Coming Home To Haworth: Charlotte Brontë’s ‘little book’.

Screenshot of the crowdfunding campaign to buy Charlotte’s book

Last Monday, November 18th, a little book came up for auction in Paris; a VERY little book, one and a half by two and a half inches. The author was Charlotte Brontë, aged 14, and the tiny volume is one of six miniatures written in the Yorkshire parsonage where the Brontë children grew up. A campaign was launched by The Brontë Society to buy it, and a huge wellspring  of public goodwill enabled the organisers to reach, and go beyond, the crowdfunding target of £80,000  showing just how much value we still place on the world of books and literature, and how the amazing Brontë story resonates not only for locals but also for readers all over the world.

Haworth Station

‘Go, litel book!’  Go back to Haworth and do homage to thy mistress. According to the latest news it is still in Paris, but has its passport (!) and will head off shortly, hopefully going on display in February 2020 after renovations at the Museum are completed. 2020 will also celebrate the bicentenary of Anne.

You can find out more about the Brontës  and even join the society (one of the oldest literary societies in the world) here. There are also numerous  videos on YouTube about them (one I particularly like is listed in the links at the end of the blog).  But as part of my own personal homage to those sisters, in 2017 I wrote a novella, The Passage of Desire, set in Haworth in the early 1990s. It’s FREE to download this weekend, Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th November, here and here. (Kind) reviewers have commented:

‘I loved the rich descriptions of the Yorkshire countryside and how the passion evoked in Wuthering Heights is intertwined with the story.

…the Brontë landscape is beautifully described; clearly the writer knows it very well. There are some pleasing literary references which Brontë fans will enjoy…..

…the Brontës float in and out of the story, both literally and metaphorically, and the tale is something of a homage to romanticism.’

I hope those floating Brontë spirits, wherever they may be, are celebrating this weekend. Youpee!

The moors “long swells of amethyst-tinted hills…”

Read on for an extract from The Passage of Desire, in which 7-year-old Caroline, one of the narrators, visits the parsonage museum for the first time with her mother, Alexandra, and their hosts, Juliet and Oliver, and is struck by the miniature booklets.

Chapter 13 The Brontë Museum

The churchyard, Haworth

Caroline had been pestering for a visit to the museum. And so, one bright morning, they found themselves in the shade of the village churchyard on their way to the parsonage. The tower of St Michael and All Angels was just visible as they stepped into a forest of graves, wedged into every available inch of space, the headstones standing shoulder to shoulder like chessmen, some with pointed tops, some shaped like mitres, others representing stars or fleur-de-lys, or crowned with ornate pediments. Some were upright, others listed to the side. Moss and lichen had blurred the blackened inscriptions but it was possible to make out the words if you looked closely. Thousands of bodies, it was said as many as forty thousand, lay together in this confined space, a reminder that the now pretty village of Haworth had once been a grim and insalubrious place, home to workers in the textile mills that spread across the valley, fed by the plentiful water pouring down from the rain-soaked moors. Tuberculosis and other diseases stalked the village streets, carrying off the weak. Sometimes, stopping to look, you would see the names of entire families marked on the headstones. Juliet always got the shivers when she passed through.

Caroline danced from one grave to another squatting down to decipher the words.

‘Here lies Martha, be…love…beloved daughter of James and Eliza…died in the ten, the tenth, year of her age…Luke, in the 2nd year of his age, Mary, in the 6th year of her age.’

She stopped short and slid her hand into Alexandra’s.

‘Why did all these children die, Mummy?’

Alexandra too was feeling uncomfortable. This was not a peaceful resting place, like some she had visited. In spite of the fine day it was dark and chilly under the tall trees where rooks cawed. The graveyard was full of rustlings as the wind passed through the high branches and shook the stands of yew and ibex. White dandelion clocks floated in the unkempt grass.

‘Remember what Daddy told you? In those days, that was Victorian England, the people who lived here were very poor, they didn’t have warm houses and good food. They worked long hours in the mills. Remember when Juliet told you about Wuthering Heights? How cold it gets in winter? People got sick, children died, babies died.’

‘Come on, let’s go look at the museum,’ said Juliet, taking Caroline’s other hand. ‘I bet you’d like to see the room where those sisters used to write their stories, wouldn’t you? And the kitchen where they sat by the fire on winter evenings when the wind was wuthering and shaking the window panes.’

