This introduction includes biographical material on Emily Brontë and discusses Wuthering Heights in general terms only, without divulging the plot. The annotations themselves offer a detailed, running commentary on the novel, though also without anticipating the plot. The discussion here of Emily Brontë’s short life intends to give some impression of the author and to suggest some motifs in the novel. Sections 1. and 2. discuss Emily Brontë's life; 3. her poetry; 4. and 5. reactions to Wuthering Heights and the novel itself; and 6. trends in criticism of the novel.
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1. Emily Brontë
Much about Wuthering Heights and Emily Brontë is unusual and often extreme. She is from adolescence to her death at thirty (she was born July 30, 1818, and died on December 19, 1848) formidably guarded and independent. Two years after her death her sister Charlotte wrote in her Biographical Notice of Emily that
An interpreter ought always to have stood between her and the world. Her will was not very flexible [read intransigent], and it generally opposed her interest. Her temper was magnanimous, but warm and sudden; her spirit altogether unbending.
Charlotte intimates by a “will...[that] “generally opposed her interest” something faintly self-destructive about Emily. She was as well sternly unsentimental and without a trace of self-pity. Insistent upon freedom and privacy, she divided herself being between her imaginative life and the moors. Charlotte writes of her, “Stronger than a man, simpler than a child, her nature stood alone.” It did.
Wuthering Heights (1848) is one of English fiction’s most extraordinary works. Everything about it is unusual: its origins, its narration, its structure, its characters, its verbal energy, the brutal honesty of its characters' speech and behavior, its refusal to condemn outrageous behavior. The novel is hard and defies our arrival at a settled understanding of it, as evidenced by the large, diverse critical legacy trailing after it. Wuthering Heights stands outside the mainstream of English fiction and seems to be waiting for criticism to catch up with it. That, it now seems safe to say, will not happen. Wuthering Heights has provoked, it is said, more scholarly commentary than any other 19th-c. novel in English. Dorothy Van Ghent, one of the novel's many fine critics, begins her chapter on it in The English Novel: Form and Function (1953): "of all English novels, it [Wuthering Heights] is the most treacherous for the analytical understanding to approach." Why that should be is central to our understanding of the peculiar hold the novel has upon its readers.
One method criticism has of domesticating an idiosyncratic work is to identify the influences upon it so that a reader may associare it with familiar landmarks. This has resulted in labeling Wuthering Heights "Gothic," "Byronic," "romantic," and "mystical." The novel shows traces of these but is far more itself than the product of any or all of its precursors. Wuthering Heights resembles its hero, Heathcliff, in being an orphan, a product of the literary tradition but with no identifiable parents. Wuthering Heights has no direct precursors and no offspring; it is a child of no one and mother of nothing. It is original despite there being before it a century of English fiction that begins with Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding and continues through Fanny Burney, Mrs. Radcliffe, Maria Edgeworth, Mary Shelley, James Hogg, Jane Austen, Bulwer-Lytton, and the early Dickens. It is alone, which is fitting, since it is also separations that cause a crippling aloneness.
Emily Brontë read and absorbed Byron and seems to have read Moore’s Life of Byron; she read Scott's poetry and fiction enthusiastically (he was her favorite, she said); she read the Gothic novelist Mrs. Radcliffe, and almost certainly some Wordsworth, both Shelleys, very likely James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner, and the novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, as well as John Milton, whose Paradise Lost her father is said to have memorized as a boy. Charlotte writes in the Biographical Notice that “Neither Emily nor Anne was learned; they had no thought of filling their pitchers at the well-spring of other minds” (Biographical Notice). Emily’s vision was sturdily original, and her imagination did more to transmute into her personal vernacular the writers she read than they did to shape her. She may never have known how original she was as a writer; had she read more widely, she may not have been so original.
Charlotte’s Preface to the 1850 edition of Wuthering Heights maintains that Ellis Bell, the male pseudonym Emily adopted, followed “no model but the vision of his meditations” and “to the influence of other intellects, it was not amenable.” There is no other English writer so protective of her inner life. She remained obsessively private even in a small village, Haworth (pronounced HOW-worth), in a provincial part of Yorkshire high on the moors. No novel beforeWuthering Heights had such a complex narrative envelope of two main narrators and three subsidiary ones. The only narrator not present is the obsessively private author. She remains a spectral ventriloquist.
