Catching up & spotting Charlotte Brontë in London

Though I studied in London, I’m very much a small town/country girl at heart and rarely venture that way these days. This Sunday was an exception. A friend from home who I haven’t seen for 10 years was very briefly in the UK, so I went over so we could catch up (albeit very briefly).

One of the best things about London is that you never have the same experience twice. I started off by having tea with a friend who lives in London. We met at Half Cup, a nice little coffee shop near King’s Cross. If you’re very astute, you’ll know that this is also conveniently near the British Library. The BL is one of my all-time favourite places, so much so that I went on the day I handed in my dissertation for my qualification in Library & Information Studies (yes, you do get a bit fed up with libraries). I was a bit short on time, so I only visited the Alice in Wonderland exhibition. I was very impressed – it displayed content about the creation of Alice, but also its influence. Unsurprisingly, there was a particular emphasis on illustration. What is it about Alice in Wonderland that lends itself to illustration? People have had so much fun doing it & there are so many beautiful examples.

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My favorite, a 1949 illustration by Leonard Weisgard.

There were still a couple of hours before my friend’s train arrived, so after much internal debate I headed to the National Gallery for a quick look at one of my favorite paintings, Saint Jerome by Albrecht Dürer. Dürer put so much detail into all his work, and I am just astonished at the level of it – in this painting, for example, there’s a butterfly that is about half the size of my pinky fingernail. Whoa. I don’t know much about art, but I do like visiting art galleries for inspiration. I always find the 15th/16th/17th century art particularly inspiring for some reason & this time found myself pondering whether Gustav Klimt was an admirer of 14th century paintings. That said, one of my all time favorite painters is Van Gogh, so clearly I am incredibly inconsistent when it comes to picking favorites.

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Then I went around the corner to the National Portrait Gallery. I’m a sucker for the 17th century, so headed straight for the Elizabethan/Tudor/Stuart wing where I looked at portraits of Queen Elizabeth & John Donne (one of my favorite poets). Next stop was the Jane Austen portrait when I saw a sign: “Celebrating Charlotte Brontë“. How could I resist?! I had no idea it was on, but it was great. If you happen to visit London before the exhibition ends in August, I’d encourage you to go along. The NPG has several items on loan from Haworth Parsonage. I got to see the famous painting of the Brontë sisters, and it was amazing to think about the fact that it was just stuck on top of a wardrobe for years with another portrait of Charlotte on sackcloth. They also had one of her teeny tiny shoes! Plus, the first tiny book the sisters ever made was there, and some of Charlotte’s own paintings, and letters from when she was in Brussels, and her husband’s letter to a close friend when Charlotte died. She was very talented, judging by the few pieces there. The captions were also wonderfully detailed. I left feeling inspired to take a trip to Yorkshire, mostly.

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At last, my friend arrived. 🙂 She was very keen to go on the London Eye, so of course we went. It was nice to see London from a different perspective, but I have to admit I was a little disappointed. I couldn’t see Tower Bridge at all! I do think it would have been worthwhile if I’d never been to London before, and my friend definitely loved it. But it speaks volumes that the next day, I almost forgot I went on it & instead focused on the galleries I’d visited. Oops… There wasn’t much sightseeing after the Eye – we went for dinner on the South Bank & took a walk toward Buckingham Palace, then I unfortunately had to catch a train home while she headed to her hotel (she was staying to visit Kew Gardens the next day, which I couldn’t take off work, boo!). I wish we could have spent longer together, but I was grateful for an opportunity to see her at all. She’s also a friend of my mum’s & was a clear influence in my career path, so being able to thank her for her support/encouragement/inspiration now that I’m all grown up was great. I hope we’ll stay in touch more regularly now.

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I spent the rest of the week exhausted, but it was definitely worth it. How often do you get to London? Do you find it as tiring/amazing as I do?

 

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One thought on “Catching up & spotting Charlotte Brontë in London

  1. It all sounds great fun! I have orchestra rehearsals in the evenings for a few weeks at a time about 5 times a year but I don’t really go anywhere apart from that. Usually, we end up going in the evening to meet people so I don’t go to see so much these days, although used to much more. Yes , I DO get tired though!!x

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