Books | There’s more to Yorkshire’s Literature than the Brontës

When asked about Yorkshire literature, Wuthering Heights will most likely be the first book that comes to mind. However, the wild and rugged Yorkshire moors have inspired many authors to put pen to paper, and Cathy and Heathcliff aren’t the only fictional characters to have roamed the county. In the Middle have handpicked some of the best Yorkshire-based literature to help you escape urban city life for a few hours.

#1.Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

This fantastical and epic novel explores England’s North-South divide in a brilliant and subversive way. The story takes place in a 19th century England where magic exists, and has now returned in the form of two men – Strange and Norrell. One of the opening scenes, in which Norrell proves his powers by making the statues of York Cathedral come alive, is truly spellbinding. Throughout the book, the North is presented as magical and enchanted, contrasting the rugged industrial landscape of reality. By mixing historical and fantastical to explore the contrasts in English society, Clarke has created a truly exceptional novel, and the BBC is currently in the process of filming a TV adaptation; one to watch out for in the coming months.

#2.The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The title of this book may evoke childhood memories; and quite rightly, The Secret Garden has often been named the greatest children’s novels ever written. Mary Lennox is a spoilt and sickly child, who is forced to move to Yorkshire to live with her uncle when her parents die in a cholera outbreak in India. At first, she detests the bleak Yorkshire moors, but as she starts to make friends with the gardener and a friendly robin, she soon learns to love the surrounding landscape, and it becomes her personal playground. The intrigue surrounding the mysterious walled garden her uncle keeps locked up, and the invalid cousin she finds hidden away in the depths of the house, give this children’s book a darker twist.

#3.The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

So, while there is so much more to Yorkshire’s literature than the Brontës, they habe written some of the county’s best novels. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,  written by Charlotte’s younger sister, Anne, is a shocking and gripping tale, with a strong-willed heroine at its centre. Helen Graham is a mysterious widow who moves into Wildfell Hall with her son, attracting the attention of the gossiping locals. Gilbert Markham, a local farmer, starts a relationship with her, but scandalous rumours regarding her history begin to cause him concerns. As a result, she is forced to show him her diary to set his mind at rest. In it, we learn of Helen’s dark and upsetting past, in which she has fought against a violent, alcoholic husband. The heart of Yorkshire is home to one of the first, and certainly one of the best, feminist novels ever written.

#4.South Riding by Winifred Holtby

Although once a hidden gem of a novel, a recent BBC drama adaptation has brought Holtby’s early 20th century story to light. South Riding, a fictional village in Yorkshire, is struggling to come to terms with the sudden social changes sweeping the country at the time. Another feminist heroine, this time in the form of local headmistress Sarah Burton, stridently challenges the villagers’ conservative ways with her progressive reforms. She meets plenty of opposition, especially in the form of local divorcee Robert Carne, but her feisty attitude defies all around her.  “I was born to be a spinster, and by God, I’m going to spin”, the novel’s most famous quotation, epitomises the novels spirited attack on traditional gender roles.

Feeling inspired? Explore our Welcome To Yorkshire travel piece, and go and explore what Yorkshire really has to offer:

Jessica Murray

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