Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Reader, I loved them: A trip to Haworth

Photo from the Bronte Parsonage Museum website

Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Strange, dusty forenames combined with a rather simple surname, that wouldn't mean anything to us today. Which, well, is a testament to what the writers behind these names achieved. There are very literally three great women behind these names- Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë. 
    I do not doubt that everybody knows exactly who these sisters are, and the great pieces of literature that they between them achieved. Amongst their many books, poems, essays and publications come the most famous pieces- Charlotte's Jane Eyre, Emily's Wuthering Heights, and Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. 
  The sisters lived with their father in the Parsonage at Haworth, Yorkshire, up on the moors in a small town. It was far from idyllic. The death rate was abnormally high; the graveyard that the parsonage overlooked was overflowing with flat gravestones and the social class was low. It is easy to imagine them, wandering through the small corridors of the parsonage, looking out onto the gloomy moors, past the graves, and thinking up the stories that would one day end up on my bookshelves.
  The Reverend Patrick Brontë outlived all of his children. Emily and Branwell died within weeks of each other at the young ages of 30 and 31; Anne died the following May, and Charlotte, tragically, only a year into her marriage and pregnant, at the age of 38.
  In their short lives, these women created pieces of fiction that shocked and enthralled their contempories, with honest, violent, dark and passionate scenes; with women becoming heroines through their own acts of courage, and strength. 
     Jane Eyre changed my life, Wuthering Heights changed my heart, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall changed my head. I'm confident that there are many woman, and folk alike reading this who are strongly agreeing out loud, in between swigs of tea (Readers, I imagine you all drink tea whilst reading our blog). I mean...JANE EYRE. She's sassy, right? But she's resilient. She's stalwart. Nothing flutters about Jane Eyre- no pale hand flies to the forehead. She goes through agony but comes out, strong, alone. Like she says- oh, there are so many lines from this book I could quote, lines I have muttered to myself, brows furrowed when I need to believe it-
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” 
“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.” 

       Wuthering Heights taught me another great lesson. From Jane, I knew that to be independent, to be strong, to be equal to another was important. Wuthering Heights taught me to love- love with passion, with strength, and without fear. Obviously, it didn't turn out great for Cathy and Heathcliff. But every turn of the page, the idea grew in my mind- to be loved like that. To love in such a way! How Emily put herself in the place of the two lovers, how she wrote their agony, their power, their hold over each makes me wonder. It is both terrible and great.
   The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was the most recent of the trio that I read, and I cannot advise people more to read it, to read it and to be amazed at how powerful the feminist messages are, how tragic the severe lack of women's rights were, and how brave Anne was to tackle them at a time when they were not to be tackled. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall avoids the wild darkness of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Anne, I would argue, is the most intellectual of the three- her pen seems steadier, more eloquent, and, in a way, bolder in what she addresses. 
 Ok- the reviews are over.
Sorry! I get carried away when talking about the Brontës. Anyway, the whole point of the blog is...I went to their old home in Haworth! 

 This was my view from the top of the main street. Catherine, the Vintage Twins resident photographing wizard, didn't accompany on this trip, so we didn't get many photos, and photography is banned within the Parsonage itself. 

   The first thing we did on arrival was head to the Parsonage Museum. I got attacked by a cat on the walk up there, as I lingered by the graveyard, taking in my first glimpse of the house. Inside, I got momentarily distracted by the lure of the shop, before heading inside. If you remember our blog on Elizabeth Gaskell's House, you'll remember how we adored how they had recreated Gaskell's world, even down to the wallpaper that covered the walls. The Parsonage museum did exactly the same- there were moments when I was so engrossed with the house, the objects, the room in which all their books were written (a diagram from Emily's journal tells us this!) and the sofa on which Emily died, I half expected to turn a corner and seen a sister there, or to feel the brush of a petticoat as I swept past one on the stairs. My poor boyfriend had to put up with me constantly delighting over every object, reading every letter twice, and doubling back through displays to check I hadn't missed anything. 
The museum assistants brought everything to life, and I learnt more about my heroines than I ever have before. From toy soldier battles, to little books, to language lessons, love lessons, paintings, poems, privileges, sermons, sewing, travels, teachings, handmade bonnets, perfectly preserved petticoats...Reader, I fell in love. 
   What I loved so much is that...well, it all happened in that house. They left, but they came back. They lived a little, but where they truly lived was in their own wild creativities, within their close companionship...and they created something lasting.

 Please visit
to find out more about the Parsonage Museum...and the wonderful Bronte Society!

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