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A Haunting at Haworth

6 May

That the supernatural should be associated with the most famous trio of sisters in literature, the Brontës, should perhaps come as no surprise. Raised by their grim and brooding father, the Reverend Patrick Brontë, in the bleak hillside village of Haworth in Yorkshire, Charlotte, Emily and Anne were lonely, dreamy children. Their mother died the year after Anne was born and, since their surviving parent spent most of his time in his study – often even having his meals alone – the girls were left to themselves to read and wander on the wild empty moors surrounding their home. Together the Brontë children – they also had an unhappy brother named Branwell – made up stories of an unreal world, writing them in tiny handwriting on small sheets of paper, which they stitched together to look like real books. For one year Charlotte and Emily went to a school for the daughters of clergymen, but they were very unhappy there. This tumultuous early life inevitably found its expression in their fiction. Charlotte gave a terrible picture of her school in Jane Eyre, where she called it ‘Lowood’. Emily’s only novel, Wuthering Heights, is a wild, strange, powerful book, containing stirring descriptions of the Yorkshire moors that she knew so well. Anne’s novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, contains a terrible account of a drunkard, which was written from what she knew about her brother Branwell’s alcoholic binges. The three sisters were very different in character. Anne was gentle and open, Charlotte was quiet but with very deep feelings, and Emily, who was perhaps the greatest of the three in talent, had the strongest and the strangest character. She was silent and reserved and endured pain of body and mind with determination; only in her writing can be seen the fierce passions which she kept hidden inside her. The three also each had very different attitudes and experiences of the supernatural.

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