All my life I have lived within walking distance to the quaint village of Haworth, home of the legendary Brontë sisters, and deep in Brontë country. My literary education at school almost always consisted of studying one of their classic novels, having school trips to the nearby Brontë Parsonage Museum, and walking across the moors to the Brontë Waterfall, where is it said the sisters often wrote. This sounds like an English Literature student’s dream, and whilst I’ve always excelled in English, everybody has always expected me to automatically love the Brontës and their writing because of where I live. The truth is far from it. Living in Keighley (the closest town to Haworth) has definitely taken a toll on my love of classic literature, and I find myself leaning away from reading anything from the Victorian era.
I moved to York for three years whilst studying my undergraduate degree in Media and English Literature. During one of my first English seminars, we had to introduce ourselves and obviously, my go-to fact for a bunch of English Literature students is my home connection to the Brontës. After this, my lecturer only remembered my name when she linked my hometown and my name saying: “Oh you’re like Emily Brontë!” (I have to note that my parents didn’t name me Emily because of the Brontë culture). I can never escape the connection between me and the Brontë sisters, no matter where I live, and it’s frustrating. Because of this, and my inherent love of literature, I have become the go-to person to ask about the Brontë sisters but other than the fact that they lived in Haworth and wrote a few books, I don’t actually know that much about them.
Haworth, the village where the Brontë family lived most of their lives, has a beautiful cobbled main street, with plenty of small, independent shops ranging from homemade jewellery, chocolate, vintage fashion, record shops, and, of course, unique little bookshops (stocked with Brontë novels).The main downside to visiting Haworth is that, because of its Brontë heritage, it’s always filled with tourists from all over the world which makes it quite difficult to enjoy the village in all its glory. Yes, it’s great for our economy but it becomes so overwhelming at times. With so many people in such a small village, it loses its Victorian-esque enchantment as it turns out to be nothing like it would have been during the Brontë age – which is why people are visiting in the first place.
The Brontë Parsonage Museum is one of the only exciting things to show my university friends who have visited me at home – there is nothing much around here in Brontë country, unless you travel 30 minutes by train to Leeds. I’m in favour of keeping the Brontë’s legacy alive because I know how influential they are for British literature, but honestly, the parsonage is extremely underwhelming for an average museum-goer. I heard that the parsonage has undergone redecoration, so there is actually little left in terms of authenticity from when the Brontës lived there – besides a few scribbles on the wall from one of the sisters. Unless you’re a die-hard Brontë fan, I probably wouldn’t recommend it.
For most people, having a novel set in the place you grew up would be nostalgic and comforting but reading is supposed to be an escape from my everyday life. Yes, the Yorkshire moors are picturesque, and I’m very grateful to have Brontë country on my doorstep, but I don’t want to be reminded of my front door on every page I read. I have a love/hate relationship with classic literature in general, but I think it’s exacerbated by my frustration in trying to understand why everybody loves the Brontës so much. It’s not as though I don’t try to read classic literature. Last year I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and enjoyed it, but contemporary literature appeals more to me. This is mainly because it’s written in plainer English, and I don’t have to try to get a grip of what the author is actually saying before I can understand the plot. Also, for Christmas, my mum has bought me a monthly book subscription, so each month I receive a ‘classic’ book and a cute bookmark – so I am determined to read more classic literature to widen my reading scope. With Brontë novels in particular, I’ve tried so desperately to enjoy reading them. So when people ask me about them, I can have an insightful discussion, but I find their writing so tedious, overly descriptive, and pretty depressing.
That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy living here. I adore waking up, looking out of my window, and being surrounded by the beauty of Brontë country. I understand that I should be proud of the culture of my town, but I think that much of the Brontës work has become so overrated and oversaturated nowadays. I know that they lay a foundation for classic British literature, but they are found everywhere; there are at least ten English-speaking film adaptations of Wuthering Heights, countless period dramas not just of their novels, but focusing on their lives as well, and book adaptations inspired by the work of the sisters. This combined with the (quite negative) things I’ve come to connote to the Brontës through living here makes me dislike their work and I have found it extremely difficult to find any kind of enjoyment in reading their novels.
Words by Emily Shepherd
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