'˜Exciting new chapter' at Brontë Society as Dame Judi Dench announced Honorary President

IT is one of the oldest and most respected literary societies in the world - and now it has one of Britain's finest actors at its helm.

Dame Judi Dench. Picture: Ian West/PA Wire

Dame Judi Dench has been appointed as Honorary President of the Brontë Society, just a few days before it celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charlotte Brontë.

It has been hailed as an “exciting new chapter” for the Society, which was founded in 1893 to protect precious family treasures that once belonged to the literary sisters.

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Since then, it has grown to boast the world’s largest collection of Brontëana, and runs its museum at the Haworth Parsonage which was home to the Brontë family from 1820 to 1861.

Oscar-winner Dame Judi, who was born in Heworth near York, has long been a fan of the Brontës and their writing, and played Rochester’s housekeeper Mrs Fairfax in the 2011 film adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, which also starred Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.

Dame Judi said: “I am delighted to have been offered the role of Brontë Society President and look forward to helping the organisation celebrate this significant and iconic literary family.

“The Brontës are respected and adored the world over and it will be an honour to work with the Society to promote their legacy during this important bicentenary period.”

This Thursday will see celebrations mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charlotte Brontë.

As well as a new publication of short stories, Reader I Married Him, there are special exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery and the Sir John Soane’s Museum, both in London.

At the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, where Charlotte spent most of her life, Thursday’s celebrations include talks and the laying of a floral tribute by writer and Brontë enthusiast Tracy Chevalier, who edited the collection of short stories, which includes pieces by international female writers including Helen Dunmore, Susan Hill, Emma Donoghue, Audrey Niffenegger and Jane Gardam.

Pupils from Haworth Primary School will perform scenes from Jane Eyre and a birthday party will be held at the Old School Room, where Charlotte taught, for local people.

There, Great British Bake Off contestant Sandy Docherty, from Yeadon in Leeds, will deliver a special cake inspired by the writer.

Ms Chevalier, the museum’s creative partner for 2016, will also give a guided tour of the Pasonage’s new exhibition a Charlotte Great and Small, which explores the contrast between Charlotte’s constricted life and her huge ambition.

Highlights of the exhibition 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.

The following day, the Brontë Society will hold a special service in honour of Charlotte at Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey.

Dame Judi will be officially voted in as President at the Society’s annual meeting in June.

John Thirlwell, chair of the Brontë Society said: “We are thrilled that Dame Judi has accepted our invitation to be our President.

“The Brontë Society is embarking on an exciting new chapter in its history and I can think of no better person to accompany us on that journey.”