Setting the Record Straight, Part II

Once again a sloppy statement full of inaccuracies offered as total fact about a Brontë.  This time the unjustifiable statements are tossed in the direction of Emily Brontë. “Emily Brontë herself remains a shadowy, enigmatic figure, who lived a life of almost complete seclusion in a Yorkshire parsonage wrote a few poems of mystical ecstasy or impassioned romantic loneliness, and died at the age of twenty-nine.” This was written by Elizabeth Drew, a purported scholar, who had published two successful literary guides, including the one I had perused, The Novel: A modern Guide to Fifteen English Masterpieces.  In case we might defend her as a specialist only on novels, the cover of that book crows that she is also the author of a “successful” guide to poetry. This book hales from the 1960s, but that is no excuse: Emily’s poetry was available in the 1960s. This author either did not read Emily’s poetry at all or came across a few selections in some edition that she flitted through with little understanding.

How is she wrong? Let me count the ways.  The word “few” is vague, purposefully no doubt because the author did not check how numerous Brontë’s poems are, but under any understanding of the word, it is grossly inaccurate. Emily Brontë wrote poetry her entire life — before during and after writing Wuthering Heights.  She was foremost a poet, both in her view of herself and in her literary output.   In my book, The Poetic World of Emily Brontë, I selected eighty-six poems to discuss and had to leave many, many poems behind.  Next, Drew reduces the topical scope of Brontë’s work to two topics, suggesting Brontë dabbled a little to indulge her own mystical feelings and romantic loneliness. Brontë wrote poems on a variety of topics; I found it possible in my book to name eight topical categories and within those topics arrange poems that treat the subject from various perspectives, giving thematic statements on all sides of a topic. Brontë’s negative capability (the ability to be outside of herself and in myriad minds) is a hallmark of her oeuvre. Further, in terms of diversity, her poems take a variety of forms: dramatic monologues, dialogues, lyrical poems, long narrative poems.  The “mystical” feelings could be found in a few poems, but the term “mystical” bears scrutiny. Just because Brontë developed her own belief system, is she “mystical?”  Brontë’s beliefs and the power of her imagination, blended with her genius-inspired self-sufficiency underlie those poems on spirituality, which should not be reduced to the facile label of “mystical.” Worse yet, is the statement that her poems expressed romantic loneliness.  If Drew had used a capital “R” we might think she was making a somewhat valid connection to a literary period.  As written, she implies that Emily Brontë wanted a boyfriend.  Brontë wrote a precise number of poems in which love figures at all as a central topic.  They are Gondal poems, not lyrical poems in the author’s own voice, and they cover all stages in the course of a relationship, including betrayal, break-up, and separation from various causes. “Few” (and now this word serves correctly) could be interpreted as presenting romance and none would I describe as treating “romantic loneliness” even on the part of a character in the poem, much less her own.

As for the trifles standing in for biographical information – Brontë’s secluded lifestyle and enigmatic nature — they are true enough, but given that they are only two, are they the most meaningful? At least throw in a few more: a literary genius, she had little formal education, learning at home from her father and through her own reading: she was an accomplished pianist; she was artistic; she loved animals and nature; she reveled in the power of her own imagination; she was obsessed with death.  The enigma idea comes from a lack of traditional biographical information: letters, anecdotes of others, acquaintances. Although she did not socialize, have school chums, a job outside her home, or correspond, she is more knowable than has been generally assumed possible. The best source to become acquainted with her personality and thoughts (the incidents of what she did and where she went being the least of her life) is her literary work. Her poetry opens a window to her mind, as I insist in my book.  It is a continuing mystery to me why people, such as Drew, can be so little bothered to do Brontë the justice and themselves the pleasure of reading it.

Setting the Record Straight

Are the Brontës particularly subject to inaccurate biographical statements?  I know that there is a general misunderstanding about Wuthering Heights and that recent biographers have had to correct some of the impressions left by the first biography of Charlotte Brontë written by Elizabeth Gaskell. I also know that movies have had a heavy hand in distorting most things that pertain to the Brontës.  But should the writer of an introduction for a reputable publisher rely on vague, sensationalized, and unsubstantiated snippets of misinformation?  I just bought an edition of Jane Eyre for my husband to read.  Mine disappeared last year when my son was reading it in English class.  I skipped the Penguin classic with the lengthy introduction and notes and went for the larger type edition, a “Puffin Classic.”  “Puffin” is a subdivision of “Penguin.” There I found two pages masquerading as an “Introduction.”

