Monday, November 19, 2018

. . . And Bronte Country

[Programming note: At the beginning of this month (September 2018), I took a six-day trip to the U.K. I was on a mission. Yes, I was going for pleasure, but I was going to see specific things for specific reasons: places that I didn't get to see on my previous stays in the UK, places that have a particular connection to my own writing or things I'm particularly interested in (mostly, this is encompassed by four works: Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Harry Potter). I started in London, then went north, to Edinburgh and made my way back to London via Haltwhistle (to see Hadrian's Wall), Haworth (to see the Bronte parsonage), and Oxford. I'll be writing a blog post for each day.]

This is a continuation of what'll be a series of blog posts about my trip to the UK this September. Part 1 of Day 1 is herePart 2 of Day 1 is hereHere is Day 2. Here is Day 3. This is Day 4.

Partway through Jane Eyre, our heroine flees Thornfield Hall and ends up on the moors, alone and desolate:
There are great moors behind and on each hand of me; there are waves of mountains far beyond that deep valley at my feet. The population here must be thin, and I see no passengers on these roads: they stretch out east, west, north, and south — white, broad, lonely; they are all cut in the moor, and the heather grows deep and wild to their very verge. Yet a chance traveller might pass by; and I wish no eye to see me now: strangers would wonder what I am doing, lingering here at the sign-post, evidently objectless and lost. I might be questioned: I could give no answer but what would sound incredible and excite suspicion. Not a tie holds me to human society at this moment — not a charm or hope calls me where my fellow-creatures are — none that saw me would have a kind thought or a good wish for me. I have no relative but the universal mother, Nature: I will seek her breast and ask repose.
I struck straight into the heath; I held on to a hollow I saw deeply furrowing the brown moorside; I waded knee-deep in its dark growth; I turned with its turnings, and finding a moss-blackened granite crag in a hidden angle, I sat down under it. High banks of moor were about me; the crag protected my head: the sky was over that.
Charlotte Bronte knew whereof she spoke. She grew up in the parsonage at Haworth, in the Yorkshire countryside, alongside the windy, wild moors. Although her sister Emily is well known to have roamed for miles and miles across the moors, Charlotte and her other sister Anne also spent time in the wild country. So visiting this countryside, which is still not densely populated, is like stepping back in time and getting a glimpse into Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights.

And that is exactly why I chose to make Haworth one of my stops on my recent trip to the U.K.

I'd arrived the night before after dark and had done little more than get some food in the hotel's dining room and then go to bed. I woke the next morning ready to hit the streets of Haworth. Out my window, I glimpsed the narrow, picturesque main street of the town.

View out my hotel window.

It was looking to be another fine day, and I was determined to have myself some fun. I was eager to get to the Bronte Parsonage Museum as soon as it opened, but first: breakfast. Again, I was going to be doing some walking and needed sustenance. The meal was complementary, so I availed myself of the Yorkshire breakfast option. It sounded like a good idea at the time, though I was pretty sure even as I ordered it that I'd have trouble getting much of it into my stomach. Sure enough, though the cooking was great, an enormous plate of eggs, bacon, kippers, toast, etc., was just too much for me. I made a pretty game attempt, I think, and ate maybe half of what was on my plate. I tried, okay!

An expansive Yorkshire breakfast. 

Now fortified with food, I checked out of my room, left my bag, and started walking. The town of Haworth is very cute and very British:

Haworth's main street.

I just liked that it's "And Daughters".

 I hadn't realized that the main street of Haworth is actually on a steep hill, and my hotel was at the bottom. I mean, it wasn't super steep, and I'm spry enough that it didn't bother me much, but it was a definite hill. Up the hill I went, in search of the museum. Naturally, I managed to make a wrong turn and took the longer way around, but at last! There it was: the parsonage!

