The Haworth Parsonage today in Haworth, Keighley, UK.
Decluttering is pretty fun when the point isn’t to declutter, but instead to open cans of worms and wallow in bittersweet nostalgia. It’s like looking through years-old text messages from an old crush. You’re tempted to rekindle feelings you thought were long gone before you remember the point was to delete old messages and clear up some space in your phone’s memory. That’s what happened when I played the risky game of sorting through years-old documents on my Google Drive. Since high school started, my schedule had forced me to abandon my past relationship with the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne—famous for writing some of the liveliest works of British literature during their quiet lives in their isolated moorland home.
And this was no regular can of worms.
What I found in my Google Drive was a project I started years ago. I had mapped out a complete timeline of the Brontë sisters’ lives down to the month of every year of their existence.
My timeline spanned April 21st, 1816 to March 31st, 1855—the birth and death of Charlotte Brontë, the eldest and longest surviving sister. I kept track of where the Brontë family had roots, every place they lived and traveled to. Penzance, Drumballyroney, Cambridge, Hartshead, Thornton, Haworth, Halifax, Mirfield, Brussels, Luddenden—I don’t need to refresh my memory before the names of these Brontë-landmark towns nearly type themselves from my keyboard. I’ve been gathering information about the Brontës for years, simply for my own (unexplainable) pleasure.
I’ve memorized nearly every recorded detail about the Brontë sisters’ lives. For example, I know that they had an overcrowded graveyard for a backyard.
I can even tell you I know Anne Brontë kept her flower-printed smelling salts bottle throughout her illness and death, the same smelling salts that belonged to her mother who died too long ago for her to remember. I can tell you Anne was the only Brontë not to be buried at the St. Michael and All Angels’ Haworth Church in the family vault. I know she was buried by the sea at Scarborough after a short battle with tuberculosis, which she caught from her sister Emily who herself died just five months before. After all, I reason, Emily was the sister that spent her days helping the household maid Tabby with baking the bread and washing the clothes in runoff from the graveyard situated at the top of the Haworth hill. And I conclude, retrieving my mental files of Brontë trivia, that it was this graveyard runoff that shortened Haworth residents’ life expectancy to about twenty-five years of age.
I got to live the entire lives of the Brontës in these random jottings I made in my Google Drive so long ago, random meticulous facts I scavenged for online, details that stuck with me. And so every detail I mentally archived on the Brontë sisters came back to me, every single piece of information I collected since the summer after my sixth grade year—the summer I fell passionately in love with Charlotte Brontë after reading Jane Eyre for the first time. Scrolling further I found that in my Google Drive, I had put all this gathered information to use for a collection of poetry about Charlotte Brontë’s life. I even had a detailed outline for this hypothetical poetry book prepared. I’m really not exaggerating when I compare my feelings for the Brontës with an obsessive crush.
I can’t explain why I always interject little pieces of Brontëana into family discussions.
My family stares blankly when I excitedly make a connection to something in our lives or on the news to something seemly unrelated about the Brontës’ lives. There’s really maybe two other people I know in my life that are committed fans, but even so, their obsession doesn’t go any further than their love for Brontë literature.
When people ask me about this interest, I often fumble awkwardly for a loss of words, trying to put together an explanation for all of this in a relatable way. But I can’t find an explanation. I can never seem to tell people the extent of my obsession, because truly, I don’t know what draws me to the mysterious lives of misanthropic rural 1840s-Yorkshire women.
What’s even more puzzling is my discovery of a collection of blogs and websites set up by Brontë fanatics like me—in some cases even more intense in their obsession. I wouldn’t imagine anyone besides me has an unusual interest like this.
Indeed, Brontëmania is a very real phenomenon. Even if it exists with around only sixty other people on the planet, many of whom are over sixty years of age.
Years into being hung up over the Brontës and being almost as awed by Brontëmania as I am by the sisters themselves, I’m starting this blog to figure out the reason behind the appeal. Besides from the obvious, of course. Many know that Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are revolutionary, feminist works of fiction, the voices of which belong far better in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. But what’s so magnetic about the violent Brontë heroes and heroines, about the style of Brontë literature? Why is the Victorian-era oddity that was the dysfunctional Brontë family is still so phenomenal to fans today?
I will discuss Brontë literature, investigate mysterious alleged photographs, piece together the sisters’ true identities that are now mostly lost to history—and I hope to get some answers to Brontëmania. Our small, but intense community of fans, like our namesakes, is a puzzle of its own to solve.
All information cited comes from The Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell, the Brontë sisters’ original work, and secondhand sources of their personal diaries (courtesy of the Brontë Parsonage Museum).
Follow my blog to read more unusual stories about the Brontë family and how it fits in with the Brontë community!