Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Visiting the Brontës

Welcome to Haworth
Most of my visit to the UK was spent in the north of  England as I was visiting my daughter who is finishing her Masters Degree at the University of Leeds.  As I was checking out things to see and do in and around Leeds, West Yorkshire I came upon some information about the town of Haworth -- where lo and behold, the Brontë sisters lived and wrote! Apparently it is England's most visited literary shrine. Well, the librarian in me, could not pass that one up! Plus, there was the added attraction of taking a steam locomotive to get there!
From Keighley to Haworth by Steam Train
We took a regular train from Leeds to Skipton and got off at Keighley (which I discovered is pronounced Keef-Lee not Kay-Lee as I thought). Keighley is where we got on the steam train to Haworth. This train runs almost daily in the summer months, but otherwise only on the weekends.
If you read the comments you might notice that JaneGS has corrected me on the pronounciation of Keighley which I not only got wrong because of the spelling but even misheard from the ticket seller's pronounciation!  Jane has a lovely post about this same topic at her blog called Reading, Writing, Working, Playing.
Just to be sure I remember how to pronounce Keighley properly -- "KeiTHley" here is an audio file made for me by RAFrenzy (thanks Frenz!) of Richard Armitage speaking this word.

 Here is a Youtube video that was very similar to my trip 
and shows the town of Haworth better than my snapshots. The video also has a fairly complete recount of the of the Bronte family history. So please forgive me for not reiterating it here. I will just say that their lives were short, but glorious --  and their fame survives to nourish their much-loved village.

Haworth is such a beautiful village, that I wished I had booked at a B&B for an overnight so I could have had more time to explore the town. We had a drink at a lovely pub after our tour but as usual, had to rush off to catch the bus back to Keighley and the train back to Leeds.
The surrounding countryside
Luckily, I was able to take pictures (without a flash) inside the  
Brontë Parsonage Museum.

The study

The kitchen

Check out this webpage for 360 degree views of all the rooms. Be careful! If you click too fast you might get dizzy!

A view of the back garden with the statue of the three sisters.


 Charlotte's wedding bonnet and veil
Both Charlotte and Ann were governesses (and both wrote about governesses). There were extremely few acceptable options for educated women to support themselves in those days.  When Charlotte's aunt Bramwell died in 1842, Charlotte returned home and taught at this little school very near the parsonage.

Charlotte was the only one of her sisters to be married. Although she was cautioned against it, Charlotte seems to have had a very happy (although tragically short) marriage to Arthur Nicholls.

Charlotte's husband Arthur Bell Nicholls

One of Charlotte's dresses

Charlotte's writing desk

Copies of the Brontë sisters' famous literary accomplishments
Here is a list of books written by this talented family of authors, poets and artists. Some of their works can be read online.

Now this book was quite exciting for me to see, as I am more of a fan of Elizabeth Gaskell than any of the Bronte sisters. (Sorry, Traxy@The Squeee!)  Elizabeth Gaskell, (author of North and South) became a good friend to Charlotte Brontë, so much so, that Charlotte's father requested that Mrs. Gaskell should write Charlotte's biography after her untimely death shortly after her marriage in 1855.
The biography of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell

Here is one of those things that make you go hmmm....(?)

Charlotte Brontë was born in the village of Thornton.  In Elizabeth Gaskell's novel 
North and South, her main male character's name is John Thornton. (co-incidence?)

Richard Armitage as John Thornton in North and South (2004)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Elizabeth Gaskell wuz here...

Our first night in England was spent in Manchester and before I left the next day, I was determined to see the house where Elizabeth Gaskell had lived while she wrote many of her greatest works.  My husband and I got in a taxi and on the way to the train station, we took a little side trip to get some photographs of the exterior. I knew that the house wasn't open for tours (what a disappointment), but I had to at least see the outside, after coming all the way from Canada!

84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester, UK
2010 marks the bicentennial of the birth of this great author and as I stood outside her home I got quite choked up about it. I'm sure the taxi-driver was wondering why an old house was bringing tears to my eyes, and my husband probably thought I was just disappointed I couldn't go in for a tour, but really, just the thought that I was actually standing outside the house of Elizabeth Gaskell, one of my most favourite authors -- the more I learn about her and the more I read her works -- this was what was making me so overcome with emotion! (Okay, possibly the jet lag might also have had something to do with it!)

The sign on the fence says: Manchester's neglected treasure is being restored.  Well, it's about time, I say! Why is every other English author more revered than this one? Gaskell was an immensely talented author, so much so that Charles Dickens (who called his “dear Scheherazade) persuaded her to contribute stories to his literary magazine, "Household Words".  Her works are as lively and entertaining today as they were when they were written in the middle of the 19th century.
 Referred to as Mrs. Gaskell, and the wife of a Unitarian minister, some may have dismissed her writings as preachy Victorian chic lit.  But those people were so wrong!

