Charlotte and Emily grew up on a windswept heath in Northern England, never knowing they’d inspire a Bronte-saurus of a monthlong celebration in Omaha centuries later.
Jill Anderson wanted to bring Charlotte to Joslyn Castle via Bronte, the play William Luce wrote for Julie Harris. The night before she was to propose it to the Joslyn leaders, “The idea of a full Bronte festival popped into my mind.”
A “very enthusiastic” response led not only to scheduling her one-woman play each Friday but to “Romance at the Castle: The Brontes.” The festival includes readings, screenings and presentations, starting at 7 p.m. July 6 when Sharon Sobel, a costuming designer at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, offers “Fashion During the Time of the Brontes.”
Why all this devotion to sisters raised in a cold stone parsonage high above a dirty little village? Mostly because Emily wrote “Wuthering Heights,” and Charlotte wrote “Jane Eyre.” They rose above what seemed a bleak solitude to write two novels that remain great masterpieces of Gothic romance.
How did these two parson’s daughters create such unforgettable characters as Jane Eyre and Rochester and, of course, Catherine and the brooding Heathcliff? Festival-goers will win insights from performers and professors who know the Brontes, their village and their literary offspring.
Jill Anderson first played Charlotte in Bronte for the Brigit Saint Brigit Theatre. She’ll repeat it July 8, 15, 22 and 31 at 7 p.m., with the dramatic Joslyn Castle architecture as backdrop. Admission is $15 for the general public and $10 for members.
Bronte begins when Charlotte returns home after the funeral of her last surviving sibling to live alone with her father. She soars above that bleakness to reflect with humor and poignancy on both triumphs and tragedies.
Jill, who often performs in musicals, finds music in the “sumptuous poetry” of Charlotte’s language. She’s not really alone in the parsonage: “I love memory tonight–she gives me a deep delight–the thoughts, the hours, the hopes of my youth, vast and sweet they seem now, they cling to every corner of this grey stone house.”
In a passage describing her father, Charlotte notes, “He puts a loaded pistol in his pocket as regularly as he puts on his watch. The little deadly pistol sits down at breakfast and kneels at prayer.” Of sister Emily’s “Wuthering Heights,” she declares it “vivid and fearful, charged with a sort of electricity–brooding and dark as if hewn in some wild workshop.”
More Bronte drama will live on in readings at 5 p.m. on July 17 and 24. First, “The Unseen Land of Thought’–Charlotte’s World,” which features actors Moira Mangiamelli, Kirstin Kluver, Seth Fox, Ben Birkholtz and Anderson, with UNO English professor Kristin Girten animating the text and connecting it to the author’s life.
The second reading, “A Fierce, Pitiless and Wolfish Man: The Dark Gothic at the Heart of Wuthering Heights” allows actress Laura Leininger and others to join UNO scholar Lisabeth Buchelt in exploring Heathcliff as a romantic anti-hero. Admission is $10 for the general public and $8 for members.
The film version of that novel will be screened at 7 p.m. July 14, with the “Jane Eyre” film on July 21. Admission is $8 for the general public and $5 for members.
Presentations ($10 and $8) include “A Perfect Misanthrope’s Heaven–The Bronte Village” at 7 p.m. July 20; Michael Lyon of Omaha Public Radio/NPR, who was born near that village, will recall his “rambling the moors” and provides a tour that setting. And Creighton scholar Cameron Dodworth presents, “Bloodsuckers and Hellhounds–the Gothic Other in ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights.”
On July 27, UNL professor Peter Capuano, a specialist in 19th Century literature and culture, offers “’Wuthering Heights’ and 21st Century Undergraduates,” examining the 1847 novel as studied by a “born digital” readership.
For tickets and information, call 402.595.2199. All events will be held at the 35-room castle, 3902 Davenport St.