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 livelihoods 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’ pioneering literary 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.
About the author
Jordi Mand is a Toronto-based playwright who has worked with some of Canada’s most prominent theatre companies. Her first play, Between the Sheets, was produced by Nightwood Theatre in 2012 and has been produced nationally and internationally. The National Post’s Robert Cushman hailed her writing as a subtler, more charitable take on Mamet, with the long-range technique of Ibsen and the short-haul intensity of Strindberg.
Her play Caught was produced by Theatre Passe Muraille in 2016, and explored the concepts of morality and interpersonal justice. With sharp dialogue and an acute grasp of its contemporary thematic significance, Caught anticipated the intersection of privilege, power, and abuse that has only become more relevant since its staging. Her play This Will Be Excellent was produced by Carousel Players in 2018 and was her first foray into writing for young audiences. The show had a sold-out tour of schools across Ontario. In 2018, Mand’s play Brontë: The World Without premiered at the Stratford Festival—Canada’s largest and most prestigious theatre company. The play follows the lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë in a striking historical drama, which collects moments filled with passion and self-expression to show what it was like to be an ambitious woman in the 1800s.
Mand has been a playwright-in-residence with Theatre Passe Muraille, Carousel Players, and Nightswimming Theatre. She is a past member of Tarragon Theatre’s Playwrights Unit and the Stratford Festival's Playwrights Retreat. Mand is an alumna of the Bell Media Prime Time TV Program at the Canadian Film Centre, and a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada's Acting Program.
Most recently, Mand was a writer on the fourth season of the hit CTV crime drama Cardinal. She has new plays in development with the Stratford Festival and the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company. She is also the writer of the upcoming film adaptation of Harriet Alida Lye’s thriller The Honey Farm and is currently in development on her original series Nicholas with Alibi Entertainment.
Excerpt: Brontë: The World Without: The World Without (by (author) Jordi Mand)
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.
Charlotte stands, grabs paper and a quill, and writes.
We could keep our initials . . . Keep the first letters for each of our names. The rest can be whatever we like . . .
Charlotte 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 grabs the page from Charlotte.
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?
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: 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 —
Anne: Oh . . . Acton! Yes! Currer, Ellis, Acton Bell.
Charlotte writes the names out again. She holds it up for them to see.
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.
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 her sisters, and exhales heavily.
“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."
Geoff Dale, London Free Press
“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.”
Lynn Slotkin, The Slotkin Letter