She gave a scary ‘whoo’ and Caroline’s anxious frown was replaced by a tentative smile.

‘Whoo,’ she echoed and gave a little skip, swinging her arms between the two women.

Oliver brought up the rear.

The Parsonage. the Bronte Society brochure, cover

The parsonage reminded Caroline of Juliet and Alan’s house, it had the same big windows with twelve panes of glass exactly the same size surrounded by white painted frames. It stood on a small rise, with grass and flower beds sloping down from the foundations into a flat garden planted with shrubs and flowers.

‘See these?’ said Juliet. ‘They’re called Canterbury bells. And these are hosta. They’re all plants you could find when the Brontës lived here.’

‘That was when Victoria was the Queen?’

‘That’s right.’

They climbed the steps and passed into the hallway. The furniture was old and the walls were hung with dark oil paintings. A grandfather clock ticked. A curved staircase with a polished wooden banister rose to the upper floor.

The first room they visited was Reverend Brontë’s study.

‘Patrick Brontë came to work here as curate in 1820.’ Oliver took over as guide, pointing to a desk covered in books and papers. ‘So, Princess Whatwhyhow, how many years ago was that?’

Caroline’s lips moved silently.

‘Quite a lot,’ she said, eventually.

‘Good answer,’ said Oliver.

‘Patrick was a good man in many ways,’ said Juliet, ‘He did a lot of things for the village, worked hard for the people of his parish, set up a Sunday school, tried to improve their standard of living and health care.’

‘Was he a saint?’

‘Well I suppose some people called him that. But it was hard on his children. Because he had a lot of work, they were usually left to their own devices. Which was lonely for them, but lucky for us, because this house is where the sisters wrote their books. Maybe, if they’d lived in a big city with lots to do and people to visit, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights would never have seen the light of day.’

In the dining room stood the table where the three sisters sat to write.

‘Charlotte and Emily were the famous ones, but Anne wrote two fine books as well. They were all talented. They used to sit here and work together, then walk round the table reading out what they’d written that day.’

‘They really loved each other, didn’t they?’

‘They did. And their brother too, in spite of his problems. He was a talented artist and a poet. We’re going to see some of his paintings.’

Juliet decided to omit the part of the story where three of the siblings had died in quick succession, Branwell and Anne in 1848, Emily in 1849. Nor was she going to recount the sad reminiscences of Tabby, their faithful servant, describing how, after the other three were dead and buried, she used to listen with an aching heart to the footsteps of Charlotte in the room above, ‘walking, walking on alone’.

‘Right. The kitchen.’

Juliet ushered Caroline towards the door. Alexandra paused in front of a sofa that stood against one wall.

Oliver came across to stand behind her.

‘This is where she died, Emily. According to Charlotte. She’d been having pains in her chest for several weeks but wouldn’t see the doctor.’

She turned to look at him.

‘How old was she?’

‘Thirty. Only a few years younger than Mum.’ He shook his head. ‘Charlotte was devastated. She wrote ‘moments so dark as these I have never known’. She’s my favourite one of the sisters, Emily.’

‘Because she died so tragically?’

‘Huh, there was no shortage of tragic deaths. But she was the most solitary of all of the children, shy, didn’t get on easily with people though apparently she was very kind-hearted. She was a creature of the moors. There are stories about how she could talk to animals, she used to bring them home, rabbits, birds, tend to their injuries. Like a vet. She reminds me a bit of our Cath, she used to be out of doors all the time when she was younger, we both did. Mum and Dad named her after Catherine, in Wuthering Heights, did you know that? Along with hundreds of other parents round here. Lots of Cathys in Yorkshire.’

He smiled.

nothing like a good book

‘I’ve got a copy of Emily’s poems back at the house if you want to read them?’

‘I’d like that. It’s a while since I’ve read any poetry. I used to be quite a fan. Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats.’


He hesitated, then began to recite, his voice little more than a whisper:

“…I am not doomed to wear

Year after year in gloom and desolate despair;

A messenger of Hope comes every night to me,

And offers, for short life, eternal liberty.


He comes with western winds, with evening’s wandering airs,

With that clear dusk of heaven that brings the thickest stars;

Winds take a pensive tone, and stars a tender fire,

And visions rise and change which kill me with desire.’

