I had handed my thesis in a few days earlier and was wrapped in emotions that I didn’t quite yet understand. The crying at everything had stopped or, rather, ceased, so that I could now walk down the street without sobbing at a tree, but I still wasn’t quite myself. This is the part of research that nobody seems to tell you about; the lull before the end, the moment where you hand in a piece of work which holds blood, sweat and tears, and then suddenly it’s gone off to be marked by somebody and you just have to continue. You keep on keeping on. The world keeps turning. You write papers, and book proposals, and job applications. You keep going because that’s what you do now, that’s what research has made you able to do: you survive.
And it was because of that, that I found myself walking into town one day with the intent of finding a desk somewhere, buying a drink, but within minutes found myself on a bus to Scarborough. It’s a trip that’s familiar to me but one that, on the bus, takes something of a different tone. Buses are odd, delightful things with their colour combinations and their habits of stopping by a random hedge somewhere which turns out to be a bus stop. The new bus, too, the unfamiliar route, that’s something quite delicious that hovers on the edge of panic and excitement all the time; will you miss your stop? Will you even catch the bus in the first place, or will you be destined to traipsing home along the hard shoulder somewhere or scrubbing your pennies together to make enough for a taxi?
I went to Scarborough to visit the grave of Anne Brontë.
Back in 1849, Anne Brontë passed away in Scarborough. Something about Charlotte’s decision to ‘lay the flower where she had fallen’ and have Anne buried in St Mary’s churchyard, as opposed to bringing her back to Haworth, cuts to the very essence of grief for me.
Scarborough is a strange place; elements of the old town push up against amusements and chip shops, rendering a landscape that doesn’t quite know what it should be or indeed when it should be. I had a mad moment of delight when I realised that a second hand bookshop I first went to about twenty years ago still existed and an even stranger sensation when I realised that the children’s books were in the same place on the shelf. Who knows what will be there in another twenty years?
Anne’s grave is located just outside of what may be seen as the ‘main’ graveyard. The wall in the picture is the barrier between the graveyard and the road, but it’s also easy to figure out where the grave is due to the throngs of people. I sat there for a while, watching and listening, because I am Northern and had paid a fair whack to get there, but also because it’s fascinating. This is a site of literary pilgrimage and it’s one that is active. In about ten minutes, I witnessed a whole host of visitors quietly trek into the graveyard and study the slim, eroded headstone and the plaque and to talk of how beautiful it was here for her.
(Oh that beautiful “her”. That conscious acknowledgement of a person and of personhood; that recognition of living, of life…!)
There was a gentleman sat on the bench next to me and we got to talking. He showed me a picture he had of the grave back when the headstone was more intact, and another of the grave when it was surrounded by iron railings. The railings disappeared during the war, but the background of the shot was still surprisingly constant. The fishermen’s cottages, the line of the landscape, it was all still so beautifully familiar, and I was reminded again of that unknown edge of Scarborough, the way that it doesn’t quite know where it begins let alone where it ends.
As I spoke to this gentleman, he told me about how he comes to the grave regularly and talks to visitors. He wasn’t a member of the Brontë Society, though he’d written to them for information. He simply kept an eye on her, making sure that the headstone wasn’t damaged and that people didn’t take souvenirs from the headstone.
Another group came, stood, talked. He told them, all of us, about how every now and then somebody would speak of moving Anne’s grave to Haworth. Someone said how she was happy here. Somebody else nodded and said that you shouldn’t go against their wishes.
They moved on, as did I.
I walked down to the front, past the thickness of the fret as it rolled in off the sea in great, cloudy waves, and then I climbed the hill back to the bus stop and I had a slight breakdown over Twitter about it all. About how people cared about Anne. About how this man went there so often just to sit and have his lunch and keep an eye on her grave.
About the strange beauty that can be found in death, about the love.