Search This Blog

Loading...

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The 'To Walk Invisible' Parsonage

Take a look at this Radio Leeds video on Facebook - about the construction of a replica of the Parsonage on Penistone Hill. Plenty of chipboard in there! It is for five days of filming for Sally Wainwright's television drama To Walk Invisible, which will be on screens at Christmas.

https://www.facebook.com/BBCRadioLeeds/videos/10153126772122824/

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Brontë 200 at the Gaskell House in Manchester

Pamela Nash writes:
One of the North West's most pre-eminent literary venues will play host to a unique event this September as part of their “Brontë 200” celebrations. Elizabeth Gaskell's House in Manchester celebrates the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë's birth with two world premiere song settings by composer Robin Walker as well as readings from poets Philip Watts and Edwin Stockdale.   Soprano Lesley-Jane Rogers will be joined by pianist Janet Simpson and violinist Suzanne Casey.

The musical and literary inspiration for the programme is drawn from the themes of unobtainable love, from the writings of both Charlotte and Emily Brontë. Walker's setting of Charlotte's unrequited love letters to Constantin Héger, “Letter to Brussels” for soprano and piano and his dramatic scena setting of Emily's poem “Self-Interrogation” for soprano, violin and piano are complemented by readings of Stockdale's Brontë-inspired poems alongside the poetry of the Brontë sisters themselves.

Saturday, September 17th, 7pm, Elizabeth Gaskell's House, 84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester M13 9LW.

Watch this space for further updates, but enquiries may be sent to Pamela Nash: nashhpschdnew@aol.com



Friday, 29 April 2016

Poems by Charlotte, Emily and Anne - pages by Julian Yanover

Julian Yanover writes:
I have built what I consider to be a unique page about the Brontës at http://mypoeticside.com/poets/charlotte-bronte-poemshttp://mypoeticside.com/poets/emily-bronte-poems and http://mypoeticside.com/poets/anne-bronte-poems where I added several of their poems, their biography, a multimedia gallery and more importantly a timeline and time-map of their life, which can't be found anywhere else online.

I would be grateful to receive your comments  (click below)

Charlotte Brontë's Bicentenary in Italy

A member of the Italian Section writes:
Maddalena De Leo and Caterina Lerro
On Thursday 21 April Italy celebrated Charlotte Brontë’s bicentenary in a number of ways and the Italian Section of the Brontë Society was of course  involved through its representative, Prof. Maddalena De Leo. She was asked to take part to two radio broadcasts, the first on Rai Radio2 (Ovunque6) and the second on Rai Radio3 (Fahrenheit) where she talked of Charlotte, her importance today and the ‘feminism’ throughout her work.

The day in Italy was also celebrated in the Sicilian town of Bronte, where a meeting was held with journalists, teachers and students who spoke of Charlotte and read some of her prose. The Italian representative was invited there as well, and appeared on a Skype conference to greet all Sicilian citizens and to read a message expressly sent from the Brontë Society to the Mayor of the town of Bronte. It was a wonderful occasion to create a promising bridge between England and Italy.

In the afternoon a major conference organized by the Italian Ministero dei Beni Culturali was held in Naples at the National Library with Maddalena De Leo and Caterina Lerro as speakers in front of a large and involved public. Prof. De Leo read her interesting paper about Charlotte’s heroines in Juvenilia and in the novels mainly pointing to the differences existing between the first and the second group of them, Prof. Lerro spoke of the meaning of Jane Eyre as a novel, commenting on three of its most important pages (the incipit – the meeting with Rochester – ‘Reader, I married him’) with the help of her students who played the parts of the characters.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Celebrations at the Brontë Parsonage

Tracy Chevalier



A tour of the current exhibition - Charlotte Great and Small - with a series of commentaries from its curator, Tracy Chevalier, was one of the highlights of yesterday's bicentenary celebrations at the Parsonage. An item in a glass case in the Bonnell Room, where the tour started, is one of the letters which an agonised and infatuated Charlotte sent to Monsieur Heger at the Pensionnat in Brussels, which was first torn up by the recipient, then sewn back together by Madame Heger.