He stopped, flushed, gave an embarrassed shrug.

‘She called that one The Prisoner.’

‘The Prisoner?’

‘Yes…are you OK?’

Alexandra had gone deathly pale. She stared at Oliver. In the dimness of the room his eyes were a blazing blue. His jaw was shadowed by stubble, his curly hair sprang up from his head in darkly gleaming spirals. His face could have adorned a Renaissance painting, an angel bending over the manger, a nobleman hunting with his hawk in the Tuscan hills.

As though in a dream, she reached up and gently touched his cheek. The contact lasted less than a second, then she turned abruptly and left the room.

Oliver stood quite still.

Juliet and Caroline were in the kitchen. Caroline was frowning at the table where Emily used to bake at the same time as she studied her German lessons and made notes for her poems. She decided when she got back to school she was going to learn lots of foreign languages and write poetry.

Tree near Top Withens

‘Over here there used to be a window,’ said Oliver, coming up behind her and pointing. ‘It’s blocked up now, but you could look out of it, across the moors. Imagine what it was like on a winter’s night, everything outdoors covered in snow, the fire crackling in the hearth, Emily making bread, Tabby telling stories.’

‘Did they have a cat?’

‘Ah,’ said Juliet, looking helplessly at her son. ‘I’m sure they did. Maybe Alan knows, lovey, we’ll ask him when we get back.’

Caroline’s favourite room was the children’s study where they played when they were little. Branwell had a box of toy soldiers that looked like old-fashioned pegs painted red, blue and black. The four children used to make up fantastical stories about them, inventing an imaginary kingdom called Angria where the Duke of Wellington was the hero, fighting wars with different enemies. He and other characters had lots of adventures which the children wrote about in tiny books, using even tinier writing which needed a magnifying glass to read. It must have been nice to have sisters and a brother. But Teresa Knowles had three sisters and two brothers and they were always fighting with one another and getting punished by Mrs Knowles who sometimes ran after them with a rolling pin.

She was still thinking about brothers and sisters later that day. Picking up her pen she began to write in her notebook:

‘Today we visited the Bronte Museum. It is in the old Parsnidge next to the graveyard. There are a lot of babies and other children buried in the churchyard. It was the Victorian age. You could die at any moment. The toilet was outside and you had to queue even if it was snowing. The best thing was the childrens notebooks. Aunt Juliet bought me a postcard of the Bronte sisters in the museum shop like the picture that you showed me. It was painted by Branwell he was not just a drunkerd but also a nice person. Everybody had a lot of brothers and sisters in those days. If I had a brother I would like him to be the same as Oliver. Arnie is a very nice baby but we haven’t seen him this week. On Sunday Frank was cruel to him and pulled his arm and made him cry. Cath has promised to come over and put some desperate damson on my nails. She has rings on all her fingers even her thumb and in her nose and ears and is pretty. I would quite like her for a sister. The problem with having a brother and sister is they could get a disease and die at any minute. Perhaps it is better just to have a dog or a cat. I am really missing Rusty. Thank you for getting me this notebook Daddy.’

The Passage of Desire


Other blogs of mine relating to the Brontës can be found in the archives: March 2015, April 2016, January 2018 and July 2018.

Also on the same subject, check out author Helena Fairfax’s  November 21 blog,  which links to another blog 😉  by Annika Perry. Let’s hear it for the Brontës and their fans!

Here’s a video  (in spite of lots of background ‘wuthering’ at the beginning, all adds to the atmosphere !by LucyTheReader, showing the moors, the churchyard and the museum. 


Have a great reading weekend!



A Most Unlady-like Pursuit

Long swells of amethyst-tinted hills

For this first piece of 2018, I’d like to wish a very sincere Bonne Année to all readers. The year started with a wonderful surprise…

On January 8th areadersreviewblog published their list of Top Reads of 2017. Included was ‘The Passage of Desire’. Tina Williams had already reviewed the book, and I’d said a word or two about why her comments had touched me so deeply. But the real answer is longer and more complicated.

This third book in the series is different from the first two. As a prequel, it’s meant to tell the story of Alexandra’s secret affair, revealed at the end of ‘Hot Basque’. Who was the mystery man? How did their paths cross? What were the consequences? In line with the French theme, I’d envisioned a passionate meeting between strangers in a foreign hotel, a Brief Encounter à la française. It would be in novella form, a quick write.