A measure of Emily's originality is that there is no other novel to which we can imagine transplanting Cathy and Heathcliff, unless somehow we could insert them into Moby Dick. No other novel of the century has Wuthering Heights’s fierce, confrontational verbal energy. The chief characters speak the harshest truth, often with relish, as does their author.
Wuthering Heights is in another sense an only child: apart from Emily's seven brief essays (devoirs) in French, some five short diary entries, some known as birthday papers, and a few perfunctory letters, the novel is Emily Brontë's sole surviving work of prose. There appears to have been an extensive prose narrative, the Gondal saga (a fantasy world she and Anne developed as children and worked upon for years), from which spring many of her poems, but that has disappeared—sadly, since it may have been a source for Wuthering Heights.
From the time Emily was six or so she wrote sagas and plays with Charlotte and Branwell. (Charlotte was two years older than Emily, Branwell a year older, and Anne a year younger). Gondal seems to have been conceived when Emily was about twelve or thirteen, though the first known Gondal poem appears only some eight years later in 1838. She continued developing the Gondal saga throughout her adult life, perhaps alongside and even beyond Wuthering Heights.Both Charlotte and Emily’s publisher indicated that she was also working on a second novel when she died. Nothing remains of that—not even a hint of its subject—or for that matter of any manuscript or of the fair copy or of the corrected proofs of Wuthering Heights. The last loss is especially regrettable, because her publisher did not make her corrections.
Emily was not a letter-writer (she signed Emily Jane or Emily J.) for the same reason she had no intimate friends beyond her family. She detested niceties and trivial chatter and she avoided friendships with other women. There were no men in her life other than her father and her brother. The tallest of the Brontë children and said to have been the most attractive of the sisters, she was also the most indifferent to love. Still, she observed its torments in her three siblings. Anne, with whom she was closest, loved silently a clergyman who died young of cholera; Charlotte fell in love with a married man, her teacher, M. Heger, in Brussels; and Branwell became obsessed with a married woman. Emily, who of all the siblings wrote most powerfully about love, experienced so far as is known none that was erotic.
The Rev. Patrick Brontë’s wife, Maria, died at thirty-eight of, it is thought, uterine cancer after giving birth to six children in five and a half years. Emily was three at the time. His unmarried sister-in-law moved in to help manage the household. Three years later her father sent her to boarding school, where she joined her three older sisters, Maria, Elizabeth, and Charlotte. In 1824 the Rev. Brontë had sought and received financial assistance to send his two eldest girls to board at the newly-founded Clergy Daughters' School, some forty miles northwest in the southern part of the Lake District. They enrolled in July in the school, which was dedicated to educating the children of ill-paid Anglican clergy. The children were restricted in writing home and were permitted to return home only once a year. The school figures infamously in Jane Eyre as the Lowood School. Emily was among the youngest of the forty-four children and made something of a pet during her six months there. As a charity institution, the school offered a rudimentary diet, cheap clothes, and a spirit-crushing regimen. Its founder, the Rev. Carus Wilson (Brocklehurst in Jane Eyre) was a Calvinist and believed in predestination: God had chosen only a few “Elect” for salvation, condemning the vast remainder to hell before they were born. Neither faith nor good works would alter one's fate, but sin in thought or deed would increase one's punishment. The children, including the three six-year-olds, had to walk two miles each way to Sunday church in any weather and flimsy clothes to hear Wilson preach terror.
2. The Family Brontë
Virtually everything that Emily required for her happiness her imagination supplied, so long as she had also privacy and freedom. From about 1826 she and her three siblings were proeccupied with the creation of a fantasy world composed of two territories, Glass Town and Angria, situated on an island in the Atlantic. They wrote and acted out plays set there, and from these two places and their respective rulers and inhabitants sprung sagas in prose and poetry.
