Friday, April 25, 2014

Where the Brontë Sisters found inspiration for their vivid storytelling.

by Maggi Andersen

Three Yorkshire sisters, Emily, Charlotte and Anne Brontë combined their imaginative skills and the power of their words to write their stories, while drawing upon their personal experiences and close observation of the world around them. Their novels have become acknowledged classics. Since then, characters from their novels have been brought vividly to life on television, stage and screen. We have become familiar with the likes of Catherine Earnshaw, Heathcliff, Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre. Although, between them, the Brontës produced only seven novels, these works guaranteed them a unique and lasting place in the annals of literature and won the hearts of their readers.

1930s movie Wuthering Heights

“If he loved you with all the power of his soul for a whole lifetime, he couldn’t love you as much as I do in a single day." Heathcliff

Timothy Dalton as Heathcliff.

Their world was a relatively small one; their short lives centered on their family home, a parsonage in a village set in a cleft of the Yorkshire Moors.

Bronte Parsonage

The moors became the perfect setting for Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Wuthering is a Norse word meaning fierce winds. Emily explains the origin of the word ‘wuthering’ in the novel itself:

“Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling. “Wuthering” being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed, in stormy weather.”

The rapid onset of winter on the moors is revealed through Mr. Lockwood:

Ponden Kirk, the outcrop of rock, was the inspiration for Penistone Crags in Wuthering Heights.

From Chapter 18:

“The abrupt descent of Penistone Crags particularly attracted her notice, especially when the setting sun shone on it, and the topmost heights; and the whole extent of the landscape besides lay in shadow.

"I explained that they were masses of stone, with hardly enough earth in their clefts to nourish a stunted tree.”

The fierce and changing weather is a character in itself in Wuthering Heights.

“In the evening the weather broke: the wind shifted from south to north-east and brought rain first, and then sleet and snow…one could hardly imagine that there had been three weeks of summer: the primroses and crocuses were hidden under wintry drifts: the larks were silent, the young leaves of the early trees smitten and blackened.”

 The Worth Valley from Ponden Kirk.

“…a golden afternoon of August: every breath from the hills so full of life, that it seemed whoever respired it, though dying, might revive. Catherine’s face was just like the landscape – shadows and sunshine flitting over it in rapid succession; but the shadows rested longer, and the sunshine was more transient…” Wuthering Heights Chapter 27

‘Withins’ is a Yorkshire word for ‘willows.’

Top Withens farmhouse appears remote and exposed.

Ponden Hall (Above and below)

Ponden Hall in the Worth valley below Top Withens, is generally identified as the location in which Thrushcross Grange was set.

Shibden Hall

Another candidate for Thrushcross Grange was Shibden Hall, near Halifax where Emily taught, visible on the opposite the opposite escarpment from Law Hill School. Sutherland Hall has since been demolished. The sculptural details of the entrance a ‘wilderness of crumbling griffons and shameless little boys’ could have been suggested by another mansion above it on the top of the escarpment, High Sutherland Hall, which has since been demolished.

Chapter One

“Wuthering Heights is the name of Heathcliff’s dwelling, ‘Wuthering’ being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather…one may guess by the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun.”

Ruin of 16th Century mansion, Wycoller Hall with fireplace

Ruined Wycoller Hall, eight miles west of Haworth, is believed to be the model for Ferndean, where Jane found Mr. Rochester after the disaster at Thornfield. Its fireplace is cited as one of the reasons.

“…you could see nothing of it, so thick and dark grew the timber of the gloomy wood around it. Iron gates between granite pillars showed me where to enter, and passing through them, I found myself at once in the twilight of close-ranked trees.” Jane Eyre, Chapter 37.

Flamborough Head

Flamborough Head, between Scarborough and Bridlington. When writing The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Brontë drew on her experience as a governess with the Robinson’s and her observation of her brother Branwell’s behavior. Wildfell Hall is set only four miles from the sea.

Helen Huntingdon and Gilbert Markham make a memorable trip to see a celebrated sea-view.

“The increasing height and boldness of the hills had for some time intercepted the prospect: but, on gaining the summit of a steep acclivity, and looking downward, an opening lay before us – and the blue sea burst upon our sight!”

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Chapter 7.

The beach at Scarborough

Anne Brontë was known to enjoy Scarborough as much as her heroine, Agnes Grey.

“But the sea was my delight: and I would often gladly pierce the town to obtain the pleasure of a walk beside it…It was delightful to me at all times and seasons, but especially in the wild commotion of a rough sea-breeze, and in the brilliant freshness of a summer morning.” Agnes Grey

Images: Wikipedia Commons
Research: Brontë novels
Bronte Country, Tom Howard


Maggi Andersen writes historical romances set in the Georgian, Regency and Victorian periods.
Facebook: Maggi Andersen Author
Twitter: @maggiandersen


  1. Fascinating. Thank you so much for this post.

    1. Thanks Persia, the Bronte's lives are fascinating, the beautiful area in which they lived is visited by hoards of their readers every year.

  2. Very interesting post and beautiful photos. Inspired me to re read the Brontes!

  3. Lovely post, Maggi. And so well done. You had me right there in the midst of the moors. Thanks so much for bringing us this glimpse of the setting! I had never thought of weather as a character before but I love it!!

  4. Thanks! Beautiful post ! I visited Top Whitens and the Parsonage. What a beautiful emotion! Bye bye fron Rome! Annarita

  5. Wonderful post! I visited the Bronte museum a couple of weeks back. Well worth going if you're ever in Yorkshire.

  6. I have spent many happy hours at Shibden Hall; it's mere miles away from us!

  7. I am reading wuthering heights it equates my own experiences in the hill ranges of our farm in Haryana,India.


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