Top Withens, Haworth - the alleged inspiration for Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights

200 years later: In search of Emily Brontë

2018 is the celebration of Emily’s birth and there is no better time to visit Haworth and the Parsonage, the home of England’s most celebrated literary family.  Emily’s bicentenary is being curated by Lily Cole; the film maker, writer and actress. Our Blue Badge Guide, Johnnie Briggs is from Yorkshire and has been taking groups on Brontë tours since 2012.

“Forget your preconceptions.  The story of this family is not one of tragedy, of misery, or of despair.  This is a story of love, of courage, of a home and of hope. Yes, tragic events happen, but that is not the important part of this story.  It is what they do when their backs are against the wall, it is how they take their place in world and how they put their values into action. It is all this that defines this family.

Parsonage Museum, the home of the Brontë sisters

Parsonage Museum, the home of the Bronte sisters

Emily is best known for her novel, ‘Wuthering Heights’ and for her poetry.  Emily, like all of her sisters and her brother, wrote poetry throughout her life.  Emily’s Gondal poems are shared with her sister Anne and they paint such a vivid picture of her imagination and reflections on her world.  With an absence of Emily’s letters, Winifred Gerin, the great Brontë biographer, uses her poetry as a window on her thoughts, hopes, fears and emotions.  If you are a Brontë fan, then I would recommend her books to you.

We cannot separate Emily from the Haworth moors, the ‘Wild Workshop of her imagination’. Charlotte’s letter to Mr Williams after Emily and Anne’s death, reminds us that…

‘Emily had a particular love for them and there is not a knoll of heather, not a brand of fern, not a young bilberry leaf, not a fluttering lark or linnet, but reminds me of her’.

But perhaps the best way to discover Emily is to come and visit her home and walk in the landscape that she loved in the company of a Blue Badge Guide.

Part of the legendary Pennine Way footpath, taken in the Yorkshire Dales

There are at least three elements to a perfect Brontë Day.

  1. A guided tour that explores the story of this wonderful family, one that uses their letters, poetry and writing to weave the story into the fabric of the times.  This takes in the key Brontë sites, the Church, School rooms, meadow and the top of Haworth. This is the perfect prelude to visiting the Parsonage Museum.
  2. A guided visit of their home, now the heart of the Brontë Society, The Parsonage Museum.  My favourite object and one that I would encourage you to look out for is a tiny drawing. It was made by Charlotte when she was fourteen and it is an image of her mother, drawn from memory, some nine years after her mother’s death.  It is simple and yet so poignant.
  3. A guided walk onto the moors to have a conversation in the landscape that inspired them.  There are all kinds of walks to suit all kinds of starting points and footwear. The important thing is to experience the moors and get a sense of the ‘wild workshop of their imagination’.”

High waving heather, ‘neath stormy blasts bending,
Midnight and moonlight and bright shining stars;
Darkness and glory rejoicingly blending,
Earth rising to heaven and heaven descending,
Man’s spirit away from its drear dungeon sending,
Bursting the fetters and breaking the bars.

Emily Brontë 1836

 

Blue Badge Guide Johnnie Briggs with the film maker, writer and actress Lily Cole

Blue Badge Guide Johnnie Briggs with the film maker, writer and actress Lily Cole