That was the plan. But alien forces took over. A part of my own life sneaked in and I found myself abandoning the pays basque in favour of my own purple-blue remembered hills, tipping my hat to the places, the people and experiences that helped to shape me. The Muse, ready for another holiday in the Basque country morphed into a wing-flapping Raven. ‘Be afraid,’ she croaked ‘be very afraid…’


“A station…the doors painted in a cherry red…baskets of petunias and geraniums swaying in the summer breeze…”

When I started this blog in January 2015 I asked readers ‘Can you remember the first book that really captured your imagination as a child?’ I didn’t actually have any readers at the time, but a few friendly bookworms wrote in enthusiastically to share memories of ‘Heidi’, ‘Bunny Blue’, ‘Phantom Tollbooth’, ‘The Story of Ferdinand’, ‘A Wrinkle in Time’, ‘Where’s Wumpus’, ‘The Faraway Tree’, ‘Little House in the Woods’…

Writing today, I’m thinking about books that marked me as an adolescent. I’d devoured ‘Jane Eyre’, shaken by the heroine’s suffering at Lowood School, thrilled by her meeting with Mr Rochester, shocked by the secret wife in the attic. Then I read ‘Wuthering Heights’. It was like undergoing an anaesthetic. I lost consciousness and emerged completely disoriented, unable to put the experience into words. It was as though there were two books in parallel, one a passionate tale of doomed love set on the Yorkshire moors, and a second, more subterranean, full of shadowy elements which I only half-intuited. (It was much later that I read that even greater shocker, with its domestic violence and desertion, ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’, but some of its themes would creep into my novella.)

“They were driving up a steep cobbled hill, the pavements crowded with tourists”

For many born in Yorkshire’s West Riding, the Brontë legend enters our lives as naturally as the air we breathe. It’s not the most picturesque part of England, no honey-stoned thatched cottages in bucolic villages, but it has its own unique, strong personality, its culture, its ‘folk’, with their keen sense of humour, ‘independent, ready ever to resist authority which was conceived to be unjustly exercised’, as Elizabeth Gaskell* put it .Crucially, although the former mill towns were grim-looking places, they were a mere hop and a skip away up the hills to something else: the spell-binding, other-worldly landscape of the moors. It’s hard to explain the fascination of these ‘high, wild, desolate’ places, chillingly bleak in winter when ‘the four winds of heaven seemed to meet and rage together’, but which, in late summer, are transformed into ‘long swells of amethyst-tinted hills’, ‘all glorious with the purple bloom of the heather’ contrasting with ‘the tawny golden light…of summer evenings’.

Inseparable from the fascination is the haunting story of that family, who came to live in the village of Haworth in 1820: the Reverend Patrick Brontë, his wife Maria, and their six children, Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne.

“The path wound upwards…at the top of the blue, an invisible bird sang”

The moorland landscape ‘sloping upwards beyond the parsonage’ was to become an essential part of their lives. For one of them, Emily, it was literally vital; on the rare times she was forced to leave it, she became physically ill. ‘I felt in my heart she would die, if she did not go home’ wrote Charlotte when the decision was taken to remove Emily from Roe Head school.

Illness and suffering were things the Brontës knew well. The list of family deaths on the memorial plaque in Haworth church is sobering: Maria Brontë, the mother,1821. The two oldest girls, Maria and Elizabeth, 1825. Branwell and Emily 1848, Anne, 1849.

Charlotte, the last surviving child and the only one to marry, died nine months after her wedding day, taking her unborn child with her. The villagers, who in the June of 1854 had flocked to congratulate the bride, looking ‘like a snowdrop’ in her white muslin gown and bonnet decorated with green leaves, would return the following March ‘thronging the churchyard and the church’ to see her ‘carried forth’ to lie ‘beside her own people’.

Only the father and the husband remained.

