Surprisingly for someone who is an English Literature graduate, and has enjoyed reading their whole life, I’ve never really been to a book festival. With the exception of York Literature Festival in 2015 where I was a volunteer for a couple of the events, I had never attended one until last weekend. Borderlines Carlisle Book Festival started three years ago, but this was the first year I have been able to attend. Each year I have looked at the line-up, but either haven’t had my interest piqued or wasn’t easily able to get there. This year I was in the area, and looking through the brochure was spoiled for choice. It’s little wonder that this has been its most successful year to date.
The two talks which immediately caught my eye were those which were going to be focusing on the Brontës. If you hadn’t gathered from my previous post where I visited the Brontë Parsonage, I’m a bit of a fan. All around the country, there are events taking place as part of Brontë200 – a five year programme celebrating the bicentenaries of the births of four of the Brontës: Charlotte in 2016, Branwell in 2017, Emily in 2018 and Anne in 2020. In the literary world this is a fantastic time to rediscover the Brontë novels and poems. I was more than happy to learn more about the Brontë family, but also having now had over a year out of education I was keen to go to a lecture once more!
The first talk I went to was delivered by Sophie Franklin, a PhD student at the University of Durham. Her talk was to focus on “Charlotte Brontë in the 21st Century” and was a conversation which largely focused on her book Charlotte Brontë Revisited: A View from the Twenty-First Century. The book is meant to work as a primer to the novels, and is recommended for students and those interested in the Brontës. I enjoyed Sophie’s talk as she focused on a lot of aspects of Charlotte’s novels that I find particularly interesting such as the descriptions of the landscape and use of the supernatural. Whilst it was clear that she was quite nervous, repeatedly saying “kind of”, she made some very good points and her talk was very accessible. Academic language and debates were peppered with references to popular culture (such as Harry Potter and Victoria on ITV) which made the talk comprehensible to those of all ages, and whether you studied the Brontës or just had a passing interest.
I was actually seated next to Sophie in the second talk and had chance to talk to her a bit more informally. She was very personable, and clearly passionate about what she was studying. I’m sure she has a great career ahead of her, and will grow in confidence with every talk she gives (this was her first book festival).
The second talk I went to was being given by Juliet Barker and was entitled “Charlotte Brontë: A life in letters”. I was particularly excited about this talk as Juliet Barker is quite a big name in the Brontë world. She was a much more confident speaker, and clearly more used to delivering these sorts of talks. Whilst this talk was more biographical rather than focusing on the novels themselves, it was filled with interesting content such as the fact that Charlotte Brontë used to use a pseudonym to hide behind in letters to her publisher, but only when writing flirtatiously. The talk was more humorous than I had expected and made it very clear that reading the letters does provide a more personal insight into the Brontë’s lives.
I left the festival having thoroughly enjoyed myself. It made me miss my degree, but also made me eager to delve back into some more literary texts than I have been reading recently. I’m determined to tackle the (intimidatingly) large paperback The Brontës by Juliet Barker which has sat on my shelf for several years and not been read… I’m also eager to go to more literary festivals, and am certainly looking forward to Borderlines Carlisle Book Festival next year.