Cork actress Maxine Linehan is in a better position than most to channel the spirit of Charlotte Brontë.
The Newry-born former lawyer, who moved to Rochestown in Cork when she was eight and attended Coláiste Mhuire Secondary School in Crosshaven, has lived for 10 years in New York.
Her new one-woman play, Brontë: A Portrait of Charlotte, opened off Broadway on Wednesday.
It was while researching her role that Linehan discovered a unique connection to the Brontës.
“I found out that Patrick [Emily and Charlotte’s father] was born in Rathfriland just outside Newry,” she said. “I know that part of the world pretty well, although I haven’t lived there for a long time, but I never knew this.
“And then, as I delved further, I discovered that my mother’s brother-in-law, Seán McClory, has an ancestor called Alice McClory, who was Charlotte Brontë’s grandmother.
“So on top of everything, I’m kind of related to the Brontës,” she said laughing. “I can’t claim direct lineage but my first cousins are descendants and I’m very proud of that.”
This intensely emotional play is an often funny but more often sad account of one day in the Jane Eyre author’s life as she reflects on her grim prospects in the isolation of the Yorkshire moors after burying the last of her siblings.
Describing this as her dream role, Linehan studied dance with Aruba Coughlan at the Cork Dance Company and acting with Marion Wyatt before moving on to study law. Her first professional role was in the Irish Operatic Repertory Company’s production of The Sound of Music at the Cork Opera House when she was 17.
But she has never looked back since leaving the legal profession after her London company transferred her to their New York office which is why she feels a kinship with Charlotte Brontë and the manner in which the author’s career was never fully realised.
“She tries to keep writing while she takes care of her father. But she never got to focus on it. It would be like me being forced to live in a place without theatres.
“The Brontës existed in this tight network. Charlotte always said she would never have been able to write Jane Eyre without Emily. They would bounce ideas off one another, spend evenings reading what they’d written that day.
“When all her sisters were gone, she lost all that. But if she’d gone to London, she could have written so much more.”
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