Walking The Invisible: Following in the Brontës’ Footsteps by Michael Stewart: Vivid and evocative – book review –
Most of us need little impetus to enjoy a revisit to the Brontë sisters’ exhilarating novels
But if you are seeking inspiration for summer reading AND walking, head for the hills of West Yorkshire with Michael Stewart’s literary guide through the walks and nature of the Brontë sisters and you’ll soon be treading the wild moorland that formed the memorable backdrop to literary masterpieces like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.
Stewart, who was born and raised in Salford, had still not encountered the Brontës’ books by the time he left his rundown comprehensive school at sixteen to work in a factory. And it wasn’t until he borrowed Wuthering Heights from the library and read it on the bus as he travelled to and from his workplace that his ‘Brontë fever’ was born.
‘I found it a bit of a slog to begin with,’ he tells us, ‘but I persisted. Slowly the story and characters drew me in. Somehow, they took hold of me and wouldn’t let go.’
Since those early days, Stewart has become Head of Creative Writing at the University of Huddersfield, and author of Ill Will, which re-imagined Heathcliff’s life, as well as three other novels and a selection of poetry.
He is also the creator of the Brontë Stones project – four monumental stones situated in the landscape between the sisters’ birthplace and their parsonage home, inscribed with poems by Kate Bush, Carol Ann Duffy, Jeannette Winterson and Jackie Kay.
Stewart has travelled all over the north of England in search of their lives and landscapes and now he invites readers to enter into the world as the Brontës would have seen it by following the sisters’ footsteps across meadow and moor, and through village and town.
From Liverpool to Scarborough, and taking in wild, windy – and often unforgiving – scenery, Stewart investigates the geographical and social features that shaped the Brontës’ work and discovered echoes of the siblings’ novels on his series of inspirational walks.
And with the help of an unlikely cast of Yorkshire’s inhabitants, the author has found himself falling further into their lives and writings than he could ever have imagined.
Vivid and evocative, and including a series of beautiful maps of walks, including Dentdale, Law Hill and North Lees Hall in Hathersage, which Stewart devised when creating the iconic Brontë Stones project, Walking the Invisible invites you to experience the Brontës as they have never before been experienced.
Along the way, you will find yourself getting closer to classics such as Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Agnes Grey, discovering the real locations behind their fictional settings, and uncovering the myths that surround this much acclaimed and wholly unique family.
As much a literary guide as a walk through the lives of the Brontës, and a fascinating exploration of the changes that were wrought on this part of West Yorkshire during the Victorian period, Walking the Invisible is an essential companion on any visit to the beautiful countryside around Haworth.
(HQ, paperback, £9.99)