Romance at the Castle, Bronte festival continues


July 19th, 2011

Omaha, NE – Omaha is celebrating the classics this month. The ongoing Bronte Festival honors three English authors, whose tragic and comedic appeal has lasted through generations.

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Jill Anderson performing as Charlotte Bronte in the play "Bronte" by William Luce. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

“If nothing else, Jane Eyre did deliver me from a life of servitude,” recited actress Jill Anderson performing as the author Charlotte Bronte, in the autobiographical play “Bronte” by William Luce. Anderson performed the one-woman piece as part of the month-long Bronte Festival at the Joslyn Castle, which continues through August 5th.
Surrounded by the Castle’s ornate ceilings and dark wood floors, Anderson transported the audience to the Bronte’s mid-19th century world.

“I speak of being a Governess,” Anderson continued. “Take the Sidgwick family for instance… the children were perfect little brats. I grew tired of tying their shoelaces and wiping their smutty little noses.”

The Brontes grew up in rural northern England, where three sisters wrote and published landmark novels, which shook up the literary world. Published under male pseudonyms, each novel centered on strong female characters – unusual for the time.

“Jane Eyre, when it first hit the market, was a big, big deal, it was a hit,” Anderson said in an interview at her home. “But at the same time, the ideas it was putting forth, particularly in terms of women’s passion, women’s strength and autonomy were very incendiary ideas.”

The Joslyn Castle provides the ideal, mid-19th Century setting for the Bronte festival. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

Jane Eyre received mixed reviews from critics at the time. Some hailed it as a “sublime” tale of “passion and intensity,” while others saw it as morally “deplorable” and a reflection of the “grosser and more animal portion of our nature.”

“There was a notion at the time of the angel in the house,” Anderson said. “It was a poem that had been published about a man’s praising of his wife, who was a meek, loving, supportive, Victorian ideal of the housewife… the woman as prop to the husband, not the woman as individual within herself.”

“Well, the Bronte image of Jane Eyre, and her other lead female characters,” Anderson said, “was anything but that. It was a person who lived for herself, and whose actions and words were motivated by her own internal moral compass.”
Quickly embodying the old English accent, Anderson read an excerpt of Jane Eyre to make her point.

“Women are supposed to be very calm generally. But women feel just as men feel. They need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do. They suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer. And it is… narrow minded in their more privileged fellow creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags.”

Anderson fell in love with the Brontes, when she first performed the Bronte play in the 1990s. This year, she decided to re-mount it at the Joslyn Castle, and organize a month-long festival around it. Romance at the Castle celebrates each Bronte sister, with readings and discussions on the authors’ impacts on the literary world.

“Reading literature like this that has so much detail to it,” Anderson said. “It’s so classy, and the triumphs are hard-earned. It’s not like a harlequin romance, where they deliver up your romance like a TV dinner.”

The Bronte festival continues, with extended performances, through August 5th. Click here for a schedule of the Romance at the Castle festival.

Listen now to hear the full interview with Jill Anderson

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