Luckily it was brief to limit the number of reckless and wrong statements.  Who wrote this thing? To begin with the errors, there is the statement about the Reverend Patrick Bronte being “remote and dour.”  Wrong; he was an involved and caring parent. Read Dudley Green’s Father of Genius. Then there was the erroneous statement that once Charlotte and Emily returned from school (Cowan Bridge School, although it was not named in the introduction), they were educated by their aunt.  All their aunt did with regard to their education was to oversee their sewing.  Their father taught them, and Charlotte went to boarding school.  Then this mysterious introduction-writer perpetuates the notion that the Bronte girls were lonely and in need of consolation. To the contrary, they enjoyed themselves when they were together; they took great joy in walking on the moors, creating stories; reading, talking and joking together.  The next paragraph brings another misstatement:  Charlotte worked as a governess to support his brother’s artistic education.  Mr. Bronte did pay for Branwell to take art lessons (all the children studied art), and Branwell tried to work as a portrait artist for a year, with little success. Charlotte’s income did not go to support his art lessons, although in his alcoholism his habits of drinking and gambling strained the family’s resources. Then, we confront a very strange statement: “All the girls had nervous dispositions.”  Although I can sort of see where some of the false statements came from, this one is unmoored from any biographical fact, even a distorted one. In light of the other statements the mere inaccuracy about the publication date of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey appears minor, but it is wrong.  Likewise, it is wrong to say that all three novels were highly acclaimed.  Yes, they are now, but at the time, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey were not at all successful generally or well received critically. The reluctance on the part of this befuddled or lazy author to check dates again comes up in the sloppy statement, “ Within a few months of 1848 and 1849, their brother Branwell, Emily, and Anne all died.   What does “within a few months of two dates even mean?  Branwell and Emily died in 1848 within three months of each other and Anne died in May of 1849.

Well, one might say, who cares. Probably few if any readers will read this introduction or remember it (thankfully).  It is of little consequence in itself.  However, it does represent a lot of misinformation about the Brontës that circulates generally.  Such a view of the Brontës has been a part of the abominable film and television versions of Wuthering Heights, which I resent because I would so love to see one that does the novel justice. Last, I feel like I know the Brontës, and knowing them, I like them and hate to read silly things about them.

Emily Bronte, the Poet

The Poetic World of Emily Brontë, published by Sussex Academic Press, is out and available on Amazon. Who might enjoy this book? Anyone who has read Wuthering Heights, has an interest in the Brontës, or 19th Century poetry, or likes poetry, biography, or discussions of literature. Unlike any other collection of Brontë’s poetry, this book arranges selected poems by thematic topic: nature, mutability, love, death, captivity and freedom, hope and despair, imagination, and spirituality. It gives a biographical and literary context for Brontë’s poetry and interpretations or explanations after each poem, with many references to Wuthering Heights.

Book on the Poetry, Life, and Novel of Emily Bronte

The Poetic World of Emily Brontë

Poems from the Author of Wuthering Heights

Laura Inman
Emily Brontë is known as a novelist, but she was first and equally a poet. Before during and after writing Wuthering Heights, she wrote poetry. Indeed, she wrote virtually nothing else for us to read – no other work of fiction or correspondence. Her poems, however, fill this void. They are varied, lyrical, intriguing, and innovative, yet they are not well known. The Poetic World of Emily Brontë brings an unjustifiably marginalized poet out of the shadows and presents her poetry in a way that enables readers, even those who shy away from poetry, to appreciate her work.

Unlike any other collection of Brontë’s poetry, this volume arranges selected poems by thematic topic: nature, mutability, love, death, captivity and freedom, hope and despair, imagination, and spirituality. It provides literary and biographical information on each topic and interpretations, explanations, and insights into each poem. Fans of Wuthering Heights wanting more from Emily Brontë will discover that her poetry is as memorable and powerful as her novel.

 

PAPERBACK ISBN

978-1-84519-645-5

RELEASE DATE

August 2014

PAPERBACK PRICE

£18.95/$24.95

EXTENT / FORMAT

200 pp. 216 x 138 mm

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Inman is an independent scholar who has long been fascinated by Emily Brontë and has written about Wuthering Heights and Brontë’s poetry in Brontë Studies and Victorians: Journal of Culture and Literature.  She is a freelance writer, whose essays and fiction appear in online magazines and blogs, including her own blog, thelivingphilosopher.com. Formerly she practiced law, holding a J.D. degree from The University of Texas Law School. She lives in Rye, New York.

 

 

In the united states, Direct phone orders: (312) 337 0747 In canada and asia, Direct phone orders: (312) 337 0747 In the UK & ROW, direct phone orders  +44 (0)1524-68765

The Self-sufficiency of Emily Brontë

I would not make a case that Emily Brontë was an accidental Stoic, as I did for John Keats in the article “The Stoic Philosophy of John Keats,” that appears in this blog under “ Start Here.”  The expressions of philosophy in Keats’s life and poetry echo Seneca’s Stoic statements so precisely, it would seem that Keats had been influenced by him, although he never read a word of any Roman Stoic and held his philosophical notions through his own invention. One can only feel that there must be arch-ideas in the human realm that great minds discover coincidentally and naturally. Emily Brontë wrote no letters, as Keats did, but her view-point on life, if not her philosophy of life, can be discerned from her poetry. That process of defining her character from the lines of her poems figures largely in my book The Poetic World of Emily Brontë, published by Sussex Academic Press, which will appear in August 2014. On the whole, Bronte does not fit even unevenly into the Stoic pattern.