Church and parsonage in background

Trying to put everything I’d like to say about the Brontës into one short(ish) blog is like Jill trying to squeeze into her Speedo in ‘Hot Basque’. There are bulges and bits hanging out. I’ve put some of them into footnotes for readers interested in knowing more. The basic facts of their story are well-known. Thousands of visitors travel to Haworth each year, visiting the moors and the museum, reading about the Dickensian childhood of the six little Brontës, their ailing mother confined to bed, their remote father working and eating alone in his study or out visiting his flock. The children were left to their own resources, with seven-year-old Maria making sure her younger siblings made no noise to disturb the invalid upstairs, taking them out for walks ‘hand in hand, towards the glorious wild moors, which in after days they loved so passionately.’ They inhabited a self-contained world, mixing rarely with others, drawing, sketching, inventing plays and fantasy worlds. Voracious readers of whatever they could lay their hands on from contemporary magazines to the poetry of Wordsworth and Byron and the novels of Sir Walter Scott, they created stories and poems of their own, their fertile imaginations fed by the written word and the ‘purple-black’ moors. Patrick Brontë observed ‘I frequently thought that I discovered signs of rising talent, which I had seldom or never before seen in any of their age.’

The churchyard

Three years after Mrs Brontë’s death, Maria, then Elizabeth, died from tuberculosis contracted at the school they attended. Maria’s sufferings there made a lasting impression on younger sister Charlotte, feeding her imagination for the Lowood scenes in ‘Jane Eyre’. The children were looked after by Aunt Branwell, the late Mrs Brontë’s sister, an unwilling expatriate from the tropical climes of Cornwall. There was also 53-year-old Tabby, servant, cook, confidante, story-teller, and honorary grandmother. Nine-year old Charlotte took over as eldest of the little community of four who drew together even more closely.

All would become famous, the sisters as novelists, the brother for his tragically wasted life of debauchery, alcoholism and opium addiction. But literary fame came late, after bitter struggles, keen disappointments, the exhaustion of constant ill health and persistent worry over the uncontrollable Branwell.

The sisters’ first literary venture was a collection of poems put together under the pen names of Currer (Charlotte), Ellis (Emily) and Acton (Anne) Bell. Failing to find a publisher, Charlotte took matters into her own hands, establishing what might be considered as the first Indie Writers’ Co-op. She managed to ‘pitch’ her idea to the firm of Aylott and Jones in 1846, proposing to meet the costs of publication herself, but giving specific details about the format. Having bought ‘a small volume from which to learn all she could on the subject of preparation for the press’, she sent her instructions: ‘one octavo volume of the same quality of paper and size of type as Moxon’s last edition of Wordsworth’, ‘a duodecimo form… with CLEAR type.’ If Amazon self-publishing had been around in 1846, Charlotte would have been the first client.

‘And visions rise, and change, that kill me with desire’ The Prisoner by Emily Bronte

The little volume of poetry, though it had no commercial success, was the first step on the road to fame. It was, however, a road full of obstacles, which are sometimes forgotten today. For Charlotte, Emily and Anne, writing was as essential as breathing. But for some time, ‘an indistinct dread…was creeping over their minds’. They were living with a ‘Shadow in the house’. Branwell, that ‘boy of remarkable promise’, the former hope of the family, was entering his final decline. The sisters needed to write, needed to earn a living, in order to stay together and keep the family going.

For the next three years, until Branwell’s death, they would continue to work while witnessing the details of his descent into hell. His attacks of delirium tremens were so frightening that ‘he slept in his father’s room, and he would sometimes declare that either he or his father should be dead before the morning.’ Patrick Brontë’s health was poor, he’d only been saved from blindness by a cataract operation, but he undertook his responsibility as a father with stoicism. The sisters, ‘sick with fright’, ‘listen(ed) for the report of a pistol in the dead of night.’

We are not amused

Another obstacle they faced was their sex. Like others, such as George Eliot, they felt they would be taken more seriously if they adopted ‘the sheltering shadow of an incognito’. ‘Authoresses are liable to be looked upon with prejudice,’ wrote Charlotte. She had previously entered into correspondence with Poet Laureate, Robert Southey, sending him some of her poems. He replied in a courteous and kindly manner, praising her ‘faculty of verse’, but also, suspecting she was a woman, urging her to seriously consider ‘whether literature was, or was not, the best course for a woman to pursue’…‘literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be.’

The three were also up against literary conventions regarding subject and style. When their first novels were finally published in 1847, one reviewer commented:

‘It is not only the subject of this novel, however, that is objectionable, but the manner of treating it. There is a coarseness of tone throughout the writing of all these Bells [Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë], that puts an offensive subject in its worst point of view….’