The parsonage is fronted by a small lawn and gardens, directly below which is the graveyard and the church. Patrick Bronte, father of Charlotte, Anne, Emily, and their brother Branwell, was the church parson; hence his residence in the parsonage and its proximity to the church. The family moved here when the girls were young. Having so many children, Patrick sent his daughters to a school for the children of not-so-well-off clergy. At this point, there were five daughters, and all but the youngest, Anne, went to the Cowan Bridge Clergy Daughters' School. Sadly, terrible living conditions led to the death of two of the girls, Maria and Elizabeth. The other two, Charlotte and Emily, were brought home immediately. This episode clearly is the inspiration for Jane Eyre's time at Lowood School.

The Brontes' mother took ill and died while they were young, as well. Their aunt came to help raise them. When they were older, the girls worked as governesses, and their brother, Branwell, worked on-and-off as a tutor. He was an "artistic" type and thought himself something of a genius. He also got tangled in an embarrassing love affair with the wife of one of his employers, which lost him and Anne their jobs. He became dependent on drink and was a drain on the family until he eventually died of his alcoholism at a very young age.

Meanwhile, the three sisters were beginning to write in earnest (all the siblings had written and drawn/painted since they were children). They started with a book of poetry (of which Emily's poetry stood out as the best). It was, in essence, self-published and didn't go anywhere. Then they began writing novels and submitting them to real publishers. Anne's and Emily's books were accepted, but Charlotte's was rejected, though with the caveat that later works would be considered. The later work was Jane Eyre, which was a massive success. Knowing that they would not be taken seriously if they openly wrote as women, the three of them wrote under pseudonyms: Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell

Eventually, their identities became known, and they became celebrities of a sort. Sadly, consumption took Emily and Anne much too young, and Charlotte died of complications from a difficult pregnancy (she married Arthur Nichols not long before her death).

Jane Eyre is my favorite novel, and the story of the Brontes has fascinated me ever since I first heard it. So I was gleeful at seeing the parsonage firsthand. Because of the [enforced] domesticity of most of their lives, this place really was the center of their world. It was interesting to see the place and get a feel for the atmosphere.

The parsonage is a stone building, not large but handsome. I understand that there wouldn't have been as many trees in the Brontes' time there. It would have been much more windswept. While you can see the church and graveyard today, they would have been much more evident in the Bronte's day due to the lack of trees. The wind off the moor would have been more evident, too.

I got all these impressions as I looked at the front facade. I'd see the sign that said "tickets this way", but I was so eager to get a first look that I did that first--you only need the ticket to go into the house, not enter the front garden. After I'd indulged myself a moment, I went to get my ticket.

Ticket in hand, I went in the front door, into the main hall of the house. It's not large, but again, gracious enough. Directly ahead, at the end of the hall, is a bright stone staircase leading upstairs, with a landing halfway up. It makes for an inviting space.

Not the best picture, I'm afraid; this is the main staircase.

The first room I went into was the dining room, which was where the Bronte sisters spent a great deal of their time writing and pacing around the table, thinking. Because the Brontes were so well-known, a lot of their belongings were saved. We have, for instance, the dining room table with an E etched into it (by Emily?). There is also the sofa where Emily is said to have died.

The sofa where Emily reportedly died.

I think if you view the full-sized image and look
closely, you can see the E etched into the table.

It's a small room, barely big enough, really, for the table and the sofa. It's definitively Victorian, with its tendency to fussiness, but for all that its a tidy space.

The same is true of the study across the hall, where Mr. Bronte carried out much of his curatorial work. On the shelf are copies of the early novels by the "Bells".

A copy of Jane Eyre by "C. Bell" on Mr. Bronte's mantel.

The next room is the kitchen, where Emily in particular did a lot of work, since she ended up staying at home for the most part, taking care of household duties. The Brontes also had a servant, Tabby. This would have been a warm space to sit back and relax by the fire, as well, and chat.

Across from the kitchen is the small room that belonged to Charlotte's husband, Mr. Nichols, and where he did his work. For whatever the reason, I didn't get a picture of the room. I really wish I had . . . Here, at least, is the sign on the wall beside the room. Of course, it's blurry. Oops.

