“What would Emily Brontë think?”

Emily Kinder responds to Nick Holland’s criticism of Lily Cole as a creative partner in the Brontë Society.

Lily Cole has been appointed as creative partner at the Brontë Society, working on a project to mark the bicentenary year of Emily Brontë’s birth. And, goodness me, it is a shocking choice. So shocking, in fact,  that it has led to the resignation of leading expert from the society, Nick Holland.

What is it that is so shocking about Lily Cole’s appointment? Well, Holland will tell you all about it. His recent blog post vents his outrage, complaining that ‘what should have been a joyous year with genius at its centre has instead become a rank farce’. He believes Cole is entirely unsuitable for the role, based on the fact she was once a model. He asks his readers ‘what would Emily Brontë think if she found that the role of chief ‘artist’ and organiser in her celebratory year was a supermodel?’. Let’s have a think about that.

The first problem with Holland’s question is his branding of Cole as a ‘supermodel’. In that one word he takes the entirety of her career and reduces it to one of her many roles, not only discrediting everything else she has done, but using it like it is poisonous. Cole has been a supermodel, but she has also done so much more. She has been an actress and a double-first-class graduate from the University of Cambridge, an advocate for illiteracy in children and an environmental campaigner. So to start, with Mr Holland, she’s not just a ‘supermodel’.

What, then, is Nick Holland’s real problem with Cole’s appointment? Because even he can’t seem to decide. In his article he jumps from accusation to accusation: she was elected through nepotism because friend Simon Armitage is a creative partner, she is (apparently) a dreadful actress, she is too young, she is not a writer. Even if all those points were true, and I’m doubtful that they are, why does that mean she is not a good choice for creative partner? Cole’s project plan to celebrate the bicentenary of Emily Brontë’s birth is to create a short film about the anti-hero Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, a film which will also address gender politics and women’s rights as this year marks the centenary of women getting the vote. Please tell me, Mr Holland, what, then, is so unsuitable about Lily Cole? In a social climate where issues such as men’s emotions and gender equality are so prevalent, how does this short film not brilliantly align the work of the Brontë sisters and modern-day issues?

lily cole

Lily Cole has recently spoken out against Nick Holland’s resignation, calling out his ‘prejudice’. She has joked that, like the Brontë sisters, she should have worked under a pseudonym as well, to allow her work to be ‘judged on its own merits, rather than on my name, my gender, my image or my teenage decisions’. She makes a profound point. Charlotte Brontë once explained why she and her sisters used pseudonyms: ‘we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality’. It is incredulous that the very same situation has occurred in the 21st century, that Nick Holland has very much used ‘the weapon of personality’ for chastisement against Lily Cole.

Holland ends his senseless, prejudiced rant with the statement: “the drive to attract younger members to the Brontë Society is a pointless one.” Right. So there’s no point in inspiring younger generations with the work of three of the most significant women in England’s literary history. There is no point in creating new, younger supporters of a society to ensure the continuation of that society when the older members are gone. In fact, there is no point at all in encouraging newer members in any capacity. No, better to simply please and preserve the current members, some of whom clearly have outdated and backward ways of thinking. Nick Holland can’t seem to face up to the fact that the Brontë Society wishes to inspire and encourage the younger generation, and to continue to tell the story of the sisters for years to come. He certainly cannot face the fact that Lily Cole is a fantastic choice to do enable them to do so. If anyone is going to be able to create a short film to get younger generations excited about writers who have been dead for 200 years it’s going to be a young, lively influential campaigner and activist.

So, in answer to your question, Mr. Holland, I think Emily Brontë would be delighted that such a passionate and inspirational woman was chosen to celebrate her.

Collage by Emily Godbold.

 

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