Things only got worse when their identity was discovered, and the ‘great unknown genius’ behind ‘Jane Eyre’ turned out (shock, horror) to be a woman. Victorian political correctness stipulated that women, if they did take up the pen, should write about ‘proper’ subjects. ‘In certain instances, authoresses (have) much outstepped the line which men (feel) to be proper’ was one comment, while a fellow author confided to Charlotte: ‘You know, you and I Miss Brontë have both written naughty books’

‘…her ladies and gentlemen in their elegant but confined houses’ Charlotte Bronte on Jane Austen

A worthy model was to be found in ‘Miss Austen’. But the Brontës were not Miss Austen*** They came from a different world. The accusations of coarseness continued. When in 1858 ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ was published, the esteemed Charles Kingsley praised it as ‘powerful and interesting’, but noted ‘the fault of the book is its coarseness’.

Charlotte suffered keenly from such criticisms of her work, or that of her sisters. She felt they were unjust and in this she was warmly defended by her biographer and friend, Mrs Gaskell. ‘(The Sisters) could not write otherwise than they did of life’ she says, noting Charlotte’s strongly-held principle concerning. ‘the duty of representing life as it really is, not as it ought to be.’ Anne was even more explicit, saying:

‘When we have to do with vice and vicious characters, I maintain it is better to depict them as they really are than as they would wish to appear.’

In particular Mrs Gaskell launched into a rant against the ‘stabbing cruelty’ of an article about ‘Jane Eyre’ in The Quarterly Review of December 1848. ‘Everyone has the right to form his own conclusion respecting the merits and demerits of a book’ she says, but when an anonymous reviewer ‘desirous of writing ‘“smart articles” which shall be talked about in London’ (ouch!) starts to make conjectures about the author, she lets rip with the following:

‘Who is he that should say of an unknown woman: “She must be one who, for some sufficient reason, has long forfeited the society of her sex?” Is he one who has led a wild and struggling and isolated life–seeing few but plain and outspoken Northerners, unskilled in the euphemisms which assist the polite world to skim over the mention of vice?’

Go, Mrs G, go!

And she does, alluding to the terrible trials of the preceding years, which ended with Emily’s death in that very month, and which left Charlotte bereft***. ‘Cowardly insolence’ is her verdict on the unknown reviewer, who was by then probably skulking round the capital in a false beard and dark glasses.

Madame Bovary : an offence to public morality

Of course, it wasn’t just women writers who came under attack. Across the Channel, the great Flaubert was put on trial for offence to public morality after the publication of ‘Madame Bovary’. His scorn for society’s self-appointed ‘correct thinkers’, ‘les bien-pensants,’ is set out in deliciously satirical form in his ‘Dictionary of Received Ideas’ where ‘Imbécile’ is defined as ‘ceux qui ne pensent pas comme vous’ (those who don’t think the same way you do).

‘Wuthering Heights’ received even greater censure than ‘Jane Eyre’. It ‘revolted many readers’, it was hardly respectable. Charlotte knew only too well ‘the dark side of respectable human nature’, she’d seen enough of it as a governess, as had Anne, and their own ‘dark side’ was living in the parsonage. ‘Who is without their drawback, their scourge, their skeleton behind the curtain?’ she asks. She leaped to her sister’s defence, but Emily, that ‘free, wild, untameable spirit’ was in any case ‘impervious to influence’, a creature of passions, true to herself. (Monsieur Hegel’s remark**** ‘She should have been a man’ is telling in more ways than one.) ‘A spirit more sombre than sunny’, Emily drew her inspiration from what she saw around her–‘natures so relentless and implacable…spirits so lost and fallen’, blending the rhythms of her dramas with the rhythms of the landscape she herself was so attuned to. Charlotte, in the preface to the second edition of ‘Wuthering Heights’ after the death of the sister she called ‘the nearest thing to my heart in the world’, said the book’s ‘power fills me with renewed admiration’.

“…a solitary silhouette of stone and brick…a couple of trees in an otherwise barren landscape”

‘Wuthering Heights’ is still revolting readers today. The biggest internet site in the world for readers, writers and reviewers is Goodreads. Launched in 2007, its stated mission is ‘to help people find and share books they love’. It has a staggering 65 million members, 2 million books listed, and 68 million reviews rated on a scale of 1 to 5 stars.

