The Genius of Emily Brontë

It makes me sad to realise I haven’t written anything about Emily Brontë yet, so far she has only been a passing mention in my posts about the Brontë family, so I wanted to express my love and appreciation for her writing in this post.
Emily is seen to be tough, quiet, stubborn, a genius who was ripped from the world before she had reached the heights of her literary powers. We know little about her or her thoughts on the events in her life, knowing she was continually immersed in her imaginary world of Gondal that inspired her writing, Wuthering Heights being her only novel despite speculation that she had started a second work before she died that was destroyed.  Even though we only have her masterpiece Wuthering Heights and her poems left, she has left an incredibly significant mark on English literature.

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Wuthering Heights
Anne is my favourite Brontë sister, but if I had name any book I loved the most, Wuthering Heights would probably take that title. Sure I’ve enjoyed reading other books more, loved characters more fiercely, but Emily Brontë’s language is what draws me in every time. It’s powerful, it’s passionate, and I will never get tired of reading passages over and over again, and experiencing the same feelings of awe and wonder.
It’s also because, Wuthering Heights to me, represents why I love studying English Literature. I had to study the book in the last year of my A-Levels, and when I read it, I wasn’t blown away by it. It was ok sure, I didn’t dislike it at all, but if I wasn’t studying it I would have probably thought it was an interesting but overrated classic and left it at that. Only when we started studying it, did my opinions change. I can understand why people don’t like it, for one thing all the characters are terrible and the ones that are halfway decent you don’t spend enough time with to connect with them. Heathcliff and Catherine are selfish, cruel and manipulative. Hindley is an abusive alcoholic, Linton is a weak and infuriating mess. Cathy is young but frustratingly naïve, and Hareton is stubborn and quick-tempered.

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However I like that Emily didn’t write heroes or heroines. All of these characters are products of their society and their circumstances. The two generations are stuck in a cycle of abuse and anger, only the marriage of Hareton and Cathy breaks this, being able to find the peace that Catherine and Heathcliff could not obtain, in a marriage based on mutual respect and kindness, rather than obsession and violence. I enjoyed analysing the book and the language especially, but with revision and stressing about getting into university, it took me until after exams were over to appreciate how much I enjoyed the book, and read parts other book again free from having to memorize quotes.
Nature is the driving force of the novel, and to me is what heightens this novel to greatness. One of my personal highlights when reading the novel was this vivid passage:

‘One time, however, we were near quarrelling. He said the pleasantest manner of spending a hot July day was lying from morning till evening on a bank of heath in the middle of the moors, with the bees humming dreamily about among the bloom, and the larks singing high up overhead, and the blue sky and bright sun shining steadily and cloudlessly. That was his most perfect idea of heaven’s happiness: mine was rocking in a rustling green tree, with a west wind blowing, and bright white clouds flitting rapidly above; and not only larks, but throstles, and blackbirds, and linnets, and cuckoos pouring out music on every side, and the moors seen at a distance, broken into cool dusky dells; but close by great swells of long grass undulating in waves to the breeze; and woods and sounding water, and the whole world awake and wild with joy. He wanted all to lie in an ecstasy of peace; I wanted all to sparkle and dance in a glorious jubilee. I said his heaven would be only half alive; and he said mine would be drunk: I said I should fall asleep in his; and he said he could not breathe in mine, and began to grow very snappish. At last, we agreed to try both, as soon as the right weather came; and then we kissed each other and were friends.’
No film or tv adaptation has done the book justice in my opinion, either dismissing the younger generation entirely, or playing Heathcliff and Catherine as this epic romance, and the overall novel as a love story. The romanticism of this relationship irritates me to no end, as much as the relationship dominates the novel, no adaptation should ever make it seem like it is a love to aspire to. Heathcliff is an incredibly interesting character, but please stop making him a romantic hero, he’s terrible. People are so quick to defend him because of the horrific childhood he experiences, though by the end of the novel a lot of his actions stem from taking pleasure in other people’s pain, and not from a place of revenge.