However, there is one truly Stoic element to Brontë’s personality, which is of great interest not just because it is Stoic but because it explains an essential character trait: she was exceedingly and unusually self-sufficient.  As I have written before, the value of self-sufficiency of a personal and intellectual nature is one of the most modern and invigorating ideas Seneca propounds as a Stoic virtue. He exhorts his acolytes not only to read or listen to others, but to develop a philosophy, guiding principles, and a way of living for themselves, independent of what others have stated. “Don’t be led, create something of your own,” he suggested vehemently.  It is in this context that he reminds his readers that ideas belong to no one, so that in formulating one’s own scheme for living, any idea that is good is available for adoption.

Why was self-sufficiency of spirit such a formative and essential trait for Emily Brontë? Consider that she had almost no formal education, learning mostly from her father and on her own at her home. She had no encouragement in her writing: no mentors, no college associates, no editors, no apprenticeships, no validation from the outside world, literary or otherwise. She, herself, relying only on her own powers and inner resources wrote Wuthering Heights, a giant in the literary canon, and a large work of powerful, distinctive, and intriguing poetry. That epitomizes a kind of magnificent self-sufficiency.  Not surprisingly, that character trait of self-fostering cropped up in other areas, and those are more precisely of the kind Seneca had in mind. She developed her own religion in which she, through her imagination, answered her own prayers and reconciled herself with death.  More on how she accomplished that can be found in my book.

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Emily Bronte, The Person and the Poet

EMILY BRONTË, THE POET AND THE PERSON

Emily Bronte and John Keats are my household gods, and one of my goals with this blog to promote their poetry; Keats needs it less than Bronte, however, who is not generally known as a poet, but as the author of  Wuthering Heights. Knowing something about Emily Brontë adds to the appreciation of her poetry because the person behind the words was an unusual, iconoclastic, enigmatic individual, and a literary genius. Further, as a general matter, it is important to get to know the poet to round out the poetry-reading experience, particularly when reading a body of work, rather than a few random poems. More than prose fiction, poetry is a personal matter that invites the reader to feel a rapport with the author, who can become a compatriot soul and sharer of sentiments. I relate to her biography, in large part, because she was a nonconformist, developed her own system of spiritual thought, experienced the era-transcending difficulties of an alcoholic in the family, and failed in her attempts to attract a publisher and gain popular acclaim.

As for the outward incidents of her life, Emily Bronte lived for twenty-nine years, from 1818 to 1848, which period saw the close of the Romantic era and included the early Victorian era. Her father, extremely intelligent, caring, and hardworking, was the minister of the Anglican Church in Haworth, having risen from the extreme poverty of his boyhood in Ireland to become an ordained minister and consequently an English gentleman—although, a poor one. Her mother died when Emily was three, leaving six children: Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne. Her two oldest sisters died in 1825, at the ages of eleven and ten, after a disastrous stay at Cowan Bridge School, a boarding institution for the daughters of poor clergymen, which turned out to be a harsh, cold, and unhealthy place. Charlotte and Emily were also there at the time their sisters became ill, Emily, at five, being the youngest student on the premises. Tuberculosis caused the deaths of Maria and Elizabeth and eventually claimed Emily and Anne, who died within five months of each other. It also most likely caused or contributed to Branwell’s death, three months before Emily died, and Charlotte’s, in 1855. Mr. Brontë lived to the age of 84.

Except for a very few brief periods when Emily was away at school or at a boarding school attempting to teach, she was at the parsonage, her beloved home, situated at the edge of Haworth, England, and a stone’s throw across a crowded cemetery from her father’s church. The back door of the two-story brick parsonage opened onto the moors, vast, open rolling, brown earth, tufted with wild grass–a wilderness of hills, masses of boulders, and springs in green valleys bordered by trees, all of which Emily knew like a long-tenured game-keeper. Her home still stands today, maintained by the Brontë Society, with rooms of Brontë artifacts–a place well-worth the visit. Emily never married. None of the Brontë children did except Charlotte, but her marriage ended with her death after only nine months.

