Sunday, August 26, 2012

An Afternoon with Charlotte Brontë

She walked down the center aisle of the theater in a floor-length black cape, with the hood pulled over her head.  I didn't hear her footsteps until she was inches away from my aisle seat.  I was startled.  My eyes had been on the stage, the dimly lit sitting room, empty, waiting for Charlotte to arrive. I expected her to be in another part of the "house," to enter and welcome the fifty or so visitors gathered to hear her story. But she had been in London at her youngest sister, Anne's, funeral. Charlotte was just returning to her family home in Haworth.  She climbed the stairs and removed her cape.
Charlotte Brontë from a 1854 photo
(source Wikipedia)
For the next 2 hours, with a brief 10-minute intermission, Maxine Linehan, was Charlotte Brontë.

Maxine Linehan as Charlotte
(photo by Ronnie Wright)
The author of one of my favorite books, Jane Eyre, seemed to walk into the theater from the mid-1800s, rather than an actress playing a part.  The two hours spanned one day in Charlotte's life, but felt like a lifetime.  As if she needed to tell her story to a room of strangers, perhaps for clarity or catharsis, Charlotte shared her joys of collaborating with fellow writers and sisters Emily (Wuthering Heights) and Anne (Agnes Grey), her pride in Jane Eyre, the heartbreak of loving a married man, the anguish of her sisters' death - along with her mother, brother and two older sisters - her need for love, for quiet.  So real was Ms. Linehan's portrayal of Charlotte that I often wished to console and reassure this woman whose life was so filled with tragedy and feelings of inadequacy.

It seemed appropriate that Brontë, A Portrait of Charlotte, would be performed in a small, unassuming venue like the Actors' Temple Theater on West 47th Street.  It is, in fact, a Jewish synagogue.

"In today's world where theater and film often veer towards glitz and glam, alloy theater company believes in telling powerful stores in the truest, purest way. Sure Brontë isn't flashy.  It is, instead a story evocative and haunting in its simplicity."
   ----alloy theater company (message on program)

Charlotte's life was one of courage, strength, and much-needed inspiration  to women writers who followed her. When she was twenty, she wrote to poet laureate, Robert Southey, about writing.  He replied, "Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it ought not to be."

I imagine her comeback, through Maxine Linehan's heated Irish delivery, "What does he know about the business of a woman's life?"  




  1. You had wonderful company that afternoon!

    Have you ever read Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair? I love it...but hesitate to recommend it as some find it very odd. ;> It's science fiction but filled with wit and literary allusion.

  2. You would have loved it, Kate, with your theatrical background! Yes, I have read The Eyre Affair, but had trouble keeping up with all the plot twists. The original version is more my speed. :-)

  3. What a great description. I could almost feel her in the room as I read this.

  4. Wow, I wish I had been there. It sounds like a brilliant way to spend two hours.

    1. Absolutely. Extremely well done, and I learned so much about Charlotte and her family.


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