Bringing the Brontës to the world and the world to Yorkshire
The Brontë Society has unveiled its celebrations for this year’s bicentenary of the birth of Charlotte Brontë. The world-renowned author of Jane Eyre and Villette was born on 21 April 1816 and staff at her former Haworth home, now the Brontë Parsonage Museum, have put together an exciting programme of events to mark the occasion.
A new exhibition, Charlotte Great and Small will open at the Museum on Monday 1 February. The show has been curated by writer and Brontë enthusiast Tracy Chevalier, who is working with the Brontë Parsonage Museum as a Creative Partner throughout 2016. Charlotte Great and Small explores the contrast between Charlotte’s constricted life and her huge ambition. Highlights include her child-size clothes, tiny books and paintings she made and a scrap from a dress she wore to an important London dinner party hosted by Thackeray. Tracy will talk about the exhibition and the inspiration behind it at an event in Haworth in early February.
Tracy has also edited a new collection of short stories influenced by the writing of Charlotte Brontë. ‘Reader, I Married Him’ is published by Borough Press and comprises stories by international women writers including Helen Dunmore, Susan Hill, Emma Donoghue, Audrey Niffenegger and Jane Gardam. The collection will be launched in Haworth in April.
“I have long loved Charlotte Brontë and am thrilled to be involved in the celebration of her bicentenary. The Parsonage is a unique house; it’s incredible to see the place where so much creativity arose. I’m hoping to sprinkle some surprises in amongst the dresses and writing desks – including a Twitter tour of the house and exhibition, and even a knitted Jane Eyre!”
Also working with the Brontë Parsonage Museum this year are award-winning novelist Grace McCleen who will respond to the collection as writer in residence and much-loved children’s author Jacqueline Wilson, who will be an ‘Ambassador for Charlotte’ during 2016.
“I'm delighted to be a special ambassador for the bicentenary celebrations in 2016. Jane Eyre is my all-time favourite novel. Jane continues to be an inspiration to us all, especially women - I admire Paula Rego's powerful artistic interpretation and Sally Cookson's imaginative stage version at the National Theatre. I first read the book when I was ten and have reread it many times since with increasing enjoyment. I've devoured more Brontë novels and many biographies, visited the Parsonage Museum half a dozen times, and I've walked across the moors breathing in the bracing air. Perhaps there's a hint of Jane in several of the child characters in my own books.”
Both Grace and Jacqueline will visit the Museum later in the year.
Charlotte’s 200th birthday falls on Thursday 21 April and will be celebrated throughout the day in Haworth and nearby Thornton, where Charlotte was born. Visitors to the Brontë Parsonage Museum will be invited to hear talks on different aspects of Charlotte’s life and offered the opportunity to view some of Charlotte’s letters, manuscripts and personal possessions in the library with the Brontë Society’s Collections Manager. At the Old School Room, where Charlotte once taught, the Society is hosting a birthday party with tea, cake and a few surprises. A wreath-laying ceremony for invited guests will follow on Friday 22 April at Westminster Abbey.
Brontë biographers Juliet Barker and Claire Harman will give lectures in Haworth in May and June respectively and writers Maggie O’Farrell, Lucy Hughes-Hallett and Charlotte Mendelson will join Claire Harman and Tracy Chevalier for the Great Charlotte Brontë Debate. In August, Germaine Greer will be the keynote speaker at the Brontë Society’s Bicentenary Conference in Manchester.
The year will also see items from the Museum’s collection on display as part of a National Portrait Gallery exhibition which opens in February. Celebrating Charlotte Brontë will run until April before transferring to the Morgan Library in New York. Northern Ballet are presenting the world premiere of a new version of Jane Eyre in May and Sally Wainwright’s Brontë drama To Walk Invisible will air on BBC1 in the autumn.
Back in Haworth, recent acquisitions by the Society, including watercolours by Charlotte Brontë and an inscribed book belonging to her mother, will be on display for the first time. The Museum is also presenting monthly Charlotte - themed talks and exclusive ‘Parsonage Unwrapped’ evening events and the award-winning learning department will deliver a new series of workshops aimed at GCSE students of Jane Eyre.
Family events will run throughout the school holidays when visitors will be able to participate in craft activities, hands-on-history sessions and meet some of the characters well-known to Charlotte, from her friends Ellen Nussey and Mrs Gaskell to John Brown, Branwell’s drinking companion.
2016 also marks the launch of Brontë200, the Society’s programme of events celebrating the bicentenaries of the Brontë siblings: Charlotte in 2016, Branwell in 2017, Emily in 2018 and Anne in 2020. The Society also plans to commemorate Patrick Brontë in 2019, 200 years after he was invited to take up the Parson’s role in Haworth.
John Thirlwell of the Brontë Society Council said:
"The bicentenaries of the Brontë siblings provide a tremendous opportunity for the Brontë Society to celebrate the legacy of the Brontës across the globe. We recognise that arts organisations, museums and individuals will want to help us mark these special anniversaries and are excited about building new partnerships and reaching new audiences during the five-year programme. We look forward to welcoming the world to Haworth during 2016."