Last weekend North Lees Hall, near Hathersage in Derbyshire, was open to the public. The hall, a late Elizabethan tower house, is thought to be the inspiration for Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre. Charlotte Brontë visited it several times when she was staying with her friend Ellen Nussey. It resembles the fictional Thornfield in having a battlemented façade, a view from the roof and a similar setting in the landscape. When Charlotte visited it there was an Apostle’s Cabinet which she describes in Jane Eyre. There was actually an Eyre family who lived at North Lees at the time and a legend of a mad woman who died her in a fire. So the connection is pretty secure and of course I had to visit it.
North Lees is a grand house in miniature. It’s very much smaller than Thornfield Hall could have been. You certainly couldn’t conceal a mad woman here. But the atmosphere and the setting were just right.
A local amateur dramatics group, the Hathersage Players, will be performing an adaptation of Jane Eyre this summer and the cast were there in character. So that is how I met Mr Rochester on the roof of North Lees Hall (glimpsed through the open door).
Downstairs I ran into Jane Eyre and I’m looking forward to seeing them both in the outdoor performance to be staged at North Lees Hall in July.
These splendid photos were taken by my husband.
A while ago I blogged about how much I enjoyed John Mullan’s book about Jane Austen. I followed that up by reading HOW NOVELS WORK by the same author. This too is hugely enjoyable and I found a lot of food for thought both as a reader and a writer. I knew I was in for a treat when I read this on the first page: ‘When the novelist William Thackeray first dined with Charlotte Brontë, he discomposed her by quoting from memory, as he smoked an after-dinner cigar, some cigar-smoke-inspired lines from JANE EYRE – lines that lead us to the heroine’s meeting with Mr Rochester in the garden of Thornfield, and to his first declaration of love for her. “Sweet-briar and southernwood, jasmine, pink and rose have long been yielding their evening sacrifice of incense: this new scent is neither of shrub nor flower – I know it well – it is Mr Rochester’s cigar.” Thackeray had been gripped by Brontë’s novel, first reading it right through in a single day, and then returning to savour it.’ Discomposed she may have been, but what a compliment, too, particulary coming as it did from a writer older and much better established. I love this story, which Mullen uses to illustrate the power of particular passages of literature to stay in the mind. The book’s divided into sections: beginning, narrating, people, genre, and so on, right through to – naturally – endings. That makes it sound a bit dry, but actually it’s full of fascinating insights and there are categories that you don’t normally find in a work of criticism. I especially enjoyed a section on ‘Meals’ in Mullen remarks that ‘Dickens perfected the art of the meal as a fictional set-piece’ and gives as an example of ‘the chill privilege of mean luxury’ the meal at the christening party in DOMBEY AND SON: ‘a cold collation, set forth in a cold pomp of glass and silver, and looking more like a dead dinner lying in state, than a social refreshment.’That made me laugh out loud. Mullen’s book has made me want to go back to favourite writers like Dickens and enjoy them all over again, and he’s alerted me too to some that I haven’t yet read. His reference, for instance, to Conrad’s ‘wonderful novella YOUTH about not being young any more’ has whetted my appetite and that’s now on my reading list.