I don’t have an actual bucket list that I’m committed to. Those things to do. Or places to visit. But if I did, Haworth would be in it. Because some five years ago during the Christmas holidays of 2012, I read Jane Eyre. And I thought it perfect. Not that it stood superior over my other favorites, or that it had more to offer than other excellent writings. But thence at last, I found though I was not aware that I sought, one weaver of words, so true, so brave, so precise as ever rose to bare up the female heart. Charlotte. And eventually after more readings, I found her sisters too to be women of kindred thoughts — Emily and Anne.
I came to Haworth by plane from Hamburg to Manchester, and train up to Hebden Bridge, and bus up to the Cross Roads at Keighley and finally by foot up to Myrtle Drive just at the edge of the fields. I came in the fashion I most prefer for a matter so dear — on my own, without a schedule, five days in a tiny village. The afternoon of my arrival was cold and windy. But it was alright. One could not have expected it to be otherwise. Not when one remembers the moorland of Wuthering Heights, its brooding aspect, its howling winds. And not in a month like May.
The Bronte home sits at the top of a cobble-covered slope of stone houses. One walks up, past a number of shops, into an almost level path, with The Black Bull to the left, and the humble Haworth Church just beside. A small path leads from the church entrance to a grey stone-building. This was a school built in Patrick Bronte’s time as clergyman in Haworth. The same place where his children, the Bronte women and son Branwell taught. The very place that held reception after Charlotte’s wedding to Arthur Bell Nicholls. A few steps away to the left side, their home — the one place I had long wanted to see.
I shall not attempt to describe the interiors of the home. But I will write about what’s outside.
Only a few paces from the door of the Bronte family is the old graveyard full of markers of people long gone. Many of them died in the 1800s. The Bronte family’s faithful servant of thirty years, Tabby, was buried there. As was Martha Brown who served the family until the death of the last Bronte, Patrick. The cemetery reminded me of the cemetery near my own home, at the back of our house on the other side of a small creek, down a subtle slope. It was one of the places I loved spending time in when I was seven or so. Perhaps my cousin Ate Mai-mai would still remember how we used to bring snacks and some things to read and sit cross-legged above Lola Bibing’s rectangular concrete tomb under the bright, mild light of a late afternoon and how we watched people passing to and fro the concrete path nearby. For some reason, visiting Charlotte Bronte’s home reminded me of my own home.
Walking away from the church and the home and the graveyard, one comes to a narrow avenue hemmed on both sides by low stone fences and trees. A few steps farther on, the moorland. Oh, the moorland. Lavish in space. Unsparing in solitude. Beautiful in many subtle ways. Riotous with its winds.
I walked to Top Withens, meeting only three people along the way. It is a place where even the most hungry, the most thirsty, the biggest-bellied of all souls for a drink of solitude would find an ocean. And the solitude it offered was the space for a dance between the inner and the outer, where the inner thought and felt, and the outer helplessly commanded notice for all its untamed, wild, vast, beautiful self that is the moor. I passed the Bronte bridge which the sisters used to walk over in their walks, the Bronte chair — a chair-shaped stone believed to have been used for their rest, and the Bronte falls — to which Arthur a few months after being married to Charlotte, invited the latter for a walk where she got soaked and caught the illness that was to be her last. I walked farther on until I saw on the horizon a structure I could not quite figure out until I was a close. It was the ruins of a stone house, believed to be the inspiration for the home in Emily’s Wuthering Heights. The place was some heights alright. And wuthering too. As if it was under a perpetual tempest. As if the winds owned that part of the moor and held all rights to blow as much as it would, as long as it liked. It filled one’s ears. It whipped. It danced a violent dance. It swept the land that knew it well. And there, one could look, and it was moorland as far as the eyes could see.
And I thought, here is a place to love. One loves it because it is itself. And loves it because it is there. And doesn’t every writer, every weaver of words, every maker of stories, need a place to love? A place to be? And it is not only about a place to do the writing in.. I mean a place to think in, to feel in, to begin to conceive.. A place for thinking and feeling and being.. For coming alive and for being in touch with that life.. For a safe place from the intrusion and demands of things in the world that sometimes comes and steals away what was beginning to form inside. The modern writer may have the means to push that aside. But here, away from all, here, the place itself pushes all those aside. Charlotte, Emily and Anne — for all the sad things to be said of Haworth at the time, I imagine had something most of us now lack — the protective enclosure of a place that was their home, and a landscape for exploring and knowing and conceiving things in imagination as broad as the land is vast.
Charlotte railed against the life women led in her time and if she was alive today, she would have rejoiced over the possibilities and options now available to us but non-existent for her generation.
And yet, Charlotte, you might have railed too over our present loss.. You and your sisters walked that moorland absorbed. While I took out a phone, took some pictures, and sent them to a few friends. I have what you didn’t. You had what I lack — your being so singularly absorbed in a matter, be that the landscape you are walking in, or your inked nib on a parchment. Your life, as most of your family’s was short, but it was substantial. It was a focused life. And while you may have written with hopes of your work being received well, you probably had not thought that Jane Eyre would outlast you well into the second century since you were born. You wrote from your heart with an honesty that was a pure flame. And it burns bright still. It reached me, hundreds of years and thousands of miles removed from the table where you wrote.
I love walking on dirt and pebbled paths. The sound and feel of my own footfall on a dirt path often brings back the feeling of home, wherever I am in the world. And as I walked from Top Withens back to the church yard, the graveyard, the Bronte home, I remembered mine. I remembered mine because my home is in a small town too.. Because I knew its moods and colors and sounds and turns and corners, like Charlotte knew hers, like we all know ours.. But she stayed in her home. And in the circumstances surrounding my own generation, I had the choice to leave and be somewhere else. And yet, I will never find anywhere in the world, the feeling, the being, that only springs at home. There Charlotte lays even now, with her family except Anne, in the vault under the old church. They all lived in that home almost all the days of their lives. Read there. Wrote there. Were buried there. But in their short, focused, undistracted lives and undiluted days, that family wrote beauty and meaning and quietly passed away like wisps of smoke.
I walked away aware that all my travels and the many long years spent away from home, though good, had also taken something away from me. Something Charlotte had. The blessing of being at home. And I walked away, wanting to live the kind of life she led — focused. Unafraid in honesty. And because of solitude in and with the Lord, secure. And because secure, able to live as herself, without a hint of apology.
I shall go for a walk again tomorrow before I leave..