‘The reader is shocked, disgusted, almost sickened by details of cruelty, inhumanity, and the most diabolical hate and vengeance, and anon come passages of powerful testimony to the supreme power of love—even over demons in the human form.’ So ran the review of Ellis Bell’s Wuthering Heights in Douglas Jerrold’s Weekly Newspaper in 1848, and Emily Brontë, the novel’s real author, clipped out that review and kept it in her desk until her death only months later. On 22 October 2014 students and staff from our first-year core module Reading English were able to see that desk (and even the sofa on which she died) on a suitably wind-swept visit to the Brontë Parsonage Museum, in Haworth, West Yorkshire.
Here, Level 4 students Megan Bagnall and Jessica Blain describe their trip:
The Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth: arguably the capitol of Brontë country in West Yorkshire. After travelling by coach, rather than horse and carriage, we arrived at our destination for an afternoon of education, enlightenment and, most of all, enjoyment. First stop: the Baptist Church for a talk on the Brontës,from Susan Newby of the Museum, mainly featuring Patrick, Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell. Capturing the attention of both students and staff, our guide into the Brontës’ lives was able to show a multitude of knowledge on the subject, giving a great amount of contextual information to all, some already known, and some a revelation. When you rarely looked up from your notepad, save for a few images of paintings or drawings of The Brontës and Haworth, it was as though you were back in the John Foster Building, listening to a guest speaker, asked to come in and share their fountain of knowledge in a less sleepy 9am Friday lecture.
Possibly my favorite part of this particular talk was hearing about how Patrick raised his children once he’d decided to bring them home from the brutal Cowan Bridge school for daughters of clergymen. He allowed the girls to sit in on Branwell’s lessons, giving them an education that most other girls would not have received. It was so interesting to hear about and to think about Patrick’s feminist tendencies. His daughters, I would imagine, are feminist icons for many, what with the time they battled to write and publish in, but never before had I realised that, of course, to be such successful feminists, they needed to be taught by one of the best!
Following the talk, we then entered the museum itself, where we could feast intellectually on all sorts of Brontë goodies. There was everything from furniture from the parsonage, to wedding bonnets, to letters from publishers and even small newspapers the children made for their toy soldiers. There is no doubt that the museum has strived to create a small pocket of a Brontë world, where visitors can come and admire and appreciate the lives that dedicated themselves to creating classics that were to be adored the world over, even if it may not have been in the authors’ lifetimes.
After lunch, the tour continued as we were taken to a graveyard situated not too far from the parsonage. This relatively small plot of land turned out to be humbling on an enormous scale when we were informed that between forty to sixty thousand people were buried there. It is difficult to describe what an overwhelming feeling swept over you at this point. The only way I could suggest to truly feel it would be to visit the parsonage and the graveyard itself as you’ll get a real understanding of the true scale and why it noticeably affected Emily’s work in particular.
Thankfully, there was just time to squeeze in another small talk before departing. This was more academic than the first, which was more context based. As always, there was a fight to squeeze feminism theory in right at the end… Here’s hoping it wasn’t foreshadowing our exam, later in the year!
And in true Brontë style, when it came to traveling home, we set across the moors on our return to Liverpool, the birth place of Emily’s character Heathcliff. Well I suppose that isn’t strictly true, but the coach driver’s scenic route on the way home added a polish to the trip that confirmed a new admiration for the literary giants; The Brontë family.
Thanks to Megan and Jess for writing this, to Susan Newby and everyone at the Haworth Parsonage Museum for such an interesting visit, and to Kate Walchester for organising it.