    Calls to split the organization so that one half took care of the literary side of the society, and the other in charge of the museum have already been discounted after consultants said the Society was too small to sustain two separate charities

    No kidding...and how much did that pearl of obvious wisdom cost?

    The whole thing makes me queasy as I have seen such cultural intuitions being told to be a business, mucked about, ,consultants and their fees descend and oh wait it doesn't work anymore, then items sold off...which was the object in the first place. Hard to believe it can also happen at the Parsonage, but beware. We live in an age of museum looting. imo

    1. Reading some of these reports requires such an effort not to roll your eyes constantly, doesn't it?

      We'd love to know what's truly at the bottom of all this, as we highly doubt that it's actually the Brontës' legacy safekeeping. It's all so hushed - we just see the tip of the iceberg here. It's rather worrying.

  2. The so-called 'modernisers' formed a group back in 2014 with the avowed intention to oust the existing Council and President on the grounds that they wanted a more professional Council and open Governance. Using the press, they stirred up a great deal of unpleasant publicity with personal attacks on Council members and succeeded in their aim. The Society now has a Council which is very inexperienced, less professional and highly secretive, and the aim seems to be to gain control of the museum and detach it from the Society.

    1. Thank you for that over view. I also remember complaints that the Parsonage was not financially floating the whole village...(like its fire dept!) as if that was ever its responsibility or role . And that this mucking about and awful PR would somehow create a greater cash cow to off set austerity budget cuts...oh great..what could possibly go wrong? Indeed safekeeping Brontës' legacy does not seem first on the list

      imo all the supposed reasons ( which shift around as needed ) are kabuki theater with the aim of dismantlement. While they are generally secretive, they seem to be rather open about that

      Now the less experienced people are in place, which will further degrade the situation, which will bring further calls to pick it apart and so forth...as I say I have seen this before.

      The good news is the Parsonage has gone though a number of such dust ups in its long history and has survived...but its contents have never been so valuable before either. Today, any pocket of wealth is in the cross hairs

      It's fascinating that people leave, but no one can find out why...in the past if people left in a huff, they let everyone know why...powerful forces are afoot I fear.

      I had hoped Dame Judi took the job in order to do it and such a high profile personage would keep things civil and professional. Sigh

      Somehow during all this the day to day staff keeps marching on and does a marvelous job...thankfully, as four years of once a century anniversaries have begun.

      I believe the Brontës will win out...as they always have

    2. Thanks for the info. What strikes us is that the people now demanding privacy and wanting to kick a journalist out of the rooms are the same ones who aired the 'dirty laundry' in the first place.

  3. Yes, Cristina, the very same people, but the 'dirty laundry' they were airing was of their making, not the previous Council. They latched on to the departure of the Exec. Director in 2014, making accusations of bullying against her knowing full well that because there was a legal agreement in place, Council members could not comment in their own defence. The attacks became extremely personal, to the point of handing out flyers before the EGM targeting particular Trustees. At least two came close to breakdowns as a result of all this. Odd thing is that the people at the core of this seem to have come out of nowhere and have agendas which have little to do with the promotion of the Brontes and their work.