Today I bring you the second installment of my series on my very Brontë summer. The first installment covered visiting the Brontë plaque in Brussels and my first afternoon in Haworth. The third and final installment will be posted Friday.
Stepping into the Brontë Parsonage Museum that morning, I felt as though I had gone back in time. Although other people lived in the Parsonage after the Brontës, the Brontë Society has since reverted the house to what it most probably looked like when the Brontës were living there. Each room is a treasure for Brontë enthusiasts, allowing them to peek into the historical reality of this famous literary family.
We paid for our tickets right next to the main door and were immediately ushered into the first room, Mr. Brontë’s study, which contains a number of artifacts of the patriarch of the family, helping visitors get a sense of who this “father of genius” (as one biography calls him) was.
Across from Mr. Brontë’s study is probably the most important room in the whole house: the dining room in which the Brontë sisters would write in the evenings. I felt chills in this room. To think that Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall were written there! The story goes that they would also walk around the small table and discuss their writing, leading to what I imagine was a rather fruitful writers’ group, to say the least. Legend also has it that Emily died on the sofa in the room.
In the kitchen, I saw a little informational sheet explaining that Emily used to often work there, the first I heard of Emily’s performing a number of household duties. On a little reproduction of one of Emily’s diary papers, I thought I could make out the words, “Apples for Charlotte.” Something about the simplicity of this scribble struck me. It suddenly made the sisters feel real, rather than mythic.
On the stairs leading to the second floor was a reproduction of the now-famous portrait Branwell Brontë painted of his three sisters. Charlotte’s room, which is quite large since she apparently expanded it, took the most space on the second floor. The room contained some of her personal possessions, including her honeymoon traveling outfit. It’s said that Charlotte was under five feet tall, but it’s hard to imagine how tiny she was without seeing some of her outfits and shoes.
Also on the second floor, Branwell’s studio showcased a selection of portraits he had painted. In this room, we had a nice chat with one of the staff members, whose favorite Brontë is Anne, about Branwell and Anne. Having just completed The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I was delighted to talk to someone about her work with such passion. The chat sealed the deal: Anne is my favorite Brontë.
Following Branwell’s studio, we visited the most impressive part of the museum: the exhibition, which chronologically told the Brontë story, beginning with Patrick’s origins in Ireland and leading through Charlotte’s death. Among the spectacular display were diary papers, first editions of the sisters’ works, and the actual tiny magazines that the siblings wrote as young teens.
What struck me most was seeing some of Emily’s handwriting. Never before had I seen so many tiny words scrawled so close together. The positively microscopic writing crammed on a piece of paper seems to befit her wild genius characterization, whether or not the characterization is actually true.
Among the other personal possessions were the writing desks of the sisters, complete with stationery sometimes, Emily’s christening mug, and Anne’s collection of stones from Scarborough. And they also had the collars of the family dog Keeper and Anne’s dog Flossy; the former was positively enormous, and I daresay I wouldn’t have wanted to cross that dog.
Some of the sister’s handicrafts, including paintings and sketches, needlework, and even some small boxes, gave us a better picture of just how talented these sisters were at more than just writing, and I realized then just how vast the literary and artistic output of this family was. Seeing their work in the environment that shaped it made it all come alive.
The whole region of Brontë Country revels in promoting the legacy of the three sisters. One brochure and map proudly proclaims, “Brontë Country: Find Your Inspiration.”
That is not an overstatement. I think anyone could be inspired walking in the region.
Haworth and the rest of Brontë Country boast a myriad of walks. Many of the ones around Haworth are long as they venture deep into the moors away from the highway. With the limited time we had (and my mom’s general lack of enthusiasm for hiking), we decided to just start walking and see how we go. We had been told that a little walk up Penistone Hill would give us a fantastic view of the moors, and so we decided to try it.
While walking around the area, we crossed paths with several locals, all of whom said a friendly “Hello” and commented on what a gorgeous morning it was, even though the weather was cloudy and windy. I suppose that it was a “beautiful morning” because it wasn’t freezing or raining.
Even without venturing deep into the moors, we got a sense of how that landscape shaped the works of the sisters, particularly Emily’s Wuthering Heights. Somewhere between the graveyard and the moors, I suddenly thought, “Wuthering Heights makes so much more sense now!” Something about seeing that unforgiving landscape helped the pieces of that strange novel fall into place. One local with whom we chatted was kind enough to point out Top Withens, the old farmhouse believed to be an inspiration for the setting of Wuthering Heights, to us in the distance.
The wind billowing around us, we walked a little bit to get a better vantage point. The vastness of the moors stretched out in front of us. Empty land. A lake. And that lone dark spot of Top Withens just barely visible in the distance. (I had to get out my bigger lens to snap this picture.)
Emily famously loved walking on the moors. Looking around, I tried to imagine a nineteenth-century woman, wearing a dress, walking in this vast land in the wind and potentially mud and rain. Visiting the Parsonage and walking up Penistone Hill, I had literally walked in the footsteps of the Brontës. The Brontë myth became more of a tangible historical reality.
If my trip to Haworth gave me this historical connection to the Brontë sisters, the next phase of my very Brontë summer would drop them right into the twenty-first century. Come back Friday to hear about that!
Have you ever had the chance to visit the home of or a museum dedicated to your favorite literary figure?