It All Began With a Book

I was lost, and I’m not talking spiritually. I’ve never been good at traveling from point A to point B without finding myself hopelessly astray. I’ve even gotten lost using GPS. Really. Fortunately, I thought ahead by bringing my brilliant red raincoat so I could easily be found, not if I got lost, but when I got lost.

Sheep on Brontë Moors

At the time of the Brontes, the moors were populated many farmers making a living with sheep.

On this particular day, I was walking through what appeared to be a wasteland and trying to sidestep the occasional bog and ankle-twisting rock that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I was also straining to decipher a tourist map as the wind threatened to blow me off my feet and the sky threw down all kinds of projectiles—sleet, rain, snow, sleety-rain, foggy-snow, and other forces of nature that defied description.

Why am I here? That’s not a question for you, reader, that’s what I said in a voice that was almost as loud as the roaring gale.

But even in my chilled misery, I knew exactly why I was here.

I was fulfilling a life-long desire to travel in the footsteps of the Brontës. Since my first reading of Jane Eyre by Charlotte at the age of 10, and subsequent readings of all the works by the sisters and numerous biographies of the family, I knew I would be Haworth bound at some point. Haworth, the home of the Brontës and the place where the sisters wrote their novels, sits among the Pennine Hills in Yorkshire England where the winds can be relentless and the weather harsh. Fifty-mile-an-hour winds are commonplace to those who live in Haworth. To an American unused to such fierce conditions, it was somewhat daunting.

My red coat just in case.

Fog shrouds the scenery frequently and rolls in so suddenly and so thickly that the fainthearted swear Sherlock Holmes’ Hound of the Baskerville truly exists and is lurking somewhere nearby. Winter is long and wet. Hardly a day passes without some sort of precipitation falling from the sky, and spring arrives at least a month-and-a-half later than in the south of England. According to Charlotte Brontë, summer never really came to Haworth. According to Lori Wark, Charlotte was right.

I trudged on, lost as always, but was uplifted when I spotted an elderly couple, walking sticks in hand, following me. Maybe I was actually on the right trail. After all, they were traveling in the same direction, and they had walking sticks, a sure sign of moor-walking experience. Like me, they must be looking for the same Brontë shrine—the famous Brontë Bridge. This was supposedly the sisters’ destination during their frequent walks on the moor, or it could have been the place early tourists found to be a convenient resting spot. Thus, making the Brontë Bridge possibly one of the first stories geared toward Brontë marketing.

Brontes, moors Haworth Bronte Bridge

The famous Brontë Bridge. A nice place to take a rest from moor hiking.

Finally, I could see the bridge and the rock shaped like a chair, called, of course, the Brontë Chair. At one time, the legend was that Emily would sit on this rock and write. Many a tourist went home with pictures of themselves sitting on that rock. This bit of fantasy seems to have had as short a lifespan as the blooming of the heather in August, but tourists still take pictures of themselves in that rock chair.

I was so near my Holy Grail. The only problem was I seemed to be on a ledge high above my intended destination. The only way to be able to sit on the Brontë Chair was to go down. Well, I’d been in similar situations before, so I began a slow descent along an almost vertical surface covered with rocks and thorny bushes. Glancing back, I saw to my horror that my tag-along, elderly tourists were still following me. I knew I should have pasted a sign on my back, “DO NOT FOLLOW. AMERICAN TOURIST. SHE HAS NO IDEA WHERE SHE’S GOING.”

Too late.

Hand-over-hand, we clung to brown twigs of heather bushes and felt with our hiking boots for toeholds in the rock. At any moment, I expected the three us of to enter the Brontë shrine in a most ungainly manner. I knew, however, in the end, all would be well. Rescue services would eventually find our remains among the pre-bloomed heather, drawn there by a raincoat in a particularly bright shade of red.

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Epilogue

As you might have guessed, we survived. I had my picture taken sitting in the Brontë chair and dangling my legs off the Brontë Bridge. I would spend the next year living in Haworth in a cottage down a cobbled path from the Parsonage where the Brontës lived and wrote their works. I searched for the Brontës in their papers kept at the Parsonage and taped interviews with Brontë and literary scholars. Local historians helped me understand life in Haworth during the nineteenth century. I left the cocoon of Haworth to follow other Brontë connections:  Parts of England, Northern Ireland, and Cornwall. (You can imagine how many times I got lost.)

The result of my year was a Jane Eyre ebook annotated with images, video, interactives and French translations. My goal of blending history and literature in one book was to create a fuller picture of what it was like to be an author (and particularly a woman author) in the nineteenth century. I hope you enjoy.

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