Following my first review of the VIP Treasures session, I now move onto the guided tour of the Brontë Parsonage Museum itself. We were met in the exhibition room by the Museum Manager, Lauren (a fellow Emily fan might I add), and set off on our tour around the museum itself.
One of the things Lauren stressed before we entered the parsonage was that everything there was authentically Brontë. How do they know this, you might ask? Well apparently after Patrick Brontë’s death most of his possessions were auctioned off to surrounding villagers which meant that a lot of the family’s possessions never even left Haworth, making it easy for the Brontë Society to round them up again. A nice anecdote from the Treasures session revolved around a man who brought in a gaudily gold framed Branwell sketch on the condition it wasn’t removed from the frame…only for the museum to realise, after they were eventually allowed to remove it, that there was another sketch on the back!
Anyway, we started off our tour at the front of the house where I was very excited to find out that there’s a tree in the garden that is originally thought to have been planted by Charlotte and her husband, Arthur Bell Nicholls. After arriving in the entrance hall (which is still painted in the same pale blue Charlotte picked out during her life time) we made our way into Patrick Brontë’s study. During this tour we received so much insight into the Brontë men, who are so often overlooked despite being inspirational to the sisters’ novels and talented in their own right. Here we learnt that Patrick had a fear of fire resulting in his disapproval of curtains and throws in the house; objects he saw as potential fire hazards. Fascinatingly, he was also one of the first people to have a cataract operation (without the luxury of anaesthetic – ouch!), and during his recovery Charlotte experienced an intense period of creativity during which it is thought she produced Jane Eyre. I find this highly believable in light of her father’s fear of fire and the fact that he was blindfolded for most of that time .
The dining room is where the sisters would do most of their writing before reciting their stories to one another whilst walking around the table. Lauren told us a heart-breaking story about how Charlotte couldn’t sleep after her sisters’ deaths without taking a turn about the table first. Apparently the sofa in there is also rather eerily where Anne passed away.
I think it’s so easy to think of the sisters as just authors rather than fully formed people so it was really eye opening for me to see their lives fleshed out through all these possessions. It was particularly breath-taking to see one of the sisters’ dresses (which suggested a particularly short and slim stature) and Charlotte’s wedding bonnet, which is saddeningly slowly decaying after having been exposed to coal dust. However the most tear-jerking possession there was a baby’s bonnet which is thought to have been made for the child Charlotte was expecting when she died.
The most breath taking artefacts for me were the sisters’ portable writing desks and Charlotte’s desk which were displayed with their original contents. These were where the sisters’ wrote classics such as Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and I felt these held the most personal connections for me. However, I was disappointed to learn that most of Emily’s possessions (including her manuscripts) had been lost although Charlotte’s were remarkably well-preserved thanks to Nicholls’ enshrinement of her things after her death.
We were told to put aside an hour just for the museum tour but happily it actually lasted about double that amount of time! The two tours together cost £40 per person but I really do think they’re priceless if you’re a huge Brontë fan. Lauren gave us so much insight and lots of lovely anecdotes that really gave you a glimpse into the family’s life. Furthermore, Lauren was so knowledgeable and clearly very passionate about her subject (especially about Emily – yay), and a complete joy to listen to. I feel very priveledged to have been able to have such close contact with the Brontë’s home and I honestly can’t wait to go back again!