Today, I’m sharing the second instalment of my Brontë Bicentenary celebrations; you can read part one here. Today, I’m discussing what I love about Emily and her writing, whilst trying to make sense of her legacy. I won’t be reviewing her novel or poetry as I’ve already done that (links provided above) but, due to the nature of this post, you will probably be spoiled for Wuthering Heights.
Poetry dominated Emily’s life, especially during her childhood. Inspired by a set of toy soldiers Branwell received, the surviving children created the intricate world of Angria and Glass Town. However, some time into this, Emily and Anne broke from Charlotte and Branwell to create their own world of Gondal. This was probably due to Charlotte and Branwell’s authority; Anne or Emily wasn’t given much leeway to explore their own imaginations. Unfortunately, none of their prose survived, but thankfully the Gondal poetry did. The poems are characterised by war, romance and political intrigue, often dealing with mature explorations and Byronic characters.
Despite Emily’s Gondal poetry being highly praised, I much prefer her nature verse. It’s more mundane in disposition, than eccentric and fantasy-like. Not because the Gondal poetry is unenjoyable but because I connect with nature writing more. My favourite poem is ‘The Bluebell is the sweetest flower‘. I have a review on a small poetry collection where I discuss this poem in depth, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. I love how Emily makes the most mundane things sound exquisite. She takes these ordinary flowers, which blow in the summer breeze and yet are ‘perishable and rootless’ as Charlotte claims, and makes them seem whimsical. She brings them to life through simple words and a conventional rhythm.
Then Emily turns this all on its head. The sudden juxtaposing imagery of this poem leaves you shocked. Despite the changing of the seasons being a gradual process, Emily speeds it up in this poem. This is why I love poetry; it makes you feel an array of emotions. In a flash, Emily can manipulate your emotions from contentment to despair even though she is detailing the simple lifecycle of Nature – something that we are all familiar with. I think this poem is remarkable, and every time I read it I’m blown away by the sheer beauty of it.
Other than her poetry, we all know Wuthering Heights. It’s a story of a demonic relationship that destroys everything within its sights. When I first read it, I thought it was an average read. I didn’t understand why Emily would make all the characters so disagreeable. However, I re-read it a couple of months later and started to notice everything that I had missed. It went from being an average read to something that I hold in such high esteem. There are a number of things I like about this book, including:
- The social critique: for example, Emily hones in on the notion that class determines everything in Victorian society, that is all except happiness. One can marry into class and money, but they will never truly be happy. Catherine wanted to be ‘the greatest woman in the neighbourhood’ and could only achieve this by marrying into Edgar’s upper-middle-class family, however she is not happy because she truly loves Heathcliff. His low social status makes it impossible for her to marry him, thus triggering his need to improve. Subtly, Emily criticises the power class holds in society.
- The Byronic hero: as someone who loves Lord Byron and is fascinated with the way he portrays himself in his poetry, I love seeing a pastiche of this characterisation in other people’s writing. The Brontë sisters always do a brilliant job at this; they grew up reading Byron, and so are aware of what characteristics must be drawn upon when creating this mysterious and brooding character. Although Emily’s Heathcliff isn’t my favourite recreation, he’s still an honourable one!
- The Romantic elements: Emily incorporates Romantic tropes, like the reclaiming of nature, into many of her characters. Catherine, for example, feels suffocated at Thrushcross Grange (symbolic of a 19th century conventional life), yet feels at home when out on the rugged, untamed and wild moors. At one point, she even dreams of being flung out of heaven onto the moors, crying with relief because the landscape is her heaven. I love how nature plays such a monumental role in the novel.
Out of all of her writing, I much prefer Wuthering Heights. I love her poetry, but there is something so unique about the novel. There are reasons why Emily’s writing has become canonised, and why we are celebrating her birth two hundred years later. She remains a firm figure in the English language, and that’s because she is remarkably talented. Emily wasn’t confined by patriarchal ideology, and through a male pseudonym she managed to explore a whole host of Victorian issues and beliefs through an unorthodox route.
Do you love Emily? What’s your favourite piece of writing from her?
Thanks for reading, Lauren X