I have read all the Bronte’s books and yes, I admit I was a little fanatical about them once – in a gloomy, self-searching way. My son and I visited the Haworth Parsonage where the sisters and their brother grew up when he was four – more memorable for him skewering himself with a stick that morning and then trapping his head between two railings on the tour of the Bronte’s home, than the enchantment of being in a place of historical literary significance.
Haworth, on the Pennines in West Yorkshire, I remember as an odd little place. Visiting the village on a Summer’s day might have offered a less depressing impression than the one I received in Autumn, so do try to make it a sunny one, if you plan a visit. Grey skies hanging over the lumpy landscape and melancholy stone and slate buildings added to the already bleak atmosphere I had imagined whilst reading Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and did not endear me to this particular corner of the world. My own melancholy at that time may have contributed to my sense of the place too, my empathy for the sisters’ turbulent emotions solidified.
The village, obviously cleaned up for the tourists, with all signs of it’s horrifying industrial history polished and brushed under a green, grassy, pruned carpet for the thousands of yearly visitors, maintained its cobbled streets and promoted Bronte-themed ‘attractions’ which edged on the fringes of tastelessness. The Old Apothecary, Emily’s Tea-room, Heathcliffe’s Hair Salon (OK that’s not a real one!) exploited the Bronte connection in an otherwise off the beaten track village that would ordinarily have faded into obscurity. With a life expectancy of 24 during the early nineteenth century and its relative isolation it was doomed, like many weave towns of Northern England but ‘exploitation’ rejuvenated and preserved it and adopted it’s literary heritage in a very British way.
I believe it has improved it’s image, moved along with the times, the big boys in the purveyance of coffee have moved in. It does seem to be a brighter, more celebratory atmosphere as I Google it now, from afar. Memories have a way of sending us back, not just to the event but also to the emotional experience of it. Haworth will always remain a dark, dank, dreary place in my mind. It’s all timing I guess.
My son, his impersonation of a human kebab and his breach of security that resulted from his railing entrapment will always make me smile though.