When the three sisters were in their twenties, the necessity of making a living preyed upon them. Once their father died, they would be without a home. There was no annuity or savings; Mr. Brontë, although frugal, had never had sufficient means to do more than survive. It might be difficult for the modern mind to imagine the solid and impenetrable lack of opportunity that surrounded the Victorian woman. Particularly for a “lady,” which Emily would have been considered since her father was a clergyman, there were no paths to pursue except marriage, living as a dependent on a family member, or teaching, whether as a governess or in a boarding school. These choices were grim for Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. None of the three seemed likely to marry. In fact, historically, there was a shortage of men in England at the time, and Haworth was not a social hotspot. Branwell, the son, was not going to support his sisters; his attempts at various careers ended in failure. Charlotte and Anne had tried to accept the fate of a governess, although with the utmost hatred; but Emily could not bear to be away from home, much less interact with strangers in the subservient role of governess. They would attempt at one point to operate their own school in the parsonage, but would not receive a single expression of interest. The Brontë sisters also were not suited to follow the path of women who immigrated, where in the comparative freedom and opportunity of Australia or America they could better make their own way, such as by owning a shop. One very slight opportunity existed for a few remarkable women–writing and publishing a novel. Poetry and theater were male bastions, but the novel was fairly new to the time, and women, such as Anne Radcliff, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen had successfully exploited the opportunity.

As the question of their financial future grew desperate, one surprising twist to the plot of their lives occurred. Their mother’s sister, who had lived at the parsonage since the time of Mrs. Brontë’s death, left, upon her death, a small sum to the three sisters. It was astonishing to all, and although the sum was not enough to live on for long, it did give them the funds to publish a volume of poetry in 1846, containing poems by Charlotte, Emily and Anne, using their pseudonyms for the first time: Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. One reviewer noted the beauty of Emily’s lyrical voice, and Charlotte and Anne acknowledged Emily as the most gifted poet among them. Despite the merit of Emily’s poems, the volume went unnoticed, selling only three copies. Poetry was the family hobby; Mr. Brontë had written and had published some poems, many of a religious nature, although he also would include a clever and thoughtful poem to a friend in a letter. Charlotte and Anne, as noted, had poems handy to contribute when Charlotte discovered Emily’s poems one day and promoted the idea of the volume containing the work of all three sisters. Branwell yearned to be a poet, but he met with no success in any of his endeavors, owing in large part to his addiction to alcohol and opium. His presence in the parsonage, frequently raving drunk and in debt, created great unhappiness and tension.

After the failure of the volume of poetry, the legacy left by their aunt also allowed them to attempt to become novelists and be free, at least for a while, of the dreaded prospect of serving as governesses. Every night after Mr. Brontë went to bed at nine o’clock, the three sisters gathered at the table in the parlor. With ink wells, nib-tipped pens, and reams of paper, which constituted a considerable expense, they wrote their lengthy novels by the firelight from the grate and the glow of candles. At the end of 1847, Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey appeared in print together as a three-volume set. Emily and Anne, after numerous rejections by publishers, had paid a large sum of money to publish their novels, greatly diminishing their meager legacy. Charlotte’s first novel, The Professor, was not accepted for publication even at her own expense, and she had turned her attention to writing her second novel, Jane Eyre. It appeared even before her sisters’ novels because Charlotte’s publisher was far more reputable and productive than Emily and Anne’s. Jane Eyre was a great success, and the financial worries would have been allayed; however, one can wonder how much that mitigated for Emily the failure of Wuthering Heights, as unappreciated as her poetry had been. Her sisters, critics, and the public disliked and, apparently, failed to understand it. A year after its publication, Emily died and was laid to rest in Haworth Church under the stone slab that served as the family burial vault.

Those are the facts, in a condensed format. To arrive at any greater detail, biographers of Brontё must deduce and suppose from the bare incidents because there is an amazing lack of information about her. In an era notable for letter writers, she wrote only a couple of notes to her sister Anne and a few brief lines once to a friend of Charlotte. She did not keep a diary, and she had almost no acquaintances outside of her family. The few who had met her never knew her well because she kept to herself, and, of course, they would not have known at the time that she would be worth remembering. The source for much of the information about Emily comes from Charlotte, who wrote letters, knew and conversed with people, and even became a person of renown before her death. Yet, the more I have learned about Charlotte, the less I trust her view of Emily, and, upon further reflection, the unreliability of a sibling’s account should not be a surprise. Charlotte and Emily had very different natures, and there is reason to believe that they did not see eye to eye on many things, despite the fact that all three sisters were very close.

Looking to the unbiased outward incidents of her life and reflecting upon her writing, one gleans much about her formative experiences, intellect, frustrations, religious beliefs, sense of humor, preoccupations, joy, and sorrow. For a start, it would be in keeping with Emily Bronte’s philosophy to assume that her childhood experiences—the loss of her mother and her two sisters and the near isolation at the parsonage, almost entirely in the sole company of her family—had a tremendous impact on her personality because she depicted in Wuthering Heights and in her poems the everlasting imprint of childhood on a lifetime. From a twenty-first century perspective the importance of childhood might sound axiomatic; yet, consider that Emily Bronte lived a hundred years before Freud pronounced the request, “Tell me about your childhood.” In her time, the idea predominated that breeding, pedigree, lineage, and blood were, like for racehorses, the important factors in determining a person. Also current was the notion that a person’s outlook and actions could be determined by following Christian precepts. From the expression in her work of the importance of childhood, then, we can deduce not only that her childhood affected her, but can also see a recurring and salient aspect of Emily Brontë: she was a great forward thinker, as her insights and ideas, expressed in her literary work, were ahead of her time. She wrote a novel that must owe part of its negative reception to the fact that it was not appropriate to its time and place: the story has many scenes of domestic abuse, drunkenness, and violence, presents as its central figure an anti-hero, lacks didactic moral content, does not extol Christian virtue, and depicts a frank and unflattering portrayal of various forms of love. Regarding that last topic, the plot of the novel also lacks a traditional love story trajectory so popular with the Victorians.

