Sunday, January 13, 2008

Bronte Country

The house where the extraordinary Bronte sisters grew up is a little over an hour by bus and train from Manchester. The village of Haworth is in Yorkshire, just east over the Pennine Hills from the big city.

Hundreds of volumes have been written about this remarkable family. Charlotte and Emily wrote two of the finest novels of the 19th century ("Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights" respectively), and these books still enjoy tremendous popularity. Younger sister Anne was also a fine novelist, though less read today. The name Bronte is an attempt to mask the family's Irish roots and ancestral name, Brunty.

Briefly, the family moved into the parsonage in 1820. There were six children. The oldest two daughters became ill at a boarding school and died (providing fodder for "Jane Eyre"), and their mother died of cancer. The four remaining children, Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell, were home-schooled by their aunt and created their own mythic stories and books.

You can really get a feel for how the place may have inspired the young women. Haworth is on the edge of the moor. The day I visited, it was blustery, wet and cold, a perfect day for Heathcliffe to go brooding about with his cloak pulled tight about him.

If the deaths in their family weren't enough, the front yard of their home was the church cemetery.

This is the school where Charlotte taught, adjacent to the parsonage. The town is arranged along a road that winds up to the top of the hill. There are a number of public walking trails that lead out from the village.

In the village you can visit the pub where the Brontes' brother Branwell destroyed himself with drink and laudanum, a medical form of opium that was popular and easily obtainable.

Monday, January 07, 2008

JK Rowling's cafe in Edinburgh

Sunday I went to brunch in Edinburgh with Matt and Susan Reed, a British couple we met in the Galapagos. We went to a little place called the Elephant House and had a nice chat. Turns out this was the coffee house where J.K. Rowling penned her first Harry Potter book, and maybe several thereafter.

It is obvious why. It has an airy main room, high ceiling, big windows, big tables, lots of room, lots of space for a writer to get lost in thought.

Saturday night I went to see the Scottish ballet perform Tschaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, which was very good, mostly. Some of the performers are of very high quality and some are pretty dodgy.

The city is dominated by a castle that dates back about 1,000 years and has been overrun and heavily damaged several times. It's built on a pile of rock that is an extinct volcano.

Sunday I hiked to the top of Arthur's Peak, about 800 feet above the city and extremely craggy and blustery. It's also an extinct volcano.
Edinburgh is a bustling city of about 450,000 on a wide water highway to the ocean called the Firth of Forth. Interesting architecture.
The accents are very strong and hard to render in written form. Robert Burns was not exaggerating. Nor was the Fat Bastard's accent overplayed by Mike Meyers in the Austin Powers movie.


The Conservatives have made a big stink lately about the number of British workers on disability and have made a proposal to get them back to work. The total of 2.6 million people collecting disability payments is huge considering that the workforce numbers only 30 million.
British employers fret about that cost as well as the cost of workers calling off sick, which is a massive problem here.

Oscar Wilde said it best: Work is the bane of the drinking classes.