The Moors just outside of Haworth.
“ I struck straight into the heath; I held on to a hollow I saw deeply furrowing the brown moorside; I wade knee deep in it’s dark growth; I turned with it’s turnings, and finding a moss blackened granite crag in a hidden angle, I sat down under it. High banks of moor were about me; the crag protected my head; the sky was over that. Some time passed before I felt tranquil even here; I had a vague dread that wild cattle might be near, or that some sportsman or poacher might discover me. If a gust of wind swept the waste, I looked up, fearing it was the rush of a bull; if a plover whistled, I imagined it a man. Finding my apprehensions unfounded, however, and calmed by the deep silence that reigned as evening declined at nightfall, I took confidence. As yet I had not thought; I had only listened, watched, dreaded; now I gained the faculty of reflection. What was I to do? Where was I to go?”
(Jane Eyre, Chapter XVIII, by Charlotte Bronte. First published 1847)
This passage comes straight after Jane has left Mr Rochester, in great consternation. The presence of his mad, sick wife, watched and guarded in her garret room has been revealed to Jane, and she has had to spurn Mr Rochester’s approach to her. For all his powerful reasoning she has cast herself out into a wilderness. In this passage Jane expresses her fear of meeting anybody. She knows she will be judged. She has left her home for a “no mans land.” Jane has cast herself out into a world of wind, rain, storms and barrenness and fearful imaginings. All is left to chance. This scene portrays the mental and physical situation Jane is in. She descends into deep despair and wishes for death. A human being could go no lower. Charlotte Bronte challenges us to experience this with her character. She shakes us up and makes us consider things we would not do normally.
Charlotte Bronte explores societies values about relationships and marriage. The long argument between Mr Rochester and Jane and this moorland scene give us an inkling into the writing process that she went through and the purpose for writing she believed in.
Emily, Charlotte and Anne
Recently, Clive, an old school mate of mine and Paul , also an old school friend from our Liverpool days, and I visited Haworth Parsonage in the village of Haworth on The Pennine Moors. It was the home of the Bronte family that included the three sisters, Emily, Anne and Charlotte who wrote some of the most amazing stories of the English language. We always think of the Brontes, sitting in that stone parsonage miles away from all civilisation conjuring up brutal and emotional stories through their imaginations brought on by wild winds, rocky promontories and windswept moors.. This is partly true. There are the moors and the windswept promontories at the back of the parsonage and reaching far off to the horizon, but the parsonage is situated on the edge of Haworth, which is an extensive community. They were not alone. The sisters were the daughters of, Patrick Bronte, the vicar of Haworth, and this might have created a social distance between them and the rest of the village.
The Haworth parsonage where the Bronte sisters lived.
When we entered the parsonage, the first room we saw, to the left of the entrance was the parlour. Much of the furniture is the same as when The Brontes lived there. There is a large dining table and it was around this table the three sisters would conjure up their stories. It was interesting to hear that they would often walk around the room and around the table talking about their ideas, verbalising their stories, exchanging ideas. This brings me back to the above passage from Jane Eyre. I can imagine the Bronte sisters challenging societies perceived values. Exploring the authenticity of accepted codes. I can imagine Emily or Anne playing devil’s advocate to Charlotte's Jane Eyre and arguing Mr Rochester's view. I can imagine Charlotte pouring out the emotions of Jane expressing despair and the anguish Jane felt cast out on the moors. That room and that table must have been witness to some dramatic scenes. It is also interesting to discover that the Bronte sisters drew and sketched. By using, acting, speakiing out, sketching and dramatising scenes they crafted and formed their stories. They discussed, in their writing, Christian morals, social conventions, such as marriage and challenged these perceived conventions, questioning and reasoning every aspect. The moors had an emotional and physical presence which infiltrated their writing. The weather and the landscape were all put into the mix to create the conflicts and arguments. This is what makes them great writers. A great writer should challenge the reader.
Being human never changes. The process the Brontes went through to write their stories is as valid today as it was then. Jane Austen’s process took a similar path. She was more discrete and private but she read her writing out loud to Cassandra and Martha Lloyd. She mulled over sentences and phrases with them. She loved going to the theatre and loved to see stories acted out. Her brothers had been a big influence on her in this process. Cassandra we know loved drawing and sketching and so did Jane. We can see these similar creative process between the Brontes and Austen. They each did it in their own way and with their own emphasis but the process of thinking, writing, editing having somebody to listen to their compositions,reading out loud, dramatizing and drawing was very similar. Charlotte, Anne, Emily Bronte, along with Jane Austen, loved language and words.
The Bronte sisters in that parlour in the parsonage in Haworth, pacing round the room, taking character parts, reading out loud, trying new phrases, challenging each other, were in short , as Pie Corbett says in describing, “Talk for Writing,” making their ,”prose flow…and bite and sting.”
The Brontës lived in the Haworth Parsonage, from 1820 to 1861.Charlotte; Emily and Anne Brontë were the authors of some of the best-loved books in the English language. Charlotte's novel Jane Eyre (1847), Emily's Wuthering Heights (1847), and Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) were written in this house over a hundred and fifty years ago. Both their father, the Revd. Patrick Brontë, and brother Branwell also saw their own works in print.