Wuthering Heights has 27,202 reviews and 1,042,590 ratings (i e number of stars awarded without giving a review). Its overall rating, combining the two, is 3.8 stars. Below is a link to an interesting review which awards the book 5 stars, describing it as ‘epic’:

but which begins with the words: ‘I understand why so many people hate this book. Catherine and Heathcliff are monstrous. Monstrous.’

When I’d finished ‘The Passage of Desire’, the Muse’s dire warnings were still ringing in my ears. The book was too personal. It was an unabashed, chauvinistic Hymn to Yorkshire. It was a blatant publicity campaign to ‘Like’ those sisters, ‘coarse and revolting’ to some, but an inspiration to many; feminists before the hour, independent, principled, who overcame suffering and prejudice to follow their vocation. My characters, frail, innocent, vulnerable creatures, had somehow got involved with them, read their books, fallen victim to moor-fever, been buffeted by the winds of fate. Wanting to protect them, had I laid them open to ‘stabbing cruelty’?

Moreover, the innumerable re-writes had given me a constant headache, indigestion, and mouse elbow. Spiders had taken up residence in the dust-covered house, the garden was full of weeds, the lavender needed cutting back. All that was left was to emigrate to Outer Mongolia.

How wonderful then to read in the first review: ‘…imbued with the dark passions of Emily Brontë’s ‘Wuthering Heights’. Indeed the Brontës float in and out of the story, both literally and metaphorically, and the tale is something of a homage to romanticism’.

Others followed, of a mixed nature. I intoned Charlotte’s words ‘Censure, though not pleasant, is often wholesome.’ But some, like the first, spoke of reactions that made me cancel the ticket to Outer Mongolia:

‘Spellbound and lost in the beauty of Long’s words, the picturesque moors and passion of the characters, transported me to another time. Her writing made melancholy feel dreamlike, passion feel like a burning fire, and friendships feel like a shady oak.’

‘If the human heart has a voice, it is certainly portrayed through the lovely words author Long has set to the page.’

‘This reminded me of reading the classics in high school and not really understanding the emotional drama of the story, then re-reading them as an adult and thinking, wow, because Long has captured that ‘WOW.’.

Those reviews were my highlights of 2017.Thank you to those who took the time and trouble to write them. Thank you again to Tina Williams, working indefatigably with her fellow-elf, Caroline Barker, to ‘help people to find and share books they love’

‘Everything reminds me of the times when others were with me…’ Charlotte’s solitary walks on the moors after the death of Emily and Anne



*Mrs Gaskell’s biography ‘The Life of Charlotte Brontë’, 1857. Many of the quotes in the blog come from this fascinating book; which includes numerous letters written by Charlotte.

**Charlotte wasn’t a fan of Jane Austen. She wrote in a letter to G. H. Lewes ‘I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.’ However, she agreed to think about Lewes’ advice about writing in a more ‘subdued’ manner, but without making any promises since she believed that authors did their best work while under ‘an influence… which becomes their master, which will have its own way…dictating certain words…whether vehement or measured in their nature…new-moulding characters…rejecting …old ideas, and suddenly creating and adopting new ones.’ ‘Can there be a great artist without poetry?’ she asked. 

*** After the death of her sisters, Charlotte suffered from acute loneliness. Writing of her solitary walks across the moors she said ‘everything reminds me of the times when others were with me… My sister Emily had a particular love for them, and there is not a knoll of heather, not a branch of fern, not a young bilberry leaf, not a fluttering lark or linnet, but reminds me of her. The distant prospects were Anne’s delight, when I look round, she is in the blue tints, the pale mists, the waves and shadows of the horizon.’

*** ‘I think, however long I live, I shall not forget what the parting with Monsieur Heger cost me,’ wrote Charlotte. At the Pensionnat Heger in Brussels, Charlotte fell in love with her teacher Constantin Heger. She was there with Emily (one of the rare times that Emily managed to overcome her ‘moor-sickness’ and ‘rallied through the mere force of resolution’). Heger considered both of them to be extraordinarily gifted though ‘he seems to have rated Emily’s genius even higher than Charlotte’s’. ‘Her strong imperious will would never have been daunted by opposition or difficulty’ he said, obviously regarding such qualities as being of a ‘masculine’ nature.

