“I don’t want to be good. I want to be great. ”
What happens when a passion is turned into a means to survive?
Sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë have always enjoyed writing and storytelling, but so far, it’s been for their own personal enjoyment. Now that their father is sick and their brother is an alcoholic, they have to be the ones to support the family. They’d rather focus on their careers than settling down with suitors anyway, so writing is what could save them. But is it also what could tear them apart? Jealousy, rivalry, and the strong need for self-expression threaten not only their livelihood and relationships but also their confidence in creativity and what could be their legacy.
Told over five days in the span of three years, the fascinating story of the Brontë sisters’ literary pioneer careers unfolds to show what it was like to be an ambitious woman in the 1800s, and how similar it looks to the struggles women still face today.
Jordi Mand is a Toronto-based writer for theatre, TV, and film. Her plays include Between the Sheets, Caught, This Will Be Excellent, and Brontë: The World Without. Her work has been produced nationally and internationally and has been published by Playwrights Canada Press. She is a graduate of the Bell Media Prime TV Program at the Canadian Film Centre and the National Theatre School of Canada. Jordi is a writer on the fourth season of the hit CTV crime drama Cardinal and on the upcoming film adaptation of Harriet Alida Lye’s thriller The Honey Farm.
EMILY: You have your work. .. Anne’s work. You have more than enough to create something between the two of you. CHARLOTTE: We can’t move forward without you. ANNE: If she doesn’t want to be a part of it there’s no point in forcing her. EMILY: Do you. .. want to be a part of it? Want to publish your- ANNE: Yes. I’ve always wanted this.
EMILY: You’d have a better chance if I’m nowhere near it. CHARLOTTE: That’s not true. EMILY: It is. CHARLOTTE: We need your work. EMILY: If you’re in such dire need of a third ask Branwell. He’s the one with the talent. CHARLOTTE: Oh, Emily! How can you not see it? You have a gift. Do you know how many people spend their lives searching for what you have? EMILY: What I write is. .. strange. It’s not suitable. .. or dignified. It in no way reflects how a woman should feel. .. or think. .. or write. I know that. No one will understand it. No one will want to- CHARLOTTE: If you were a man do you think for a moment you would choose not to pursue- EMILY: If I were a man I wouldn’t have to choose.
ANNE: Then just pretend you’re a man and be done with it. EMILY: I can’t pretend to be something I’m not.
ANNE: Why not?
EMILY: Because it. .. it’s not-
ANNE: Because it’s not what? CHARLOTTE: You can. You can. She takes paper and a quill and writes. CHARLOTTE: We could keep our initials. .. keep the first letters for each of our names. The rest can be whatever we like. ... She holds the page up for them to see. ANNE: Currer, Ellis, Aaron Bell. CHARLOTTE: If they think we’re men they’ll focus on what we write. .. not who we are. We can send our work out without being afraid of anyone knowing. We can write what we like. .. how we like. ANNE: Why Bell? Why can’t we use our last name? CHARLOTTE: People know there’s only one son in our family. ANNE: How many people know that? CHARLOTTE: Enough. ANNE: Can’t we submit anonymously? CHARLOTTE: No. Our work could be stolen. And we would have no way to prove it was ours. EMILY: Work with a name is respected far more than anything written anonymously. ANNE looks at the page. ANNE: Currer, Ellis, Aaron. Mine doesn’t sound nearly as intriguing as yours. Aaron. .. it’s so plain. CHARLOTTE: What then?
ANNE: Adam, Abram, Andrew, Arthur, Alfred- EMILY: Acton.
ANNE: Oh. .. Acton. Yes. Currer, Ellis, Acton Bell. CHARLOTTE writes the names out again. She holds it up for them to see. ANNE: So. .. no one would know it was us?
CHARLOTTE: No one would know it was us.
ANNE: What about Papa? We would have to tell him. CHARLOTTE: Papa would go mad knowing we were trying to be published. He would get too invested. He would want to change everything we wrote. EMILY: He would edit every poem until he was satisfied. CHARLOTTE: Until he felt it was up to his standards. EMILY: And if it weren’t a resounding success. .. he would never forgive us. CHARLOTTE: No. We don’t tell him. We don’t tell Branwell. It stays between the three of us. ANNE: Then. .. what’s the point?
EMILY: I won’t do it if we tell people. That’s the point. CHARLOTTE: But if we don’t tell people? Then you’ll. .. EMILY looks at the page with their proposed names on it. EMILY: We shouldn’t have to disguise who we are. CHARLOTTE: Oh, Emily. .. does it really matter? It would be a few published copies of a poetry collection. That’s it. That’s all it is. Beat. EMILY: I don’t know.
CHARLOTTE: Emily. Can’t you at least try to-
ANNE: Just say yes, Emily! For goodness’ sake! EMILY looks at the paper with their names on it. Then looks at her sisters. INTERLUDE CHARLOTTE, EMILY and ANNE grab a small stack of blank pages and a quill. They sit at the table. They write. As they do, they hand each other their pages. They read one another’s work. They make notes on the pages. They hand the pages back to the author. They sit and write. Again, they hand each other their pages. They read one another’s work. Makes notes. Hand the pages back to each other. Sit. Write. Again, they hand each other their pages. They read one another’s work. Makes notes. They start to form a pile in the middle of the table. They write. Review. Stack. The stack of paper grows. These are the pages of their poetry collection. CHARLOTTE gently picks up the pages. Leaves the room. EMILY and ANNE grab another small stack of blank pages. Again they start to write. They share their work with each other. They each begin a stack of their own. CHARLOTTE enters with a small book in hand – a printed copy of their poetry collection. EMILY and ANNE gather beside CHARLOTTE. They look at it together. Smile. Place it on their bookshelf. Get back to work. CHARLOTTE grabs another small stack of blank pages. They write. They share their work with each other. The stack of paper grows. These are the pages of their novels. CHARLOTTE collects the pages from EMILY and ANNE. Together they tie the piles with twine. Fold an envelope out of a large sheet of paper. Seal it shut. CHARLOTTE takes the envelope and leaves. EMILY removes books from the shelf. Leaves the room. ANNE tidies. EMILY enters in a housedress. ANNE looks at EMILY. Hands her a book. Leaves the room. EMILY goes to the windowsill. Sits. Opens the book. And reads.
“Mand unquestionably did a masterful and extensive job of research, unearthing intriguing aspects showcasing the Brontë women’s lives, examining the socio-economic constraints of the 19th century while dutifully reminding today’s audiences of just what brilliance existed within the walls of this rather bland little family home in Haworth in the west riding of Yorkshire. "
“Jordi Mand is a gifted writer. In Brontë: The World Without, she not only creates the isolated, confined world in which the Brontë sisters lived and wrote, she also illuminates the mysterious, solitary world of the writer, the obsessive need to create with words. We read the works of the Brontë sisters with new insight and understanding of what it took to create those books because of Jordi Mand’s play. ”