This summer we started a project I have been wanting to do since I was a starry-eyed fourteen-year-old girl, crushing on the Byronic heroes of the Gothic Novels: a literary tour of Britain.
This desire has only been extended since my literature degree, here is a quick overview of the places I have been (So far!)
|Bronte Parsonage Museum, Haworth, Yorkshire|
This was my mecca and has been since I fell in love with Mr Rochester at age 14 (so, he keeps his ex-wife in the attic…we all make mistakes). I have a strange affinity with Charlotte Bronte, and the description of Jane being ‘poor, obscure, plain and little’ is always something which has struck a melancholic teenage chord with me and all told, I had to go and visit my idol (side note: yes, I know she’s dead).
The museum is a series of exhibitions in the house where the Brontes were born and died (most of them), the main attraction is the sofa where Emily died (died! how morbid…) but the overall exhibition was really interesting. Seeing the rooms they grew up in and the attitude they were surrounded by was fascinating, and has only made me admire Charlotte’s tenacity even more. The exhibition was mostly Charlotte-themed, possibly because she was the child who lasted the longest but also it is, I believe, a bicentenary celebration this year. There was a specific room set up about Charlotte which included some of her clothes (she was tiny!), her writing desk, and a pair of her spectacles but the exhibition permeated the museum, showing different, fascinating facets of her life. It was absolutely incredible, just historically, to see the type of stature someone had in the mid 19th century, interestingly, at the Jane Austen museum it was apparently obvious the Austens were much bigger in height and in size, but we concluded this was likely due to nutrition more than anything.
I did think the town went a little overboard on their plaques, including displaying one on the local pub which explained how Branwell had drunk there, an affliction he later died from, closely followed by the apothecary over the road with a plaque showing that this is where Branwell got his Opium. You can hardly blame them for squeezing every last drop of the Bronte experience though. I would also recommend you bring your walking boots and head out over the moors to find one of the many ruins they believe inspired Wuthering Heights, we didn’t get the chance and I’m already planning a trip back up there to find Heathcliff…
Rating: 9/10, would visit again.
Chawton, Hampshire, Home of Jane Austen
|Jane Austen’s House Museum Chawton, Hampshire|
Despite also being poor, it is clear the Austen’s benefitted from wealthy family members which the Brontes simply did not have. Having seen both the Austen museum in Bath, and Stoneleigh Abbey (where the Austen’s stayed with relatives for a short while) it is clear the Austen managed to live comfortably if not wealthily. As mentioned above, this was most abundant in the stature of the girls, but beyond this the house was fascinating, filled with relics of some of Jane’s most famous work.
The major highlight was seeing Jane’s writing table, a sight I have to admit filled me with creative inspiration. The museum was mostly about all of the Austen’s and there were some rooms linked to her brothers and their naval career, whilst some might find this interesting I must admit I found it a little dull. Around the museum was illustrations from the different editions of her books which were lovely to look at. As with all literary museums seemingly, there was a dress up area and I couldn’t resist becoming Jane for just a moment. This was accompanied by the woman helping with the dressing up informing us that the trend in the Regency period was to have the neckline cut so low, it only just covered your nipples….
The Museum was lovely, but be warned – Chawton, like Haworth is a tourist trap with very limited and expensive eateries so you might want to stop elsewhere, but it is darling and I would return. Like the Bronte museum and seemingly many other heritage attractions, tickets seem to be 12-month returns making the trip much better value (depending on where you live I suppose).
9/10 for literary lovers, and I would probably recommend this one over the other Austen houses, though if you can visit the other places, such as Bath, Stoneleigh and Winchester, I would try and get the whole experience.
Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, home of Shakespeare
|Shakespeare’s Grave, Stratford Upon Avon Holy Trinity Church “Cursed be he that moves my bones”|
Finally, a trip to the father of playwrighting, ol Bill. I have been to Stratford many times before, and because of that, this time I didn’t bother going into the Birthplace Trust properties (though they are excellent and I would highly recommend them), this time however I managed to go and see Shakespeare’s grave, something I have been meaning to do for ages.
This is another experience I found remarkably moving, his grave lies in a small church and a £3 entrance fee is asked for getting into the grave. The nice thing about that is, it quickly becomes clear from conversing with the volunteers that that small donation is for the upkeep of the church and the money can be seen in the works made to keep the church upright – indeed, last time I visited it was shut for necessary refurbishment. It has a bit more of a homely feel in some ways than the bigger properties in town, and there was something quite soothing about it. There are a few information stands when you go in, but at the back the main event is the graves of Shakespeare and his family, along with the birth and death registers and the font they believe he was baptised in.
Possibly because the day was so quiet, it did feel like a religious experience – though for me it was more to do with seeing Shakespeare’s grave rather than being in a church – but along with all of the other trips on this holiday I felt that it had an affect on me and visiting the sites of these great British writers has given me a boost to begin my own writing again.
As always, 10/10.
So, kind of a soppy roundup, but if you are an aspiring writer, or just interested in British writing, these are all fantastic places to visit. Next on the list is the Keats House, and finding Wordsworth in the Lake District. Do you have any recommendations?