Interestingly, we were told that studies of the folds in the paper show that M.Heger kept it intact for years. One speculation is that Mme. Heger wanted to preserve it as evidence that her husband had not actually 'done anything' with his pupil. Four works by the artist Ligia Booton take off from this letter, and hang on a wall nearby, part of the exhibition.






Charlotte Brontë celebrated in Bronte, Sicily


Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Juliet Barker in Brussels for the Bicentenary

Helen MacEwan writes:  (from the Brussels Brontë Blog)

Committee members of the Brussels Brontë Group with Juliet Barker. 
From left to right, Dawn Robey, Jones Hayden, Helen MacEwan, 
Juliet Barker and Lisbeth Ekelof.
Juliet Barker’s eagerly-awaited talk in Brussels, over our weekend of events to celebrate the Charlotte Brontë bicentenary, took place against the backdrop of travel disruption following the attacks of 22 March. With flights cancelled or deviated, the weeks leading up to 16 April were anxious ones and the news of a Belgian air traffic controllers’ strike shortly before she was due to fly seemed the last straw. But she made it to beleaguered Brussels Airport, all the way from her home in North Yorkshire.

The main focus of her talk was The things Gaskell left out of her Life of Charlotte Brontë. Over dinner the evening before the talk, Juliet expressed admiration for Mrs Gaskell as a novelist, but her talk made it clear that she has a few bones to pick with Gaskell the biographer. In Barker’s view, the problem with Gaskell’s Life is that it is a fiction rather than a truthful biography.

She began with a reference to an article published in Sharpe’s London Magazine in June 1855, shortly after Charlotte’s death, that deeply upset her friend Ellen Nussey. Called ‘A few words about Jane Eyre’, it revived many of the rumours about Currer Bell that circulated when that novel was published. It contained not just accusations of Charlotte’s impropriety and ‘coarseness’ but accusations against her father, claiming that he had neglected his children and left their education to servants. Nussey was so incensed by the article she asked Mrs Gaskell to mount a defence of Charlotte. Yet ironically, as Barker pointed out, the original source for much of the information in the article was Gaskell herself. It was taken from letters written by her the Lake District shortly after her first meeting with Charlotte, based on spiteful gossip by a disgruntled former employee of the Brontës.
When she embarked on her biography, Mrs Gaskell herself admitted how hard it was for a novelist to be strictly truthful (‘You have to be accurate and keep to facts; a most difficult thing for a writer of fiction’). Barker’s claim is that Mrs Gaskell in fact had no intention of being objective and impartial. Her objective was to defend and vindicate Charlotte as a woman and writer and, in the process, facts were distorted or suppressed; what she omitted was as important as what she included.

Barker started with Gaskell’s description of Haworth, using contemporary sources to demonstrate how far removed the real village and its inhabitants were from the remote spot and wild, lawless community depicted by Gaskell on the basis of sources 100 years out of date. Not only is Haworth a mere four miles from Keighley, but when the Brontës lived there it was a hive of industrial and cultural activity. Far from being a cultural desert, it had an abundance of concerts as well as textile mills, and the Brontës were involved in village life.

Barker then referred to the Brontë juvenilia, pointing out that the sense of fun and the relish for violence and debauchery that overflow from its pages are at odds with the picture of the young Brontës’ oppressed and deprived childhood painted in Gaskell’s Life.

Turning to Charlotte herself, Barker claimed that in portraying her as a martyr whose sense of duty predominated, Gaskell suppressed many facets of her character. Among these were her hatred of teaching and of her pupils and her rebellion against the restrictions of her life, as revealed in the journal she kept at the Roe Head school.