Going up the stairs, you pass the clock that Mr. Bronte always wound on his way to bed every night. Continuing up, there is a small servants room at the top of the stairs, currently set up as space for art/special exhibits. Again, I didn't get any pictures. Well, I got one, but it had a weird reflection from the video that was presented in that room, so it's not worth sharing. But, uh, here is the clock:

The clock that Mr. Bronte wound every
night on his way to bed.

The next door along the landing is "Charlotte's Room", though it was occupied by various people through the years, including the Brontes' Aunt Branwell. When I visited, a dress and chemise said to have belonged to Emily were on display, as well as an array of absolutely spectacular bonnets owned by Charlotte, including her bridal bonnet:

Dress and chemise said to have belonged
to Emily Bronte.

Detail of Emily's lovely chemise.

Charlotte's bonnets.

Charlotte's bonnet.

Charlotte's wedding bonnet.

Detail of Charlotte's fabulous wedding bonnet.

Next to that room is a tiny room, barely big enough for a little bed stretched across its width under the window at the far end of the room. This room is associated most with Emily, and there are sketches of it in family artwork (all the Brontes were artistic as well as literary).


Next came Patrick Bronte's room. Towards the end of Branwell's life, when he was not doing very well, Patrick insisted that he sleep there in that room with him. So it was here that Branwell actually died.

The final room is Branwell's bedroom'/studio. When I was there, it had been interpreted in a really interesting way: usually, historical homes present tidy spaces, with beds made and clothes out of sight and books on shelves. In this case, the folks who had worked on To Walk Invisible, a BBC production about the Brontes, staged the room with loose papers and clothes and objects everywhere, as if Branwell had been living there yesterday and, not too surprisingly, wasn't very good at cleaning up. I like it a lot; it gave a different perspective.

Visitors pass through this room to enter what is now exhibit space (as I recall, this wing was added after the time of the Brontes). Here, there were many more personal items on display, like sewing and drawing boxes, letters, and drawings. There was a cabinet there that came from a nearby home and was the inspiration for a minutely-described cabinet that Jane Eyre finds in Thornfield Hall:

Apostles Cabinet described in Jane Eyre.
There is also the above autograph of "Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell", which the sisters gave, no doubt with their tongues in their cheeks. See above for a picture.

Here are a few items from the exhibit space:

First edition of Jane Eyre.

Emily's writing desk. 
Poetry by Charlotte, with sketches from
an imaginary characters.

Charlotte's paint box.
Having spent a wonderful few hours touring the parsonage, I spent a while in the gift shop. I wanted so many things but had to think of weight and breakability. I came away with an awesome, colorful, polka-dotted wool scarf, a few postcards and magnets, and some temporary tattoos with Jane Eyre quotes (!).

With my purchases in their paper bag clutched to my chest, I walked out of the museum like a kid out of a toy store. What to do next? Conveniently, there was a sign that pointed towards a path straight ahead, which appeared to my eyes to lead in the direction of the moors beyond town. So I started walking, and going through yet another sheep pasture (seriously though, the thing about sheep and England, it's real). I walked along, not knowing exactly where I was going but seeing hills up ahead that were covered in heather and looked like a place I wanted to go. I started down what turned out to be West Lane but turned back, thinking to head back to town, but then I saw a street breaking off to what I imagined was the west (it was actually south-ish): Cemetery Road. I again took a turn, this time a left onto Dimples Lane. It seemed the most direct way to get up the hill.

This was a twisty and fairly narrow road with no sidewalk or shoulder, so I kept a sharp eye out and had to step off into the heather once or twice. But I reached the top of the hill--Penistone Hill, as it happens, according to the sign--without incident.

It was cool and windy, and you know what? I know why the Brontes felt so connected to this landscape. It's dramatic--that's the best word for it. A sharp wind whipped across the hills, and the sun came in and out of the clouds, but there seemed no real threat of rain. The land was purple with heather and tall grasses.

