Bronte Society Disappointed 'Disloyal' Journalist Reported on Annual Meeting

Judi Dench
Actress Judi Dench arrives for a memorial service at Westminster Abbey, London, March 17, 2015. Dench is president of the Bronte Society, which held its annual meeting on Saturday. Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

It may sound like a rather genteel organization, but the Bronte Society has become a hotbed of controversy, as a scathing attack at Saturday’s annual general meeting (AGM) showed.

One AGM attendee compared the operations of the 123-year-old literary society to that of the former East Germany’s secret police force. “When I read all these rules and regulations we had put together, I felt like I had come into the Stasi. We need fresh air and openness,” the unnamed woman said, according to freelance journalist and Society member Mark Branagan, who attended the meeting in Haworth, West Yorkshire.

A vote was taken during the meeting on whether Branagan, a journalist reporting on the details of the AGM, should be removed from the meeting, but he was allowed to stay.

The Bronte Society has been the centre of controversy for the past two years, given a long-standing conflict between its more traditional members and those considered modernizers. According to The Times, infighting allegedly led to a number of resignations. Over the past 12 months, the former president, playwright Bonnie Greer, chairman Alexandra Lesley and an executive director all stepped down. Almost half of its trustees also resigned.

“We have a long history of arguments and a lot of the time feelings are left to fester because they are not properly explained,” said Lesley, who was present at this year’s AGM, despite her resignation. Patsy Stoneman, the Bronte scholar and vice-president of the society, reportedly objected to Lesley’s criticism at the meeting.

A spokeswoman from the Bronte Society tells Newsweek that the details of this year’s AGM have been unfairly taken out of context and that the society’s tumultuous period is firmly in the past.

“It is a membership society, people care passionately and not everyone likes change,” she says. “Sometimes people fall out. The AGM is an opportunity for members to express their views.

“When it became clear that there was a journalist in the room covering the meeting for a national paper, people were very dismayed at what they saw as a member being disloyal. These meetings are meant to be private. The Society feels very disappointed that he used his membership for his own pecuniary gains to make a big story in the press.

“I’m not sure why the comment was made by the woman, it was in the heat of the moment. As a Society we have been moving on for quite some time. Our membership is up, our visitor numbers are up, we have a new executive director. There are lots of positive things going on.”

At present, the Bronte Society has an estimated 1,600 members and entrance to the AGM is only open to those who are. Actress Dame Judi Dench, who was appointed president in April, was unable to attend this year’s annual meeting due to filming commitments.

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