Barker devoted a large section of her talk to Charlotte’s time in Brussels, since one of Gaskell’s most important omissions was Charlotte’s feelings for Constantin Heger. Revealing her love for a married man would have given credence to the notion of her moral laxity both as a writer and – some reviewers suggested – a woman.
Gaskell’s use of Charlotte’s letters from Brussels and, later, to Heger exemplified her cavalier attitude to documentary sources. Gaskell quoted from these letters very selectively, omitting Charlotte’s account of her confession in the Cathedral and her more emotional appeals to Heger. She gave the impression that Monsieur and Madame Heger acted in unison with regard to Charlotte, claiming that it was Madame’s idea to send one of the Heger children to be educated by the Brontës in Haworth even though Charlotte recorded that the idea came from Monsieur but was vetoed by his wife. She distorted the facts to account for the estrangement between Charlotte and Zoë Heger, attributing it to differences over religion even though Heger was just as devout as his wife. Charlotte’s growing unhappiness in Brussels is attributed by Gaskell to her concerns about Branwell, though these belonged to a later date after Branwell was dismissed from his post with the Robinsons.

Gaskell succeeded in her aim of establishing Charlotte’s reputation as a woman and gained a reputation herself as a great biographer. But despite Patrick Brontë’s tribute to theLife as ‘in every way worthy of what one great woman should have written of another’, the storm of protests from Mrs Robinson and others who believed themselves maligned in the book left Gaskell feeling ‘battered and bruised’, Barker said, determined never to write another biography and to confine herself in future to the safer realm of fiction.

Juliet Barker’s talk was followed by a rewarding and wide-ranging question and answer session in which she took the opportunity to defend Patrick and Branwell Brontë, with both of whom she believes Gaskell dealt unfairly. Patrick was an inspiring teacher of his children and Barker pointed out the similarity between his methods and Heger. He would get the children to read articles and then talk and write about them. Instead of rote learning they were encouraged to think for themselves and become passionately involved in what they learned.

Barker also views Branwell as an inspirational force, claiming he was always ahead of his sisters creatively. He was
innovative and the first to get published (he had a poem published in a local paper). It was his idea to write novels rather than poems to make it easier to find publishers. In Barker’s view his achievement was less than his sisters’ not just because he lacked their application but because of the sheer diversity of his talents.

Barker also defended Arthur Nicholls, charging Gaskell with revealing too much about Charlotte’s initial rejection of him and being influenced against him by Ellen Nussey. Barker’s verdict is that in her concern to protect Charlotte’s reputation, Gaskell did not scruple to damage that of the three men closest to her.

Monday, 18 April 2016

'Charlotte Brontë in Three Locations'

Richard Wilcocks writes:
Charlotte's Birthday Party takes place in Haworth - in the Old School Room - all day this coming Thursday 21 April, finishing at around 8pm. At 2.45pm you'll be able to see (and taste?) the cake made for the occasion by Great British Bake Off contestant Sandy Docherty. Find the full details on the Parsonage website - see Links.

If you are within reach of Dewsbury Library in the morning, you might be interested in a talk I am giving, illustrated by Powerpoint slides, which begins at 10.30am. I will be reading extracts from Charlotte's letters and from Jane Eyre, and I will also be in role as John Benson Sidgwick, the partner in a mill business who owned Stonegappe, where she was an unhappy governess for a short while. He will see the situation from his point of view.

The three locations are Roe Head School in Mirfield, Stonegappe and Wycoller Hall, the inspiration for Ferndean. You don't need to book, just turn up.

Charlotte Brontë in Three Locations - 10.30 - 11.30am

Dewsbury Library 
Dewsbury Retail Park 
Railway Street
Dewsbury

WF12 8EQ 

01484 414868


An Evening with Charlotte Brontë

An Evening with Charlotte Bronte presented by Little Red Hen Theatre is coming to Haworth this Summer
Devised & Performed by Prudence Edwards, this one-woman show brings to life extracts from the works of Charlotte Bronte; her poetry and fiction, including her masterpiece, Jane Eyre; and gives the audience a glimpse into the mind of a genius.
Or visit our website: http://littleredhentheatre.webs.com/
Performances: 15 & 16 July 7:30pm (running time seventy minutess)
Venue: West Lane Baptist Centre - West Ln, Haworth BD22 8EN
Audience Reaction:
Something of a 'Tour de Force'- a personal and well chosen insight into the world of Charlotte Bronte. Beautifully presented.
Intelligent, insightful and poignant, it was emotionally engaging, I loved the staging.
The story-telling way was so amazing. I was wandering in a fantastic dream.
...........it certainly made Charlotte Bronte's work more accessible and real. The time flew by, and I left feeling I could have happily stayed and listened to more.(Buxton Fringe)
Sponsored by Heath & Harebell of Haworth


 

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Reader, I married him

Isobel Stirk writes:
I should imagine, judging by the favourable response to an entertaining evening held in the old school room in Haworth, many copies of Jane Eyre will be purchased from booksellers and dusty books, with that title, will be retrieved from the dark recesses of libraries and book cases in the very near future.