Their father's returning from a trip altered the terrain. Charlotte recalled: “Papa bought Branwell some wooden soldiers at Leeds. When Papa came home it was night, and we were in bed, so next morning Branwell came to our door with a box of a dozen soldiers. Emily and I jumped out of bed….” The soldiers, known as the Twelves, acquired many identities, some being variations upon the real heroes the children read about in Blackwoods, the Tory literary journal that was a staple at the Parsonage. For her first pseudonym—the children wrote and published home-made “books”—Emily chose the explorer Capt. Edward Parry. She favored martial types, especially strong women, and her siblings nicknamed her “the Major.”
Glasstown and Angria developed despite one or another sibling's absence, but in 1831, when Charlotte was sent to board at the Roe Head School and Branwell left in charge, a rebellion occurred. Emily and Anne determined to free themselves from Charlotte, who had the privilege of the oldest sibling, and from Branwell, who had the authority of the male. Emily and the mild Anne created a new land in the northern Pacific, Gondal, a large island composed of warring kingdoms and interlocked royal families. Over time royal explorers ventured from Gondal and, discovering in the South Pacific Gaaldine, conquered and divided it into separate kingdoms. Still, they carried with them to the new world the pattern of animosities, rivalries, betrayals, and conflicted loves.
Of the four children Emily alone became so consumed by her fantasy world as to carry her active invention of it into her adulthood, possibly through her writing of Wuthering Heights and in the little time left her after its publication. Gondal is the birthplace of what Charlotte describes as “the power, the fire, the originality” of her sister's writing. Anne lost interest in Gondal as she began composing her first novel, Agnes Grey, around 1845, which reflected her experience as a governess and her love for her father’s curate. Anne was the first Brontë to complete a novel (Branwell had embarked on one at about the same time but did not finish it). Her example and Charlotte’s determination that the three sisters should try to earn money by writing novels seem to have motivated Emily to write Wuthering Heights.
Charlotte’s comment that “My sister Emily was not a person of demonstrative character” is polite understatement. Beyond the Parsonage Emily was reserved to the point nearly of silence and barely acknowledged the amenities of polite conversation. Mrs. Gaskell, a fine novelist in her own right and Charlotte’s friend and biographer, distinguishes Anne’s shyness and diffidence from Emily’s reserve. Emily, powerful and controlled, elected self-containment and compelled others to accept her choice. At home she cooked; she baked bread, reading while kneading; she ironed, cleaned, and tended to the animals, for whom her affection was legendary. Her menagerie included a Merlin hawk (see her drawing below) she had rescued, two domesticated geese who, to Aunt Branwell’s disgust, with Keeper, the dog, had the run of the house, along with a cat.
Except for the imaginative life that Emily participated in with her siblings, she seemed a race apart from the self-indulgent, theatrical Branwell, from gentle Anne, and from the comparatively fussy, ambitious Charlotte. Emily’s teacher in Brussels, M. Heger, a man of intellect and high standards, told Mrs. Gaskell that Emily “should have been a man—a great navigator…[she possessed] a powerful reason…a strong, imperious will….” Matthew Arnold in “Haworth Churchyard” writes of her:
She (How shall I sing her?) whose soul
Knew no fellow for might,
Passion, vehemence, grief,
Daring, since Byron died,
That world-famed son of fire—she, who sank
Baffled, unknown, self-consumed;
Whose too bold dying song
Stirr'd like a clarion blast my soul.
Arnold is right: Emily knew no fellow for “might, / Passion, vehemence, grief, / Daring,” as a creator and for that matter as a local. She waded into at least one savage fight between large dogs and separated them by hand. On another occasion she stopped to give water to a stray dog and was bitten on the arm. Warned that the dog might be rabid, she returned to the Parsonage and, telling no one, applied a red-hot poker to the wound to cauterize it. Heger saw her as “brilliant” and saw Charlotte as “sympathetic”; he found Emily “egotistical” in her strength of will and “exacting,” resulting in her dominating Charlotte.
Aside from her family, Emily associated chiefly with their servant of many years, Tabitha Aykroyd, a native of Haworth and a Methodist who came to work for the Brontës in 1824 when she was fifty-six. Tabby had reached maturity in the 18th century and she remembered fiery Methodist preachers. She was familiar with the local superstitions, lore, and gossip, spoke the dialect and was not shy about expressing herself. At one point Emily organized a hunger strike among the siblings to keep Tabby at the Parsonage following a fall in which she shattered her leg. Emily nursed her and did much of her work.
