For Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre enthusiasts traveling to Haworth, England, the hometown of Charlotte and Emily Bronte is a kind of pilgrimage to a literary shrine. The house where they lived and worked is located at the summit of a long, narrow, steep cobblestone road. This street is lined with quaint little gift shops, nineteenth century stores and teahouses. I spent hours there talking to the locals as I feasted on scones, puddings and all sorts of English desserts while throwing back pots of tea.
The Bronte house/parsonage is now a museum and is handsomely decorated with nineteenth century furniture, white washed walls, carpets and paintings. Some of the better pieces such as the dining room table were brought from the money Charlotte earned from her success with Jane Eyre. In fact, my main focus was primarily the dining room where Charlotte, Emily and Ann used to spend their evenings processing their projects and writing with one another. They had a ritual of walking around the table planning their current and future novels.
On the side of the dining room was the black sofa where Emily was supposed to have died of consumption. Not resting and doing her household chores despite her family’s protest, she refused to see a doctor until two hours before she drew her last breath. That passive suicide in my book, or she was identifying too strongly with Cathy, her infamous character from her only novel, Wuthering Heights, published the year previously.
Wanting to see what it was like to write in the presence of this sacred creative place, I sat down on the floor in the corner of the dining room sectioned off by a velvet rope, and took out paper and a pen. The quality of my resulting work wasn’t any competition for Charlotte and Emily, but my writing was certainly flowing. Maybe I was channeling in some of that Bronte genius.
Upstairs in Charlotte’s bedroom, you can see the actual letters she wrote to the man she eventually married, Arthur Belle, the curator, who was helping her ailing father, who was also going blind. She had refused Belle’s first proposal because he wasn’t her romantic hero type she wrote about in her novels and probably longed for. Studying his picture, I didn’t understand why she gave him such a hard time. He appeared attractive enough and seemed like a decent fellow with a career and obviously, very much love in with her. I guess Charlotte must have eventually seen it my way because after his second proposal following the death of her siblings, she did marry him. As it turned out, she enjoyed being married as expressed in much of her correspondence to her friends, which was displayed in the glass cases.
Despite her happiness, her health deteriorated after the wedding. It was heartbreaking to see her handwriting and tone of the print weaken. She died nine months after her wedding. Charlotte was pregnant at the time, which apparently took a physical toll on her. I couldn’t stop thinking how tragic it was that she finally found love and happiness and then died.
To escape from so much sadness emanating from the house, I headed out to the moors. I retraced the path through the cemetery in front of the house, walked so many times by the Bronte sisters. To see and smell the landscape of the desolate beauty of the sweeping Yorkshire Moors is to understand the Bronte sisters' passion and motivation to write about it. I went back everyday taking in the spectacular view, breathing in the perfume-scented air, picking the precious, notorious purple heather that has since become a permanent fixture in my vase on my refrigerator in America – so far away from the storybook town of Haworth and the glorious moors.