Tracy Chevalier (pictured), whose second novel was Girl with a Pearl Earring, and who has curated the exhibition Charlotte Great and Small, exhibiting at the Parsonage Museum this year, explained how a book, which was being launched that very evening, came about. Working closely with the museum she had wanted to produce something special to commemorate the bicentennial of Charlotte Brontë’s birth and so she decided to ask writers from all over the world to contribute to a book which would be based on something ‘Charlotte’.

At first it was envisaged that an object associated or belonging to the author would be the theme but in the end the well -known words from near the end of Charlotte’s Jane Eyre seemed the ideal choice. Before the large audience made their way to the Parsonage for refreshment, the place where Patrick Brontë learnt with some apprehension that his eldest daughter had written a novel, they heard two writers reading their own stories from the new book.

Helen Dunmore (pictured), who was educated at the University of York and is a poet, novelist and children’s writer, based her story on Grace Poole’s reaction to the arrival, at Thornfield Hall, of a governess:

The door nearest me opened, and a servant came out, a woman of between thirty and forty; a set, square-made figure, red-haired, and with a hard, plain face: any apparition less romantic or ghostly could scarcely be conceived. ‘Too much noise, Grace,’ said Mrs Fairfax. ‘Remember directions!’- Jane Eyre Chapter 11. 

Dunmore’s story emphasised that there were perhaps many more secrets for Jane Eyre to uncover other than just the existence of the inhabitant of the locked attic room- Bertha Rochester. Mrs Poole, who takes an instant dislike to Jane, for reasons that would soon become very clear, calls her ‘the pale one’ and likens her to a snowdrop and shows the extent of her dislike by saying if she saw a snowdrop she would not hesitate to crush it into the ground. Perhaps readers may have some sympathy with the dour, porter- drinking Grace, whose life is spent in that attic room caring for ‘her lady’, as another secret is revealed. Grace Poole is the mother of Jane’s charge, Adele- her daughter having been taken away soon after birth by the father- Edward Rochester. It will be left to the imagination of readers whether Grace Poole survived the fire which was started by ‘her lady’ and whether she ever knew that ‘the pale one’ could eventually utter, with complete honesty, the words- ‘Reader, I married him.’

Audrey Niffenegger (pictured), an American writer, artist and academic whose debut novel was The Time Traveler's Wife, read her story which is set during World War 2 and which tells how the orphan Jane arrives from London in a jeep at a Northern orphanage. At this austere place where her hair is cut off, where rats roam in dormitories and breakfast consists of burnt porridge. Jane meets Helen who becomes her friend. Helen, a very intelligent girl, is treated most unfairly by the teachers and after telling Jane how she had been sent away to a pharmaceutical company, supposedly to take part in experiments to find a cure for the common cold, becomes very ill. Soon afterwards Jane is devastated to be told that her friend has died. Spending the rest of her childhood at the orphanage Jane is lucky that, unlike many others of her fellow residents at the orphanage who sink into a life of prostitution, drug and alcohol addiction, she finds a post looking after a child at a large country house.

When the girl, Adele, outgrows her care, Jane returns to her native London and, whilst paying a trip down memory lane to the bombed out area of her earlier years, is astounded to bump into her old friend Helen- but a Helen whose features are now ravaged by smallpox- the smallpox with which she had been infected at the laboratory when she was a child. Apparently the antidote given to her then, did not work and it was because of fear of contagion that the teachers had treated Helen so badly.
………… my face against Helen Burns’ shoulder, my arms around her neck, I was asleep, and Helen was- dead- Jane Eyre Chapter 9

However the modern day Jane would have a chance to sleep with her arms around Helen’s neck again for there was to be a happy ending for the pair as they were reunited and then set up home together. Much later, as the law changed, they could say with complete honesty: "Reader, we did marry."