The Brontë family—a penurious parson, conscientious daughters, a wastrel son, an evangelical aunt, much early death—is classically Victorian, but Victorian in the extreme. The four surviving children create imaginary worlds but they go on to publish poetry and fiction, among which are two stunning novels, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Their father is another cash-strapped Anglican curate but no ordinary one. He is Irish (he appears to have changed his name from Brunty or something like it), the eldest and very intelligent son of a comparatively poor Protestant farmer in northern Ireland. Recognized for his intellect and aided by a local landholder, Patrick makes his way from rural Ireland to St. John’s College, Cambridge—a nearly miraculous ascent. He does well at college, and his ordination as an Anglican clergyman confers upon him the nominal rank of gentleman. He writes poetry and publishes some. He loves literature and is a raconteur.
Nor is Branwell an ordinary brother or even an ordinary Victorian scapegrace of the Trollope variety. He is exceptionally talented in painting and quite an accomplished poet and musician; he is also dangerously romantic, a sort of village Byron acting out a genius for self-destruction. For a time critics, incredulous that a “girl” could have written Wuthering Heights, maintained that the author was Branwell. Yet his only possible link with the novel is as an actor in it, the model possibly for one weak-willed, dissipated character. Emily sympathized with him and became especially close to him during the two years of his dissipation preceding his death when she was also writing the novel.
The Parsonage does not suffer just the ordinary devastations of Victorian disease and early death but something resembling a Biblical plague that spares only the Rev. Brontë is spared. He dies in 1861 at eighty-four, sixteen years after he has buried the last of his six children. The first Brontë to die was his wife, Maria, after an agonizing illness. Her six children, aged two years to seven, gathered around her deathbed in what amounts to a Victorian tableau. Within three months their father was seeking a wife, but a man with six children and a perpetual curate’s income, however gifted and attractive he was, presented a formidable challenge to matrimony. He settled into widowhood and the trying work of ministering to his far-flung chapelry of some 6000 souls. As was not uncommon at the time, the deceased wife’s spinster sister moved in to manage the household. Aunt Branwell grudgingly left Penzance, where she'd grown up in a comparatively clement, luxurious environment, for the damp, crowded Parsonage to oversee four young children. She was a severe, Bible-quoting woman who didn’t like animals or the moors, which were with writing Emily's passions.
There had been six children. After eight months at school Maria, at eleven the eldest child, was gravely ill (the origin may have been typhoid), as were other children at the school. Brought home, Maria, worshipped by her siblings as a saintly miniature of their mother, died some two and half months later of consumption, as tuberculosis was known then. The disease appears to have infected the family and, lurking in the children's bodies, waited for some other illness to liberate it, for it felled Branwell, Emily, and Anne. Her father now learned that Elizabeth was ill. He conveyed her to the Parsonage, and she died at ten a few weeks after her sister. From one perspective the Brontës were fortunate, for close to fifty percent of children in an area such as Haworth died before the age of six. The average age of death in that time and place was, including infant mortality, twenty-five (Barker 96).
Charlotte had first been sent to the Roe Head School, some twenty miles from Haworth, in 1831. This was the first time in some six years that Emily was deprived of her bed companion (two to a bed was common). Roe Head then hired Charlotte to teach, offering as part of her salary tuition exemption for a sister as a pupil at the school. Emily, as the next oldest, became that pupil, and she left home the day before her seventeenth birthday. Roe Head had a powerful impact on Charlotte, who experienced a religious crisis there, and upon Anne, who did as well.
The school's effect on Emily was devastating. Her personality had been changing during adolescence, her natural reserve turning into an active withdrawnness. Privacy and freedom were essential to her, but the school's routine prevented both. During the day she was constantly with the other students and could not leave the grounds. Even the night was shared, for Emily was compelled to sleep with a stranger. Charlotte herself was quite miserable and comments on the older students' “idleness[,] the apathy and most asinine stupidity of those fat-headed oafs.”
