When I wrote my first PhD diary for BookTalk I was only a couple of months in, but as I sit to write my second entry, I am fast approaching my first annual review! When studying for a PhD (at least at most universities) your first annual review takes place after 8 months. Despite not being a full year into my studies, this for me does align with the anniversary of submitting my application so it feels like an appropriate moment to pause and reflect on the previous months.
One of the best experiences of my studies so far, and perhaps the thing I enjoy most is research. Whenever I feel stuck with my writing or the ideas aren’t flowing as freely as I would like, I return to the reason I am working on this project: to study the writing of the Brontës. While I hold a particular reverence for Branwell, I do adore the whole Brontë family and find their writing a constant source of joy and inspiration in my life.
Imagine then, not only getting to visit their home in Haworth (which I cannot recommend more), but getting to spend the day in the research library, looking through their belongings, surrounded by the biggest selection of Brontë related reading material you have ever seen! Well, dear reader, that is precisely how I was fortunate enough to spend a day last year, on my first PhD research trip to Yorkshire to gather primary material to analyse for my current chapter, exploring Branwell’s adolescent writing and the impact of hero-worship.
My first research trip took place just weeks after starting my PhD and I spent a week in Haworth exploring the moors, writing and visiting as many local museums as possible. It was a wonderful week, and the weather was surprisingly warm for June – except for the day I decided to walk up a very steep hill from Hebden Bridge to Heptonstall to find Slyvia Plath’s grave, during which it did not stop raining and I did not have a raincoat. More successful expeditions that week included navigating Leeds to attend the opening of the ‘Becoming the Brontës’ exhibition at the Brotherton Library and walking up to Top Withens at the crack of dawn to avoid other tourists.
But, despite doing all these amazing things, of course the highlight of the week was my day at the Parsonage research library, looking at Branwell’s belongings. Prior to my visit I had to submit a list of items I wanted to see, selected from their digital archive online. On arrival at the museum I was escorted into the library to find all my chosen items laid out on the library table for me to spend the day with. As this was my first trip, I submitted quite a substantial list and I was very excited to find that the curators had supplemented this with additional items they thought I would like to see. As any fan of the Brontës will know, the siblings wrote miniature books as children, filled with stories and poems of Angria and Gondal, their fantasy worlds. While Charlotte’s miniature books are perhaps the most famous, Branwell too wrote many of his early works in these little handbound notebooks, many of which I was fortunate enough to see and read on my trip.
Other highlights from the archive include my favourite Branwell illustration ‘A Parody’ (as pictured), Branwell’s poetry notebook and a board of the Brontë family’s hair, which was thought to have been given as a gift to their servants, Nancy and Sarah Garrs. This truly was one of the most exciting days of my life and I am already planning my return to the archive in the summer. Now I just need to start planning my next list of ‘must see’ Brontë items!