Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth, West Yorkshire
By Christopher Bentley
Charlotte Brontë once wrote, ‘am I to spend all the best time of my life in this wretched bondage … must I from day to day sit chained to a chair prisoned within these four bare walls, while these glorious summer suns are burning in heaven?’ The novelist was talking about her Parsonage home, in Haworth, Yorkshire, which she shared with her vicar father and siblings. And listening to Linger, a new installation designed for the Parsonage, one can sense something of that lethargy.
But who knows how intentional that is: Linger, after all, is an enigmatic beast. It is described simply, as a set of six new pieces by Irish contemporary composer Ailis Ni Riain, each performed on Emily Brontë’s carefully preserved piano. Other than that all we are told is that visitors should linger in each room, as the pieces play and bleed into one another across the hallways.
All of which makes for a mixed experience. The parsonage itself is charming, more focused on the sisters’ personal lives than the story of their literary development. Objects such as dresses, bonnets, rings, even a lock of Charlotte’s hair help to set the scene, as does the plainness of the rooms, which allows us to imagine the simple, frugal lives the Brontes must have led.
The installation certainly helps to reflect this, consisting of reoccurring drone notes given only sporadic colouring. But while it adds atmosphere, it is far outshone by the exhibits. Instead of reflecting the distinctive character of each room, it replays the same ideas ad infinitum, only making a real impact in the servant’s quarters upstairs, where its frenetic, ceaselessly roving melody conjures up the buzz of activity. And even when it does add to the aesthetic, the effect is restricted to the few spots where we are actually able to hear the music. We are left with something plain and passionless that refuses to acknowledge the warmth and life that existed here – enough, perhaps, to illuminate the Brontës’ bare walls, but certainly not to provide it with summer sun.