Last night I was fortunate enough to attend a talk with Juliet Barker, historian and author of what's really the definitive book on the Bronte family from someone so immersed in the family and era that she's practically a walking encyclopaedia on them. The famous 1994 book was fully updated and revised last year and runs to almost 1000 pages. The talk was part of the Morley Literature Festival and was held at the Gildersome Conservative Club. It was packed out and the ticket came complete with pie and peas - how can you go wrong with that?
Barker certainly knows her subject. My father (I bribed him with the pie and peas to be my driver and companion) described the talk as an assassination of Mrs Gaskell's portrait of the Brontes which has endured since publication in 1857, particularly the representations of Patrick and Branwell Bronte. It's as interesting to note why Mrs Gaskell made her conclusions as discovering which elements of life she distorted. But as well as the critique of Mrs Gaskell, there were also little titbits that demonstrated the life in both the Parsonage and Haworth itself.
There were a few questions from the audience, one quite specifically asking about the school where Patrick and Maria Bronte met. I was impressed by Barker's ability to not only reel off an answer but to respond at length with barely any thought behind it. Such a knowledge can only be gained by thorough involvement in - and love for - your subject and her warmth towards it was more than evident in her voice.
I came away with a signed and dedicated copy of the new edition, although I was too timid to go up and talk to her so I got my father to do it (and he paid!). Alas, the book will have to wait its turn to be read but I can't help relishing the enjoyment that's ahead of me.