I can tell you exactly when I last was away from my house for longer than a day – the 3rd of January, 2020, when I returned from a peaceful but somewhat ill Christmas and New Year staying at a very generous friend’s house near Geneva. So this trip to the beautiful and inspiring Westwood Centre in West Yorkshire was just what my soul was longing for… if only I could have stayed for longer.
I wrote a bit, read lots, started translating a new novel, went on a few walks (and realised that I am still not quite fully recovered from Covid), and also did a bit of sightseeing in the footsteps of the Brontës. In the graveyard, I realised that Patrick Brontë’s fate of outliving every single one of his family members was by no means uncommon in those days, when infant deaths, wives dying in childbirth and young people succumbing to TB were all too frequent. Just one example below, but there were many, many more.
Haworth Village itself was quite full of tourists even early on a Sunday in November, during Covid times, and the shops seem to be catering largely for tourists, so I’m not sure how they coped during the lockdown periods.
Despite the timed entry, it was quite busy in the Parsonage as well, and I wanted to take my time to examine everything and absorb the atmosphere. I was so obsessed with the siblings back when I was a child/teen that it felt oddly familiar stepping into their house, seeing their tiny booklets of heroic sagas and their writing desks.
I even got to meet a friend off Twitter, Janet Emson, who is as lovely in real life as she is online, and enjoy a sunny and relatively mild day admiring (or being puzzled by) modern art at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
The landscape, with its almost unreal green fields, the endless roll of hills, the bucolic sheep grazing, felt familiar and friendly enough in the sunshine – it reminded me of the landscape around my father’s or mother’s childhood homes. And yet… There was something sinister, almost frightening too, about the dark flint houses, the rapidly changing weather, cloud formations and strong winds, the sudden steep drop into hidden valleys, the very narrow country lanes where my car seemed to stutter, especially when caught behind a tractor. I can see where the rather Gothic imagination and menace in the work of the Brontës, Bram Stoker, Ted Hughes come from.
I didn’t leave empty-handed. I bought a jar of chuckleberry jam (mainly because I have no idea what that is) and a copy of The Professor by Charlotte Brontë (which I’ve never read) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne (because I have no idea where my old one is, probably in my parents’ library somewhere). So much still to explore. I am already planning my return to the area…