“The moors seen at a distance, broken into cool, dusky dells, but close by great swells of long grass undulating in waves to the breeze.” Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte.
The first time I read Wuthering Heights I was thirteen years old. It was unlike anything else I had read before, and I was mesmerised. It was not an easy read, containing many scenes of brutality and unlikable characters. Brooding northern skies and foreboding moorland are the backdrop to this celebrated story of intense love which survives death. My thirteen-year-old self was captivated by the character of Heathcliff: wronged, maligned; the victim child turned vengeful man and romantic hero. I read it again a decade later and my take on it changed somewhat: the woman saw Heathcliff’s brutality, raw, and minus the romanticised notions of the teenaged girl. I have read Wuthering Heights maybe five times in my life, and on each occasion I have read a different story: time – and living in the world – changes our responses as readers, and language resonates in new ways. One thing that has remained constant, reading after reading, is my sense of the great beauty and power present in the descriptions of the landscape.
‘My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath.’
”I shall never be there but once more when I die…..and shall remain there forever.
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
‘In summer, Miss Catherine delighted to climb along these trunks, and sit in the branches.’ Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
The Bronte sisters, Emily, Charlotte and Anne, are amongst the best-known authors in English literature. They lived for most of their lives in Haworth, west Yorkshire, where their father was vicar of the parish church. The parsonage was the place where Wuthering Heights was written, and it is clear to see how the surrounding moors and heathland inspired such a dark, gothic and intense story of passion and extremes.
This is not a blog about English literature or even about history; it is, like my others, me sharing with you an experience and my impressions. The Bronte sisters are fascinating characters as writers and as women, and their personal stories hold their own tragedies which are equal to those of some of their characters. The name of Bronte is synonymous with Haworth, but the place has charms of its own to recommend it to visitors.
‘Bronte Country’, as Haworth and its environs is known, has not changed much in appearance since the time of its most well-known residents. It goes without saying that the literary connection attracts visitors from all over the globe; another notable attraction is the restored railway with operational steam trains which pulls in hundreds of 1940s vintage enthusiasts every year (more about them in a future diary entry).
Haworth’s main street (it is actually called Main Street) is home to some lovely shops, amongst them a vendor of occult services, a lovely tea room and various arts and crafts gift shops. The Cookhouse is a friendly attractive café which offers a good range of veggie/vegan/gluten free lunch options. It can be hard to get in anywhere at busy times as Haworth is essentially a one-street village; it can be a bit frustrating, but better that than sacrificing its character on the altar of commerce.
The cobbled length of Main Street rises at a fairly steep gradient towards the Parish Church of St Michael and All Angels. This newer building has replaced the original church where Reverend Bronte presided. I was a tad disappointed when I realised that it was not possible to see the Bronte tomb. A plaque indicates the place where the family lies buried below this newer building, which was raised above the level of the old . Anne Bronte is buried not with her sisters at Haworth Church, but at Scarborough, where she died whilst on holiday, hoping that the sea air would restore good health. The tragedy of it all………. You couldn’t make it up! (OK, you could.)
Haworth parsonage is situated close to the church and now serves as the Bronte Museum. Sadly, I can’t show any photographs of the interior or exhibits, as photography is not allowed and this rule is strictly enforced by the vigilant staff there. Some of the family’s original furniture has been purchased by the Museum (at great expense) and has been set up as it was thought to have been when the family lived there. The couch upon which Emily died is in situ in the front parlour, which is where the sisters are said to have shared their ideas and written their novels at the table. Some of the exhibits are fascinating, including several items of the sisters’ clothing which demonstrates how tiny they were. The place is well worth a visit.
A narrow path between the museum and church took me to to a public footpath leading out into the fields and from there to open moorland. On a windy day beneath a heavy grey sky it is very easy to make a connection to the inspiration for Wuthering Heights. This is a harsh place where the forces of nature rule.
On the way back, I met a beautiful horse whose name I didn’t quite catch when she introduced her splendid teeth to my arm. It was only a slight graze, so no harm done, and it was entirely my own fault for not offering her a treat of some kind – or so I was advised by a fascinating local woman who witnessed the equine assault. Apparently, the horse is usually very sweet. I am certain this is true and that her out-of-character behaviour was the result of the powerful energies of the landscape. After all, even Heathcliff was sweet once………..
‘On one side of the road rose a high, rough bank, where hazels and stunted oaks, with their roots half exposed, held uncertain tenure.’
‘I wish you were a mile or two up those hills. The air blows so sweetly.’
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte