Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Yesterday, on the bicentenary of Branwell's birth, The Guardian thought that, 'It's time to bring Branwell, the dark Brontë, into the light'.
We are currently in the middle of Brontë bicentenary mania. This year, on the 200th anniversary of his birth, we are diverting attention away from the famous sisters and focusing on the often-overlooked Brontë brother, Branwell.
We remember him as the failure of the family. Despite being a passionate poet, writer and artist, he failed to hold down conventional jobs, and repeatedly succumbed to vice. Finally, his world fell apart after the end of an affair with a married woman, Lydia Gisborne, which accelerated his dependence on opiates and alcohol. He died at the young age of 31 from the long-term effects of substance abuse.
Branwell’s legacy has been shaped by sensation, such as the story that he once set his own bed on fire, or the suggestion that he died standing up. His erratic, out-of-control behaviour has contributed to his legacy as the family’s black sheep.
This year, however, the Brontë Parsonage is trying to tone down the Branwell bashing, recognising his flaws but celebrating the merits of the brother with the salutary hashtag #TeamBranwell. The poet Simon Armitage is the museum’s creative partner for this bicentenary, curating an exhibition that pairs his own poetry with objects owned by Branwell; inviting us to reflect on the workings of his mind and our relationship with this problematic fellow. At the heart of the exhibition is a letter to the Romantic poet William Wordsworth. Branwell, then a earnest 19-year-old, encloses one of his own poems, and expresses his hopes and dreams of building “mansions in the sky”. [...]
Life threw repeated punches at Branwell, but within this series of unfortunate events there was happiness and worth. We must not forget that the Brontë brother grew up in the same literature-charged environment as his three siblings. For much of their young lives, they collaborated on fantasy sagas as complex as our modern-day Game of Thrones. Set in the worlds of Glass Town and Angria, the siblings wrote the tales in tiny books and acted them out together. But Branwell was at the centre of this universe, often dictating the events of the saga or writing long parliamentary speeches and war epics. As Armitage says: “He was driving the whole show. He had this flurried imagination and they seemed to be wildly encouraging of each other.”
Branwell’s imaginative terrain was vast and impressive. He had the ability to rework a variety of histories and literary genres, immersing himself in an imaginative world that showcases a sophisticated interpretation of the world around him. Yet, despite this engagement, his writings are often derivative and undisciplined, often degenerating into a rambling stream of consciousness. If nothing else, however, these early years saw Branwell as an instrumental figure that inspired his sisters to harness their own imaginations and opinions. Branwell’s contribution was influencing his sisters to become the perceptive, avant-garde writers we know.
As each of the siblings worked on material for publication, Branwell remained an influential figure. Although later eclipsed, he was the first of the Brontës to be published, his poems appearing in local and national newspapers during the 1840s. And his sisters’ novels incorporate the shadow of their brother at every turn: as when Branwell’s Angrian characters, William and Edward Percy, were remodelled as the Crimsworth brothers in Charlotte’s The Professor.
Branwell himself even formed the basis of the sisters’ most sensational male characters, with Hindley Earnshaw in Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Arthur Huntingdon in Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall incorporating the more problematic elements of the brother’s personality. Armitage even suggests that he can see Branwell in Bertha Mason, the attic-dwelling madwoman in Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, with both possessing an “untamed wildness that is awkward and embarrassing”.
Although his influence was not always positive, Branwell remained a primary muse for his sisters, and we should remember him as a major cog in the Brontë writing machine – even if his own work was always “minor”. And the story of a young, talented fantasist failing to make his way in the world resonates with our experiences of hardship and lost dreams. The visitor’s book to the Parsonage’s exhibition testifies to this; it is filled with comments from people praising how much he reminds them of someone they know, someone in their family, even themselves.
There are more dimensions to the reprobate Brontë than previously thought and it’s high time we stopped treating him as a gothic antihero. Instead, think of him as a flawed but talented figure in his own right. (Emma Butcher)
The Dark Brontë bit, though, looks written under the influence of the Harry Potter celebrations yesterday. However, the Brontë Who Must Not Be Named would have been even better.

On Twitter, the Brontë Parsonage celebrations showed followers pictures of the items selected by Simon Armitage for his Mansions in the Sky exhibition with the hashtag #Branwell2017. While on Facebook, we could see that they planted a rose in Branwell's memory and also saw Sue Newby tell all about Branwell in the garden. The Brontë Society's Facebook showed the celebrations at Emily's Cafe in the Brontë birthplace. On AnneBrontë.org, Nick Holland also posted about the bicentenary.

