by Martyn Wade

BBC Radio 4: The Monday Play

Broadcast: Monday 21st December 1992 @ 7:45 p.m.

The play opens in 1826 as Bramwell receives a box of wooden soldiers and each of the Brontė children choose a soldier, giving them a name and character: these were to be the foundation of the creation of a complicated fantasy world, "Gondal", which the Brontės actively worked on for 16 years. "Gondal" is a radio play parallelling Emily Brontė's real life at Haworth with a dramatic reconstruction of her epic fantasy. Living in an isolated village, separated socially and intellectually from the local people, the Brontė sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) and their brother Branwell spent the majority of their time in made-up worlds.

When Emily Jane Brontė was 6 years old she went to a boarding school run by charity, the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge, where her older sisters Maria, Elizabeth, and Charlotte were already enrolled. The school was in no sense a material improvement over her home environment: it was run with the intention of punishing the pupils' bodies that their souls might be saved. The students were kept hungry, cold, tired, and often ill: Maria in particular, who at her young age did her best to mother her sisters, was treated extremely harshly. In 1825 Maria and Elizabeth both died of tuberculosis, the disease that was later to claim Emily's own life, and that of her younger sister Anne. Following these new bereavements, the surviving sisters Charlotte and Emily were taken home, but they would never forget the terrors and the hardship of their lives at school. Charlotte made it the model for the charity school Lowood, which figures so prominently in the life of her heroine, Jane Eyre.

Life at home was much better for Emily and her siblings: in their isolated childhood on the moors, they developed an extremely close relationship partly based on their mutual participation in a vibrant game of make-believe. In 1826 their father brought Branwell a box of wooden soldiers, and each child chose a soldier, gaving them a name and character: these were to be the foundation of the creation of a complicated fantasy world, which the Brontės actively worked on for 16 years. They made tiny books containing stories, plays, histories, and poetry written by their imagined heros and heroines. Unfortunately, only ones written by Charlotte and Branwell survive: of Emily's work we only have her poetry, and indeed her most passionate and lovely poetry is written from the perspectives of inhabitants of "Gondal". For Emily, it seems that the fantastic adventures in imaginary "Gondal" coexisted on almost an equal level of importance and reality with the lonely and mundane world of household chores and walks on the moor. One would be mistaken, however, to conclude that the poetic beauty of "Gondal" was essentially different from that which Emily saw in the world around her. This becomes clear in her novel "Wuthering Heights", in which her familiar Yorkshire surroundings become the setting for a tragedy whose passion and beauty is equal to anything that could be imagined elsewhere. Passion is in no way inconsistent with empty moors, cold winters, and brown hills.

With Diana Quick [Queen Augusta (Adopted Daughter of King Gerald and Secret Half-Sister to Angelica)], Janet Maw [Emily Brontė], Nathaniel Parker [Fernando (Adopted Son of Lord Alfred)], John Rowe [Lord Eldred], Clive Francis [Lord Alfred], Linda Polan [Tabitha, the Maid], Moir Leslie [Angelica, Daughter of Lord Alfred and Niece to King Gerald], Keith Drinkel [King Julius], Eric Allan [King Gerald], David Thorpe [Lord Alexander / Robert Douglas], Annabelle Lanyon [Young Emily Brontė], Bernadette Windsor [Young Charlotte Brontė / Young Augusta], and Jill Lidstone [Young Branwell Brontė].

Other parts were played by members of the cast and Jillie Meers, John Webb, Siriol Jenkins, and Melanie Hudson.

Music by Elizabeth Parker of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

Directed by Cherry Cookson.

Re-broadcast on Saturday 2nd October 1993 @ 2:30 p.m.

90 minutes


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