It's a gray, dismal, rainy day in northern England. What a perfect time to visit that bastion of gothic girlhood--where the Brontë sisters lived, wrote, repressed their emotions and most of them died. Haworth is the ideal location for romantics who have read and loved Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights or Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I am a Brontë nut, and, dreaming of the wild and passionate character of Heathcliff, I arrive in front of the old Brontë homestead. I am immediately swept back l50 years in time.
It's Sunday and in front of the stone church, where the Brontës' austere father, Reverend Patrick Brontë, presided, there is a local band accompanying a modern-day preacher. I can picture the three little girls standing here, enthralled. The parishioners look down at their well-worn song books, and they begin to sing.
It's these tombstones that fueled the girls' imaginations, offering up character names and telling tales of infant mortality, typhoid and personal tragedy.
The Brontë home, otherwise known as The Parsonage, is open to tourists. Inside, everything has been preserved intact. There's the piano the girls played, the dining room table which Charlotte, Emily and Anne circled as they read and critiqued each othres' writing at night. I remember the impact the house had on Emily:
I sigh at the sofa where Emily died, concealing her tuberculosis until hours before her demise. And there's the back kitchen, which Charlotte described nostalgically in a letter to Emily in l843:
We visit Charlotte's room with her tiny, delicate dresses, mittens and boots. Perhaps the greatest thrill is looking at the astounding books the girls wrote as children. They are about an inch-and-a half tall, covered with thousands and thousands of words in handwriting so minuscule that the girls almost went blind from creating them.
The locals don't like to speak ill of the Brontës, but the pub manager does give us a hint of what went on back in those Victorian days.
By now the Sunday service has ended, and we enter the dark, dank church. A group is gathered in sad silence near the main altar, and a plaque informs us that this is where Charlotte and Emily are buried, under the flagstone.
Because we have arrived on a Sunday, it's hard to find anyone to speak about the Brontës, but I did manage to get Robert Barnard, chairman of the Brontë society, on the phone. He has a theory about why there's still so much interest in the Brontës after l50 years.
Although it is now a popular tourist destination, the town of Haworth still has the original shops, the cobblestone streets and the school building where Charlotte taught. On the outskirts of the city are bridges, castles and buildings that inspired the settings in many of the Brontë novels. But there's nothing quite like taking off your shoes and running through the moors that Emily loved so well.
This is Judie Fein, in literary heaven in Haworth, for the Savvy Traveler.
For More Information
Want to take your own literary tour?
Bookadventures.com offers literary tours, including:
The Literary Traveler is a quarterly newsletter where you can "explore the world of your literary imagination." A variety of literary tours throughout the United States are described.
InfoHub offers several packages, with literary tours throughout England.
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