THE WORK of three famous literary sisters has ensured there is a corner of Yorkshire which will forever be known as Brontë country.
But to mark the bicentenary of the birth of the eldest sister, Charlotte, a huge programme of events is taking place which will reach audiences around the country and beyond.
It begins this week at the sisters’ former Haworth home, the Brontë Parsonage Museum, where an exhibition opened yesterday, entitled Charlotte Great and Small, exploring the contrast between her 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.
This is the first in a long line of events planned for 2016.
Some of the Brontë Parsonage Museum’s collection goes on display as part of a National Portrait Gallery exhibition which opens this month. 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.
And two award-winning authors will also help with the celebrations. Novelist Grace McCleen will respond to the Brontë Parsonage’s collection as a writer in residence while much-loved children’s author Jacqueline Wilson will be an ‘Ambassador for Charlotte’ during 2016. Wilson said: “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 authors will visit the museum during the year.
The Charlotte Great and Small exhibition at the Brontë Parsonage has been curated by writer and Brontë enthusiast Tracy Chevalier, who is working with the Brontë Parsonage Museum as a Creative Partner throughout 2016.
She said: “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.”
Tracy will talk about the exhibition and the inspiration behind it at an event in Haworth in early February. She 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.
Charlotte’s 200th birthday falls on Thursday April 21 and will be celebrated throughout the day in Haworth and nearby Thornton, where she was born. Visitors to the Brontë Parsonage Museum will be invited to hear talks on Charlotte’s life and offered the opportunity to view some of Charlotte’s letters, manuscripts and personal possessions in the library. At the Old School Room, where Charlotte once taught, the Society is hosting a birthday party . A wreath-laying ceremony for invited guests will follow on Friday April 22 at Westminster Abbey. Brontë biographers Juliet Barker and Claire Harman will give lectures in Haworth in May and June respectively.
The arrival of 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.”