In Which the Brontë Society Has a Very British Fight

It’s me, Charlotte Bronte.
It’s me, Charlotte Bronte.

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

I was glad of it, dear Reader, for I had never liked walks, preferring instead the company of a dear book where, a poor, unloved, plain woman like myself could find solace. Few individuals could entertain me or bring me that joy of familial love that I so longed for. Yet, there was one small group of passionate intellectuals who could, a few fleeting moments during a grey and balmy day, pry me from my melancholic solitude, giving me the companionship that no human can live entirely without. That group of motley intellectuals called themselves the Brontë Society.


It was with the Brontë Society, rather conveniently named for both myself and my less talented sisters, that I convened with, speaking of Haworth, a small and humble home where the boon of my sisters’ affections gave me a silent fortitude. I was happy at Haworth, happy in a peculiar kind of way. Giving to the untimely deaths of my sisters—kind Anne and monstrous Emily—the Brontë Society provided me with all the human companionship that a queer little bird like myself could stand. So, imagine, dear reader, the pangs of my disappointment on Saturday when my little society of the like-minded descended into a cruel chaos.

The hideous and degrading agonies of the Society’s chaos had been looming for years. Eager ladies and solemn gentlemen had left the Society before, a disagreement lasting some two years had led to the resignation of some fine individuals. Yet on Saturday, that gloomy day, as I took my humble and half-broken chair, the only chair that a wretched beast like myself deserves, I fell deeper into my melancholy when I learned that five more members had quit the Society’s counsel.

And not even a year after President Bonnie Greer quit her position at last year’s annual meeting. Why, dear reader, Ms. Greer, having such a fortune that afforded her fine clothes—not like the mere tweeds of my own humble dress—was once forced to use the heel of her Jimmy Choo shoes to keep order. The spectacle of that fine lady wielding her foreign shoes with such forceful power was enough to drain what little blush I had on my plain cheeks, replacing it with a stark pallor more befitting my situation.

Arguments broke out among the group, such small disagreements manifested themselves with such rage that it seemed that fire rose up from the curtains and burned the room. But alas, that was simply my imagination; there was neither nun, nor fire, nor infamous daughters of infamous mothers. There was simply the Reverend Peter Mayo-Smith, who, according to the Telegraph, the only newspaper I allowed myself, was upset by the presence of a journalist. The Reverend Mayo-Smith who for many years had kept books for the Society objected to the journalist’s presence. It was hard to disagree with the grim Reverend, as journalists can be so gruff of manner and forceful in presence; their society generally unwanted.

Yet another joined in the Reverend’s objection, one Patsy Stoneman, the Society’s vice president. Worried for the well-being of her true friend Alexandra Lesley, a fine lady who had resigned as the Society’s chair after a mere six months, Ms. Stoneman also called for the journalist’s removal. Ms. Lesley wanted nothing more than to deliver a humble speech, no doubt on the workings of solitude, but such thoughts are hard to compose, let alone express, when a journalist is sniffing about, wondering at the true workings of the curious writer of Jane Eyre, an undoubtedly fine, yet unladylike novel. Grabbed by passion, one of the ladies, apparently cried out, “When I read all these rules and regulations we had put together I felt like I had come into the Stasi. We need fresh air and openness.”

Now, dear reader, as but a poor Victorian, quiet and godly, yet dearly shy, I had little to add. “What is the Stasi?” my mind did ask. By its name, I assumed that, like Jimmy Choos, it was a foreign word, no doubt something belonging to those monstrously unkind continentals. But before my mouth could open to form the unnatural sounding words, the fight continued. One member, while referring to Ms. Stoneman, sneered at the lady.


Ms. Stoneman who, like myself, sits with pen to paper, writing books — she is the author of the Cambridge Companion to the Brontës, as well as a book on Mrs. Gaskell — suffered the pains of dismissal that evening. As a Society member spoke Ms. Stoneman’s name, such sneering was heard when the word “Cambridge” was uttered. Now myself, a mere woman excluded from the true and good learning of men, with none of the good fortune of sex, had learned Latin and Greek and the Old Masters at a rough kitchen table, my childish eyes squinting in the waning light of a single candle. My own dear father, the Reverend Patrick Brontë, had attended Cambridge, and such joys were his during his youthful days of folly and delight.

There was more debate between the “modernisers” and the “conservatives,” as reported by The Guardian, a newspaper for Labour unionizers who know little of God’s good graces or the sublime landscapes of West Yorkshire.


So, there, dear Reader, is the odd tale of the Brontë Society and its eager descent into chaos and emotional sentimentality. I have told you little here of my own suffering and resentments, but I have felt keenly those sufferings and injustices of others. I will only add, dear Reader, that my time with the Society has come to an end, it is no longer the happy place of my remembrances, but a place of degradation that disgusts me. Turn then to solitude, to a life of quiet reflection, to books and away from mankind who has but little to offer but insistent cruelty.

Image via Getty.


Kelly Faircloth

Everyone, please, a round of applause for Stassa Edwards, who is apparently a medium in addition to her other talents.