Monday, 4 April 2016

The Irish Connection

There were some interesting insights in a recent article by Gerard O'Regan in the Irish Independent. The focus is on the Irish connection. Here is a short extract:

The couple spent their honeymoon in Ireland, with her new husband showing her around Dublin, including Trinity College, where he had been a student. They then travelled to Banagher, Co Offaly, to meet members of his family, continuing on to Kilkee, Tralee and Killarney. Charlotte admitted she was enthralled when she saw the majesty of the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, but some old prejudices remained.
"I heard a great deal about Irish negligence,'' she wrote in one of her letters back home.
"I own that until I came to Kilkee I saw little of it. Here at our inn - the splendidly designated West End Hotel - there is a good deal to carp at - if we were in a carping humour - but we laugh instead of grumbling - for outdoors there is so much to compensate for any indoor shortcomings.''

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Storie di Genie e di Fate by Charlotte Brontë

From the publisher:
STORIE DI GENI E DI FATE by Charlotte Brontë
Edited and translated into Italian by Maddalena De Leo
English-Italian parallel text

The ArgoLibro publishing company presents,  translated into Italian for the first time, the following tales: An Adventure, The Pursuit of Happiness and The Adventures of Ernest Alembert, written by Charlotte Brontë when she was a teenager. The translator, Professor Maddalena De Leo, took care of every detail of the publication, which has parallel English and Italian text. We are at the beginning of a special five-year period for the Brontë family, for various occasions, including in 2016 the bicentenary of the birth of Charlotte, born on 21 April 1816 in Thornton, even if she lived in Haworth in Yorkshire. Maddalena De Leo is a scholar particularly suitable for the care of this publication. A member of the Brontë Society since 1975, she is the representative of the Italian Section as well as editorial consultant for Italy for the literary magazine Brontë Studies.

Leafing through this book, we will enjoy the fascinating world constructed in the imagination of Charlotte, Emily, Anne and their brother Branwell, with the Young Men as protagonists, that’s to say the twelve soldiers given away a few years earlier by their father. It is definitely amazing, as pointed out by the same curator, that the mind of a fourteen year old could have imagined adventures so complex and rich in detail.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

"Why exactly do the Brontë sisters... continue to fascinate us?"

The title is from an interesting article by Sarah Hughes in yesterday's Guardian/Observer which brings together information on "a slew of events that highlight the sisters' appeal to all ages". It mentions the  Charlotte Great and Small exhibition at the Parsonage, refers very briefly to Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath (see the extract below) , and anticipates the two hour drama To Walk Invisible by Sally (Happy Valley) Wainwright which will focus on the Brontës' lives between 1845 and 1848. This will be on UK television in the autumn.
 

Click here to find it.


Certainly it’s true that there’s something almost mythical about the Brontë creation story, the idea of these three isolated young women writing so desperately that the words were almost flung on to the page. Ted Hughes called them the “three weird sisters”, intentionally summoning Macbeth’s blasted heath to Haworth parsonage. To his wife Sylvia Plath, who paid homage in a poem named Wuthering Heights, they “wrote … in a house redolent with ghosts”.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Official launch - Charlotte Great and Small

Well over a hundred people were at the official launch of the exhibition in the Parsonage on Friday 5 March. It was a real gathering of the clan! Old friends and acquaintances were reunited and everyone had a good time: a great start for Charlotte's centenary year.

Members of staff spoke about how pleasant and easy it was to work with exhibition curator Tracy Chevalier. Here are two of them with her - Arts Officers Lauren Livesey and Jenna Holmes.

Tracy Chevalier had a rapt audience when she told the story of the exhibition from the moment she had first arrived at the Parsonage to investigate possibilities.

After a short speech of appreciation, Lauren presented Tracy with this bunch of flowers. 

 
Article by Tracy Chevalier in the Guardian here.


Photos by Richard Wilcocks

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Charlotte Great and Small

Find out about the exhibition curated by Tracy Chevalier (from February) here -
https://www.bronte.org.uk/whats-on/225/charlotte-great-and-small/232

For a taste, see this short video on Charlotte's bed -

video

"This small bed is my response to the daily lives Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell Brontë led in the Parsonage. The siblings – especially the sisters – shared much of their domestic space, working together in the kitchen, writing in the dining room, sleeping in the same bedrooms and sometimes beds. The quotes embroidered on the bed and bed clothes are taken from their letters, diary entries, poems and novels. You can see more of this project at my website: tamarstone.com/TheBronteBed.html"  (Tamar Stone)

Monday, 4 January 2016

Winifred Gérin: Biographer of the Brontës

Review by Richard Wilcocks:
This recent biography of a biographer, and if Winifred Gérin’s work on Elizabeth Gaskell is included, biography of a biographer of a biographer, is meticulously researched, perceptive and really surprising. Based on her many letters and an unpublished memoir, it has some of the qualities of a spy thriller, because Winifred Gérin’s life was much more than that of a dedicated library-dweller. Until I read Helen MacEwan’s revelations about her, I knew her simply as the author of Charlotte Brontë The Evolution of Genius, about which the Times reviewer of the time (1967) wrote “…her book holds the reader as closely as a novel.”  The same could be said about this one. Winifred Gérin had strong connections with Brussels, which certainly triggered the author’s initial interest in her (she lives and works there today), managed to escape from the advancing German armies and the Vichy French during the Second World War, got involved with secret war work with her Belgian husband when she reached England, wrote poetry and plays, then moved to Haworth to find her real vocation and to fall in and out with the Brontë Society.

The first chapter with its account of her childhood in a cultured family (the Bournes) in London’s Norwood is as fascinating as all the others: a love of literature (Dickens in particular) and the theatre was encouraged, with stories and dramas from history, especially those involving monarchs. She became infatuated with the Stuarts and Marie Antoinette, heard Jane Eyre read to her by her mother Katherine at the age of seven, acted out historical or allegedly historical events, like King Charles II hiding in an oak tree, with her siblings, and lost a beloved brother to diphtheria. The parallels with the young Brontës are drawn out by the author. She attended concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, becoming spellbound by the stars of the day, like the violinist Fritz Kreisler and the pianist Vladimir von Pachmann, “who wore his white hair to his shoulders like Liszt and would keep up a running commentary for the audience as he played.”  There was so much intellectual stimulation that there was little need for governesses, mostly German Fräuleins who were regarded by young Winifred as “nuisances”.

She was deeply affected by a joyous stay in Paris, which much later was to give her an understanding of the continental, Catholic world of Brussels, “just as her subsequent romance with a Belgian gave her a special interest in the spell cast on Charlotte by her Brussels teacher Constantin Heger.” MacEwan builds plenty of foreshadowing into her construction. As in a novel, the reader gets a taste of what is to come, often at the end of a chapter.

Winifred and Eugène in 1932
Eugène Gérin was a well-known cellist, brilliant by all accounts, met by Winifred in Plombières-les-Bains, a pretty spa town in Eastern France, described in concert publicity as a “violoncelliste poète”. They matched each other well, and she became close to his family before they both had to move on to escape the invaders in 1939. After a series of stressful journeys, often on slow, packed trains, accompanied by a cello and a pet cat in a basket (!), they reached Nice, which was in the southern section of a divided France sapped of hope and controlled by collaborators. The account of their time in a rented flat there, when they were able to offer what help they could to a few of the large number of Jewish refugees in the area before managing to make it across the Pyrenees to Franco’s Spain and then neutral Portugal, is really quite gripping, reminding me of Marcel Ophüls’s famous documentary film Le Chagrin et la Pitié (The Sorrow and the Pity). In England, Eugène assumed a Walloon accent for propaganda broadcasts to the French-speaking parts of occupied Belgium. The detailed references in the book are many: I was moved to find out more about the death of the film actor Leslie Howard, who was in a plane on its way from Portugal to England shot down by a German fighter over the Bay of Biscay in 1943.

