Bronte Project: Visiting the Parsonage

21150435_10154860862102267_7572547235785128958_n

The Parsonage (and a a rare photo of Benn!)

I’ve been to the Parsonage so many times (it’s one of the things that happens when you grow up in a bookish family in West Yorkshire…) but I never get bored. I was especially interested in the Bronte 200 celebrations, which aim to mark the 200th anniversaries of the births of Charlotte (2016), Branwell (this year), Mr Bronte arriving in Haworth (2018) and the birth of Anne (2019). I was especially keen to visit after we found Anne Bronte’s grave last year.

Of course, when you’re in Yorkshire, you should really start off your lunch with rhubarb gin…

21199532_10154860638717267_3649815632710145745_o

One thing that was really exciting was that the Parsonage now has the ACTUAL table that the sisters wrote at. It was acquired in 2015 and it was the first time I’d seen it. Imagine- the ACTUAL table that Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall were written on. This was the table the sisters paced round as they discussed their projects. There’s even an E carved into the wood.

21199381_10154860867957267_1526534036233549502_o

I am aware that this is a rubbish photo. It is actually quite impressive in real life.

Throughout the house, there are costumes from To Walk Invisible, the Sally Wainwright drama that was shown over Christmas. The attention to detal was so amazing- it’s a shame my photography couldn’t do it justice.

This year is all about Branwell, the tragic Bronte brother, who should have been a great success but instead fell from grace. There are dedicated exhibitions: one is a recreation of his bedroom during the last years of his life, which was surprisingy melancholic. Branwell has been painted as a ne’er-do-well, but he was also a bit of an unfortunate soul and the bedroom really reflects this.

There’s also a dedicated area to Branwell’s written work, with new poetry by Simon Armitage. The best bit is seeing stuff in ‘the flesh’ that you’ve only ever seen in books- one of these was the famous Branwell sketch ‘A Parody’, which he drew in a fit of self-pity whilst ill. It was genuinely a bit of a thrill for a Bronte nerd.

4662bfb37d72cb1aa20f549da2fedfc5

One of the things I was desperate to do was to participate in an art project by artist Clare Twomey, in which visitors to the Parsonage are invited to write a line from Wuthering Heights into a new manuscript. This is because the original, handwritten by Emily Bronte, has been lost. Each participant is asked to write a line from the novel with a pencil (you get to keep the pencil at the end, to encourage you to continue writing.) I was given a line from chapter 27, in which Linton begs Catherine not to leave, or else he’ll die.I was a bit miffed I got a horrible character, but hey ho, that’s the luck of the draw. I wrote VERY carefully, so that a) my writing was legible and b) I didn’t make a mistake. Anyway, I managed it and I’m quite chuffed that my name is in something that’s sort of historical.

21246231_10154861139792267_7001800474970473710_o21167642_10154861139872267_5644047658809604819_o

Part of my Haworth tradition is making a pilgrimage to the church where the family are buried (without Anne, who is buried in Scarborough.) Although the Brontes would not have recognised the church as it is now- it was remodelled after Mr Bronte’s death- there is a sense of tranquility and history.

ab6f5934a25735d42a48bb0c46e6097a

Note the vase of heather from the moors

It was a lovely day- and to mark it, I HAD to buy something that combined two of my favourite things (there should be more book-based tea blends, IMHO):

21248346_10154868783112267_1111194524416760488_o I’ll report back on the tea ASAP.

Thoughts from beside Anne Bronte’s grave

1d31fe30dda2b9442970bbfdcebf4f4b

Anne Bronte is the only member of the family to be buried in Scarborough; after her death, aged 29 in 1849, Charlotte made the decision to ‘lay the flower where it had fallen’ and bury her sister quickly (there were three mourners at Anne’s funeral- Charlotte, their friend Ellen Nussey and their old school teacher, Miss Wooler.) The spot she chose would have been picturesque in 1849, beneath the castle walls and with a view out to the north bay. It still is a peaceful spot, albeit the bottom half of the graveyard is now a car park. Nothing, it seems, gets in the way of modernity.

