Sunday, 29 November 2015


Pick up any book or poem by one of the Bronte family and more often than not, there will be a winter scene described or winter weather referred to. Strong, icy winds blew through the parsonage, constantly chilling the inhabitants deep into their delicate bones from autumn until spring. Great, sash windows overlooked the church and the graveyard, framing a cold, grey, unwelcoming aspect. It was bleak, to say the least, more bleak than ‘Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone’ in Christina Rossetti’s ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’. Warm, summer sunshine must have been a rare happening in 19th century Haworth and surrounding areas.

I grew up fascinated by the lives and works of the Bronte family. It began with my mother’s copy of Jane Eyre, the first book in her glass-fronted bookcase. She would read it to me. When I was a little older, she bought me the Dean’s Classics for Children version. Later, it was Wuthering Heights that became my favourite and remains so, despite ‘picking it to the bones’ in the name of study many years ago.

I don’t like the cold, but I have fond memories of winter, long past. I was cosy in the large, high-backed easy chair beside the roaring fire, with my feet tucked beneath me and my head pressed into a winged corner. I flicked ash from a Benson & Hedges into the hearth and turned a well-thumbed page of ‘Wuthering Heights’, for the umpteenth time. I made a few notes as I attempted to dissect characters and crossed out a selection of possible opening sentences. This was back in the day when I studied English, rather than enjoyed it and found the whole process a boring, tedious chore.  (Oh, I got where I was going in the end, but it would have been so much better with the teachers of today.) Distracted, I left the chair for a moment to watch the blizzard. The house stood alone, not in the Yorkshire Moors immortalised by Emily Bronte, but hidden in the hills of North Lancashire, not far from Ingleton. I leaned my elbows on the deep window sill as the world turned white and the wind whistled round the house and howled down the chimney. I wiggled my toes in sheepskin slippers and smoothed down the over-sized Fair Isle sweater I’d borrowed.

The afternoon sky was an eerie hue of beige, pink and grey. Snowflakes grew fatter and stuck to the window. I watched until the lane completely disappeared and only the tips of the tallest privet poked through where the drifts hadn’t yet reached.

The others came back just before the power failed. It was a common occurrence, apparently. We spent the evening playing cards by candlelight and cooking food on the fire. The generator, when someone got it working, was to keep the fridge and freezer ticking over.

At some point during the following few days, I completed my work. Looking back I’d probably given up, decided it would do and gone out to join in the snowball fight. Whatever, I haven’t suffered for it and I’m still in awe of the Bronte family.

The Night is Darkening Round Me

The night is darkening round me,
The wild winds coldly blow;
But a tyrant spell has bound me
And I cannot, cannot go.

The giant trees are bending
Their bare boughs weighed with snow,
The storm is fast descending
And yet I cannot go.

Clouds beyond clouds above me,
Wastes beyond wastes below;
But nothing drear can move me
I will not, cannot go.

Emily Bronte 1818 – 1848

Thank you for reading, Pamela Winning.