Elizabeth Gaskell is difficult to categorize (especially so to Victorian society) because she had so many differing interests.  She was highly educated, she travelled, she was very social, with a wide group of friends, aquaintances and correspondents, she was a minister's wife (with all the duties both real and expected that that entails) as well as a mother of several children (some who died in childhood). Most famously she was an author -- a very successful one! It is a wonder that she found time to write the novels and short stories that told about the working class people and their terrible living conditions in northern industrial cities, or the idyllic village life before the coming of the industrial revolution, and all with an eye to a colourful realism, in that no one is all good or all bad and there is always a bit of amusement to be found in the simplest things.

Other Sources of information about Elizabeth Gaskell:
  • A paper written by Kay Saucier discusses Elizabeth Gaskell's religious beliefs and how they influenced her writing. Entitled Elizabeth Gaskell, British Unitarianism and Darwinism, it sheds light on how Gaskell's writings fit in with the time and the society within which she lived.
  • An article entitled Elizabeth Gaskell's Manchester by Alan Shelston for the Elizabeth Gaskell Society Journal, (Vol. 3, 1989) 
  • A great review of her novel North and South is on Gathering Books blog 
  • My blogger buddy Maria Grazia from FLY HIGH! has a fascinating post about Mrs. Gaskell's very romantic visit to Rome. 
  • An article from The Daily Mail  The Amazing Secret Life of Cranford creator Elizabeth Gaskell. by Tony Rennell.
  • A post at Lizr128's Blog compares the work of Elizabeth Gaskell to Jane Austen.
  • Here is a Youtube video interview by Penguin Classics on Air  with screenwriter Sue Birtwistle who makes a comparison between Elizabeth Gaskell and Jane Austen

Books by Elizabeth Gaskell include:
These are the Penguin Classics versions, which I enjoy because of the extensive introductions and background notes. -- The covers are nice too!

Mary Barton (1848)
On my wishlist
Ruth (1853)
Also on my wishlist

Cranford (1853)
Reading it now.

Watch Cranford trailer here.
Cranford and its sequel stars Judy Dench (2nd from left).

North and South (1855)
My favourite!

BBC (2004)
 Well, what can I say about this adaptation? It is simply the best period drama miniseries I have ever seen! Seeing the miniseries inspired me to read the book, which did not disappoint. Although there were a couple of scenes changed from the book to the television production, on the whole it was a remarkably faithful reimagining of the story. 
To me, the story of North and South seems to be the closest to Mrs. Gaskell's real life experience with romance. She seems to have had a happy married life. One can only hope that Mr. Gaskell was as dreamy as is the character of John Thornton as played by Richard Armitage!

Here is a trailer for the miniseries North and South starring Richard Armitage 
and Danielle Denby-Ashe. HeathDances has kindly given me permission to show it here.

 Sylvia's Lovers (1863)
On my wishlist
 Cousin Phillis (1865)
(Short stories) Read and loved it!

Wives and Daughters (1866)
Enjoyed it very much.

Sadly, Wives and Daughters was Elizabeth's last book, as she died at the age of 55 just before its completion. Many critics consider this her finest work, and I know one blogger who likes this adaptation even better than North and South! Too bad Richard Armitage isn't in it!

Wives and Daughters 1999
Save the Best for Last (Roger & Molly) / by KDRainstorm

If you are lucky enough to live in Great Britain or will be travelling there soon, and you are a Gaskell fan, here is a website with information about touring the area and a schedule of events for Gaskell's bi-centenary.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Happy Birthday Richard!

August the 22nd is a special day for fans of the British actor Richard Armitage!
Although I am still struggling to learn how to make videos (so far all I can manage are musical slideshows), I felt the need to make one in honour of the day that my favourite actor of all time was born.  Why is he my favourite actor, and what is so wonderful about any actor that would inspire me to make a tribute?  That is a topic for another, much more long-winded post! At least his many fans (dubbed the Armitage Army by some long-suffering husband) understand [me] completely!

I have gathered together some pictures of him smiling (as we fans do love to see him happy). So I hope you enjoy my humble slideshow and celebrate the day in anyway you see fit! Natalie over at Richard Amitage Fan Blog will be displaying all the limericks she collected from numerous fans (who enjoy limericking). You can also leave a message for him (we hope he finds time to read them!) at Richard Armitage Net. I am sure there will be many more birthday posts by all his blogger fans. As well, the fan forums will be all aflutter, so I probably should check out C19 and Richard Armitage Central and of course, there is the Armitage Army forum.

 I am definitely going to be watching one (or more) of my growing Richard Armitage DVD collection.  Hmmm... maybe I'll go online and order something from my Amazon wishlist, so far I only have one audiobook! THAT sounds like a plan!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bare, ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang....

