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Travel to Bronte Country in December with Karen Powell

  • Submitted: 3rd December 2023

The Brontë Parsonage Museum

Very happy to have Karen Powell on The BookTrail today. She’s coming to talk about her love of all things Brontë and her new novel Fifteen Wild Decembers.

It’s a blustery day. She arrives in a horse and carriage, taffeta skirts making it tricky to alight the carriage. But a footman who appears from the back of the carriage is quick to assist. She straightens her cloak, gets a basket from the carriage and walks to the door of BookTrail Towers.

Five minutes later, and we are enjoying the fruits of that basket ( plum pie if you’re interested) and some cider from BookTrail Towers. The fire is on, the Yorkshire moors in both our minds as Karen starts to talk…..

karen-powell

Karen Powell

BookTrail location – Bronte Country, Haworth, West Yorkshire

The Bronte Parsonage (c) TheBookTrail

The Bronte Parsonage (c) TheBookTrail

The Parsonage Museum at Haworth, a remote village in West Yorkshire, is so synonymous with the Brontë sisters that it’s easy to forget what an unusual privilege it is to step inside their home. Here, some of the most remarkable novelists in the English language lived and worked. I’m lucky enough to live within driving distance of the village and have visited many times, long before the idea came to me of writing a fictionalised account of Emily Brontë’s life.

Map of locations in Fifteen Wild Decembers

From the high street at Haworth to the Parsonage:

Map of locations in Fifteen Wild Decembers

The Parsonage stands at the top of the village. Above is the wild moorland that Emily loved so passionately, while next to the house is the church where the girls’ father, The Reverend Patrick Brontë, preached. Their mother and two older sisters, Maria, age 11, and Elizabeth, age 10, were interred here. The church’s graveyard abuts the garden wall of the Parsonage, brings death almost to the doorstep (I always visit the grave of Tabby Aykroyd there, the family’s steadfast servant) but the house itself feels alive with the past.

St Michael & All Angels Church, Haworth

Map of locations in Fifteen Wild Decembers

It’s endlessly magical to me. The moment I step inside, I hear the footsteps of that extraordinary family echoing down the flagstone hallway, imagine the young Brontës tearing up and down the stairs at the far end of the hallway, immersed in the games they invented, many of them based around a set of wooden soldiers that belonged to Branwell, the only son in the family. An early scene in my novel Fifteen Wild Decembers has the children re-enacting the battle of Waterloo in the stairwell, with Anne’s dolls brought on as reinforcements. The wooden soldiers lie battered and broken by the time the fighting ceases.

Fifteen Wild Decembers Karen Powell#

Map of locations in Fifteen Wild Decembers

At the table in the little dining room to the left on the hallway, Emily, Charlotte and Anne wrote their novels in secret. That they were able to do so in such a small household, without their brother or father suspecting a thing, is testament to the fact that writing for pleasure- scribblemania as Charlotte once termed it – had been part of their lives since childhood. They stitched together scraps of paper to form little books in which they recorded the adventures of the wooden soldiers, wrote stories, book reviews and plays too, designed to entertain the toy troops.

Brontë notebooks (c) The Brontë Society

Brontë notebooks (c) The Brontë Society

Map of locations in Fifteen Wild Decembers

Emily and Anne also wrote diary entries from time to time to mark their birthdays. In one of these, the nineteen-year-old Emily drew a picture of the two of them at work at the dining room table. Anne sits near the fireplace, where she liked to warm her feet on the fender, while Emily, characteristically, has her back to the viewer.

Haworth High Street:

Map of locations in Fifteen Wild Decembers

As many readers will know, anonymity was hugely important to Emily. Despite Charlotte’s attempts to cajole her into putting her own name to her work, Wuthering Heights was only ever published under the pseudonym of Ellis Bell, at least during her lifetime. A member of the Parsonage team showed me the spot on this same table where an ‘E’ has been carved into the wood – surely the work of a younger Emily, marking her place in the world here in Haworth. I wonder what kind of trouble she got into when her handiwork was discovered!

Haworth Town Hall

Map of locations in Fifteen Wild Decembers

In the gallery rooms upstairs there are some wonderful items well worth a look. They include Emily’s artist box and some of her beautiful pictures of birds and animals. You can also find a trunk purchased by Charlotte when she was at school in Brussels. As for Anne, her handkerchief, ominously bloodstained (she died, age 29, of tuberculosis). Sometimes on display are locks of the children’s hair and the dead-aliveness of these never fails to move me.

The three Bronte sisters:

The Brontë sisters c) National Portrait Gallery

The Brontë sisters c) National Portrait Gallery

Map of locations in Fifteen Wild Decembers

There is one particular object I always seek out: the enormous, hinged brass collar that once belonged to Emily’s beloved dog, Keeper, a fierce bull-mastiff cross. He followed her everywhere, including through the gate that led from the Parsonage garden to the graveyard on the day of her funeral. Emily was just 30 years old.

And with that, Karen gets up from the fireplace. She says she is heading back to the Parsonage so must get on. I think she’s heading there to spend more special time with the Bronte sisters and who can blame her? Their presence is everywhere and it’s a magical landscape, literary or otherwise, to be part of.

 

BookTrail Boarding Pass: Fifteen Wild Decembers

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