Harbour from the top of the castle #scarboroughcastle #scarborough #sea…:

View of the North Bay and harbour from the top of Scarborough Castle

Although I knew I definitely wanted to visit Anne’s grave, I was taken aback when D and I stumbled upon it by accident on a morning walk (where inspired by the old fellas on their walks to buy papers or to give their dogs a wander, he began to return their greetings with a cheery- and very northern- ‘MORNING!’, much to everyone’s amusement.) Unbeknownst to us, we were staying five minutes away.

The day was warm and sunny, and even D realised we were somewhere that required a bit of quiet. We sat on a bench next to the grave and looked at the view; the sea was calm and the view was stunning. I noticed that there was a spot in front of the grave where the feet of people who were visiting had worn away the grass. I wondered how many people visited the spot every day. I’d been told that there were often flowers on the grave, but there were none on either of the two days I visited. I had looked for wildflowers to put down, but had had no look. Maybe they would have been more appropriate for Emily anyway.

In a funny way, I think it’s appropriate that Anne is the Bronte who is not buried at Haworth; she was the only member of the family who really had any professional success in a job away from home. Although she disliked being a governess, she was able to cope being away from her siblings. If it was Emily buried far away, I imagine she’d haunt Scarborough like Cathy until her remains were returned to the family vault.

Also, in a lot of ways, Anne is the family outcast. In a literary sense, she’s often left out in the cold. I’ve never met anyone who raves about her work in the same way they do about that of her sisters. No one ever says, breathlessly, that they are definitely an ‘Anne’. So maybe it’s fitting that the quietest Bronte is on her own, and noticed and visited for herself.

A few days later, we were in York when I had a sudden urge to walk down a particular street. It turned out that some part of my subconscious apparently remembered that there was a Bronte-related plaque:

Casual #Bronte spotting in #York. It's now a Next.:

“On 24 May 1849, Anne said her goodbyes to her father and the servants at Haworth, and set off for Scarborough with Charlotte and Ellen Nussey. En route, they spent a day and a night in York, where, escorting Anne around in a wheelchair, they did some shopping, and at Anne’s request, visited York Minster. However, it was clear that Anne had little strength left.”

I must have walked past it on previous trips to  York, but something drew me back- it’s pretty inconspicuous. After I took the picture and was walking away, it dawned on me that the reason that Anne and Charlotte had stayed on the site was that they were on their way to Scarborough, where Anne would die four days later. Four days had lapsed between finding the grave and finding the plaque.

AnneBronte.jpg

Anne’s death, coming as it did so soon after those of Emily and her brother Branwell, seems so tragic. Her apparent strength in the face of death seems brave and admirable (although it seems that Charlotte’s claim that her sister welcomed and longed for death are wrong; Anne wrote in a letter that she had many things she still wished to accomplish.)

On Sunday, 27 May, Anne asked Charlotte whether it would be easier if she returned home to die instead of remaining in Scarborough. A doctor, consulted the next day, indicated that death was close. Anne received the news quietly. She expressed her love and concern for Ellen and Charlotte, and seeing Charlotte’s distress, whispered to her to “take courage”. Conscious and calm, Anne died at about two o’clock in the afternoon, Monday, 28 May 1849.

There’s a plaque on the side of the Grand Hotel commemorating the place of her death..

I mused on the life of a quiet, shy woman who had written books that challenged early Victorian views of women. I wondered whether she would have been happy with the choice of her final resting place, or whether she would have preferred to be buried in the church at Haworth. And then, my thoughts interrupted by the chattering of an excited child desperate to get down to the beach, I walked back home in the sunshine.

Happy birthday, Charlotte Bronte

CBRichmond

Today it’s Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday. As a Yorkshire woman (despite being born in Wales and currently living in Brighton, I have my county written in my bones like Scarborough through a stick of rock) and a literature fan- as well as simply a reader- it feels important to mark this anniversary.

Despite Charlotte not being my favourite of the Brontes- in her letters, I find her to be sometimes maddening and I imagine that she might have been a high maintenance friend- without her, we wouldn’t know anything about her extraordinary family. After all, she was the one who discovered Emily’s cache of poems and overrode both Emily’s furious indignity and Anne’s reluctance to have the work published. She may have been stubborn (and maybe slightly overbearing to her younger sisters?), but she opened up the world of these three isolated women to the rest of us.

