25 February 2014

1845

It was the summer of 1845 and Charlotte Bronte was twenty nine years old. She had worked as a governess in several well-to-do Yorkshire homes and the previous year had visited Brussels in Belgium where she was attached to a finishing school both as student and teacher. Following a family bereavement, she and her sister Emily had been obliged to return to the family home at Haworth - a village which lies some fifty miles north of Sheffield on the edge of the Pennine hills.

"Oh papa, I don't know what to do with myself. I feel so distracted now I am back in Haworth. May I go to visit my darling friend Ellen who is spending the summer with her brother the Reverend Bussey in the village of Hathersage in northern Derbyshire. She has invited me and I haven't seen her in three long years. May I go papa? May I?"

"Your brother Branwell is ill and needs your attention my dear but I suppose that Emily and Anne can manage the house for a month. I will have Brague take you into Keighley in the trap on Friday morning and from thence I believe you may now travel by train to Sheffield. You will have to inquire at Sheffield station about travelling onwards to Hathersage. Or perhaps you could walk..." 

And so Charlotte came to stay at Hathersage Vicarage. If you enlarge the picture below with a click you should be able to make out the spire of the parish church. The vicarage is right next door to that church and incidentally, in the adjacent graveyard Robin Hood's companion - Little John is buried.
"Oh Ellen, I don't know what to do with myself. I feel so distracted. It is a bright and sunny day. Might we go walking to aid our digestion and our spirits?"

"Oh yes my darling Charlotte but we must wear our bonnets in case we catch a chill for the wind blows cold from the moors, even in summer time. We shall stroll along the byways to North Lees Hall where the Eyres reside. You met them at matins on Sunday. They are amiable people."

Winding lane below Stanage Edge, close to North Lees Hall...
 
"Oh this moorland is so rugged Ellen and the stone edge above suggests that the ribs of the earth are exposed to the elements. It reminds me so much of Top Withens near Haworth where Emily will often ramble. So wild and free. I shall describe this landscape in my book."

"What are you going to call it?"

"I am thinking of Jane but so far I haven't chosen a surname for her. Perhaps Bussey! (They titter) Oh, what is that down in the valley Ellen? See how the green pastures contrast with the vegetation of the moors. It looks so beautiful and yet so perilous too - as if the moors will creep down to reclaim the farmland."

"Oh my darling Charlotte, you have such an imagination! That is North Lees Hall where the Eyres reside. Let us tarry no longer."
And so they arrive at North Lees Hall where they are greeted by Mrs Eyre. Tea is served by a leering, elderly butler called Gowans and Mrs Eyre tells Charlotte something of the history of the sixteenth century house and of life at the top of the Hood Brook Valley looking westwards to Hathersage church and the Hope Valley.
And as they walk homewards to the vicarage, the seed of an idea is already germinating in Charlotte's mind. The novel that she has been contemplating and drafting for months will contain North Lees Hall but she will call it Thornfield Hall instead and it is here that her brooding hero Edward Rochester will reside and where her heroine Jane will arrive as a governess

"I've got it Ellen, I know what I'll call my Jane... Eyre! Yes. Jane Eyre. That will do very nicely."

18 comments:

  1. I really appreciated this though I have to admit that I've never finished a Bronte novel. I have never managed as much as a full chapter.

    Grand pictures to illustrate Charlotte's wanderings.

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    1. If the truth be known, I probably wouldn't have read any of the Bronte novels if it hadn't been for A level English Literature - first as a student and later as a teacher. The language can often be hard-going.

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  2. A very creative little post today YP.

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    1. Local people are all aware that Charlotte Bronte once visited North Lees Hall but I thought I'd let my imagination and a little research take that awareness one stage further.

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    2. You could send that to the Sheffield paper and I am sure others would enjoy it too. Do they have a colour section on the weekend? Perfect read with your photos.

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  3. My sister must read this. She's always been very fond of the Brontes, and lent me (non-fictional) biography about them some years ago.
    I have often stood at Charlotte's grave in the grounds of St. Mary's in Scarborough.

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    1. When next in Scarborough I shall make a point of visiting Charlotte's grave . I never saw it before.

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    2. Oh, and Arian. This was the walk I took after telling you that your post had inspired me to chuck my boots in the car and get off.

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  4. I always get the Bronté sisters and Jane Austen all mixed up. I tried reading one or two of the lesser novels but didn't take to them. I do like the quote at the start though.

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    1. GB - Personally, I dislike the prim and proper tittle tattle of Jane Austen's world - tales of the fortunate classes in their girdles. In contrast the Brontes examine the undercurrents of life. There's more reality, more melancholy, more struggle if you can get by the barrier of Victorian language.

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  6. That first photo is a corker YP and so is the one with the house looking over the .....heather ?
    Wuthering Heights was the book we studied in my Senior year ( Year 12 these days ). It's the only Bronte book I've read though I enjoyed it way back then. the moors always sounded so brooding and mysterious

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    1. Helen - The moorland vegetation you can mainly see is bracken which dies in the autumn, goes brown and then re-shoots in the springtime so that if I took those same shots in say August it would be a sea of green. Heather commands the top of the moors.

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  7. My paternal grandfather came from Yorkshire so maybe he was from the butler's line? Father was always telling us that as a baby he lived in a stately home, maybe he wasn't fibbing after all...

    I studied Wuthering Heights at O Level and, I think I may have mentioned this to you, our teacher, Mr Hayes, was forevermore our image of Heathcliff

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    1. The fact that the butler was leering suggests there may be a genetic connection.

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  8. I thought it was Anne who was buried in Scarborough?

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    1. Hello Steve. You are right. It's Anne who's buried in Scarborough. Charlotte is in the family vault at Haworth. I wonder what arrangements you yourself have made for when you shuffle off this mortal coil. Where''s the coil going to go?

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  9. What a beautiful post. I feel as if Yorkshire is the most wonderful place! I imagine it is a difficult job to keep the bracken from invading the farming spaces each year.

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