Three sisters and a legacy of wonderful fiction, and all written by three women who lived in a quiet, out of the way village in Yorkshire – The Bronte sisters.
I had always imagined Parson Bronte’s daughters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, living in remote, windswept Haworth, in a damp, dreary stone cottage with no neighbours, confined to indoors and infinite boredom as the rain and sleet swept over their abode from the moors that were like a lonely and fierce moat oppressing them.
I was wrong, well, mostly.
Even though on the early spring day I visited – the village was tempered by misty rain, I discovered a charming village, much the same as it had been when the three literary sisters lived there in the early 19th century. The village is situated on
the eastern slope of the Pennines, located close to the river Worth. Yorkshire has retained many fine villages and most set like Haworth in glorious, wild nature precincts. It provides a landscape that was ripe for three imaginative young women to draw dramatic, romantic tales from and set them to paper.
A long, narrow cobblestone street rises from a sharply dipped valley and slim residences line the street locked in by little shops, cafes and boutique stores. Cafes are full of chattering folk and mothers wheel their prams up the steep thoroughfare.
It is this road that the ‘girls’ would have trod in sturdy boots, and there’s the local post office where Charlotte sent her manuscript of Jane Eyre under the pseudonym Currer Bell. In fact the three sisters took the Bell name, Emily was Ellis and Anne was Acton Bell, which veiled their gender – in a time when it wasn’t seemly for women to write novels.
The Brontes arrived at Haworth from Thornton in April 1820 and settled into the parsonage. Patrick Bronte outlived his six children (two daughters died in 1825), his wife, the three daughters and son Bramwell who was a loving brother but a troublesome son. He lived a complicated life and through drunkenness and the use of opiates his health declined and he died in September 1848. In December the same year Emily Bronte died and a year after, Anne passed away in the seaside town of Scarborough. She was buried there to spare their father from burying yet another one of his children.
The paintings above are rare and were painted by Branwell Bronte. The one of the three sisters on the left featured Branwell at the back of the composition but he painted himself out. The picture on the right is of Charlotte.
So, the lives of the Bronte sisters weren’t long. They were well-educated by their father, a man whi crusaded for better education for the village folk and also better sanitation for the poor village of Haworth. \
The sisters also spent time in boarding school and their lively minds fed off each other creatively as they wrote together in their home by the Moors.
Today the parsonage is a museum of charm that invites visitors to look around and see just how they lived. The dining table is most evocative, it’s where the girls would gather to talk and write and walk around reading aloud to each other. The table is in the parlour, as is the couch where Emily died.
There is a collection of personal items such as purses, books, modest pieces
of jewellery and clothes owned by Charlotte – the last to live in the house
as a married woman.
Charlotte – great and small
There’s a dress on a stand that she wore which is fit for a child, so small with the tiniest waist. And shoes of soft leather like ballet slippers – yet again, minute. Charlotte was only 4 foot 10 inches (147cm), a tiny woman, constrained by her life and times but with great ambitions. One of the artefacts on show is a book so tiny it would fit in the palm of a small hand, in script almost unreadable because of its size, which was written by Charlotte, part of her obsession with all things secret and tiny.
I enjoyed the house and the welcoming shop where you can’t help but pick up a fresh new copy of one of the Bronte’s novels. I settled for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall written by Anne Bronte.
It was Charlotte who lived the longest in Haworth, living in the parsonage until her death at age 39 in 1855. She married Arthur Bell Nicholls a year before her death.
Literary giants in their own time and beloved authors down the years, the Bronte, were three formidable sisters. •
Writer, Bev Malzard returned to Sydney to binge on all the movies made from Bronte books. It’s still a toss up with Jane Eyre – the Joan Fontaine or the Mia Wasikowska (as Jane) which is her favourite. Which is yours?
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