It’s because of this anniversary that I’m working my way through all of the Bronte material I can lay my hands on, as part of my self-set Bronte Challenge. I’m currently reading- and enjoying- Jane Eyre, a book I’ve never got on with before. This time, something has clicked, and I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s because of Jane’s determination to make the best of her life, despite her shortcomings, or the fact that as a woman in my early 30s, I get the mindset that Charlotte herself felt as she wrote the novel aged 31. I used to despair at Jane’s repeated reiteration of her plainness, but having read about Charlotte’s preoccupation with her health (bordering on hypochondria at times, although with siblings perishing around her, not wholly unwarranted) shortness and her teeth, I get where that came from. Maybe I just wasn’t ready for Jane Eyre when I was younger. Late to the party? Yes, I guess so. Most of my friends read the novel when they were younger. But I came to it with a more grown up view of the world and it worked for me.

So today, in honour of Miss Bronte, I’ll curl up somewhere with a cup of tea and my copy of Jane Eyre- and I’ll thank her for forcing her sisters to share their work with the world.

CharlotteBronte

 

 

Why I am all about hygge

I’ve been reading quite a bit about the concept of hygge lately- there was obviously a press release recently sent out, as both the BBC and The Pool have had features on their websites. ‘Hygge’ is apparently the Danish word for coziness and I am all. over. it.

If you follow me on any social media (particularly Instagram), you’ll know that my life generally revolves around books, tea, the odd bit of baking and knitting-particularly handknitted socks. So I’m not sure whether I was made for hygge, or it was made for me.

Take this blurry snap of me in the jumper below, for example:

My favourite scruffy jumper is out of its summer hibernation #helloautumn:

I cannot explain to you the EXCITEMENT I felt when the first chill of autumn appeared I could legitimately get this out of my ‘winter clothes’ drawer (we had a spare drawer. Don’t judge.) It isn’t great quality and I keep promising myself that I’m going to knit myself a nicer version out of some good quality wool, but there’s something about this one that makes me happy. In fact, I love it so much, I’m currently wearing it as I type.

See also handknitted socks:

Hand knitted socks!:

Every article I have read about the idea of hygge has been illustrated by the feet of smug people which are smugly adorned in handknitted Scandiweigan socks. These were knitted for me by my friend Jan and I love them. I do knit socks, but no one knits a comfier sock than Jan does. Ergo, these are my favourites and very ‘hygge’, despite me not having an open fire to display them next to.

Obviously, I am well suited to this idea of hunkering down for a long, cold winter. The holly tree out back is already festooned with scarlet berries, which I am told is a sure sign of a long, cold winter. I don’t mind. I grew up in the wilds of the North (er, Leeds) and I have a hardy constitution. I dress my child like a sherpa at the merest whiff of cold weather, so I imagine he’ll be fine too (he is desperate for snow, as there hasn’t been any since he was teeny tiny, so he can’t remember it.)

So if embracing hygge is an actual thing, rather than a clever marketing ploy- and if it’s the latter, congratulations! I’ve generated some content! Please feel free to offer me an all expenses paid trip to Denmark- I am quite happy to participate. As long as I can stay indoors, have the heating on, drink tea and read a good book.

tumblr_nar6b1Zp4E1tq4of6o1_500

The Bronte Project 2016

220px-Painting_of_Brontë_sisters

I’m currently reading a book about the lives of the Brontes and I’ve been thinking about their novels quite a bit. I grew up in Leeds and frequently visited Haworth as a kid- I’ve been to the Parsonage a few times too, the last time about eight years ago.

When I first moved to Brighton, I was a bit homesick. I turned to Wuthering Heights, with its familiar dialect and even more familiar landscape, as a way to re-connect with my home county. (I still have students at work coming to me to ask for help with some of the servants’ dialogue, a thick Yorkshire language that reminds me of old men and tradition.) Later, I read a few more books, but I’ve never read all of them- and certainly not all of the poetry.

(c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

So, here’s what I’ve decided to do: starting in January, I will read all of the Brontes’ novels, in order of publication- although I am planning on starting with the collections of the stories written when they were children first. I’m also going to watch adaptations. I’d also like to re-visit Haworth. I’m planning on blogging the whole lot across both of my blogs, this one and The Bookish Badger.

