She walks 50 miles in the Brontës’ shoes

Erica Drennan ’07 did not just walk a mile in the footsteps of her favorite author – she walked 50. Before walking along the grassy knolls of the Yorkshire countryside and through the dry moors of England last summer, the idea of following where the Brontë sisters were was simply a fleeting whim.

But her dream became reality when she won the Junior Fellowhip Award at the end of her junior year, a grant given every year by the school to a rising senior to undertake a topic of their choice. President Thomas Hudnut announced Drennan the winner of the award last May at the awards ceremony.

After hearing previous Junior Fellowship Award winner Kenny Gotlieb ’06 speak about his experience during a class meeting, Drennan suddenly had the idea to follow in the footsteps of a writer and, by the end of the assembly, she knew she wanted to follow the Brontës.

“The Brontë sisters stand out particularly to me because of the strong sense of place apparent in their novels,” Drennan said.

While she considered following in the footsteps of Jane Austen, the vivid, Gothic settings of the Brontë sisters’ novels proved more appealing.

Drennan was most inspired by her favorite novel, “Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Brontë.

After applying for the grant, several months later she was told to go meet her dean.

“When I got there, he told me he had good news and bad news,” Drennan recounted.

“The bad news was that it was raining. The good news was that I had won the grant. I floated out of his office, I was so excited.”

In addition to receiving a budget of $3,000 from the school, Drennan received help from her mother in planning the trip, but mostly arranged the itinerary herself.

One thing that her parents did insist on, however, was that she not go alone, so Dii Zaller ’07 accompanied Drennan on her trek.

Drennan’s trip began in Birmingham, where she stayed with British playwright and family friend David Edgar.

Here, she got acclimated to the country and made preparations for her trip, including purchasing train tickets and checking on reservations.

Drennan and Zaller then took a train to Yorkshire in northern England where they spent five days walking through the countryside on the self-guided walk, the Brontë Way.

“Dii and I walked 50 miles in four days. That’s an awful lot of walking for two girls who spent all of junior year complaining about the ‘long trek’ to Upper Saint Michael’s,” Drennan said.

This path through pastures and barren moors allowed them to see thousands of initially frightening sheep and only a few humans for four days.

Using the guidebook “The Brontë Way” by Paul Hannon, Drennan and Zaller were able to avoid getting lost for the most part, except for one situation such as in “the Golf Maze of Death” where they encountered their “first pasture of vicious man-eating sheep.”

Pictures of these sheep can currently be seen in Feldman-Horn Gallery.

The Brontë Way consisted of the places the sisters lived and places that figured prominently in their novels.

Drennan visited the sites that Fieldhead and Yorke’s House from “Shirley”; Ferndean from “Jane Eyre;” and Thrushcross Grange and the real Wuthering Heights from “Wuthering Heights” were based on.

She also spent lots of time at the place where the Brontës spent their lives in Haworth.

The part Drennan enjoyed most was feeling connected with the sisters as she roamed the Yorkshire countryside.

Drennan spent the majority of her time in Haworth, a town in the center of the Brontë country, where she remained after Zaller flew home.

This was also where Drennan began to write the product of her trip and endeavors, a novel inspired by her experience in Yorkshire.

“I have been writing my whole life: short stories, plays and a novel,” Drennan said. “By the end of the trip, I had finally completed three chapters and outlined the rest of the story.”

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