In Bronte countryJun 7th, 2009 | By editor | Category: City Culture, Lifestyle, The Literary world, Travel
For all those who have sighed over Heathcliff, Cathy, Rochester and Jane Eyre, Haworth is where they all come alive…
It is a bizarre feeling. I am standing in front of the oak cupboard painted with apostles that Charlotte Bronte described in Jane Eyre. I actually am, and a visit to Haworth in Yorkshire, where Emily, Charlotte, Anne and their brother Branwell lived with their father the reverend Patrick Bronte, is filled with such goose bump moments for Bronte fans.
The lines blur between fact and fiction as one recognises this and so many other things one had read of in their novels. A walk up the moors (an absolute must), and, I feel I have wandered into the pages of one of their novels. I wouldn’t be half surprised if Heathcliff came galloping down the windswept landscape, or Rochester.
Till they appear, it is only some sheep and birds for company. Our destination is a skeletal tree and a pile of stones, barely visible in the mist. That is Top Withens, where lie the ruins of a farmhouse, in a setting so truly bleak, desolate and savage that you know this must be Wuthering Heights. Flip to the opening pages of Wuthering Heights — (“Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling. ‘Wuthering’ being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed; one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun.”) — and you know you are standing right where Emily must have got her inspiration.
The Brontes are everywhere. Especially so on the beautiful moors. Ann, Emily and Charlotte regularly walked here. A chair-shaped rock, right by the beck (a small stream) is where the sisters rested and caught up with their muse. Of course, it is now called Bronte’s chair, and there is a Bronte waterfall and a Bronte bridge, too.
We are staying in a B&B called Aitches. It was built in the 1840s and one can’t help but think, surely, the sisters strolled past this way, and, who knows, were on nodding terms with those who lived here! A visit to a pub, and we learn that it is the very same one that Branwell frequented. It is a typical English village of cobbled streets, tea rooms, huddled-together-cottages, a cemetery and of course streets named after Haworth’s famous occupants who lived just around the corner in a Georgian stone house. They moved in, in 1820. And, thanks to the Bronte Society, the parsonage remains pretty much the way it must have been in their time.
Mr. Bronte’s book of Psalms with a magnifying glass beside it still lies on his desk by the fireplace. Most of the furniture we see at the parsonage was actually used by the Brontes. So, goose bump moments once more as I gaze at the sofa on which Emily breathed her last, or the piano which she played, or the rough kitchen table where she made bread. On the way upstairs is the clock that Mr. Bronte wound nightly before going to bed. The gowns Emily, Ann and Charlotte wore, the books they read, their needlework and locks of hair from Emily and Charlotte are some of the precious displays in the exhibition room. The stories the three sisters and their brother made up, of adventures in Gondal Land and Angria are there. Imagine being face to face with the handwriting of the Brontes.
We rest a while at the Bronte pew in the nearby church and pay our respects to Emily and Charlotte who are buried here. Ann was buried elsewhere. And, as a mark of respect to her, I buy Tenant of Wildfell Hall at the charming gift shop attached to the parsonage that sells Bronte memorabilia.
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