I walked around, enjoying the moodiness of it all and trying to get pictures that did justice to the place (they don't quite) and still clutching my bag of goodies to myself. After a while, the wind and the chill got to be a bit too much, and it was time for lunch anyway. So I headed back down to the town and stopped into a cafe, where I got some not-so-great chili. From there, I decided to look for a statue of the Bronte sisters that was supposedly near a particular pub. I wandered around and around, up and down, and all over the place. I ended up stopping into various shops--a thrift store, a bookstore, a bakery, a chocolatier. I went down some cobblestoned side streets. I met a cat on a windowsill:

I ate some chocolates. I toured the graveyard and went into the church, where there's a plaque and chapel to the Brontes:

I had decided to try to take the steam train back to Keighley from Haworth, but with all my wandering, I didn't have *quite* enough time. So after all my wanderings of the delightful little town of Haworth, I went back the way I came, taking the bus to Keighley and walking to the train station. It was time to say goodbye to Bronte country.

The Journey

This journey--from Haworth to Oxford--was going to be the most difficult of all my U.K. journies. I could have taken different routes, but the timing was off, so my route involved 3 transfers and would take about, uh, five hours I think (four?). After taking the bus to Keighley, I took the train to Leeds, and thence to King's Cross (again), and then took the Tube to Paddington Station, where I took the train to Oxford. From there, I had to take a taxi to the hotel. That was the plan, and, spoiler alert, it all worked out. But holy smokes! It was very stressful.

The first transfer was fine. Taking the Tube to Paddington was no sweat. At Paddington, I must have been completely out of my head with exhaustion after four very, very long days, because I tried to go through a ticket gate that was exit-only. My ticket therefore got stuck. I had to get the gate attendant to open the box thingy so I could get it out. I then went through one of the entry gates, and realized upon entering that, oops, that was the entry for platform 14 and platform 14 ONLY. Does it say that anywhere? No. It says it's platform 14, but it doesn't say you can't access ANY OTHER PLATFORM EVER AT ANY POINT ONCE YOU PASS THE BARRIER, ABANDON ALL HOPE  YE WHO ENTER HERE. I had to ask the same gate attendant to let me out. The platform for my train hadn't even been announced yet; my plan had been to enter the platform area and wait there until it was announced. Now I headed vaguely in what I hoped was the right direction, and found a screen that I parked myself in front of. At last, it showed my gate, and off I went. I got on the train and, exhausted but pleased to be on the last leg of my journey, I settled in.

It was an uneventful train ride, and I got off at Oxford. I'd pre-booked a taxi for the trip from the train station, and I stood there in front of the station, at the only exit I could see, waiting and waiting. Mind you, it's nearly 10:00, it's dark, and I am tired and irritable. I waited for about fifteen minutes before saying screw it and just taking one of the taxis there at the taxi stand. I later got a message that my ride had been cancelled because they couldn't find me. REALLY? Did you even look? I was right there.

Anyway, I got to the hotel around 10:30 and checked in.

"You'll be on the third floor," I'm told. For you Americans, that's British for "fourth floor".

"Great," I say.

"The lift only goes to the second floor [i.e. third floor]."

Me: *Silent rage*

me in my head: What IS it with you Brits are your lack of lifts? Why does the lift only go to the second floor? Why? Why?!

Me out loud: "Fine."

Them: "Would you like help with your bag?"

Me, with crazy eyes: No! I'll carry my bag up the stairs MYSELF dammit, and I hope you see me struggle, and if you don't see it then know I SHALL STRUGGLE AND YOU SHOULD KNOW MY PAIN, GOD DAMN IT, AND PUT IN A GOD-DAMN ELEVATOR THAT GOES ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP FLOOR, FOR EFF'S SAKE.

Okay, I didn't say that last part, and I tried not to be rude, but I was just so done at that point that it took some self-control not to lash out. I was definitely thinking all those things, though. In any case, I took the lift to the second floor and hefted my bag up the last two flights of stairs myself, then stumbled into my room, washed up a bit, and went to bed.

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