1818-1848 - Emily Bronte
Haworth is a dark and forbidding Yorkshire village, set in wild moorland country high above the valleys of the industrial West Riding. Its solidly handsome parsonage, surrounded on three of its four sides by blackened gravestones, was home to one of the most extraordinary of literary families. A visitor to the house in 1833 noted the severity of 'the sanded floors, the sparse furnishings, the dove-coloured walls (no wallpaper) and book-lined recesses'. The Brontes came to Haworth in 1820 and apart from brief periods, Charlotte, Emily and Anne stayed here for the rest of their short lives. How might living in such a place have helped create the unique character of Emily's writing?
Wuthering Heights, within whose 'storm-heated and electrical atmosphere we seem at times to breathe lightning', is one of the most extraordinary novels ever written. Along with a modest volume of poems, it was Emily Bronte's only published work as a mature writer, though the Bronte sisters and their renegade brother Branwell were great producers of juvenilia. It is all the more remarkable for being (as far as we can tell) almost entirely a work of imagination, owing little of its emotional impact to the author's direct experience of life. Emily Bronte's Gothic sensitivity could, however, hardly fail to respond to the potential of her immediate surroundings - the wild Yorkshire moors, the sheer power of the elements, the gaunt stone houses and the rough manners of those who lived there. Her sister Charlotte spoke of the claustrophobic circumstances in which they lived, from which writing must have seemed a welcome release: 'Resident in a remote district where education had made little progress, and where, consequently, there was no inducement to seek social intercourse beyond our own domestic circle, we were wholly dependent on ourselves and each other, on books and study, for the enjoyments and occupations of life.' Had Emily lived in a town, she suggested, then Wuthering Heights might have possessed 'another character' entirely. The book was published pseudonymously, under the opaque name of Ellis Bell, and was not at all well received by the critics. After Emily Bronte's early death readers were astonished to learn that it was the work of a woman, and a parson's daughter at that. 'We did not like to declare ourselves women,' wrote Charlotte (who herself wrote as 'Currer Bell'; Anne Bronte took the name 'Acton Bell'). 'Without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called "feminine" - we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.'
|1812-1870 - Charles Dickens|