Saturday, August 03, 2013

Emily Bronte's Birthday Excursion

30 July would have been Emily Bronte's birthday.
How would she have spent that day?
Walking on the moors above Haworth, sketching and writing?

 Or at home in the Parsonage with her sisters and brother?

This year, the Bronte Society decided to commemorate the day with a special Excursion.
The Girl and I joined Emily on a trip from Keighley by steam train along the Worth Valley Railway, to Haworth.  On the train, we heard about the history of the railway-line in general, and trips taken by the Brontes themselves.
The event was filmed by a team from the University of Bradford who followed us around all day.
That's "Emily Bronte", in case you were wondering!
We were treated to a talk by the volunteer gardener, who has restored the Parsonage grounds using plants with which the Brontes would have been familiar.
And visited the wildflower meadow owned by the Bronte Society... where The Girl spotted the three sisters!
Then we walked up onto the moors through the churchyard, to learn more about the history of the village and the inspiration behind Wuthering Heights.  And I finally got it.  I have always preferred Charlotte's work:  Jane Eyre, and even more so Villette.  But Wuthering Heights?  I tried to read that novel so many times and gave up.  It took the recent film adaptation for me to understand the plot and appreciate the themes.
Standing in the churchyard, as the Education Officer described what Haworth was like in the 19th century, I understood why Emily wrote as she did.  The violence. The passion.  The anger.
There are 42 THOUSAND bodies buried in that one small churchyard.  The average lifespan was 19 years, a statistic skewed by the infant mortality rate.  The village lies downhill from the churchyard.  People were drinking water that had been filtered through the graveyard...
Can you imagine how many funerals the Rev Bronte conducted in his career?
How much death the sisters witnessed?

But the highlight of our day had to be the invitation into the library, where the Collections Manager showed us treasures from the Bronte collection:
  • A Little Book. 
  • A lock of Emily Bronte's hair, plaited into a necklace after her death.
  • A first edition of Wuthering Heights.
  • Sketches she made of her "pet" dog, an evil-looking hound if ever you saw one.  Straight out of Wuthering Heights!
And when I say we were shown them, I mean they were six inches from my hand because The Girl and I found ourselves right at the corner of the table, next to the curator. Just... wow!

It was the first time the Bronte Society has organised a tour of this kind and two more are promised next year. There is a tour of Ponden Hall (Thrushcross Grange) in September. If you can get there, you really should.


beate grigutsch said...

sounds gorgeous!
i had my troubles with wuthering heights too. from our modern point the story is rather strange....

Emma said...

What a wonderful day!

didyoumakethat said...

When I was a 20-year-old student, I spent a summer working in the Bronte parsonage. I went back there last year to stay in a B&B and research a novel I was trying (and ultimately failed) to write. I studied in their library! My entire life, I have been drawn back to Haworth and the moors. It's an extraordinary place. Beautiful, lonely, land locked, harsh... I absolutely love it. A very, very special place. My top tip is to get out onto the moors early in the morning, before the rest of the tourists. Staggering and humbling to be out there on your own.

Linda C said...

Between the ages of fourteen and eighteen I probably read this book once a month or so. I thought it was the most "romantic" book I had ever read. I don't know that I wanted to be Cathy (Catherine, actually) but I would have loved to have someone like Heathcliff "love" me so much, he would cry, "I cannot live without my soul." Now I think that was a terrible idea - Heathcliff as my idea of the romantic hero. I don;t think he would wear well. I have often thought it would probably not been so bad to have been with someone who was devoted to following sports teams. These folks are usually more devoted family folk.


Alice said...

Thanks for such an interesting post. You have painted a very vivid picture of the day. I'm glad you really enjoyed it.

I have always loved bleak and rugged landscapes (and dramatic weather). We will be in Cornwall soon and I'm really looking forward to visiting Cape Cornwall and Priests Cove, amongst other places.

Now I will add Haworth to my list of places to visit.

LinB said...

Place does play such a large part in literature -- we read to get a sense of place, mostly, because most of us never get to travel to the places about which we read. When we DO get there, you are very right: often the stories make so much more sense.

We lived for a few years in Milledgeville, Georgia, where Flannery O'Connor grew up; and where she set many of her odd character studies and short stories. Immersing oneself in the culture, and meeting members of the old families, made her stories so much clearer, and funnier, and more chilling.

acharmofmagpies said...

Sounds like a wonderful day! And lovely photos too.