In further exploring her thoughts, one can wonder if Brontë was distraught by the negative reception of her novel. The facts suggest that she was. Charlotte and Anne took up a second novel promptly at the lack of success of their first. After Charlotte’s first novel, The Professor, was not accepted for publication under any terms, she rather promptly wrote Jane Eyre, and Anne turned her attention from a flagging Agnes Grey to write The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. There is only speculation that Emily had made some sort of start on another novel at the time of her death, and it is likely that she had not. Perhaps she was more doggedly attached to her novel to give-up on it and write another; or she might have been disgusted with the experience of rejection. In any event, the “failure” did seem to affect her differently than it did her sisters. Failure as a novelist, however, did not keep her from writing poetry; even though her poems had never sold more than three volumes she continued writing poetry up to her illness, from which one easily concludes the importance of poetry to her life. In summation, the facts speak of a person who was deeply affected by her early years, who developed psychological and literary ideas ahead of her time, who was probably troubled or disgusted by the failure of her work, but who always found her consolation in her “slave, her comrade and her king,” her alter egos for imagination, and I think particularly imagination voiced in poetry.

Looking at her novel and her poetry for clues to her personality, we see from her novel that she must have had a sense of humor—satiric and dry, but nearly irrepressible at times, contrary to the view one might have of a shy, reclusive, spinster for life. To create the sermon of Jabes Branderham in Lockwood’s dream, she must have had a sharp satirical sense of humor, eager to poke fun at sermonizing ministers. Also, I have to imagine her chuckling to herself when she wrote the scene recounted in the letter of Isabella of her exasperating encounter with Joseph upon her arrival at Wuthering Heights in her newly acquired state of Mrs. Heathcliff. Likewise, when Joseph complains to Heathcliff about the loss of some shrubs and laments that he might actually have to think about “leaving the old place” Shakespearean comic relief comes to mind. Speaking of Joseph, we know also that Brontë had an uncanny ability to recreate the accents and speech of others and had to be an acute observer and listener. Also, she did not seem to be the sentimental type, as she depicts three instances of love as downright foolish–Edgar’s for Catherine, Isabella’s for Heathcliff, and Young Catherine’s for Linton. Even Hindley’s and Frances’s deep affection for each other as newlyweds is described as a bit silly. Heathcliff’s attachment to Catherine is explicable given his unloved and outcast situation, but his love only achieves tragic and great proportions once he is a mourner. Which brings me to another feature of her personality revealed by the novel–death must have occupied a large part of Bronte’s thoughts; how could it not, given that in her novel she has twelve characters die and creates the greatest mourner in literary history, who is driven to unearth and embrace a corpse even after eighteen years. She explored in the novel, like no novelist had done before and perhaps none have done since, the topics of death and grief like (quite naturally) a poet.

As noted at the beginning of this piece, knowing about the poet adds to the understanding of the poetry, and, to complete the circle, by reading the poetry one comes to know the author. Therefore, Brontë’s poetry, like her novel, reveals a lot about her. There is a caveat to that statement, but only in part. Not every poetic expression of a sentiment can be strictly speaking attributed to Brontë as her own. She wrote poems from various perspectives, developing themes from several facets of a topic. Critics have recognized that approach as her “negative culpability,” a term that the poet John Keats originated to describe the ability of a poet to be outside himself and in the minds of other people or even creatures. Also, many of her poems have an underlying fictional world called Gondal that she and Anne invented as children and continued imagining in discussions, in poetry, and perhaps also in prose stories throughout their lives. Therefore, proper names that appear in poems are Gondolian, and often the emotions expressed are attributed to a character. For biographical purposes, that she looked at events and ideas from various angles and expressed a variety of emotions reveals a fascinating and unusual aspect of her personality as a poet and a person: she was highly empathetic and sympathetic. In any event, Gondal does not subsume her voice; in reading her entire body of poetry, her personal expressions are discernable, separate from the fictitious dramatic monologues in certain poems. Perhaps her “negative capability,” or simply her imagination, underlies expressions of romantic love in her poems. Some fans of Emily Brontë have been desperate to find a love interest for her. I have never felt that she needed one to write what she wrote, nor is neither any factual evidence of one.