A recent visit to Kirkstall Abbey at Leeds, UK has inspired me with the words from Shakespeare's Sonnet 73.

One line of poetry came to me while viewing these ruins, and at the time I had no idea of the title or the author of the poem.  (Thank you Google) I also have no idea how I was familiar with the poem as I don't remember studying it in school.  Did I actually read it on my own, when I was on a long ago Shakespeare kick?

Bare ruined choirs....

Where late the sweet birds sang...

These were the size of coffins -- very spooky!

Something about a ruined building, particularly a church, is so forlorn. (I  also like pictures of rotting, falling down barns on the prairie.) Abbeys and barns don't seem to have much in common, but they do say much about the culture that created them.When new and proud they both seem somewhat incongruous to the landscape around them, but as ruins, they gradually become accepted by nature, leaving their own quiet dignity to whisper about their glorious past.

Now looking at ruined abbeys is one thing, but I did see other churches 
(not in ruins) on my trip.

The beautiful etched glass in the interior.

I did manage to go to several other places in England:

The interior has been updated quite a bit since the Brontë family frequented it.
(More on this visit on a later post!)

St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle
I wasn't allowed to take any interior shots of this church. I rushed through it with such unseemly haste to get back to our tour bus, that I felt like a hooligan! If I hadn't stumbled over the marker for Jane Seymour's resting place I would have completely missed it!

Bath Abbey
Detail in the abbey door.
(More about Bath in a later post!)

St. Margaret's Chapel, Edinburgh Castle
 This is the oldest part of the castle, built in the 12th century
by King David to honour his mother Queen Margaret.

Unfortunately I didn't visit Westminster Abbey or St. Paul's Cathedral (much to my disappointment) as I had hoped to go all Mary Poppins-like and possibly break into a chorus of "Feed the Birds".

I had a glimpse of St. Paul's from the open-top tour bus as we raced off to some other attraction. So much to see and so little time!

Frequenters of this blog might well be wondering how all this can possibly tie into my fascination with a certain actor?  Well, I seem to remember seeing Richard Armitage in a few church scenes...

At a funeral for Margaret's mother in North and South

Should be happy, but....sad
Getting married in Sparkhouse
About to be jilted at the altar in the season 1 finale of Robin Hood


Getting married to the Vicar of Dibley in the final episode

Friday, August 13, 2010

Can't get you out of my head....

 This song kind of describes all these various reminders of 
Richard Armitage I found everywhere on my trip to Britain:

This fanvid is courtesy of Elva75. Thank you for letting me use it Elva!

This lovely shop brought visions of another Thornton to mind!
None other than wonderful John Thornton from the BBC's North and South, (2004),
as portrayed by the magnificent Richard Armitage himself!

Who could resist this Thornton, with his voice as rich as velvety as Thornton's chocolates?
 I couldn't help stopping to buy some luscious chocolates while I was there. 
(What! It was a present for our hosts in Glasgow! )

This shop brought back warm memories of his chocolatey-rich voice-over in this  
Santander Ad:

Even in the washroom in Edinburgh Castle I was reminded of him!  Imagine having Armitage on tap!

The first place we booked for a few days stay in Leeds, West Yorkshire was an apartment owned (or managed) by someone with the last name of Armitage! I figured this was a good omen for the rest of the trip. I meant to embarrass myself by asking if he was related to another famous Armitage (you-know-who), but I never got around to it. I KNEW I'd regret it! Here is how I imagine the conversation probably would have gone (had I bothered).

Phylly: So...your name is Armitage...Is that a popular last name in these parts? 
P. Armitage: Not really, not as common as Smith or Jones at least.
Phylly: Hmmm...I was just wondering because there is this actor I know with the same last name...I wonder if you've heard of him....Richard Armitage?? (said while blushing -- and being elbowed by husband who is wearing a disapproving scowl).
P. Armitage: No, can't say I have...what was his first name again?
Phylly: Richard?
P. Armitage: Hmmm...I have been getting a few strange calls lately from women....asking for a Richard, then giggling and hanging up! I wonder if THAT'S what's been going on!

Somehow, I'm glad I never mentioned it!

Oh, and I saw Richard III's portrait at Windsor Castle. I had earphones on at the time, listening to the audioguide so I didn't realize my voice was a bit loud as I exclaimed excitedly, "That's Richard the Third!!"
People turned around to stare at me, possibly wondering why a portrait of a long-ago deposed king would make me shout in the Queen's state apartments? 
Of course, we fans of Richard Armitage know how he longs to bring to film a new biopic about this much-maligned ruler, possibly with himself in the title role? (We can only hope!)
 I am not even certain that this was the portrait I was looking at then. I can't seem to find another one online that looks more like the one I seem to remember. (I may have to do some library research!) Why, oh why, didn't I buy a guidebook?!!

More about my travels in Great Britain soon. Thanks for your patience!