In 2010 when I stood in this room for the first time I was so overwhelmed I had to go straight to the pub afterwards for a double-whiskey. This is the living room in the Brontë Parsonage where Anne, Charlotte and Emily Brontë wrote at night by the fire. The housekeeper’s diaries recall the joyous sounds of the girls pacing around the table in circles talking through their novels before returning to their quills and ink. Oh to have been a moth on the wall listening to them untangle knots of Heathcliff and Rochester. The couch on the right is said to be where Emily died when she was thirty. The Brontë family story is infamous – the whole family died young except for Rev. Patrick Brontë. His correspondence talks of how he was haunted in his elderly years by the diminishing sounds of his daughters circling their writing desks at this table. The costumes on display in this photo are the ones worn by Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska in Cary Fukunaga’s stunning 2011 adaption of Jane Eyre.
The moors that sit behind the Brontë Parsonage in the village of Haworth are known as Brontë Country. These are the trails the Brontë sisters would wander and seek, especially Emily. They are stunning in the sunshine like this, especially in late summer when the heather is in bloom – but the moors are most atmospheric on windswept, dark days that make your skin prickle. A little waterfall, Brontë Falls, is tucked into a valley on the left – Charlotte would often walk there with her husband and unborn child. Further ahead the tiny dot on the horizon is actually two sycamore trees watching over the crumbling ruins of Top Withens, rumoured to be Emily’s inspiration for Wuthering Heights. Though the Brontë Society denies this, bless them, I feel it to be absolutely true. For the last six years this is where I flock to when I’m in England and am in need of a connection to something deeper, to remind myself what I’m made of and what’s important. I have never visited these moors and been unchanged by them or their stories.
If I could invite you to dinner, what would I say to you, Charlotte Brontë?
To begin with, I’d say happy 199th birthday.
I’d give you the clippings of heather I’ve pressed every year I’ve been to your moors to see it in bloom. I’d serve you my favourite tea in my best teacups, and try baking one of those fruit loaves I’ve read that you loved.
I’d do all of this no doubt building up my nerve, clutching my treasured 1920s copy of Jane Eyre as I finally might manage to thank you for how Jane and Bertha changed the landscapes of my mind over a century later, when I was 16…29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34.