Brontë’s poetry garners rich stores of information about her, but for an initial, broad sketch of the person from the poetry, I will note a few features. She was an intense lover of nature, and a person who developed her own sense of spirituality and her own guiding notion of eternity, but who had little use for conventional religion. She could not deny omnipresent hardship and suffering and at times had a grim and sorrowful view of human nature and daily life, but she faced her reality not without compensations—nature, associations formed in childhood and, most notably, the power of imagination, which could defeat even death.

The Mysteries of Wuthering Heights, Fun Quiz

There is so much more to Wuthering Heights than the love story that many insist is in the novel (and which I would contend is imported by reader bias and Hollywood).  Here are some non-love- story aspects of the novel to consider.  I will provide answers to the questions in my next post.

1.    It is well known that there are two principal narrators in Wuthering Heights, Nelly Dean and Lockwood. There are two other characters who serve as narrators as well.  Who are they?

2.   Many readers have considered Wuthering Heights to be a gothic novel and have relished the presence of ghosts, considering that the child at the window,  crying to be “let in,” is a ghost  and not just a product of Lockwood’s dream.  What important fact argues against considering the apparition as the “ghost” of Catherine?

3.   How many characters die in Wuthering Heights? Count them and consider whether there is any other novel that has as many.  Is there any meaning to the number of deceased characters?

4.   Emily Bronte died of consumption (tuberculosis) shortly after completing the novel. She describes the demise of three characters from the same disease in the book, in an eerie portent of her own fate.  Who are the three characters?

5.   When Heathcliff dies few would be sorry, but there are two characters who have a notable reaction to his death:  one is sincerely grieved and the other is jubilant. Who are these two and why do they have their strong emotions?

6.   Emily Bronte was first  (if not foremost) a poet.  The following poem could have been spoken by one of the characters in Wuthering Heights.  Which one and why?

If grief for grief can touch thee,

If answering woe for woe,

If any ruth can melt thee,

Come to me now!

 

I cannot be more lonely,

More drear I cannot be!

My worn heart throbs so wildly

Twill break for thee.

 

And when the world despises,

When heaven repels my prayer,

Will not mine angel comfort,

Mine idol hear?

 

Yes, by the tears I’ve poured thee,

By all my hours of pain,

O I shall surely win thee,

Beloved, again!

 

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Nature in the Poetry of Emily Bronte

Nature in the Poetry of Emily Bronte

It is impossible to know whether Emily Brontë’s inspiration to write poems about natural subjects came more from the Romantic poets or from her own life. There is no hard and fast evidence about which poets she read, but it is most probable that she did read the most notable Romantic poets: Robert Southey and George Gordon Lord Byron as well as Wordsworth and Keats. (Undoubtedly she also read Shakespeare, Milton, and probably the Latin poets.) Her own reading aside, Bronte hardly needed the suggestion that poetry lay in nature because she lived very much in the natural world.

The image of Emily Brontë roaming the moors is one mythic element about her that is true. Today a visitor to the Brontë Parsonage can literally walk in her path and rest upon a boulder by a stream that she is reliably known to have frequented. From very young childhood, walking on the moors was a prime leisure activity for the Brontës, and throughout her life, being on the moors meant more to Emily than to any of the rest of the family. Going for a walk of several miles over a wild landscape originated with Mr. Brontë, who was a great walker. Walking was a good method for her communing with nature. Close to the ground and at the relatively slow pace afforded by only two legs, walking gave her the opportunity to explore the flora and fauna that would be missed on horseback or carriage rides. Emily might have enjoyed a ride on horseback over the moors, however. In Wuthering Heights, she has the young Catherine galloping across the moors on her pony, Minnie. Horses were a large expense and beyond the means of Mr. Brontë, so walking was the normal method of transportation. A walk of many miles was not a daunting proposition for Brontёs. Again Wuthering Heights provides illustrations: Mr. Earnshaw has walked forty miles from Liverpool at the beginning of the story, carrying the little child Heathcliff, and Lockwood and Nelly Dean think little of traversing the six miles to take them to Wuthering Heights and back to Thrushcross Grange.

In addition to living close to the land, Brontë  marked the seasons. The importance of the change of seasons cannot be overlooked for her, or for any nineteenth-century denizen of the north of England, although her poetic sensibility no doubt heightened the impact for her. Without electricity or heat, the arrival of winter could certainly be considered a grim event, and hence the association so frequently of winter with death, sadness, and hardship. The seasons appear repeatedly in Bronte’s poems, not as filler, but with true meaning—a June day recalled in a poem really was the description of a glorious event that would make one think of heaven.

She also was particularly impressed by the wind—another common feature of life in Haworth. Wuthering Heights, as Lockwood tells us, is a name signifying the strong winds that race down the hillside and assault the house, causing the trees to slant one way “as if craving alms from the sun.” In several poems, Brontë ascribes to the wind a seductive power to charm one away from dreary thoughts.