If you’d like to join in, I’ll be reading in the following order:

Jane Eyre- Charlotte Bronte

Wuthering Heights- Emily Bronte

Agnes Grey- Anne Bronte

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall- Anne Bronte

Shirey- Charlotte Bronte

Villette- Charlotte Bronte

The Professor- Charlotte Bronte

9780141040356

I’ll also read biographies, poetry collections and other works I can get my hands on. I’d love as many of the books to be Penguin Clothbound Classics as possible, but otherwise I’m going to try and invest in as nice editions as I can afford. I’m also going to read the collection of stories written before the novels were written, Tales of Glass Town, Angria and Gondal.

What I’ve been up to lately

To be honest, not tons has been going on- getting back into the swing of work and getting D settled into going to nursery (I think Benn is on the verge of some kind of breakdown some mornings.)

Last Wednesday I found myself on the Guardian website; I’d volunteered to give a response to Jeremy Corbyn’s first PMQs. The next day I was the only one of the panellists who had their face in the paper:

12033120_10153088972017267_1717583428887590511_n

All I can say is that my mum’s collections of clippings of me in newspapers and stuff is getting extremely eclectic.

20150910_150540

Also in the last week, my blackberry jelly recipe was published on Bluebird Tea Co.’s blog– if you’re not keen on the idea of adding the tea (although it’s lovely), you can replace that with water. It’s up to you; it’s a recipe well worth trying, even if I do say so myself! While you’re there, maybe try some of the new autumn blends. I was sent them to try and, along with the always popular Spiced Pumpkin Pie, I’d definitely recommend the Nuts About You rooibos, which I’m planning to try as a latte in the very near future.

Fitzgeralds

I’ve also been reading a very good biography of six notable women who forged remarkable lives in the 1920s called Flappers (if ever you feel your life is in stasis, read about someone like Josephine Baker or Tallulah Bankhead and feel quite inadequate…!) One of the women featured is Zelda Fitzgerald, pictured above with Scott. A review will follow on The Bookish Badger soon.

Anyway, I don’t mind being busy- at least I’m kept out of trouble!

The Thrifty Knitter (and Reader… and Other Things Too)

I am at that awkward stage of the month where I have enough money to get to and from work-with maybe the odd Diet Coke thrown in- and to pay my phone bill. It’s OK, though, because I don’t need anything extra and the house bills are paid; I know I’m in a fortunate position. I have started thinking though, because D is now in nursery, which is more expensive than our previous childcare and we don’t get the extra help that comes when he turns three (in October) until January. So, with birthdays and (whisper it) Christmas on the horizon, I’ve been thinking about how to save a bit of money. I have form for this- when on my maternity leave three years ago, I had to do some financial gymnastics- but now we own our own house, have a car and live further out of town, so things are a bit more complicated. I’ve written in the past about my love of eBay shopping for clothes, but here are some more ideas I’ve had.

money-vintage

For example, take knitting and my other crafty pursuits. I have loads of basic materials- yarns, needles, fabric, patterns and books. Do I usually buy more without too much thought? Yes. Could I instead think about what I have and use that instead? Yes. I have tons of knitting books and yarn stashed in most rooms of the house (and garage). I need to start using this up instead of automatically going on Ravelry to find something and then buy new wool. If I don’t have the wool, I don’t make it. Simple. I am going to finally start knitting the jumpers I’ve promised D and finish off a few WIPs.

books

I am a huge believer in libraries. I credit them with helping me through the dark days of early motherhood, when often the library was the only place I could get to. Most of the books reviewed on my book blog are library books and I’m lucky that Brighton and Hove has a brilliant library service. I also have TONS of books on my shelves that have yet to be read. But still, I am a compulsive book buyer and I buy every book with the intention of reading it. People buy me books too, as they know how much I love them. So my goal is to read more of what I have. I’m thinking for every three of my own books for every book I bring into the house- library or new.

vintage-woman-makeup

One of the hangovers from maternity leave is that my makeup budget is still quite modest. I generally buy cheaper brands (but, oh, I dream of owning a Chanel lipstick in the ‘Pirate’ shade, because who wouldn’t?) I do have a tendency though to go a bit mad when the new A/W shades are released though… so this year, I have decided that I won’t buy anything new until something is used up. Also, one of the first things to go in any lean period is my Lush habit. I can forgo bubble bars!