Given Emily's temperament, her feelings for her classmates could not have been less vehement . Trying to adjust, she succumbed to but also willed herself into sickness, which to some degree was psychosomatic, for she recovered immediately upon returning home. Charlotte believed her close to death at Roe Head and concluded that Emily was going to die if she did not go home. More likely, Emily was going to die or go home.
The name of Emily's sickness was likely home-sickness. Home meant being with people who made no personal demands on her and having the freedom to roam the moors at any time. Charlotte describes in the Biographical Notice Emily’s love of the moors: “She found in the bleak solitude many and dear delights; and not the least and best loved—was Liberty. Liberty was the breadth of Emily’s nostrils; without it, she perished.” Liberty was physical and psychological, and prison a motif in the poems and in the novel. Liberty is life, prison death.
Emily survived three months at Roe Head, and then Anne replaced her. Both Charlotte and she experienced religious crises there, in part a result, Barker argues (285), of the Calvinist church they were forced to attend. Emily's unorthodoxy, amounting to what some have called paganism, immunized her. One biographer, Gerin, maintains that she was the only one of the four children not to have a spiritual crisis and ardent renewal of faith during adolescence. Unusual in the daughter of a clergyman, Emily refused to teach Sunday school and seems not always to have attended Sunday services. As with everything else of consequence, her religion was unique to her and private.
The Brontë girls were forced by their father's impecunious condition to leave home to learn enough to be governesses or teachers. If he should die his small income would die with him. Apart from the uncertain prospect of getting married, there was the matter of how the three girls would support themselves. Each needed to be able to earn a living; Emily had to prove at least that she could. The experience at Roe Head revealed her vulnerability. Bravely, she tried again, and in September, 1838, at twenty, she became a teacher at the Law Hill School, outside of Halifax, some twelve miles from home. She seems to have been engaged to teach the younger children of the forty-odd students between eleven and fifteen. There were only the headmistress and one teacher other than Emily. Charlotte wrote her friend,
My sister Emily is gone into a situation as teacher in a large school.... [Her] letter...gives an appalling account of her duties— hard labour from six in the morning until near eleven at night, with only one half-hour of exercise between. This is slavery. I fear she will never stand it.
She didn't. A former student recalled that she told her class she valued the house dog more than she did them. She sought refuge when she could in writing poetry that reflected her unhappiness. Adding to her misery was the expectation that she accompany her pupils to church, where the minister was a gloomy, ranting Scot with the comically unsuitable name Hope. She survived the first term, returning home for Christmas, but some three months into the second, in ill health and/or suffering from depression, she quit and returned home. The defeats at Roe Head and Law Hill were traumatizing, for they proved that her fierce strength could not survive the loss of liberty.
Amazingly, at twenty-two she decided to leave home to travel to Brussels with Charlotte to perfect their French so as to be able to open with Anne their own school. That was the only protection against becoming governesses or teachers at someone else's school. Either prospect horrified the sisters, and Charlotte's statement in a letter will inform Jane Eyre: “I see now more clearly than I have ever done before that a private governess has no existence, is not considered a living and rational being except as connected with the wearisome duties she has to fulfil.”
The two English sisters in their early twenties, one tall with distant grey eyes, the other short and near-sighted, stood out from their mostly Belgian classmates, with whom they studied but whom they also taught. Emily and Charlotte enrolled in the Pensionnat Heger chiefly to improve their French so as to enable them and Anne to open their own school and so escape the fate of being governesses or teachers at someone else's school. The sisters were in Brussels some six months before being called home by the death of their aunt. Emily did not return to Brussels with Charlotte. After Charlotte's return, an English friend who knew Emily and was not fond of her, recalled Emily's saying in response to a comment about her idiosyncratic behavior (such as her dress, neither flattering nor fashionable, and her defiant apartness), “I wish to be as God made me,” a statement that mingles pride with stoicism.
Emily now set her tap root in Haworth. “Apart from one or two excursions in Yorkshire, and a trip in 1846 to Manchester to try to find a cure for Mr Brontë's blindness, Emily would not leave Haworth again” (Chitham 163). One excursion was in 1845, a weekend trip to the coast with Anne. The birthday note Emily wrote on July 30, 1845, describes the trip in dry, factual terms and then gets to the significant matter, the goings-on in Gondal. A reader suspects that she finds the goings-on in Gondal more real and interesting that the excursion. Emily is twenty-seven and Gondal now some fifteen years in the making. At home she walked the moors in all weather (Charlotte’s closest friend writes how Emily strode the moors, “whistling like a man,” followed by the dogs); she made herself useful at the Parsonage; she plotted with her sisters the feasibility of opening a school for girls at the Parsonage, the ideal solution for earning money without leaving home.