Emily Bronte for most of her life slept in a very small room that had been formed out of another room, and her bed was situated under a window with a view of the sky unobstructed by trees. I can imagine that she made good use of it to observe the moon and stars, as she frequently depicts them and the effect they have to engender a feeling of another world beyond the mundane.

Aside from leading to near mystical experiences, the sky was a joy to her, if we can take her poetry as an indication, which I think we can. In a poem (which appears in the chapter on “Love and Friendship”) a voice reflects: “I gazed upon the cloudless moon / And loved her all the night / Till morning came and radiant noon / Then I forgot her light– // No, not forgot—eternally / Remains its memory dear; /But could the day seem dark to me / Because the night was fair?” Yet, surprisingly, in another poem (appearing in this chapter) night is preferable to a sunny day. The references to the moon and the sun raise the opportunity to point out a feature of her poetry that adds to its durability and attests to Brontë’s originality. The tendency to slip into allusions to mythology–Diana and Phoebus for the moon and the sun—might have taken hold of her. It was very common in the poetry of a close predecessor, John Keats. References to mythology were still current. For example, Charlotte Brontë edited a poem of Emily’s after her death to change the description of a willow’s branches from “gleaming hair” to “dryad hair,” a dryad being a mythological tree nymph. A small example, but it serves to show how Emily, free of a poetic convention of the time, was effective as a poet. She describes the tree as it looked in nature; Charlotte simply made an allusion. Indeed, if you see a willow tree in the sun, you can observe that the long weedy branches do look like hair and they do gleam.

Overall, nature plays a large and varied role in the poetry of Emily Brontë. Very often, a natural scene, complete with the description of a season, atmospheric conditions, and vegetation comprises the opening stanzas of a poem, but the main theme is not about nature per se. That approach figures so frequently that the first few lines often give no indication of the topic of the poem. (As with Shakespearean sonnets, the ultimate meaning of the poem frequently appears at the end.) For example, there are poems in which the description of a natural scene shifts to a different main topic, such as how things have changed from an earlier time when nature so appeared; or how the spectacle of nature triggers the imagination to envision a world without suffering or a happy eternity. Therefore, despite the large presence of a natural description, such poems would appear under topical headings of “Mutability,” “Spirituality and Eternity,” “Imagination,” or “Death.” (Likewise, poems in those four categories have shared thematic strains.) In addition to making use of the natural world as a setting for a poem, Brontë uses nature as point of comparison or contrast to the human condition. For example, nature reflects the mutability of life and brings harbingers of mortality with the prospect and arrival of winter. In other poems, the beauty of the natural world contrasts with a situation of sadness, which serves to deepen the pathos. Foremost in her thematic depcition of nature, Brontë presents the idea that nature has the power to console.

Emily Bronte, The Peerless

Knowing something about Emily Brontë adds to the appreciation of her poetry because the person behind the words was an unusual, iconoclastic, enigmatic individual, and a literary genius.  Further, as a general matter, it is important to get to know the poet to round out the poetry-reading experience, particularly when reading a body of work, rather than a few random poems.  More than prose fiction, poetry is a personal matter that invites the reader to feel a rapport with the author, who can become a compatriot soul and sharer of sentiments.

As for the outward incidents of her life, Emily Bronte lived for twenty-nine years, from 1818 to 1848, which period saw the close of the Romantic era and included the early Victorian era.  Her father, extremely intelligent, caring, and hardworking, was the minister of the Anglican Church in Haworth, having risen from the extreme poverty of his boyhood in Ireland to become an ordained minister and consequently an English gentleman—although, a poor one.  Her mother died when Emily was three, leaving six children: Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne.  Her two oldest sisters died in 1825, at the ages of eleven and ten, after a disastrous stay at Cowan Bridge School, a boarding institution for the daughters of poor clergymen, which turned out to be a harsh, cold, and unhealthy place.  Charlotte and Emily were also there at the time their sisters became ill, Emily, at five, being the youngest student on the premises.  Tuberculosis caused the deaths of Maria and Elizabeth and eventually claimed Emily and Anne, who died within five months of each other.  It also most likely caused or contributed to Branwell’s death, three months before Emily died, and Charlotte’s, in 1855.  Mr. Brontë lived to the age of 84.

Except for a very few brief periods when Emily was away at school or at a boarding school attempting to teach, she was at the parsonage, her beloved home, situated at the edge of Haworth, England, and a stone’s throw across a crowded cemetery from her father’s church.  The back door of the two-story brick parsonage opened onto the moors, vast, open rolling, brown earth, tufted with wild grass–a wilderness of hills, masses of boulders, and springs in green valleys bordered by trees, all of which Emily knew like a long-tenured game-keeper.  Her home still stands today, maintained by the Brontë Society, with rooms of Brontë artifacts–a place well-worth the visit.  Emily never married.  None of the Brontë children did except Charlotte, but her marriage ended with her death after only nine months.

