Monday, May 20, 2013

Monday, May 20, 2013 12:30 am by Cristina in , ,    No comments

At Home with the Brontës
The History of Haworth Parsonage and its Occupants
Ann Dinsdale
Amberley Publishing
ISBN 9781445608556
Coinciding with the redecoration of the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Collections' Manager Ann Dinsdale looks back on the many inhabitants and looks of the house in her new book At Home with the Brontës.

'If these walls could talk' is a well-known idiom and we are pretty sure that it is often spoken - or at least thought - when visiting the Brontë Parsonage Museum. What people often overlook when visiting the Museum is that the Brontës' lives weren't the only ones to unfold there. The parsonage was already lived in - though rather new, having been built in 1778-1779 - when the Brontës moved in in 1821 and others followed afterwards. However, the Brontës do seem to have been the family to have spent the longest period living there, and that's not counting their afterlife there.

Even after Sir James Roberts bought it for the Brontë Society in 1928, some people continued living there in their role of custodians. Harold Gillian Mitchel was the first custodian. He and his family lived in a 'few cramped rooms in the Wade wing of the Parsonage' from 1928 to 1961 and as one of his sons recalled,

We never saw 'the family next door', but we felt they existed.

And indeed, the separation between both worlds was flimsy:

A single glass-panelled door separated the Mitchells' living accommodation from the original Parsonage. 'Whenever you opened that door [...] you were stepping into a different, hushed place; with its stone flagged floor it was different, it even smelt different'.

Living and working there may be many a Brontëite's dream today, but the work of custodian, particularly at the beginning, wasn't easy . It was, in fact, very hard work and highly demanding. That glass-panelled door was also metaphorically flimsy as the whole family ended up working, even if unofficially of course.

Written in Ann Dinsdale's clear, concise prose, At Home with the Brontës is full of anecdotes and 'I couldn't have imagined' moments. It covers what's surely new ground for most Brontëites, who are invited to step in and look at the house from an altogether different angle to the one we are used to. The Brontë Parsonage not as the museum we all know (and obviously love) but as a regular house. Do you know who built it and do you know which house it resembles? Can you imagine what it must have been like to live there after the Brontës to the point of having to 'issue' a few postcards of the inside for rather nosey literary tourists? Can you picture some of the goings-on at the Brontë Society seeming straight out of a novel by Jasper Fforde? It's all there, together with many pictures of the house and its inhabitants through the years (including some of the new decoration) and a helpful chronology of the alterations and redecorations carried out since it was first built.

Anyone who has ever visited the Parsonage and felt that feeling of awe you unavoidably get within those 'four walls' will find At Home with the Brontës to be an interesting read. The life of the Brontë Parsonage is seriously more thrilling than you can begin to imagine.


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