These are small ideas and kind of buy into (ha! PUNS!) the idea of consuming less, which is always a good thing. I’ll also be thinking about when and why I go into town- if I want to see friends, can I invite them here and bake a cake, instead of going out and buying a slice for the same amount it would’ve cost to make a whole one? Do I need more tea if I have some at home? I’m finding myself questioning whether I NEED or WANT stuff and find that, often, I can take or leave what I’m looking at. If I can leave it, then I can save a bit more money.

What are your thrifty tips?

What happens when you re-read Point Horror as a grown up?

10710812_10152316058967267_6762404056944786748_n.jpg

 

Recently, one of my Year 9 students brought a Point Horror book to my lesson as her reading book. It’s safe to say I alarmed her with my excited exclamations of ‘I LOVED POINT HORROR WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE!’ (I always have to resist adding ‘When I were a lad, I walked fifteen miles to school in the snow wi’ nowt but sackcloth on me feet and a jacket tatie in me pocket for warmth and dinner…’) Anyway, somewhat bemused, the student told me that they’d been her mum’s and that she’d recently been given the complete series. After enduring me wittering on for another couple of minutes about the merits of R.L Stine, the poor student eventually asked if I would like to borrow some. And so, she lent me the three titles above- all that I remember reading.

When I was about twelve, Point Horror was a serious pre-occupation of mine. I defy you to find many women who were young teenagers in the late 90s who hadn’t read at least one of the stories from the series, or Stine’s off-shoot series Goosebumps. They were wildly popular and widely swapped amongst my peers, so I was surprised to learn that they’ve been out-of-print for quite a while (although it appears that the series is being revamped and relaunched for modern teenagers.) After all, these were cheap paperbacks that offered all the idealised parts of the American teenage life with added gore and murder.

Reading them as an adult, there was still the element of surprise- although this ended much sooner than it would have done when I read the books eighteen years ago. All three books were around the 160 page mark and dealt with the Hitchcockian (The Window tells the story of a girl stranded in her bedroom after she breaks her ankle on a skiing trip and who witnesses a murder); the unnerving (The Dead Game is a tale of revenge gone wrong); and the supernatural (Freeze Tag is about teenage love, lust, jealousy and, er, the ability to freeze your love rival.)

I can see why twelve year old me would have loved these stories. It was the older teenage life of girls who were a bit like Buffy, a bit like the kids in programmes I liked such as Saved By The Bell- the younger version of the American Dream, sort of. Of course, being a teenager didn’t turn out like it did on TV or the books (even without murder by freezing!)

As a grown up, it was easier to spot the red herrings and twists but that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. If anything, I felt happily nostalgic as I devoured them. They reminded me of library visits, summer holiday reading and the escape reading offered me during periods of bleakness. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more on my charity shop jaunts.

Have you got any memories of Point Horror novels?

White Lies- Jo Gatford (and author interview)

whitelies

Before I begin this review, I’m going to issue a disclaimer: Jo is a friend of mine and I’m both immensely proud and insanely jealous that she’s written such a cracking debut novel as White Lies. Having a friend who’s a writer is beneficial though, as I get to interview her for the blog…

So, what’s the novel about? Well, it tells the story of Matt, a man haunted by the past and also the inconvenient fact that his brother has just died on his birthday. While this is bad enough, there’s also the fact that his dad has Alzheimer’s that’s getting worse, meaning that Matt has to keep telling his father that his favourite son is dead. There’s also a range of messy family relationships and deep secrets to keep you hooked.

I really enjoyed the book- I wasn’t sure what I was going to get, but I found it engrossing and the descriptions of Peter’s descent into himself was heartbreaking, funny and infuriating. The book also includes one of my favourite descriptive sentences of all time: part of the old people’s home is described as smelling of ‘chips and disappointment’. There were times when I wanted to strangle characters, others when I laughed and again when I felt deeply upset. There’s a lot here for a debut novel. You can buy it here.