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There have been worthy adaptations, I enjoyed the 2009 television adaptation, Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley being a very convincing Heathcliff and Catherine, highlighting the younger generation and Heathcliff’s further descent into cruelty and despair. The 2011 film beautifully captured the raw and brutal landscape of the novel, and has a roughness that I haven’t seen in other adaptations, though the lack of passion or intensity in Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship, and the ending being Catherine’s death disappointed me.

It’s strange to wonder how different my literary tastes would be if I hadn’t read it. Would I have read it later on and dismissed like I did when I initially read it? Would I ever have decided to read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and do my dissertation on it? Wuthering Heights for me reinforces why I study English, and exemplifies why Emily Brontë should be remembered as one of the literary greats.
“I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”

Emily Brontë’s Poetry
Emily is still considered one of the finest English poets, her poetry focusing on nature, loss, death, love and feelings of the Sublime. I could go on forever about her poetry, but I’ve tried to keep it short by presenting two of the poems that best express her unique talent. The intensity of these two poems conveys nature as a powerful force that serve to exemplify human emotions.
Extract from The Prisoner
He comes with Western winds, with evening’s wandering airs,
With that clear dusk of heaven that brings the thickest stars:
Winds take a pensive tone, and stars a tender fire,
And visions rise, and change, that kill me with desire.

Desire for nothing known in my maturer years,
When Joy grew mad with awe, at counting future tears:
When, if my spirit’s sky was full of flashes warm,
I knew not whence they came, from sun or thunder-storm.

But first, a hush of peace–a soundless calm descends;
The struggle of distress and fierce impatience ends.
Mute music soothes my breast–unutter’d harmony
That I could never dream, till Earth was lost to me.

Then dawns the Invisible; the Unseen its truth reveals;
My outward sense is gone, my inward essence feels;
Its wings are almost free–its home, its harbour found,
Measuring the gulf, it stoops, and dares the final bound.

O dreadful is the check–intense the agony–
When the ear begins to hear, and the eye begins to see;
When the pulse begins to throb–the brain to think again–
The soul to feel the flesh, and the flesh to feel the chain.

Yet I would lose no sting, would wish no torture less;
The more that anguish racks, the earlier it will bless;
And robed in fires of hell, or bright with heavenly shine,
If it but herald Death, the vision is divine.

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High Waving Heather

High waving heather ‘neath stormy blasts bending,
Midnight and moonlight and bright shining stars,
Darkness and glory rejoicingly blending,
Earth rising to heaven and heaven descending,
Man’s spirit away from its drear dungeon sending,
Bursting the fetters and breaking the bars.

All down the mountain sides wild forests lending
One mighty voice to the life-giving wind,
Rivers their banks in their jubilee rending,
Fast through the valleys a reckless course wending,
Wider and deeper their waters extending,
Leaving a desolate desert behind.

Shining and lowering and swelling and dying,
Changing forever from midnight to noon;
Roaring like thunder, like soft music sighing,
Shadows on shadows advancing and flying,
Lighning-bright flashes the deep gloom defying,
Coming as swiftly and fading as soon.

For more on Emily, it’s worth watching To Walk Invisible to see the brilliant portrayal of all of the sisters in writing their respective novels, Chloe Pirrie being a standout as Emily. If Wuthering Heights isn’t for you whether you have read it or not, I would strongly recommend reading some of Emily’s poetry, either online or in collections, Penguin doing one of their Mini Black Classics with Emily’s poetry that’s cheap and a great introduction to her best work, which I bought when first reading her poetry.

There was a lot I wanted to mention in this post, but it became longer than anticipated, so I mainly focused on Emily’s work rather than her life. Trying out some different literature posts, so let me know what you think! If you have any thoughts on Emily and her work, feel free to discuss below.

Thanks,

Sarah

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