The Guardian also has an article on the Bradford literature festival, described as
a 10-day cultural jamboree in which an evening of traditional south Asian wedding songs sits side by side with a steamy session on erotic bedside stories, and comic book superheroes compare pulling power with more local heroes such as the Brontës and JB Priestley. (Claire Armitstead)
The Argus reviews a recent performance of Jane Eyre at Brighton Open Air Theatre, giving it 4 stars.
Staging Charlotte Brontë’s gothic romance outdoors in a fractured English summer is a risky business; not only must the characters convey the tortured anxieties of forbidden love in the candle-lit shadows and attics of Thornfield Hall, they must compete with cackling seagulls, traffic sirens up Dyke Road and gusting seabreezes.
Chapterhouse Theatre, formed 18 years ago specifically to perform in the open-air gave it their best shot and, in the crucial moments, succeeded. Laura Turner’s adaption of Jane Eyre omitted most of Lowood and focussed on the Cinderella fantasy of plain governess whose spirit matched that of her hero even when her looks and breeding did not.
Jane’s famous tirade against the class and gender strictures of the time was pure Brontë, clear and Northern, an equal at that moment for the very dashing Rochester whose voice always carried perfectly above the roar of the wind.
It wasn’t always easy to hear Jane or Mrs. Fairfax despite their bravest efforts. A small cast doubled brilliantly, especially a flighty Adele/ flirtatious Blanche Ingrams, and just often enough, minimal props, plain set and mullioned backdrop enabled the imagination into the wilderness of Victorian Yorkshire and the ultimate love story. (Louise Schweitzer)
On Literary Hub, John Pfordresher, author of the forthcoming The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece, wonders whether Jane Eyre might have been written as a 'secret love letter'.
The other hope? The further reason for writing? The secret letters to Constantin Heger probably ended in November of 1845. The unstated fantasy driving the writing of Jane Eyre, which she began drafting nine months later, was in all likelihood to create a novel of romantic love that would achieve—through imagination—the fantasy fulfillment of an adulterous passion that was never to be hers. It would be a letter to him. At least in a novel, Brontë could have the heroine voice her own feelings, addressing them not to Heger but to the fictional Fairfax Rochester: “All my heart is yours . . . and with you it would remain were fate to exile the rest of me from your presence forever.” Jane’s words, but Charlotte’s defiant message. Here, certainly, was an even stronger reason for Brontë to maintain what soon became her fierce insistence to her closest friends that she had not written a novel.
And so it appeared with a title page reading: Jane Eyre. An Autobiography. Edited by Currer Bell.
And yet, given her limited experience of life and of people, what else did Charlotte have to draw upon as she desperately began to write? Indeed, she later confessed herself lacking that “knowledge of the world, whether intuitive or acquired” enjoyed by the “eminent writers” of the day. How was she to create the highly detailed world of this novel, with its story of dangerous and passionate love, and its spiky, independent-minded, risk-taking heroine? She turned inward. Ironically, Jane Eyre became, as the seemingly mysterious title page proclaimed, an autobiography, drawn both from Brontë’s personal experiences and a rich and long-standing fantasy life. (Read more)
Catapult discusses 'The Threat Within: Harry Potter and the Cultural Baggage of Orphan Stories'.
This backstory sets the series into motion, endowing Harry with a reputation to live up to and a tragedy to avenge. It also makes Harry one in a long line of orphans in literature, ranging from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre to Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. For twenty years, Harry Potter has been one of our best-known orphan characters. The tale of his life before Hogwarts—though perhaps the least memorable part of Sorcerer’s Stone—echoes with the origin stories of other literary orphans. [...]
Once you become aware of the orphan’s story arc, it’s hard not to recognize it and its variations. Sometimes, the parents aren’t dead—instead, the child has been abandoned, making them a foundling. We see this possibility in Heathcliff, the “dirty, ragged, black-haired child” of unknown origins from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Sometimes, only one parent is missing, as in Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—Huck’s father, the town drunk, is still alive. Sometimes, getting away from cruel caretakers comes at a price: In Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Jane is set free from her aunt, who sees her as a burden and treats her like a servant, only to face starvation and deprivation at Lowood Institution. [...]
I didn’t feel a connection between myself and Harry Potter, nor did I feel akin to less magical characters like Jane Eyre. My family didn’t abuse or shun me: My grandmothers both lived with and took care of my older brother and me, and my father’s sisters drove in every weekend when my parents were sick. I never wondered what would become of me when my parents died. While most literary orphans are begrudged their care by distant family members—or sent to an orphanage—I moved in with one of my aunts, and while our relationship was sometimes strained, I didn’t sleep in a cupboard under the stairs. I had my own bedroom, decorated as much like a PBteen catalog page as possible. [...]
My orphan experience has been one of unending grief, and in rereading Sorcerer’s Stone as an adult, I am struck by how it holds at a remove the grief that accompanies parental loss. Harry thinks of his parents very little. Like Jane Eyre, who doesn’t find out the truth about who her parents were (her father, a poor clergyman; her mother, cut off from her family “without a shilling” for marrying down) and how they died (typhus fever) until age ten, Harry doesn’t linger over the revelation that his parents were wizards who were murdered. For most of the book, he’s less interested in discovering who his parents really were than in proving himself worthy of his reputation in the wizarding world. It’s not until the last third of Sorcerer’s Stone that Rowling even mentions his longing for his parents. (Kristen Martin)
San Diego Jewish World reviews the Roustabouts Theatre Company's Withering Heights.
Schein’s capacity for physical morphing and authentic accents and dialects, paired with Johnson’s demonic laughter and gastric disturbance keep this ninety minute play galloping across the heather and applesauce-covered English countryside. (Eva Trieger)
The Lancashire Evening Post reviews The Little Teashop of Lost and Found by Trisha Ashley.
The Little Teashop of Lost and Found, a gorgeous, warm-hearted and original new tale set amidst the rolling hills of Yorkshire’s stunning Brontë country, has all those favourite ingredients but with an extra thick layer of intrigue and mystery. Alice Rose is a foundling. She was discovered on the Yorkshire moors above the famous Brontë village of Haworth as a newborn baby but was adopted soon after and moved to Shropshire. (Pam Norfolk)
Leonoticias (Spain) reviews the book Ojos ciegos by Virginia Aguilera.
Esta novela tan entretenida como perturbadora (con calidad de página y talento para la investigación histórica, y con influencias formales de Jan Potocki en El manuscrito encontrado en Zaragoza e influencias estilísticas de Arthur Conan Doyle –sus novelas de Sherlock Holmes- y también de Emily Brontë –Cumbres Borrascosas-, sobre todo encierra un potente y vigente mensaje en contra del buenismo de las ideologías y los experimentos sociológicos tipo secta transidos de un utopismo delirante. (Luis Artigue) (Translation)
AM New York has an article on the 90 years of the famous bookshop The Strand and reports that Jane Eyre is one of their all-time bestsellers. Il Libraio (Italy) features Jean Rhys.

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