Saturday, 15 December 2012

Three is the Magic Number

Saturday 5 November 2011 was a particularly memorable Bonfire Night for me, not because the neighbours had a firework display of Disney-like proportions (instead of the usual damp squib of a selection from ASDA) but because I trundled off to the delightful Lawrence Batley theatre in Huddersfield to see Blake Morrison’s play ‘We Are Three Sisters.’

I am a fan of both Chekhov and the Brontës so I was intrigued to discover how Morrison had used the Russian playwright’s ‘Three Sisters’ as a template for his own interpretation of the ‘Brontë Myth’. Indeed, there are many parallels between Chekhov’s masterpiece and the Brontës’ upbringing. Chekhov’s play revolves around three sisters living in a remote, rural town who yearn for change. In ‘We Are Three Sisters,’ Charlotte, Emily and Anne spend their days in Haworth, longing to travel to London. Like Masha, Olga and Irina, the Brontë sisters also have a roguish brother with addiction problems and a tendency to fall for unsuitable women. Both families have a loyal old maid and are visited by various local figures eager to woo the women.

However, as the renowned Brontë biographer, Juliet Barker, wrote in her blog, the play is “far more Brontë than Chekhov.”  Although there were some clever references to Chekhov’s script, for example, the Brontës cry “London! London! London!” instead of the Prosorovs’ triadic structure; “Moscow! Moscow! Moscow!”, most of the dialogue was a subtle fusion of the Brontës own words taken from their letters, diaries, poems and novels delivered in earthy Yorkshire accents. Neither did Morrison shatter the traditional perception of the Brontës’ personalities. Charlotte was portrayed as strong and ambitious, Emily was passionate and ethereal, Anne was gentle but socially aware and Branwell was the much-loved, talented yet tormented brother.  All four of the actors put in solid, if a little earnest, performances. Duggie Brown was a wonderfully laconic Patrick Brontë and comic relief was provided in the doughty form of ‘Tabby.’

Jessica Worrall’s set design was also deeply evocative and in many ways, was enhanced by the intimate setting of the Lawrence Batley Theatre.  The dimly lit stage filled with heavy furniture induced a sense of cosiness verging on claustrophobia.  To convey how doom, death and wild nature were constant presences in the family’s life, gravestones framed the stage and the soundtrack comprised the unrelenting howling of the wind and Emily’s hacking cough.

All in all, ‘We Are Three Sisters’ was not as “nuts”  as Morrison first feared it would be. There was a certain reliance on poetic licence concerning some biographical events and Russian and English Literature purists may have found the melding of the two plays a stretch too far for the imagination. However, for me, Chekhov’s zesty drama breathed new life into the familiar story of Acton, Ellis and Currer Bell and proved that when it comes to innovative dramatic productions, three really is the magic number.

By Sarah Butler (Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery)

Friday, 14 December 2012

The Madwoman in the Attic?

Bertha Rochester of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre is commonly recognised as the archetypal 'madwoman in the attic'. Although multiple feminist re-readings have recognised her as the condemned expression of unconventional femininity, treatments of Bertha in adaptations of Jane Eyre has frequently struggled to meet the challenge of this complex character.

In the past, it was easier to lay the blame at the doorstep of society's taboos concerning polite femininity for failures to address Bertha's outrage. Take, for example, an early Hollywood adaptation of Jane Eyre, where Bertha appears perfectly civilised despite her husband's imminent wedding to another bride.

In 2006, a BBC mini-series took the daring approach of providing Bertha Mason with an empathetic backstory. By giving insight into Bertha's own love story, alongside the relationship of Jane and Mr Rochester, viewers were asked to question who is really the victim in this love triangle? The following fan video illustrates some of the subtleties in this interpretation.

The most recent film adaptation of Jane Eyre, released in 2011, captured the difficultly of portraying Bertha by expressing her predominantly in disembodied noises. Below is a central exchange between Bertha and Jane, where we see Bertha is aware of her husband's plans for a second marriage. However, this particular scene was removed in a last minute edit, reiterating the challenge of expressing Bertha's role in modern adaptations of Jane Eyre.

Is Bertha a dangerous woman, or an unfortunate victim of her society? Does the struggle some have with her character give an insight into contemporary taboos concerning manic behaviour? What can the various depictions of Bertha in adaptations and re-imaginings of Jane Eyre tell us about the changing role of women, and the social impact of mental illness?

Re-visioning the Brontës will take place at the University of Leeds on 29th January 2013.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Conference a Sell Out!

Places on the conference are now fully booked but if you've not been able to reserve yours, you can still sign up to the waiting list via Eventbrite:

Friday, 7 December 2012

Preview: Wildness Between Lines

Wildness Between Lines
An exhibition of work inspired by the Brontës.

14 December  2012 - 2 February 2013
Monday - Saturday 10am - 4pm

Thursday 13th December 5 - 7pm

Leeds College of Art
Blenheim Walk

Click here to see some of the artworks that will be on display.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Write like the Brontës! - Workshop at Leeds Central Library

For those of you interested in learning about how Brontës created their miniature books, join award-winning writer Char March for this fun and fast-paced writing workshop on Saturday 8 December 2-4pm, Exhibition space, Central Library, Leeds.

