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The Bront"e Sisters: Writing the Lonely Wilds

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HOW large a part does geography play in our lives? Is there a particular place where we flower best? How important, for instance, was the isolation of Haworth, rimmed by the wind-stroked moors of West Yorkshire, to the realization of the Bront"e sisters' genius? These were some of the questions I had as I rode the train from London to Leeds, to Keighley and then by bus to Haworth, the childhood home of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bront"e.

Charlotte Bront"e's ``Jane Eyre'' and ``Villette,'' Emily's ``Wuthering Heights'' and Anne's ``Agnes Grey'' are treasured far beyond the confines of the English-speaking world. What indeed would life be like without these impassioned tales?

A pilgrimage to Yorkshire and the hilly stone-covered village of Haworth, situated on the industrial spine of England, seemed a necessary literary excursion that summer.

As I approached the village after a 3-hour train ride from London, the bleak weather and the glimpses of the wild heather on the windy moors quite suited my romantic imaginings. So did the prolonged squeak of the heavy door to the 16th-century hostelry in Haworth where I spent the night.

After my arrival, I set out at once to visit the parsonage, now a museum. As I walked up the steep cobbled hill and turned right at the chocolate shop, I found my first surprise. In my romantic vision, the Bront"e children would have been physically isolated, surrounded by the stormy Pennine moors that provided gloomy inspiration for their tales. Yet the imposing stone parsonage is very much a part of Haworth, although it sits at the top of a hill at the village's edge. Haworth, itself, four miles from the bustling town of Keighley, had a distinct industrial life of its own during the Bront"es' childhood.

The Black Bull, a pub where the eldest brother, Branwell, tragically drank himself to death, stands almost literally a stone's throw from his home.


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