Death took a twenty-one-year hiatus after the mother's and two little girls' burials. In 1842 Aunt Branwell died of "an internal obstruction of her bowel reducing her to helpless agony" (Barker 404). She bequeathed her savings to her nieces, an act whose consequences she could not have imagined. With the legacies, her nieces were able to publish a volume of poetry and then their novels. Aunt Branwell's death relieved the Parsonage of a dour presence. Tabby, whom Aunt Branwell had dismissed, returned, and the house became more natural.
Yet there was now a new darkness. Branwell returned home in 1845, having been fired from his last job for his behavior with his employer's wife. He was devastated, and his state of mind became precarious. He sought forgetfulness in opium and drink, the latter resulting in delirium tremens. His life was a wreck of wasted talents as a writer, a painter, and a musician. Misfortune and failure dogged him or maybe he them.
Branwell had decided in his teens to become a professional portrait painter. When he was seventeen his father and aunt gathered precious family funds to finance his going to London to attend the Royal Academy School in fine art, but, once there, he never enrolled and then lied about his doings. Subsequently Aunt Branwell and his father paid for expensive private art lessons and then subsidized his setting himself up as a portrait painter in Bradford. Despite some commissions, he was competing with a number of established portrait painters in the town and could not make enough to support himself. He then got himself a good job as a clerk, more like a manager, with the railroad but lost that through no fault of his own when a man working under him bilked the company. His last job was as a tutor to the son of a wealthy gentry family in which his sister Anne was a governess. He carried on an intrigue and perhaps an affair with the mother, until her husband summarily dismissed him. As it happened, the husband died soon after, and Branwell immediately began fantasizing about the widow’s recalling him to the estate and marrying him. He wrote her feverish letters, and she used every dodge, including relaying false reports from her steward and her doctor to Branwell that her husband's will forbade her marrying him and that she was losing her mind and near death. She periodically sent small sums of money that Branwell would use to keep himself stupefied, and she quickly remarried another wealthy landholder.
Branwell became a village drunk and family disgrace. He set his bed on fire, and only Emily’s cool presence of mind may have saved him and the Parsonage from incineration. She is reputed to have gone often to the Black Bull tavern to tap on the window, warning Branwell to leave and return with her, for their father was on his way. He contracted a flue that appears to have struck his sisters as well, and Branwell died fully alert and sober on September 24, 1848, the family assembled around his bed. He had long since exhausted Charlotte’s compassion, and she had pretty much ceased speaking to him. Emily had remained loyal and may have resented Charlotte’s judgment and treatment of him.
Almost immediately Emily caught a cold or suffered a revival of the flu that had stricken her earlier. From October 1 she never left the Parsonage. Each morning she came down at seven, resumed her chair, sewed, and in the course of the day tended to the animals. At ten she returned upstairs to her small unheated bedroom and camp-bed. She silently persisted in this routine until December 30, the day of her death. Her breathing painfully labored, she collapsed as she came downstairs that morning and died at two in the afternoon.
Over the ten weeks between Branwell's death and her own she became even more uncommunicative, refusing to answer inquiries. She ate little; she rejected until hours before her death medical attention and medicines, though she had been suffering as well from diarrhea. Charlotte's account is heart-rending:
the details of her illness are deep-branded in my memory, but to dwell on them, either in thought or narrative, is not in my power. She sank rapidly.
She made haste to leave us. Yet, while physically she perished, mentally, she grew stronger than we had yet known her. Day by day, when I saw with what a front she met suffering, I looked on her with an anguish of wonder and love. I have seen nothing like it; but, indeed, I have never seen her parallel in anything. Stronger than a man, simpler than a child, her nature stood alone. The awful point was, that, while full of ruth for others, on herself she had no pity; the spirit was inexorable to the flesh; from the trembling hand, the unnerved limbs, the faded eyes, the same service was exacted as they had rendered in health.