Char will explain how and why the Brontë sisters wrote their tiny little books in miniature writing, and give you lots of inspiration for writing your very own little book of secrets, which you can take away afterwards. Come for the full two-hours, or just drop by for 20 mins. Families welcome – as well as all the adults out there dying to write in really tiny writing! To book your free place, call Enquiry Express on 0113 2476016.

This workshop will run as part of the Writing Britain: Leeds exhibition (4 December 2012 - 30 January 2013), which celebrates the use of the Yorkshire landscape in literature. For further information, please visit:

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Wildness Between Lines

The exhibition Wildness Between Lines acts as an inspiration to the ideas shared at the Re-Visioning the Brontës conference. Taking place at Leeds College of Art, this display will provide visitors with the chance to encounter a range of art works by emerging and established artists who have responded creatively to the lasting influence of the Brontës and their work. Here, we are pleased to present a preview of works included in the show.

Catherine Bertola
Residual hauntings
Triptych of photographic prints

Photo: Simon Warner
Courtesy the artist, Workplace Gallery and Galerie M+R Fricke

Rebecca Chesney
A sorrowful sight i saw; dark night coming down prematurely, and sky and hills, mingled in one bitter whirl of wind and suffocating snow.
Pencil on graph paper 2012.
Photo: Courtesy the artist

Su Blackwell
Gondal (Haworth Church)
Photo: Courtesy the artist

An opportunity to experience this exhibition with accompanying wine reception will directly follow the closing of the conference on January 29th 2013. To book your free place, please visit

Monday, 3 December 2012

Conference Abstracts Now Available To View Online

Re-Visioning the Brontës will take place on January 29th 2013 at the University of Leeds. To book your free place, please visit

The day will include a series of papers examining multiple adaptations and interpretations of the Brontës' lives and works, alongside a specialist presentation on the Brontë Manuscript collection, and discussions between leading academics and writers on the various creative contributions to the Brontë legacy that have emerged since their first publications.

The selected abstracts are now available to view through Google Drive:

Many thanks to our speakers for allowing us to provide online access to their proposals.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Brontë Sisters Power Dolls!

Here at Re-visioning the Brontës HQ, we'd love to get our hands on these awesome Brontë action figures. Unfortunately, the toys depicted in this advertisement by Phil Lord and Chris Miller aren't actually in production. Still, along with making us chuckle, this action packed approach to the sisters' literary legacy gives us some food for thought concerning how the Brontës may be marketed to future generations.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Themes in Wuthering Heights Book Covers

Locating a single image to covey the complexities of Wuthering Heights is perhaps an impossible task. Yet, the subtle art of book cover design has created many, sometimes surprising, responses to Emily Brontës well known novel. In anticipation of our upcoming conference, we have selected just some of these covers to examine how the book's themes of love, revenge, family, and identity, have been envisioned by publishers over time.

The heroine of Wuthering Heights, Catherine Earnshaw, is famously torn between the forces of nature and culture, symbolised in her contrasting love for Heathcliff and Edgar. Several book covers featuring Cathy have attempted to capture the character's torment.

The character of Heathcliff is a profoundly difficult creation to assess. His deep devotion to Cathy is central to the book's narrative of obsession, and eventually drives him to the point of madness. Equally, his charisma, capacity for self-invention, and desire to reap revenge are central to his story. Many of these book covers seem fittingly mysterious in their portrayal of the complicated literary figure. 

Cathy famously identifies two versions of love when choosing to marry Edgar over Heathcliff. Although commonly known as a romance novel, the actuality of Wuthering Height's depictions express various dimensions beyond typical romance, from marriages of convenience to dangerous obsession. Perhaps as a result of the mythology that has grown around Cathy and Heathcliff, some book covers seem to overlook the complexity of relationships expressed in the story.

The Moors
The forming of the Yorkshire moors as a character unto itself is widely considered to be one of Emily's most inspired literary techniques. As the deeply atmospheric setting of Wuthering Heights, the wild and unpredictable countryside provides a fitting backdrop to the shifting nature of the character's relationships. The novel's remarkably descriptive landscape continues to provide readers with rich and memorable mental imagery, making it a common choice for book cover designs. 

If you would like to share your thoughts regarding this post, please do not hesitate to comment below. To register for the Re-visioning the Brontës conference at Leeds University, please visit

We do not own any of these images, but use this selection of book covers for academic purposes only. If there are any issues arising from their publication on this blog please contact

Thursday, 22 November 2012

New Sally Wainwright TV Drama

Did anyone catch the new BBC1 TV series, Last Tango in Halifax, written by Sally Wainwright on Tuesday night? Sally will be appearing as part of our roundtable discussion at the conference in January.

Watch the first episode on iplayer now:

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Exhibition Programme

Re-Visioning the Brontës has been conceived with the intent of supporting two exhibitions to be held in Leeds from December. Each exhibition will uniquely examine the Brontës as a contemporary source of inspiration through the display of new work by artists from several fields. During the associated interdisciplinary conference, we will seek to further address the issues arising from the interpretation and adaptation of the Brontë family and their legacy.

