An Hour’s Uninterrupted Reading: Emily Bronte and Willa Cather

Social media can be draining. I am so  tired of celebrities’ tweets, which newspapers now reprint to entice readers.  These social media platforms promote racism, sexism, fake news, blacklisting, and misinformation.  Enough!

Fortunately, an  hour’s uninterrupted reading of a book puts me back together again. This year I am reading novels, biographies, and letters to prepare for two significant literary anniversaries:  the bicentenary of Emily Bronte’s birth (July 30), and the 100th anniversary of the publication of Cather’s My Antonia (Sept. 21).

I love Emily and Willa.  In my mind I’m already roaming Emily Bronte’s moors and Willa Cather’s prairie.  Whom do I prefer?  I can’t decide.  I’ve been consistent since age 12  about loving the Brontes:  my favorite book used to be Emily’s Wuthering Heights; now it’s Charlotte’s Villette.   And I fell in love with Willa’s books when I was living in a cold, tiny, rented room my senior year of college.  Her novels about the Midwest, written in the early twentieth century,  perfectly captured what I was feeling that very cold winter.

Do you like literary museums?  This would be a good year to visit them. There’s something about old houses, and looking at writers’ possessions.   I’ve seen Willa Cather’s desk, Bess Streeter Aldrich’s desk (and her buffalo robe!), Louisa May Alcott’s desk, Dickens’ standing desk…  But not the Brontes’ desks!

Is it time for me to go to Haworth?  That’s a long way away.   Patti Smith has been to Haworth.  In her introduction to the  Folio Society edition of Wuthering Heights, she writes, “In West Yorkshire, in the village of Haworth, behind the village church, stands the Bronte Parsonage Museum.  Passing through the rooms, one may view the humble yet precious possessions of the Bronte family.”  I do want to see the humble possessions.  But at the same time I don’t like crowds, and I imagine that Haworth would be as crowded as Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House.  Have you been to Haworth?  Did you like it?

I do love Nebraska, and that’s closer.  If you haven’t toured Red Cloud, Nebraska, where Willa grew up, I must tell you the Willa Cather Foundation gives the best literary tour I’ve taken, and I have taken many.  You can visit Willa’s home, the Red Cloud Opera House, the new Willa Cather Center, walk the Willa Cather Prairie, and so much more. The guides know everything about Willa. They know the background for all her books.   And this year they’re planning many My Antonia events, and are promoting a new 100th Year Anniversary edition of My Antonia with an introduction by Jane Smiley and the original illustrations by W. T. Benda.  (It will be published in March.)

And now I must get back to reading Emily and Willa.  I’m especially drawn to Willa, because it’s very, very cold out.

One of the original illustrations by W. T. Benda for My Antonia

10 thoughts on “An Hour’s Uninterrupted Reading: Emily Bronte and Willa Cather

  1. I’ve never thought to compare the one with her moors and the other with her prairies – a fascinating thought. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and not much news-watching and no TV this week and it is very restorative.


  2. Yes,I did go to Haworth! It was the high point of my first trip to England in 1978. We stayed in a small hotel within walking distance of the church and Bronte house. Because we arrived late in the day and the house was closed, we took a walk up on the moors. The views and atmosphere were magical. The old village of Haworth is a steep cobble-stone street with dark stone houses. Full of tourists at mid day, but quiet early and late. So stay overnight as we did and see the area at different times of day. The house tour was excellent. I saw the little sofa Emily Bronte died on.


  3. I would suggest travelling in the off-season to avoid crowds. My husband and I have never travelled in high season because we hate heat and we hate crowds. There’s no point in going to see the Mona Lisa if you can’t actually see her. Most places we’ve visited in the fall or spring were practically deserted, which made for lovely visits.


  4. Restorative reading projects indeed. I haven’t been to Nebraska or Haworth and I would like to visit both. I’ve read all my Brontes but not all my Cathers, which is ironic, as it’s more likely I could make it to Nebraska given the lack of ocean (although we are not keen on crossing the border until the adminstration changes!). Why not go to Haworth if you can? 🙂


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