To stand by and witness this, and not dare to remonstrate, was a pain no words can render.
Emily's “haste” to die appears to have been as willful as any of her other behavior. Following Branwell's death she may have sensed the inexorability of the disease. Branwell’s death was a loss for her: they had become close. And another factor may have been, we shall see, Charlotte's betrayal of Emily’s anonymity as the author of Wuthering Heights. Finallythe brutal reception of the novel could not have strengthened her attachment to the world.
Through the grim time of Branwell's death and Emily's illness and death the Rev. Brontë retained his faith and physical sturdiness (nearly blind, he had recently endured a successful fifteen-minute cataract operation without anesthesia). He was to be tested again immediately. Anne, always the frailest—she suffered from asthma—was already declining from consumption, and by March, 1849, her death seemed imminent. She was determined to return to the seaside and Scarborough, a town where she had worked, to die. Charlotte opposed the trip, in part because she thought it would tax Anne’s stamina. Unusually determined, Anne prevailed. She died in May, 1849, in a rooming-house in Scarborough on a sofa with Charlotte beside her. Three of the remaining siblings in eight months.
Charlotte returned to the Parsonage and to writing. She worked on Shirley, published in 1849, which she told Mrs. Gaskell employed Emily as a template for the heroine. In 1850 she wrote the Biographical Notice, which was part homage to Emily and part explanation of Emily’s authorship and Anne’s role as novelist, and she wrote the Preface to Wuthering Heights. Charlotte traveled to London where she met such lions as Dickens and Thackeray. She married in June, 1854, a man whom it appears she did not love but found sufficiently admirable or inoffensive. Arthur Bell Nicholls, three years younger than Charlotte, had been appointed her father’s curate in 1843 and like her father was an Irishman. He zealously protected Charlotte's reputation following her death. The brief marriage seems not to have brought Charlotte much happiness, and she died March 31, 1855, in childbirth of puerperal fever, known today as blood-poisoning. She was thirty-nine. Her infant daughter died within days.
3. Gondal and Poetry
Emily wrote some 200 poems, or at least that is what remains. Many are memorable, some exceptional, and a dozen or so worthy of any anthology of the best of 19th-century English verse. Most she composed for the Gondal saga, and some of these she converted for publication in the volume with Anne’s and Charlotte’s poems by stripping her poem of all topical references to Gondal. One of the most well-known, “Cold in the earth, and the deep snow piled above thee!” originated in a heroine's cool-headed lament for her lover. It exemplifies Emily's terse, swift language, accentuated by the ballad form's short lines and decisive meter and rhyme. The poems are statements of bald fact unblurred by sentimentality:
Cold in the earth, and the deep snow piled above thee!
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
Have I forgot, my only love, to love thee,
Severed at last by Time's all-wearing wave?
Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover
Over the mountains on Angora's shore,
Resting their wings, where heath and fern-leaves cover
That noble heart for ever, ever more?
Cold in the earth, and fifteen wild Decembers
From these brown hills have melted into Spring.
Faithful indeed is the spirit that remembers
After such years of change and suffering!
Sweet love of youth, forgive if I forget thee
While the world's tide is bearing me along;
Sterner desires and darker hopes beset me,
Hopes which obscure but cannot do thee wrong.
No other sun has brightened up my heaven,
No other star has ever shone for me;
All my life's bliss from thy dear life was given,
All my life's bliss is in the grave with thee.
But when my days of golden dreams had perished,
And even Despair was powerless to destroy,
Then did I learn how existence might be cherished,
Strengthened and fed without the aid of joy.
Then did I check my tears of useless passion,
Weaned my young soul from yearning after thine,
Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten
Down to that grave already more than mine!
And even now, I dare not let it languish,
Dare not indulge in Memory's rapturous pain;
Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,
How could I seek the empty world again?
The lines have a sure-footed Byronic economy and pace. The speaker's “stern” commitment to life steadies her. Though she says that even now she is tempted to “indulge in memory's rapturous pain,” it is “a useless passion.” She has learned over fifteen years “how existence could be cherish’d / Strengthen’d and fed without the aid of joy.” Her knowledge of herself and the world results in a voice that is regally female rather than feminine. She is not cold so much as unsentimentally knowing: “Sweet Love of youth, forgive if I forget thee...”