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The City of Love


Opera Garnier, Marc Chagall
Opera Garnier, Marc Chagall

Just back from two weeks in Paris, the most beautiful and evocative city on earth. (That should get some comments). It took me four hours to choose six postcards. Soft purple dusk at the Place de la Concorde. Art nouveau streetlamps glowing like bunches of luminous grapes. Notre Dame rising from the mist. The Opera Garnier, a dazzling jewel in a blaze of golden glory.

Grand staircase Opera Garnier
Grand staircase Opera Garnier
Raise your eyes to the heavens at Galeries Lafayette
Raise your eyes to the heavens at Galeries Lafayette

City of Light, City of Love. All those love-locks on the Pont des Arts must mean something, as the Mayor suddenly realised, ordering them to be removed lest the bridge take an unexpected dive into the Seine accompanied by a few startled lovers. (The taking of romantic selfies was proposed as an alternative but didn’t catch on.)

The Seine, and its bridges. The melancholic poem about love and time by Guillaume Apollinaire that every student of the French Baccalauréat knows by heart, ‘Le Pont Mirabeau’:

Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine

             Et nos amours…

Their Mums and Dads know it too, and even the Pogues had a musical version (‘Below the Pont Mirabeau/Slow flows the Seine…’)

Is Paris THE romantic city in which to set a novel? Or end one? (would love to hear your views on that). Even the name of the place is enough to start the ball rolling–the legendary Paris whose love affair with Helen (‘the face that launched a thousand ships’) triggered the siege of Troy and ‘burnt the topless towers of Ilium’. That one ended in tears, and so did I, reading the final scene of Jojo Moyes’ ‘Me Before You’. Hands up all those who were sobbing unrestrainedly long before Lou gets to Paris? There’s more doomed Parisian love in the story of Quasimodo and Esmeralda, Marguerite, she of the camellias, and don’t even mention ‘Casablanca’. But how about other cities? I’ve just turned the last page of ‘The Antique Love’ by Helena Fairfax, a beautiful, tender romance, and had to reach for the Kleenex again when Penny ends up in Florence. Florence, Venice, the Lakes. Yes, Italy’s a big contender.

Or you could go for something generic, like a garden. Or a heath. Take ‘The Nightingale’ by Kristin Hannah, another Kleenex-destroyer. That ended in a garden (Isabelle’s), and a wet T shirt (mine). A garden in the Loire valley, bells pealing out for peace, the scent of jasmine on the air.

Having talked about endings before (March 2015, ‘Endings’) I won’t repeat the final lines of ‘Wuthering Heights’, describing the graves on the moor. I’d like to repeat them. Actually I’d like to intone them, à la Judi Dench, arms flung out, standing by the Bronte waterfall in a raging storm.

But how about another Big Bronte Moment, another garden?

‘I am coming!’ I cried. ‘Wait for me! Oh, I will come!’I flew to the door and looked into the passage: it was dark. I ran out into the garden: it was void.

‘Where are you?’ I exclaimed.

The hills beyond Marsh Glen sent the answer faintly back–‘Where are you?’ I listened. The wind sighed low in the firs: all was moorland loneliness and midnight hush.’

Oh Jane, Jane.

Readers (thank you!) of ‘Biarritz Passion’ may have caught the echoes in the last scene, not to mention other nostalgic references to thrilling prose written by the Great Ladies of Literature. You may, for example, remember Caroline’s first encounter with Colin Firth Edward Rayburn in the grounds of Willowdale. In Book Two of the French Summer Novel series, ‘Hot Basque’, the final scene blows a kiss to Mrs Gaskell’s ‘Wives and Daughters’.

Which brings me nicely to the news that it’s on promotion next week! ‘Hot Basque’, that is.  FREE! Get your FREE (yes!) download on Amazon from August 3rd to 7th !(NB Amazon operates on Standard Pacific Times so check before you click)

Talking about writing that final scene in ‘Hot Basque’ once more, I was looking for a suitably dramatic setting, somewhere that would speak to readers fanning their cheeks and holding their breath for Jill and Antoine.

I chose, er, Edinburgh airport.

Hey, look on the bright side. It could have been Stansted.

‘Hot Basque’ is available on Amazon: