Meeting the Ghosts of the Brontë Family

by Antony Ramm, Local and Family History, Central Library

Display of relevant materials in our Local and Family History department
Display of relevant materials in our Local and Family History department

In his book Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? (2010), James Shapiro makes the point that “every literature professor is in the business of speaking to the dead” and that, by extension, “communicating with the dead is what we all do…[e]very time we pick up a volume of Milton or Virgil or Dickens – all of whom achieve a kind of immortality by speaking to us from beyond the grave.”

I think that is true – though I’d go further and argue that the act of “speaking to the dead” is even more prevalent in those historical memories reclaimed through the making of local and family history(ies) than in the kind of literary readings highlighted by Shapiro.

One place these two slightly different approaches to the past intersect is in the surprising place of the Haworth Parsonage long associated with the Brontë family – fittingly so, at the start of the five-year celebration of their literary achievements. More specifically, it’s in the pages of an odd little book we hold in the Local and Family History department of our Central Library.

That book – News From the Next World by Charles L. Tweedale – was the 1940 sequel to Tweedale’s prior work, Man’s Survival After Death. In that earlier book, Tweedale “answered in the affirmative the age-long question, ‘If a man die shall he live again?'”; in the sequel he hoped to “answer the further question “How does he live and where?'”.

That search appears to have taken, at least in part, the form of written communication with the dead via the hand of his wife, Mrs M.E. Tweedale. Such was the case on Monday the 24th of August, 1931 when, on a journey to Haworth, Mrs Tweedale was physically alerted by forms unknown in the Parsonage. That incident then led to a successful attempt at contacting, first Emily, then Patrick Brontë – both of whom were apparently keen to communicate details of their present existence and, it seems, their signatures – which matched those seen in previously unpublished papers. What to make of this curious episode lay, of course, entirely in the eye of the beholder.

So, to read the entirety of the Tweedale’s eerie encounter with the Brontë – and to see a display of Brontë-related information – please visit our Local and Family History library. You can also browse a guide to our other Brontë holdings by clicking here.

Plate XXXIV of Tweedales book: "Brontë Spirit Signatures"
Plate XXXIV of Tweedales book: “Brontë Spirit Signatures”
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