Friday, April 03, 2009
Inspiration: A writer's journey, part 2
The Brontë sisters are (or at least were) living proof of how difficult it is to put your finger on what, exactly, inspires a writer.
It was an uncanny experience to walk through the Haworth cemetery, with the Bronë Parsonage, where the Brontë sisters lived and wrote, looming in the background. The tombstones are crammed in thickly, with some laid flat edge-to-edge like gigantic floor tiles, and others set upright like jagged teeth, all with a faint green shadow growing on them. The solemn atmosphere is punctuated by the cawing of crows.
The novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, who wrote Charlotte's biography, claimed that this dreary setting influenced the "immorality" (to Victorian sensibilities) present in the sisters' writing, but I don't get a sense of their work in this place. In the museum you can sense them a little more in their things — for instance, the tiny books they made as children, and in Charlotte's pretty but modest wedding bonnet and veil, which echoes Jane Eyre's reluctance to wear jewels or an elaborate veil on her wedding day.
But I got the strongest sense of the Brontë sisters out on the moors my final morning there, wrapped in mist and solitude. Here I felt the closest to them, and perhaps the faintest understanding of what it was that inspired them to write their powerful, enduring novels. Many of their books contain a great deal of local flavor — especially Emily's Wuthering Heights, but also Charlotte's Jane Eyre and Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
Can't you just see Jane traveling along this road in her flight from Thornfield? Or Cathy and Heathcliff in the background, shirking their religious studies on a Sunday?
Although I did not have the time on this trip to write as much as I wished, it was still a writer's journey and a rejuvenation of creativity. I worked on an article, started a new novel, and kept a travel journal with our activities as well as my thoughts and impressions. It would be vain for me to associate my own writing with the genuis of the Brontë sisters, but there is no doubt that I was — and am — inspired by them.