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Haworth and the House of the Bronte Sisters

Dr. Srutimala Duara

We were in Bradford, so near to Haworth, the birth place of the famous sisters – Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte. I just couldn’t leave without visiting Haworth. The year was 2011.

The Brontë Parsonage Museum is maintained by the Brontë Society in honour of the famed Bronte sisters in their old home located in Haworth, West Yorkshire. It is an area covered in open, expansive moorland.

To one who has been long in city pent, 'Tis very sweet to look into the fair And open face of heaven, - to breathe a prayer Full in the smile of the blue firmament. ~ John Keats

The excitement was of a different kind for me. For my daughter, Raginie, it was just another place to see, but for me it was going down into the passages of history of English literature. The Brontes are writers of monumental stature and the novels and poetry written in Haworth during their short lives are amongst the greatest achievements in world literature of any period.

Haworth is simply breathtaking. The slopes with greenery that looked like a green carpet being rolled up and down, houses that seemed so out of this world, the wilderness, and the serenity of the countryside made me feel as if talking would destroy the charm. So, silently I sat and watched the lush landscape pass by.

Nor rural sights alone, but rural sounds, Exhilarate the spirit, and restore The tone of languid nature. ~ William Cowpe

Bronte Country is best described by Emily Bronte and in her novel Wuthering Heights.

“'Wuthering' being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun.”

We first stopped at Bronte Weaving Center, a place that I found in one of the brochures that I had picked up at our hotel. But it turned out to be just a shop; however the things they had were interesting with the Bronte sisters’ names, their home and their faces imprinted on most of the items. I bought a VCD of the life and home and the village of the Bronte sisters with the thought that my English major students might find it interesting.

Our next stop was at the house itself that was now transformed into ‘The Bronte

Parsonage Museum’ with an entry fee of 6 pounds. The maintenance is from the entry fees of the visitors. ‘The Bronte Society’ is an independent charity and was founded in 1893 to collect and preserve Bronte manuscripts, letters and artifacts, and to promote greater awareness of the Brontes’ lives and works. The Parsonage was donated to the Society and opened as a museum in 1928. The museum receives no regular funding and relies heavily on public support without which it would not be able to continue to conserve the Parsonage and its unique collections. Our poets and writers’ houses back in Assam could be transformed in a similar way. I always think about this whenever I visit the birthplace of an English writer. Their birthplaces are so well preserved – be it Wordsworth, Shakespeare in England or Washington Irving in the US – and now the Bronte house.

At the Entrance Hall we were informed that the Brontes came to Haworth in 1820 when Patrick Bronte was appointed Perpetual Curate of Haworth Church. Within a few years Mrs. Bronte and the two eldest daughters, Maria and Elizabeth, had died. For the remaining children, their personage home and its Yorkshire moorland setting were a profound influence, forming their characters and inspiring some of the most famous books ever written. The Parsonage remained their home for the rest of their lives. Patrick Bronte died in 1861 at the age of eighty-four, having outlived all his children. I wondered how lonely and sorrowful his life must have been. I felt it more so when I entered Mr. Bronte’s study room and learnt that he took many of his meals alone here. In old age he was described as sitting here ‘in a plain, uncushioned chair, upright as a soldier’ before the fire. In later life, he became almost blind. The magnifying glass he used for reading and many of his personal belongings are displayed here.

The dining room caught my attention as Charlotte, Emily and Anne did most of their writing here and the room was the focus of their creativity. Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and TheTenant of Wildfell Hall were written in this room. In the evenings, after the rest of the household had retired for the night, the sisters would read and discuss their writing while walking around the table. I tried to visualise the scene. The very place that I was standing was once occupied by the sisters and they had talked about their writings here. The writing slope used by Anne is on the dining room table and the rocking chair is the one in which she would sit with her feet on the fender. The room contains the sofa on which Emily had died. Over the mantle-piece hangs a copy of Richmond’s portrait of Charlotte. How Charlotte must have felt when she lost both her sisters and she had to be alone in this room once filled with their chats.

On 22 May 1850 Charlotte Bronte wrote about her dead sister Emily:

“For my part I am free to walk on the moors - but when I go out there alone - everything reminds me of the times when others were with me and then the moors seem a wilderness, featureless, solitary, saddening - My sister Emily had a particular love for them , and there is not a knoll of heather, not a branch of fern, not a young bilberry leaf not a fluttering lark or linnet but reminds me of her.”

I walked into the servant’s room, Charlotte’s room, Emily’s room, Mr. Bronte’s bedroom, leisurely taking in the ambiance of the rooms and the contents preserved with so much care. Charlotte Bronte had written, “…my home is humble and unattractive to strangers but to me it contains what I shall find nowhere else in the world – the profound, and intense affection which brothers and sisters feel for each other when their minds are cast in the same mould….”

I came back enriched, with my heart full with the feel of the place where the renowned Bronte sisters had lived and engaged themselves in their creative works.


[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Publisher.]


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