These are the Yorkshire moors where the ghosts of Catherine and Heathcliff roam; You hear their laments on the wind and you feel their icy breaths on your cheek as they creep under your coat to nestle against your skin, to steal all of your life-giving warmth. The wildness of Catherine and Heathcliff is the moor’s wildness. This wildness and the isolation so oppressively present in every single one of the Brontë sisters’ novels are not themes they imagined, they are what they lived and they were all they knew.
The old town of Haworth, where the Brontë family resided, is now a sort of shrine in honour of the three sister’s lives and work. The Old Apothecary is still there, all original features intact. The church is there and in use, the school house they founded stands where it was built and, of course, the parsonage where they lived, and died far too young, is now a museum.
By photographing the sign below back to front, black against blue sky, I’ve tried to emulate the gothic and tragic end to the six siblings’ lives. First the early death of their mother less than a year after the family moved into the parsonage and then the demise of two siblings to tuberculosis caught in school, the death of the wayward brother Branwell and then Anne and Emily within just 1 1/2 years of each other. Finally Charlotte died in the early stages of pregnancy just before the age of 39 and less than a year after her marriage, leaving just their father and her widower.
At this table is where Emily wrote Wuthering Heights, Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre and Anne wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The Brontë Society at Haworth bought it back with a grant of £580,000. Standing in front of it is awe-inspiring for anybody with literary aspirations.
The bed below is an artwork and a book written by New York artist Tamar Stone using quotes from the letters and novels of the Brontë sisters. In order to read it, the reader has to unmake the bed and then make it again, in imitation of the domestic duties of women through the ages.
Attached to the parsonage is, of course, the church and a graveyard. The Brontë family are buried in the crypt, which is not open to visitors. But standing here, and looking through the graveyard, out towards the moors, with the chickens roaming free, I got an even deeper understanding of what inspired them to write the novels that holds us captivated still today.
Enter, enter, dearest friend,
rest your weary wings,
leave behind your sorrows.
Fly closer, closer,
to kiss your harrowed face ‒
closer, even closer,
to sweep you in my finest lace.
Sleep tight now, dearest friend ‒
wrapped in webs of wistful warmth ‒
as I crouch here by your dozing self,
spinning sticky tricks for travellers tomorrow.
Dragging footsteps: ”shuffle, shuffle”, getting near.
Snuffling, wheezing, a rasping voice:
”I know you’re there.”
So much dust, I must have air.
I breathe, I sneeze. The noise. The fear.
Lying still ― a fly ensnared.
At first the tattered glittered hair,
then the ruptured baubled stare,
and last the triumphant hunter’s cheer.
Let it be known to all:
The Spirit of Christmas is here!
Against the pearly whiteness of a cinematic queen,
I shimmered with an enticing and legendary sheen,
surreptitiously a star in many scintillating scenes,
until recklessly ravaged by ruthless go-betweens.
I was purveyed to the palms of a pretty maid,
in return for favours of a much darker shade,
but malice made the maiden’s marvel fade
and so began my wanders through the starless trade.
I saw her casing crack and flap away in haste,
a chipped bauble was she, and half-crazed.
On shabby velvet I lay with others gone to waste,
yet, too expensive for those without any taste.
“This ere’ – a buckle for the missus Sunday shoes!
I was fondled by filthy fingers declaring: “Two!”
The pawn-broker raised his eyes, sapphire blue,
shook his hardened head and stared him through.
Awhile they stood their ground, then settled for three.
I faded further, as I reflected on my dented fee.
The wife: gap-toothed and greedy-grinned, glaring with glee.
My view: the flouncing flaccid flesh of an overweight knee.
Shod was she, and I – shoe-riding mile after mile,
through gutters of slop with waste running vile.
Splashing through puddles, a yellowish green bile,
a lady dressed in best, ‘cause the fish-wife had style.
She gained a stone and I lost two – then four.
Now a piece of worthless scrap forever more,
I thought as I came undone and fell to the floor.
Groping the ground, she wailed and swore!
Trod on and trampled by countless, yet noticed by none,
until the precious hands of a child turned me round.
I mingled with the cluster of other treasures she’d found,
of illustrious backgrounds that would truly astound!
Still much in love with her street urchin souvenirs,
her workshop sparkled below crystal chandeliers.
She beheld me with onyx pupils, dilated as in fear,
and whispered excited: “A necklace, my dear?”
After many long years being treated like trash,
once again I catch the eye of every amber flash,
where I sit in pride of place, uniquely re-hashed,
and reflect over a century of contrasts’ clashed.