The novel is set in and around the Spen Valley in what is now called West Yorkshire (then the West Riding of Yorkshire). This area is now known as "Shirley country" to some locals. Briarmains, a house mentioned in the novel, is based on the Red House in Gomersal, where Mary Taylor, a friend of Charlotte, lived. The house is now open as a museum. Fieldhead, another house in the novel, is based on the Elizabethan manor house Oakwell Hall, which is also now a museum. The attack on Robert Moore's mill was based on the Luddite attack on Cartwright's Mill at Rawfolds, Liversedge, though it is believed that Charlotte also took some inspiration from Taylor's Mill at Hunsworth. Charlotte's father Patrick Bronte had lived in the Hightown area of Liversedge for a while, and Charlotte knew the area well.

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