Visiting the Brontë sisters in Yorkshire

People say literary genius is a rare thing, something seen only once in a thousand or a million people. Maybe so, but the Brontës had three (and maybe five) literary geniuses in the same family.

From their father’s parsonage in Haworth, Yorkshire, in northern England, the three Brontë sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne produced some of the most popular books in the English language. Works like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are still read more than 150 years after they were published. They’ve survived the test of time. The ebook edition of Wuthering Heights is currently ranked number 457 at Amazon’s Kindle store, and number 5 in the fiction classics category. Their work has been made into numerous movies and another version of Jane Eyre is coming out next year.

The sisters also prompted literary tourism to Haworth. It started not long after they died and has steadily grown ever since. While everyone comes to Haworth to see the Brontë home and related sights, they also enjoy a beautiful and well-preserved nineteenth century village full of shops and fine restaurants.

Now I have to be honest here and admit that until I went on this trip I had never read a Brontë novel. They were the classics I never got assigned in school and I figured I’d get around to whenever. Before I left for Yorkshire I read Jane Eyre and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The rich prose and sedate pacing definitely belong to the nineteenth century, but the smartass, independent female protagonist belongs to the modern world.

Much of Haworth remains as the Brontës knew it. The Brontë Parsonage Museum preserves their home and tells their story. House museums are tricky to do well. Despite being a museum junkie, some historic homes bore me to death. This one, however, gripped my attention. Besides the usual stuff like the desks they wrote at and the sofas they sat on (and Emily may have died on), there are the little details that make it stick in your memory. In the nursery where they spent their childhood faint pencil drawings can be seen on the wall. While it’s impossible to say if these literary giants doodled these when they were small, it makes you wonder.

There’s also the story of Branwell Brontë. Who? Yeah, that was always his problem. He was their brother, a failed artist and struggling writer living in the shadow of his superstar sisters. He fell into a downward spiral of alcoholism and opium addiction before dying at 31. The above painting of his sisters is Branwell’s work. He originally included himself in the portrait, then unsuccessfully erased himself. He doodled constantly, illustrating letters he sent to friends. One at the museum shows himself in two images. The first is labeled “Paradise” shows him drunk off his ass and shouting, “I am the lord of the manor!” The other is labeled “Purgatory” and shows him hunched over an opium pipe.

%Gallery-104264%The museum also tells the story of their father Patrick, the local pastor who was also a published author. Many a young woman’s ambitions were crushed in those days by domineering fathers who wanted them to get married and get pregnant. Patrick Brontë was progressive enough not to feel threatened by his daughters’ talent and encouraged them in their careers.

Beyond the Brontë parsonage you can see traces of their life everywhere. Patrick Brontë’s church stands nearby and houses the family’s memorial chapel. The pub where Branwell got drunk is just a short stagger away from the apothecary where he bought his opium. The Black Bull Inn still serves up fine Yorkshire ales, but the apothecary shop stopped carrying opiates when they started requiring a prescription. Otherwise it’s a good replica of an early apothecary and still sells traditional cures.

Haworth’s main street is down a steep hill lined with little shops. You can find delicious local cheeses and preserves, a couple of fine tearooms, some excellent secondhand bookshops, and more gift shops than you can shake a copy of Wuthering Heights at. Several historic inns offer beers and beds. At the train station a traditional steam railway offers rides.

But Haworth isn’t all tea and scones and twee little shops. There’s a dark side to the town’s history, full of ghosts, death, and despair. On my second day I discovered I was all too close to the supernatural. . .

This is the first of my new series Exploring Yorkshire: ghosts, castles, and literature in England’s north.

Coming up next: Three nights in a haunted hotel room!

This trip was sponsored by
VisitEngland and Welcome to Yorkshire.

[Photo courtesy user Mr. Absurd via Wikimedia Commons]

National Poetry Month: Emily Dickinson’s Grave and house museum

Cemeteries are fine destinations for gathering poetry fodder. I’m fond of cemeteries myself. To me, they are peaceful places where one can search for the connections between the people who are buried there and our own lives.

No one wrote poetry about death as well as Emily Dickinson. For National Poetry Month, here’s a nod to Dickinson with information about the house where she lived, a tour of of her grave in West Cemetery in Amherst, Massachusetts and one of her poems.

Dickinson was born and lived her entire life in Amherst, where she wrote more than 1,700 poems and lived as a recluse with a few exceptions.

Her house is now a museum, but check the hours as they are seasonal. There are actually two houses that make up the Emily Dickinson Museum. She lived at The Homestead and her brother Austin lived next door at the Evergreens with his wife and children.

The tour of the cemetery and the poem are after the jump. The tour gives you the feeling as if you are following the narrator around the grounds, and the poem alludes to how Dickinson might feel about where she is buried.

Ample Make This Bed

Ample make this bed.
Make this bed with awe;
In it wait till judgment break
Excellent and fair.

Be its mattress straight,
Be its pillow round;
Let no sunrise’ yellow noise
Interrupt this ground.

— Emily Dickinson

Even though I’ve never been to this particular graveyard, after seeing this video, I have a sense of what it might be like. I love the interactions between the person behind the camera and the person in front. The details about the grass around Dickinson’s grave compared to the rest of the cemetery offers insider info, something a person might not notice otherwise.

Plano, Texas: The most affluent city in the U.S. What’s in it for the traveler?

Over at one of our sister blogs, Wallet Pop, Plano, Texas is being touted the most affluent city in the United States.

That Texas! Texas has two of the cities where people have a fighting chance of making the best living.

Plano may have turned into a suburb of Dallas over the years, but there are distinctive Plano-type things to do, even for folks with a more modest income. The city’s official Web site does give reference to spouses which alludes to trips taken by people who head to Plano for business meetings and bring their spouses in tow.

Here are three places I’d go if ever I was in Plano.

  1. The Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary– Technically, this attraction is not in Plano, but in McKinney. It is, however, close enough that I’ll included it, otherwise I would not have ended up with three things. Here is where you can learn about Texas’s natural environment through walking trails and indoor exhibits. One permanent exhibit is on Texas’s venomous snakes. Currently, there is a butterfly exhibit that will run through September.
  2. The Heritage Farmstead Museum – An historic Blackland prairie farm that was turned into a museum to highlight life on the Texas prairie back in 1891.
  3. Interurban Railroad Museum– This restored train station is where you can learn about the history of Plano and about the train that used to go between Dennison and Dallas. It’s free, so, what’s the harm in checking it out?

From the extensive attractions list you can surmise that Plano is close to Ft. Worth and Dallas. If you expand the distance you’re willing to travel, you’ll find loads of things to do. I’d go to the Ft. Worth Stockyards National Historic District.

I checked on the Frito-Lay Web site to see if there is a tasting show room or some such thing since Plano is the company’s home. Nope. Didn’t see one.

For more Plano facts, check out Wallet Pop’s post.