Over the last few years it has become increasingly apparent that something is rotten in the state of Haworth’s Brontë Society. Annual General Meetings have descended into open warfare between modernisers and traditionalists, but it seems now that the council is being run along the lines of BBC farce W1A. For the last two years or so, a consultancy has been advising the Brontë Society on what to do – with pathetic results.
The drive now is for one thing – attracting a young audience. Being trendy is the ultimate aim, with the Brontës themselves relegated to the sidelines. The museum has a wealth of Brontë treasures, but they are now favouring the display of artificial items they feel will appeal to a modern audience. For this reason rather than seeing Branwell’s items in his anniversary year, we see a mock up, TV style, guess of what his studio would have looked like.
In 2016, Charlotte’s year, a large display area was given up to a modern artwork of miniature pieces that had been fabricated in some sort of bizarre tributes – including a miniscule pair of shoes with a sign underneath saying that Charlotte had sewn them together using hair from her sisters. From what I heard at the time, and what I’ve seen shared on social media, many people believed these ridiculous items were authentic, when the fact was the authentic items were locked away in storage. The rot had set in.
The drive to attract younger members to the Brontë Society is a pointless one. We hear people say, echoing the consultants, that the membership is too old – ‘look at the events, look at the meetings, everyone is old!’ In today’s society it has become a crime to be old.
Where is the problem in the majority of members being middle aged or older? Yes they will eventually wither and fade from this world, but they will then be succeeded by another generation if middle aged and old society members. It is the way it always has been and always will be, unless they drive loyal members away, as they have done with me.
This is in no way a denigration of many of the brilliant staff at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, and their wonderful volunteers who give up their time not to attract a certain demographic but because of their passion for the Brontës. They are heroes, but it brings to mind the fate of our World War One soldiers who were lions led by donkeys.
I am obviously completely out of kilter with the Brontë Society and it’s aims, but I am afraid I shall stay in my old fashioned world where I can continue to gain immense pleasure from the words of Anne, Emily and Charlotte Brontë – and it is their words above all else that are their true museum and testimonial. I will certainly still continue to visit the Brontë Parsonage Museum, it is a place I love more than any other, but I can no longer continue to be a member of the Brontë Society whose leaders’ views are so opposed to my own. It’s best that I leave the society now, before they announce James Corden as the creative partner for 2019, a year in which Patrick Brontë is being remembered, and Rita Ora as organiser for Anne Brontë’s celebrations in 2020.