When the three sisters were in their twenties, the necessity of making a living preyed upon them.  Once their father died, they would be without a home.  There was no annuity or savings; Mr. Brontë, although frugal, had never had sufficient means to do more than survive.  It might be difficult for the modern mind to imagine the solid and impenetrable lack of opportunity that surrounded the Victorian woman.  Particularly for a “lady,” which Emily would have been considered since her father was a clergyman, there were no paths to pursue except marriage, living as a dependent on a family member, or teaching, whether as a governess or in a boarding school.  These choices were grim for Charlotte, Emily, and Anne.  None of the three seemed likely to marry.  In fact, historically, there was a shortage of men in England at the time, and Haworth was not a social hotspot.  Branwell, the son, was not going to support his sisters; his attempts at various careers ended in failure.  Charlotte and Anne had tried to accept the fate of a governess, although with the utmost hatred; but Emily could not bear to be away from home, much less interact with strangers in the subservient role of governess.  They would attempt at one point to operate their own school in the parsonage, but would not receive a single expression of interest.  The Brontë sisters also were not suited to follow the path of women who immigrated, where in the comparative freedom and opportunity of Australia or America they could better make their own way, such as by owning a shop.  One very slight opportunity existed for a few remarkable women–writing and publishing a novel.  Poetry and theater were male bastions, but the novel was fairly new to the time, and women, such as Anne Radcliff, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen had successfully exploited the opportunity.

As the question of their financial future grew desperate, one surprising twist to the plot of their lives occurred.  Their mother’s sister, who had lived at the parsonage since the time of Mrs. Brontë’s death, left, upon her death, a small sum to the three sisters.  It was astonishing to all, and although the sum was not enough to live on for long, it did give them the funds to publish a volume of poetry in 1846, containing poems by Charlotte, Emily and Anne, using their pseudonyms for the first time: Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell.  One reviewer noted the beauty of Emily’s lyrical voice, and Charlotte and Anne acknowledged Emily as the most gifted poet among them.  Despite the merit of Emily’s poems, the volume went unnoticed, selling only three copies.  Poetry was the family hobby; Mr. Brontë had written and had published some poems, many of a religious nature, although he also would include a clever and thoughtful poem to a friend in a letter.  Charlotte and Anne, as noted, had poems handy to contribute when Charlotte discovered Emily’s poems one day and promoted the idea of the volume containing the work of all three sisters.  Branwell yearned to be a poet, but he met with no success in any of his endeavors, owing in large part to his addiction to alcohol and opium.  His presence in the parsonage, frequently raving drunk and in debt, created great unhappiness and tension.

After the failure of the volume of poetry, the legacy left by their aunt also allowed them to attempt to become novelists and be free, at least for a while, of the dreaded prospect of serving as governesses.  Every night after Mr. Brontë went to bed at nine o’clock, the three sisters gathered at the table in the parlor.  With ink wells, nib-tipped pens, and reams of paper, which constituted a considerable expense, they wrote their lengthy novels by the firelight from the grate and the glow of candles.  At the end of 1847, Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey appeared in print together as a three-volume set.  Emily and Anne, after numerous rejections by publishers, had paid a large sum of money to publish their novels, greatly diminishing their meager legacy.  Charlotte’s first novel, The Professor, was not accepted for publication even at her own expense, and she had turned her attention to writing her second novel, Jane Eyre.  It appeared even before her sisters’ novels because Charlotte’s publisher was far more reputable and productive than Emily and Anne’s.  Jane Eyre was a great success, and the financial worries would have been allayed; however, one can wonder how much that mitigated for Emily the failure of Wuthering Heights, as unappreciated as her poetry had been.  Her sisters, critics, and the public disliked and, apparently, failed to understand it.  A year after its publication, Emily died and was laid to rest in Haworth Church under the stone slab that served as the family burial vault

The Poet Who Wrote “Wuthering Heights”

Emily Bronte is best known, perhaps solely known to many, as a novelist, the author of one of the all-time great works, Wuthering Heights.  Readers for generations have paused at Lockwood’s final thoughts at the graves of Catherine, Edgar, and Heathcliff, with the wistful feeling that accompanies the end of a close relationship.  Eager to read something else that Emily Brontё wrote, one learns that she was a poet.  The novelists who also were great poets are very few.  Emily Bronte deserves the distinction of being both.

One should read and consider her poems several times.  Like songs or great art they only improve on better acquaintance.  Then, once her poems become very familiar, one can come back to them again and again because poems are for perpetual reading, like a spiritual source.  The sentiments and language of Bronte’s poems, on topics that touch everyone’s life at some time or other, are too good to be overlooked–and it is virtually all that we have of her to read after putting down Wuthering Heights for the third time.