At the beginning of February, I took a trip with a bookish friend so we could geek out over the home of the Brontë sisters in Haworth, Yorkshire. Charlotte, Emily and Anne were all intelligent and accomplished writers, who penned literature that is both descriptively local and incredibly universal in the presentation of human relationships. In preparation, I reread Wuthering Heights, the literary classic about how people with too much time and too little sense make each other miserable. Miserable to death.
When we arrived at Haworth, there was snow covering the hilltops. The first time I encountered weather cold enough to wear my winter coat, and I had left it at home. Foiled!
Because I am a huge geek, we left to arrive when the museum opened. Be warned, fellow travelers, that while the museum opens at 10am, the washrooms are closed until 11! But the kind lady at admissions directed us to a nearby cafe, so we walked down a cobblestone street, found the toilet, then enjoyed coffee and pastries before getting back on track with our mission to immerse ourselves in literary wonder.
The parsonage where the Brontës lived has been lovingly and thoroughly restored to historical accuracy. The paints and wallpapers have all been matched based on records and scientific analysis. The collection of original furniture, papers, manuscripts and art is staggering; the care that has been taken to preserve and restore with as much precision as possible shows the devotion that the Brontës have inspired in their fans and followers.
It was exciting to discover what accomplished artists the sisters were; although I knew they had been governesses and that requires some artistic skill, the drawing and painting on exhibit was really beautiful. Although their brother Branwell had a short-lived and not particularly successful career as a portrait artist, the displays show that the sisters were keen artists and Charlotte in particular had great skill. As children, the siblings used to create miniature books – and although the scale is hard to tell from this picture, they made these tiny manuscripts with incredible detail.
Because there are so many deeply personal artifacts – diaries, letters, clothes – you get a little bit of a sense of the character of the sisters. That they cared for each other deeply, that they were in turns both sensible and adventurous, that they were highly industrious, and that Charlotte at least had a sense of humour.
Right outside the parsonage’s front door is a graveyard – a site that was actually the key source of pollution in Haworth village in the mid 1800s. So much of the atmosphere of the novels is explained by the constant proximity of death and these large tombstones – the trees were added later as a means of helping reduce the pollution. Many of the rooms from the parsonage, including Charlotte’s bedroom and the dining room, have windows that look out on the graveyard.
After our visit to the parsonage, we obviously needed a hearty meal. Luckily there is a pub down the road, the same pub that Branwell Brontë frequented.
We sat next to a roaring fire and enjoyed a hearty meal to brace us against the Yorkshire chill.
Well fortified, we walked through the village – which is really quaint and everything a tourist could ask for. The shops clearly embrace the Brontë heritage.
An inspiring and educational pilgrimage. I’m not the only one who thinks so…here is what Virginia Woolf thought of her trip to the Parsonage: