A journey to a story – this definition of pilgrimage deeply resonated with me when I first encountered it in the book The Life you Save May Be Your Own by Paul Elie. Stories are powerful elements of our world. When connected to places these stories can take on new dimensions. In fact they can lead to the transformation that often accompanies pilgrimage as a person seeks to entwine themselves in a story that relates to some of their deepest ideas of self. Walking the paths of story is a powerful way to learn more about specific pieces of literature – it opens a person up to learn from literature, not just about it. Let me take you back to one of my first.
On a cloudy afternoon in July of 1993, I boarded a bus in York, England, to complete a solitary, five-hour journey that had begun in London the day before. I was a bit nervous heading out on my own, away from my study abroad group for an entire weekend in an unknown country. The bus schedules I used to plan this trip were unclear and I did not know if I would make all the necessary connections. Still, I went.
Two hours later, the bus stopped at the foot of a hill that led to Haworth, the village where Emily, Charlotte, and Ann Brontë had lived. After touring the Brontë Parsonage, I turned at last toward the moors, the land that had drawn me to England in the first place. The sky was clear and the sun shone along the paths through the wild expanses of purple heather. I couldn’t believe I was actually here. Along the way I alternately scanned the horizon to grasp its breadth and bent down to touch the heather. Then, without warning, clouds gathered and the land’s shadows were the guides along the same paths that now evoked a more solemn mood. My walking slowed to match. Through changing weather conditions the landscape appeared as a vast, and at times turbulent, sea of green, blue, and gray.
Such continual transformation echoes the changing passions that move the characters through Wuthering Heights. At that point I more deeply understood Emily Brontë’s description of young Catherine Linton that compares her to the land in which “shadows and sunshine [flit] over it, in rapid succession” (202). The land, and associated weather patterns, evoked a more intense emotion than I had gained by reading the book alone. Brontë provided a visible image of the depth of passion, particularly melancholy, that was encroaching on young Catherine’s life. This passion was not only an internal trait, but also a composition of her interaction with the environment and other characters.
Although I could not explain it at that time, this novel had moved from being an object created primarily within the imagination of the author or reader, to being a living transaction among a place, author, and me. From that moment on I’ve been exploring pilgrimage, particularly those associated with literature, and am continually amazed at the transformations that arise at unexpected moments and in unexpected places.