I asked Jo a few questions- if you’re a budding novelist (or just nosy), read on…

cropped-tmss

 

1)       How did you manage to write a novel while being a mum to two small boys?
<Unhinged laughter> Slowly! I started writing the first draft just after my first son was born and he turned six in July just before the launch date, so it took its sweet time. It was very much a stop-start operation wedged in between work, having babies, and surviving sleep deprivation. There is no spare time, is there? I managed to carve out a few hours here and there to write, whether it was a Saturday afternoon in a café or late at night when I really should have been catching up on sleep. All very much facilitated by my wonderful husband who always makes sure I prioritise creativity over pointless stressing about work or doing the washing up. I actually go a little bit insane if I haven’t written for a while so the compulsive nature of it helps me to keep going, even if it does take me six years to finish a project.
2)       How did you make notes/research?
It’s been a long and slightly random accumulation of ideas and scribbles, really. For notes, I have lots of different notebooks which inevitably get lost around the house or stolen by the children for drawing on. Occasionally, just as I’m falling asleep, I’ll think of a perfect phrase or an important plot point and write myself a text message so that I’ll remember it in the morning. Although, sometimes I’ll read it back the next day and wonder what the hell I was talking about…
Research-wise it was a case of finding a balance between anecdotal stories (which are obviously very personal) and medical information (which can be quite dry and detached). A checklist of dementia symptoms doesn’t tell you what it’s actually like to experience the condition, or the effect it can have on relationships. For the emotional side of the story I spent a long time reading through diaries, blogs and articles written by people who are living with dementia, along with the perspectives of their carers and families. Hopefully the book brings together both sides of the situation; the sometimes innocuous day-to-day experiences, and the deep psychological impact.
3)       Which authors/books/films inspired your novel writing?
I tend to get inspired by whatever I happen to be reading/watching at the time, to be honest. In the last few years I’ve become much more influenced by short stories and flash fiction – I really admire the ability to create a fully-formed fictional world within a few hundred words. I think the skills needed to tie together a short story are extremely useful when applied to novel writing as you’re forced to make each chapter or scene as succinct as possible. My favourite author in all of time and space is Kurt Vonnegut, so in general he’s probably been the biggest influence on the way I’d like to get my thoughts out on paper.
4)       What are your three desert island books?
Arg. That’s not a fair question! Can I cheat and just bring a Kindle?
I could (and do) read Catch-22 over and over again to infinity, so that’s definitely number one – it makes me laugh and cry and would be excellent company when I inevitably found myself naked in a tree like Yossarian. Next would be Amy Hempel’s short story collection, The Dog of the Marriage, because it’s one of those books that does strange, wonderful things to your head and leaves you thinking about the stories for days afterwards. Third would probably be a big book of mythology or world history – it’s another sneaky cheat, really – so many stories and lifetimes contained within in one book.
5)       What are your ideal writing conditions?
 There’s a writing retreat in Devon called Retreats for You that is my idea of literary heaven. It’s set in a beautiful thatched cottage on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere, and you get thoroughly looked after by a fantastic couple who ply you with food and wine and tea and cake while you spend your days writing/sleeping. Back in the real world my writing conditions usually involve at least one small child asking me for something, the looming threat of day-job deadlines, and excessive procrastination via social media, so having space, silence and time to write is a wonderful luxury.

It’s happening again…

It looks like my book buying ban is becoming an annual thing- I have accumulated so many books that I need to take a step back and actually read what I have!

Image: Musee D'Orsay

Image: Musee D’Orsay

The rules:

  • The ban begins on August 1st and will last until December 25th.
  • I can accept books as gifts and for review.
  • I should take all other books out of the library or borrow from friends.
  • I’m allowed to swap books with friends.
  • I can buy books for D- from charity shops- whenever I fancy/have money.
  • I can buy books for other people as gifts.

Last year, I did really well- I only broke when I saw Morrissey’s autobiography for less than the price of a magazine. As much as I desperately I want the new Sarah Waters book, I’ll have to go on a massive reservation list at the library.

Fancy joining in? Sign up below and we can encourage each other- it’ll be a looooooooong few months…