This Thursday marks the bicentennial of Charlotte Brontë's birth. There are loads of events planned nationwide to mark this auspicious year. You can check out the Brontë Society website for information - they are really having fun, as the four siblings all celebrate their bicentennials within 5 years. Charlotte born 2016, Branwell in 2017, Emily in 2018 and Anne in 2020 - and they moved to Haworth in 2019. No wonder mother Maria died in 2021 - all those babies and moving to a new Parish is enough to wear anyone out.
Jane Eyre is definitely my favourite of all the Brontë novels. I read it quite young, and I think the fact that Charlotte was the daughter of an impoverished parson, and her heroine had a similar background must have resonated with me. We were living in County Durham at the time, and our old, cold Manse was a tiny terraced house, with an attic, and resident mice. I think also I liked Jane Eyre best because in the book [unlike so many of the film adaptations] there is so much about this woman's strong faith in God. Here is my vintage copy of J.E. It is a Dean's Classic - I received loads of them as school prizes and birthday presents.
The Society in Haworth has got a great team on board to help with the celebrations
Writer Tracy Chevalier [Girl with the Pearl Ear-ring, etc] is curating the event, working as 'Creative Partner' with the museum for the year. She has also edited "Reader, I married Him" a collection of 21 short stories, inspired by the first line of the final chapter of J.E. Contributors include Susan Hill, Helen Dunmore and other. It has already received good reviews.
The irrepressible Dame Jacqueline Wilson has been appointed "Ambassador for Charlotte" - many of her heroines are feisty, motherless young women, and she also admits to having loved JE since she was 10. She wants to encourage more people to read the Brontë novels.
And another Dame - Judi Dench, has just been announced as the Honorary President of the Brontë Society. She played Mrs Fairfax in the 2011 film of JE.
If you cannot get up to Yorkshire for all these shenanigans, you can always visit the small but carefully planned exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, which runs till August 14th - and is completely free!
And finally, down south, at the Chawton House Library in Hampshire there are more events. CHL was the home of Jane Austen's brother, Edward and is a centre for the study of women's writing. Their Conference is in Mid May.If you do not get to any of the events, do try and read Jane Eyre sometime, it's a great story. If you have read it, then try The Wide Sargasso Sea, the 'prequel', written by Jean Rhys some fifty years ago - an interesting interpretation of Mr Rochester's early life. Here's a trailer from the 2011 film version of Jane Eyre [featuring Dame Judi, naturally]