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It goes without saying that Yorkshire has a rich literary heritage. Stirred by its diverse landscape, individual vernacular and fierce tradition, authors and poets from far and wide have been inspired to put pen to paper, creating countless works that capture a sense of the county in their own special way.
Of course, it’s near impossible to track down every single piece of Yorkshire literature. We’ve decided to sum up a few favourites, taking a look at the most notable work to come out of God’s Own County.
Yorkshire in Literature
Haworth: The Brontes
Arguably the most famous literary talent to reside in Yorkshire comes in the form of the Brontës. Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are unquestionable classics, and both Charlotte and Emily employ their homeland Yorkshire as a major setting, placing their characters upon the windswept moorland that the county’s still famous for.
North Yorkshire: The Secret Garden
Frances Hodgson Burnett also capitalises on Yorkshire’s landscape in The Secret Garden. Her main character, a young girl called Mary, first appears as a sickly, nasty child, but after spending time in the Yorkshire countryside she becomes healthier and happier: her improvements owed to the county.
But it’s not only Yorkshire’s rolling hills that have inspired classic works of literature. In the 1890s Bram Stoker headed to Whitby to scope out its family holiday potential, and discovered a fantastically atmospheric place complete with Gothic churches, tombstones and bats. Stoker had found the perfect backdrop for Dracula.
York: Behind the Scenes at the Museum
More recently, Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum came to prominence when it won the Whitbread Book of Year in 1995. Based on the cobbled streets of York, the story explores a complex family tree strewn with both happiness and heartbreak. Not simply the place where the narrative takes place, the city of York is described with such history and nostalgia that it becomes one of the main characters within the story.
Hull: Marvell and Larkin
And let’s not forget the poets of Yorkshire. In the mid-1600s, Andrew Marvell created one of the most famous metaphysical poems of all time, To His Coy Mistress, proudly referencing his native East Riding of Yorkshire in the first stanza: ‘I by the tide / Of Humber would complain.’ Over three hundred years later, Philip Larkin adopted East Yorkshire as his home (he was originally from Coventry, but considered Hull to suit him well as it was ‘on the edge of things’) and used it as a setting for some of his best-known poems, including Here and Toads.
West Yorkshire: Hughes and Plath
A poetic legacy also rings true on the other side of the county. West Yorkshire has strong ties with Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, with one born and one buried in the region. Collections such as Remains of Elmet and Birthday Letters reference Yorkshire as a bleak and desolated but all the while beautiful place. Hughes is also partial to representing the distinctive Yorkshire accent and dialect in his work.
And who can ignore the comparisons between the UK’s largest county and J. R. R. Tolkien’s world-renowned Shire? Though works of fiction, parts of the world that Tolkien imagines in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have indisputable similarities to Yorkshire, including the close-knit communities, a large diverse landscape and a strong cultural heritage. This is owed to his time spent at the University of Leeds.
Yorkshire boasts a number of fantastic authors and poets throughout the centuries – and it’s not difficult to see why. With its varied landscape and traditionalist ways, it’s enough to stir even the most reluctant writer to pen a few paragraphs.
Do you have a favourite piece of Yorkshire literature? Tweet us @gorgeouscottage and let us know!