When I read the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth I had a yearning to visit the Wordsworth homes in the Lake District, and by extension, the Bronte home in Haworth, Yorkshire.
When invited to Leeds to speak at my old university, I set aside a day, taking the bus from Leeds to Keighley to be dropped off at the bottom of the small street that climbs to the Parsonage. A suitably wuthering day, with branches buffeted by the wind, leaves swirling and clouds louring and tumbling across the welkin.
It’s always moving to visit a place where a beloved writer has lived, or in this case three writers, particularly when restored as sensitively as this one. The whole point of such visits, for me, is to seek a glimpse of, to have a sense of their world and context, and the closer the museum is to re-creating that, the closer I feel to the writer. I look out of a window, walk up a staircase, step into a room, and am amazed the writer did the same thing, and wonder what they felt about the view or the room.
The Bronte house is smaller than it appears in the photos – the dining room where the sisters would write and discuss, or read to each other, is cosy but compact. What astonishes about them was that neither their circumscribed rooms nor lives seem to have constrained their imaginations.
The house is neat and feels homely and protected from the wild elements outside. The museum has endeavoured to recreate the colours of the walls, the wall paper, the furniture and clothing, in some cases buying back pieces which originally belonged to the house. It’s convincing enough that you could hope to be invited to take tea with the family, and the museum hasn’t crowded the artefacts with information, yet they provide enough detail for you to have a sense of how the house would have been lived in.
In other words, they have the right balance between informing and inspiring. Only one room was less appealing to me: Charlotte’s bedroom, which has been given over to display cases. The displays themselves are wonderful, providing the chance to study many things they would have used and cherished, but I would rather they had been put in an annex, and the room recreated as it might have been when used by Charlotte, and before her, by her parents.
But somehow, having visited, it helps me in reading Jane Eyre, on which I will report shortly. Too engrossed to say much now.
Address: Brontë Parsonage Museum, Church Street, Haworth, Keighley, West Yorkshire, BD22 8DR, United Kingdom