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.