Until I was awakened at 1 PM in my pajamas, I had no idea how little I knew about the Brontës.
|Bronte Parsonage Museum, a photo by Man Alive! on Flickr.|
I was recovering from a busy New Year’s Eve by sleeping the day away when my friend Corrie knocked on the door saying something to the effect of, “We’re going to Haworth right now. Do you want to join us?” I didn’t even know what Haworth was, but as soon as she said it was the home of some famous British writers I was jumping out of bed and slapping clothes on.
My friends and I drove an hour and a half down windy, drizzled roads through the kind of wild moorland that makes the imagination race, and ended up in the picturesque village of Haworth. After paying-and-displaying in the visitor’s carpark we made our way up to the Brontë Parsonage Museum to learn more about the remarkable family that changed English literature.
|05may 148, a photo by charlottel on Flickr.|
Three Poor Sisters
As I say, I had no idea how little I really knew about the three famous sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë. They wrote some of the greatest classics ever (Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall come to mind), but I knew little about the women themselves besides the fact that all three lived short lives with their parson father. I pictured three pale-faced spinsters scratching away with quill pens, quietly dying of some loathsome disease.
That picture, while accurate in some respects, discounts the very real lives these three led.
The parsonage is rather small, but chock full of fascinating information. A visitor walks through a series of rooms that have been restored to look much as they would have in Charlotte Brontë’s latter days (she was quite the interior designer, remodeling and redecorating several rooms).
Here you see the dining room where the sisters penned their greatest works.
Imagine the scene—three talented authoresses sitting around the same table, swapping ideas, critiquing lines of dialogue, Emily getting characterisation advice from Charlotte and Charlotte stealing a line from Anne. As a writer I find the image scintillating. The exchange of ideas would have been a great thing to watch.
Then there's the kitchen, where you can see the poky little fire Emily had to cook over when she took over housekeeping duties after her mother and aunt’s deaths.
Upstairs are the private apartments where members of the family lived and died. There’s the patriarch of the family, the Irishman who changed his name from Brunty to Brontë and outlived every member of his immediate family. There’s the mysterious brother, Branwell, who died after what seems like a life wasted on mediocre art, drugs, and alcohol. And then there is Charlotte’s room. She was the last of her siblings to die, and enjoyed less than one year of happy marriage before dying of tuberculosis and/or complications in pregnancy.
|By Patrick Branwell Brontë (died 1848) |
[Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I learned a lot about the Brontë family that day, picking up various impressions from the size of a room, pencil marks on a nursery wall, a pair of spectacles, a dainty parasol, an unused baby bonnet.
They seem to have had lives as tragic as the characters in their dramatic novels, but at the same time there is a sense of quiet beauty in their lives. Despite their narrow circumstances, cooped up in a tiny house beside a creepy graveyard in the midst of barren moorland, their imaginations soared and took them to places far beyond the light of experience.
Emily said, “I have dreamed in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind.” Even a backwater little place like Haworth couldn’t stop her from dreaming, and sharing her dreams in a world where female authors were likely to meet with prejudice.