Eugène’s death from a pulmonary embolism at the age of 49 in 1945 devastated Winifred, who tried to come to terms with the loss by writing. In Full Circle, an unpublished poem with a distinctly Wordworthian feeling, she recalls how she once had a foretaste of what it might be like to lose him. He was ahead of her on a winding mountain track, moving out of sight occasionally, turning back now and then to smile at her, a smile which now seemed to be an adieu:

As though in premonition of the end
I first had intimation of the time
That was to come, as though the tranquil air
Had cried out with my loss, and with you there
I’d seen the same path empty I must climb.

The poetry was followed by plays, including one – My Dear Master: The Love Story of Charlotte Brontë – which was a turning point in her life, leading her to Haworth. She put a significant focus on the struggle between Charlotte and Madame Zoë Heger, playing up the clash of cultures as well as that of rivals, but all the same her efforts were apparently hampered by a liking for over-long speeches and a lack of dramatic action. After moving to Haworth she met a kindred spirit in the much younger John Lock, whom she married, and with whom she collaborated (1956) on A Souvenir Guide to Haworth, home of the Brontës. She wrote a foreword in which she exercised her great talent for descriptive writing, evoking the beauty of the moors. As for so many others, a love of the their wild beauty was essential to fully understand the Brontës. She used to lie on her back in the heather on sunny days gazing up at the sky, just as Emily (and Cathy) did. MacEwan remarks: “Its style was far more rhapsodic and emotional than that of previous Haworth guide books.”

The Brontë Society at the time of the Locks was ‘a body noted for its unity and decorum’ according to Fred Taylor, the Keighley Borough Librarian, dominated by mill-owner and solicitor Donald Hopewell, its president for forty years, with Sir Linton Andrews, editor of the Yorkshire Post, as its Chairman. This unity was about to be lost in a ferocious dispute about the biggest changes to the Parsonage Museum since the construction of the wing added by Rev. Wade in the 1870s. There was a proposal to build an extension at the back to free up exhibition space in the original Parsonage rooms, to make them look less austere, more like Mrs Gaskell’s account of the interior in 1858 after Charlotte’s refurbishment. John and Winifred were in the ‘dead against’ faction, describing the changes as making the Parsonage look like a brightly-painted doll’s house. The acrimonious dispute, which sent the Society into convulsions for several years, led to the resignations of the Locks along with many others.

Winifred then began the most significantly productive period of her life, devoting long hours to research, with biographies of Ann, Charlotte, Emily and Branwell as well as Elizabeth Gaskell, The Young Fanny Burney, Horatia Nelson and Anne Thackeray Ritchie. John Lock in 1965 finally produced Man of Sorrow: Life, Letters and Times of the Reverend PatrickBronte, 1777-1861, which was long in the making. One problem for a biographer treating the Brontës separately is a need to repeat swathes of detail which applies to all of them, avoided by later operators like Juliet Barker, who treated them together in the same fat volume: the Gérin biography of Emily is slim, however.

One of Gérin’s ‘faults’ from a severely academic point of view was her occasional lack of neutrality, the way she sometimes ‘got too involved’, offering her personal point of view over-frequently, and letting her emotions slip in spite of an admirably scholarly attitude. One of the most memorable passages in her work on Branwell is about when he supposedly wandered the streets of London, suffering a crisis of self-confidence, after he was supposed to have signed on at the Royal Academy. This was a leap taken from his own writing on a character he created – Charles Wentworth – whose nerve failed on encountering a great metropolis. She made similar extrapolations from other Brontë writing, over-playing the autobiographical card perhaps. Juliet Barker found no real evidence that Branwell’s trip had ever taken place. Gérin worked on Branwell at the same time as Daphne du Maurier, who got out The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë just before her (in 1960), and which is now much better known. MacEwan compares the two: “Du Maurier is succinct where Winifred is prolix. Du Maurier focuses on Branwell’s inner rather than outer world; Winifred is concerned with the details of both.”

“Winifred always wrote about people with whom she felt an emotional connection and affinity,” states McEwan in her preface. The same applies to Helen MacEwan: Winifred Gérin is brought very close to the readers of this book.

Winifred Gérin Biographer of the Brontës by Helen MacEwan
Sussex Academic Press 2016-01-04
ISBN 978-1-84519-743-8
Paperback