Looking down Haworth High Street.
Haworth is a rugged little village with all the buildings constructed from local limestones and millstone grit. The village perches on the side of a steep hill. The parsonage, where the Brontes lived, is at the top of the village and then beneath the parsonage is the graveyard followed by the church and then houses and shops sloping downhill towards the railway station in the valley below. I should think the heart of Haworth, all the buildings that comprise the high street and some of the houses just off the high street down small alleyways, are the same structures that were there in the time of the Brontes.. The Black Bull pub at the top of the high street is the very establishment that Branwell Bronte used to frequent and get drunk in. He was an alcoholic and a womaniser. He was thrown out of one job as a tutor to a young boy in a wealthy household in nearby Halifax because he had a relationship with the mother. What was embarrassing for Charlotte was that she was tutor to the daughter of the same household and had got Branwell the job with the family. She had left her employment with the family shortly before the fiasco with Branwell, fortunately.
A shop in Haworth High Street.
The High Street is full of quaint shops who unashamedly are using the Brontes to bring customers through their doors. Lovely, very good quality tea shops proliferate, Ye Olde Bronte Tea Rooms where Paul bought us an excellent lunch, Villette Coffee House and The Souk and lots more to choose from . There are also many good quality artefact shops, woollens, books, antiques, art galleries, home made sweet shops, clothing shops; Mrs Beightons Sweet Shop, Silverland, Firths, The Steam Brewing Company, Catkins of Haworth, Ice Shop and Gifts , The Stirrup, and so on . Surprisingly few actually use a blatant Bronte connection but they all benefit and owe their existence to the tourist pull of The Brontes. It would be easy to criticise this but Haworth is situated in an area of poor employment and little investment to create new industries and new wealth. Tourism, sheep farming and sports such as walking camping, pot holing and climbing are some of the main sources of income in the area and so the good people of Haworth use tourism to make a living. The stories written by Emily, Catherine and Anne help a lot.
The shop attached to the Haworth Parsonage stocks all the Brontes books including the biographies. There are good quality guide books and OS maps of the area for walkers and those who want to explore the moors. There are also pencils and book marks and a beautiful selection of cards.
Clive and a gentleman singing Dylan numbers.
As Clive, Paul and I walked downhill along the High Street of Haworth a busker strummed his guitar and sang Bob Dylan songs. Clive being a proficient guitarist and singer himself joined in and accompanied the busker. They were a great duet. We walked on down to the bottom of the High street to the nearby station. Haworth station is a very important station. It is run by the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway and Haworth station is it’s headquarters. They renovate and use old steam trains to run on the line. Haworth station itself has been used as a film set for The Railway Children. It is used for period films when steam trains are required. We are lucky to have steam train enthusiasts in different parts of Britain who have taken on old disused stretches of railway lines and renovated them. A few miles south of where I live in the beautiful Hampshire countryside is the Watercress Line, a similar organisation to the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. It passes near Chawton, the home of Jane Austen.
As we walked back up the hill to Haworth Parsonage, a large group of Morris Dancers had arrived in the village. They were dressed in their colourful regalia and carried sticks for the type of dance they were going to perform. They were dressed in costumes comprising strips of multi-coloured rags. Their faces were painted with mauves, blues and reds, similar to ancient Celtic tradition. In the South of England , Morris Dancers tend to wear white trousers and white shirts with bells and ribbons hanging off them.
A Wikipedia article describes Morris dancing thus::
“Morris dance is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music. It is based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers, usually wearing bell pads on their shins. Implements such as sticks, swords and handkerchiefs may also be wielded by the dancers. In a small number of dances for one or two men, steps are performed near and across a pair of clay tobacco pipes laid across each other on the floor.
Claims that English records dating back to 1448 mention the morris dance are open to dispute. There is no mention of "morris" dancing earlier than the late 15th century, although early records such as Bishops' "Visitation Articles" mention sword dancing, guising and other dancing activities as well as mumming plays. Furthermore, the earliest records invariably mention "Morys" in a court setting, and both men and women are mentioned as dancing, and a little later in the Lord Mayors' Processions in London. It is only later that it begins to be mentioned as something performed in the parishes. There is certainly no evidence that it is a pre-Christian ritual, as is often claimed.”
Morris men and ladies in Haworth.
Morris dancers and Mummers, create an old way of story telling passed from one generation to the next. They are are an exciting spectacle.
We left Haworth driving north towards the motorway and passed through some of the desolate moorland beloved by the Brontes before reaching the old mill town of Halifax. I had not been to Halifax before and I was amazed at the site of many of the old Victorian cotton mills . They are enormous stone buildings that encapsulate the growth of industrialisation in the Victorian period.
Paul, a very good mate of mine from Liverpool standing in Haworth's churchyard.
This link is an attachment to the Haworth Parsonage and will provide you with lots of information about the Brontes and the parsonage.
POST SCRIPT; Pie Corbett has written two books to help teachers develop children’s writing. “Jumpstart to Literacy,” and “Jumpstart to Storymaking.”
They are full of games and strategies to help develop character, setting and to help a story move along.