Emma-Jane Austin and the Brontë Birthplace
In my novel ‘Murder and Mr Rochester’, Emma-Jane Austin visits the birthplace of Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne Brontë in Thornton, West Yorkshire. She is really keen to take photos for an exhibition at her place of work, Bromley House Library. But it is also the weekend of Mother’s Day. And the other members of her reading group, the Rotic Club, are keen to see Thornton too, since it is 200 years since the birth of Charlotte Brontë in 1816 and they are studying her masterpiece ‘Jane Eyre’ together. So a quiet contemplative solo trip turns into a more social pilgrimage and a celebration for Emma’s mother and grandmothers who swell the numbers – and the fun!
Their journey begins at Nottingham train station with a disagreement over changes to the architecture of the victorian building
eg. have the lovely old art nouveau features been sufficiently enhanced in the recent refurbishment?
Fortunately the train is on time and on the way to Bradford the women share some of the Brontë memorabilia and objects of interest to begin their study day. A taxi takes them through thick snow to Thornton and their rented cottage on Market Street, the same street where the younger Brontës were born.
You can see more at www.bronte-country.com/thornton.html . But the highlight was having lunch at ‘Emily’s’, the lovely bistro that is now situated in the Brontës’ former home,
and that still has the original fireplace and some of the furniture from their time. You can see this, plus a map of a walking tour of Thornton called ‘Brontëland’, at www.delucaboutique.co.uk/about-us3.html.
Over their meal, the women compare photos of Charlotte B from various biographies. Of course there is the portrait of the three sisters by Branwell
and the photo on the cover of Lyndall Gordon’s excellent biography.
At ‘Emily’s’ cafe the women also enjoy looking at drawings of the Brontë family growing up as imagined by Joan Hassall in ‘The Brontë Story’ by Margaret Lane.
They also hand round a copy of ‘Charlotte in Love’ by Brian Wilks and have quite a lot to say about Charlotte’s own romance and marriage.
This means that they are not just delighted at being in the Brontës’ birthplace but also wonder about a trip to Haworth Parsonage together, where the sisters and their brother grew up and practised their art. The parsonage has become a place of pilgrimage for Brontë fans even more than Thornton, and Emma’s mother and grandmothers have some surprises for the younger women in the form of catalogues and guidebooks from their own visits to Haworth in the 1980s. One of Emma’s grandmas has a 1967 guide to Haworth bought there in 1981.
And Emma’s mother produces a booklet called ‘Sixty Treasures’ from 1988, which shows 60 items kept at the Parsonage. The women exclaim over the photos of everyday household items and artistic materials used by the family, and particularly Charlotte’s tiny dress and boots and her wedding veil.
Rosanna, one of Emma’s reading group, gives them some very useful web addresses for keeping up with Brontë news and fandom, such as www.eyreguide.awardspace.co.uk and www.bronteblog.blogspot.com and www.bronteparsonage.blogspot.co.uk .
She also shows a picture of her favourite painting of the character Jane Eyre by Sigismond De Ivanowski from 1907.
One of Emma’s closest friends, Nattie, talks about reading the famous novel by Jean Rhys which imagines life for Rochester with his wife before they come to England and Bertha Mason descends into madness. Nattie has also enjoyed the Persephone edition of Frances Towers’ collection of short stories ‘Tea with Mr Rochester’ from 1949.
The Persephone books are plain grey on the outside but all have beautiful endpapers inside and matching bookmarks that fit in with the era of the story.
To everyone’s amazement, even Emma’s grandmother ‘Grambo’, who has been less than enthusiastic about the trip and its theme so far, produces a memento from a visit to the Brontës’ home from many years before – an old toffee tin!
She had even filled it again with toffees for their journey home! The tin is rather lovely – very Puginesque – with victorian photos of the main Brontë sites on each side.
The only member of Emma’s reading group who cannot be with them on the trip is Maria, the German teacher. Instead she sends them something of interest to read that is referred to in ‘Jane Eyre’ and comes from her own culture. This is an extract from Friedrich Schiller’s ‘Die Rauber’ or ‘The Robbers’ from 1782. Not everyone appreciates having to read this! (You can find it at www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6782 )
Instead Emma suggests they read ‘Henry Brocken: his Travels and Adventures’ by Walter de la Mare from 1904, a fascinating story imagining visiting fictional characters as if they were real – for example Henry Brocken goes to see Rochester and Jane and their dog Pilot in their small house in a dark wood after their marriage. (You can read this at www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/15432 )
This shows that re-imagining the characters from ‘Jane Eyre’ and writing new stories about them is nothing new. My own novel, ‘Murder and Mr Rochester’ is in this category in a sense, as Emma-Jane Austin not only discusses Charlotte Brontë’s characters with her friends and family but feels she is meeting with them again in some form in her own life as she struggles to solve a murder mystery. I am sure the Brontës would be amazed, and hopefully gratified, to know that we have still felt compelled to revisit their novels and even their birthplaces and homes in the twentieth and twenty first centuries.
You can read all about Emma-Jane and her friends in ‘Murder and Mr Rochester’ as an ebook on Kindle at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Murder-Mr-Rochester-Jeanette-Sears-ebook/dp/B01M28IXFD/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1477392333&sr=1-3&keywords=jeanette+sears