Wildness Between Lines

Leeds College of Art
14th December 2012 - 2nd February 2013

Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall; these are just some of the works produced by the Brontës which have an enduring and universal appeal. The inspirational legacy of the Brontë family can be seen in a wide variety of contemporary creativity. This exhibition is a special opportunity to see, in one place, the work of emerging and established artists, all of whom cite the Brontës as a source of continuing inspiration for their own creative practice.

Visions of Angria
Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery, Leeds University
7th January - 23rd February 2013

This exhibition highlights rarely seen manuscript material written by the young Branwell Brontë from the Brotherton Library Special Collections which has been 'brought to life' by contemporary interpretation of this material by students from Leeds College of Art's Visual Communications course.

For further information, including booking details, please contact

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Conference Programme

We're now pleased to announce the conference programme for Re-Visioning the Brontës (see below). To book your free place, please visit

Conference Timetable:

09:30-10:10 - Registration, coffee

10:10-10:20 - Welcome and Introduction, Nick Cass, Conference Organiser, School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies

10:20-10:35 - 'Keynote' Welcome, Jane Sellars, Curator of Art, Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate

10:35-10:55 - 'Southern Flight: Brontëan Migrations in Kate Chopin’s At Fault', Dr Carl Plasa, Cardiff University

10:55-11:15 - 'Righting the Life of the Mind: The Significance of Psychological Discourse in the Brontës’ Interwar Afterlives', Amber Pouliot, University of Leeds

11:25-11:45 - Coffee

11:45-12:05 - 'The Brontës, Materiality, and Resonance: Three Ways of Looking', Aislinn Hunter, University of Edinburgh

12:05-12:20 - Introduction to the Brontë manuscripts in Special Collections (University of Leeds), Sarah Prescott, Literary Archivist

12:30-13:30 - - Lunch break

13:30 -13:50 - '"…like a new picture introduced to the gallery of memory": Re-Visioning Jane Eyre through Paula Rego', Dr Sarah Wootton, Durham University

13:50 -14:10 - 'Charlotte's Dress', Lisa Sheppy, Contemporary Artist

14:10-14:45 - Dr Richard Brown (University of Leeds) in conversation with Professor Blake Morrison (Goldsmiths, University of London) on Morrison's play We Are Three Sisters.

14:55-15:15 - Coffee

15:15-15:35 - 'Listening Out: the Soundtracks and Film Scores of Wuthering Heights', Dr Jenny Bavidge, University of Cambridge

15:35-15:55 - 'Wuthering Heights in Japan: the film Arashi ga Oka (1988, dir. Yoshishige Yoshida)', María Seijo-Richart, University of A Caruña

16:05-17:00 - Roundtable discussion chaired by Adam Strickson (Teaching Fellow in Creative Writing, University of Leeds), with Sally Wainwright (TV writer and Playwright), Sarah Fermi (Writer and Trustee, Brontë Society), Tiffany Murray (Writer and Senior Lecturer, University of Glamorgan), Simon Warner (Artist and Photographer) and Jenna Holmes (Arts Officer, Brontë Parsonage Museum).
17:00:-17:30 - Tour of the exhibitions 'Visions of Angria' and ‘Wildness Between the Lines’, followed by a wine reception at Leeds College of Art.

The conference will also feature excerpts from David Wilson and Simon Warner’s ‘Air on Brontë Moor’, an original suite of music with film accompaniment.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Hello and Welcome

Welcome to the blog of 'Re-Visioning the Brontës', a conference in conjunction with the exhibitions ‘Wildness Between the Lines’ and ‘Visions of Angria’, to be held on Tuesday 29 January 2013 at the University of Leeds. Confirmed speakers include Jane Sellars (Curator of Art, Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate) and Professor Blake Morrison (Goldsmiths, University of London) in conversation with Dr Richard Brown (University of Leeds).

Recent adaptations and interpretations of the Brontës’ lives and works through film, art, literature and theatre raise questions about the continuing fascination with these literary figures, as well as highlighting the wider potential for artistic intervention or collaboration between artworks and audiences. Similarly, it is through innovative contemporary arts programmes that organisations like the Brontë Parsonage Museum and the Brontë Society seek to move beyond simple ‘caricatures’ of the family and encourage diverse audience engagement.

This one day cross-disciplinary conference will explore the recent ‘re-visioning’ of the Brontës through critically examining artistic responses and interpretations of their work. The conference will address ways in which the legacy of the Brontës is exerting an influence in a range of creative fields, and across a variety of media.

This theme lends itself to a broad field of research and practice. Topics for discussion will include:

• The Brontës’ influence in contemporary culture
• Creative adaptations or reinterpretations of the Brontës’ lives and works
• Curatorial interpretations of the Brontës
• The myth and legacy of the Brontës
• Responses to exhibitions of Brontë material
• Representations of the Brontës in literary biographies

Please keep checking this blog for updates and posts relating to the conference and associated events.