Lily Cole is a famous actress, model, and recipient of a double-first class degree in Art History from Cambridge University. How dare they appoint her a partner of the Brontë Society, formed to honor the creative heritage of the Brontë sisters, rants Nick Holland.
If you don’t know Lily Cole, and you’d be in the majority, she is described as ‘a model and social entrepreneur’ (whatever that is). I am unfortunate enough to have encountered Lily before as a few years ago I had a front row seat of a new play about Helen of Troy at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre. Lily had the title role, and the play was so bad that it is the only one I have ever walked out of at the interval. If the acting was bad, and believe me it was, the dialogue was even worse – one line in particular was of such clunking ineptitude that it has remained with me forever: ‘women smell my power, men smell like sex’. It was when Lily delivered this line with all the passion of the announcer at Piccadilly station that I began longing for the train home. This was, quite simply, the worst play I have ever seen, and the writer of it? Simon Armitage, the incumbent creative partner at the Brontë Parsonage Museum
Holland, declaring his intention to leave the society, was slammed as a snob.
“I’m sorry that some people have felt angry about it or against it,” Brontë scholar Samantha Ellis told the Guardian. “I think Lily Cole is a brilliant idea. With Tracey [Chevalier], Simon [Armitage] and now Lily, this move has been absolutely fantastic and brought loads more people to the Brontës and the parsonage. The Brontës were passionate, and that’s why people care so much about them.
“Lily’s clearly passionate about the arts and I don’t see why she wouldn’t be a good advocate. I do think there is a whiff of misogyny about some of the statements made about Lily on Twitter and beyond. People must remember that the Brontës themselves were young women – I think it is interesting that the society chose a young woman.”
Men like Holland are why women like the Brontës used pseudonyms. A key long-term challenge is making sure that enthusiatic mediocrities are no longer taken as authorities on anything beyond the fine details of their preoccupation.