by Stephanie Cowell
I first visited the Brontë parsonage in Haworth in my early twenties. Haworth is a little town in Yorkshire set on a steep hill and was much less touristy then. I remember trying to cross a bridge and having to wait for a bunch of sheep to cross before me. I was surprised at how small were the parsonage rooms: how did they have space for all those passionate personalities? There is a passage in one of the letters describing how Emily, Charlotte and Anne paced the small parlor at night. I could not understand how they managed in their long dresses.
I kept thinking, “I am here, I am here.” I saw Charlotte’s nightgown on display and the curator explained how they washed these old things. “Very carefully in mild soap.” I gazed at Charlotte’s tiny wedding cap. She was so very small! Everything seemed to creak. There were not many tourists. Some of the small stone houses on the steep street had handwritten notices posted in the windows that they served tea and pot pie. A woman sat me alone at her kitchen table and served me beef and kidney pie. I picked doubtfully at the kidneys.
To my great fortune, I met a Yorkshire woman and her daughter who invited me to their home which had been a 14th century weaver’s cottage. They also took me walking on the moors and to the ruin of what is thought to be the inspiration for the house in Wuthering Heights. How lonely it was, how isolated. We keep bumping into wild sheep who stared at us. My little blue heeled shoes were ruined in the mud. The wind blew and blew. I lost touch with these lovely people, alas!
It was not until I returned with my husband many years later and stayed in a neighboring farmhouse that I heard the wind really wuthering in the chimneys. It was truly remarkable.