It is difficult if not impossible to be certain which poems come from Gondal, which are personal. The distinction in Emily Brontë is arbitrary. The heroes of Gondal and the most impassioned characters in Wuthering Heights, viewed along with the poems we do know to be autobiographical, all cluster together in ways that suggest that they capture Emily's prevailing desires and fears. We could not from the Gondal poems have predicted the creation of Cathy and Heathcliff but once we encounter them we sense that they have emerged from Gondal. The venue is different—the novel takes place near Emily's home, and, consequently, there is a much heightened dedication to realism. That Emily did not share some if not any of the Gondal poems with the saga’s co-creator, Anne, indicates that Emily did not distinguish between the fictional and personal. All creation was personal.
One poem almost certainly in her voice involves her mounting a defense against her Reason, which indicts her for having cast away Wealth, Power, Glory, and Pleasure, as, presumably, a public writer. She implores her “God of Visions,” the Imagination, her comrade and lover, to plead her case before the tribunal of her mind and justify her choice to be unheard and uncommon.
O thy bright eyes must answer now,
When Reason, with a scornful brow,
Is mocking at my overthrow;
O thy sweet tongue must plead for me
And tell why I have chosen thee!
Stern Reason is to judgment come
Arrayed in all her forms of gloom:
Wilt thou my advocate be dumb?
No, radiant angel, speak and say
Why I did cast the world away;
Why I have persevered to shun
The common paths that others run;
And on a strange road journeyed on
Heedless alike of Wealth and Power—
Of Glory's wreath and Pleasure's flower.
These once indeed seemed Beings divine,
And they perchance heard vows of mine
And saw my offerings on their shrine—
But, careless gifts are seldom prized,
And mine were worthily despised;
So with a ready heart I swore
To seek their altar-stone no more,
And gave my spirit to adore
Thee, ever present, phantom thing—
My slave, my comrade, and my King!
A slave because I rule thee still;
Incline thee to my changeful will
And make thy influence good or ill—
A comrade, for by day and night
Thou art my intimate delight—
My Darling Pain that wounds and sears
And wrings a blessing out from tears
By deadening me to real cares;
And yet, a king—through prudence well
Have taught thy subject to rebel.
And am I wrong to worship where
Faith cannot doubt nor Hope despair,
Since my own soul can grant my prayer?
Speak, God of Visions, plead for me
And tell why I have chosen thee!
It is an accomplished poem, and the lines following “My slave, my comrade, and my King” remind one of John Donne's swift, compact thought. The poem's tight, orderly exposition suggests that Reason is actively present. It is a love poem to the Imagination, “My Darling Pain.” As to why pain, it may be that the visions the Imagination confers are themselves suffused with suffering or, more probable, that, as with any comrade or lover, the speaker cannot draw close enough for long enough: the lover is an “ever present, phantom thing,” both present and ungraspable.
That describes the reader's relation to Wuthering Heights's author, who is concealed within concentric circles of narrators. Emily’s handwriting (she printed her manuscripts) was often so minuscule as to forestall ready legibility, and she cloaked her identity when she published within Ellis Bell (we don’t know why she chose Ellis; Bell, the surname the three sisters adopt, has several possible sources, including the middle name of the clergyman Charlotte eventually married). On two notable occasions, Charlotte violated Emily’s privacy. Without the first we might not have her poetry or Wuthering Heights; the second Emily may have regarded as unforgivable.
The first occurred when Emily failed to put away a manuscript of her poems. Charlotte, who knew nothing of Emily’s poetry except possibly its existence, read the poems and recognized her sister's exceptional talent:
these were not common effusions, not at all like the poetry women generally write. I thought them condensed and terse, vigorous and genuine. To my ear they had also a peculiar music—wild, melancholy, and elevating.
Charlotte’s praise and apology hardly mollified Emily, but she eventually yielded, perhaps out of sympathy for Charlotte's despondency at the time, for M. Heger had not responded to any of her imploring love letters. Moreover, the sisters' plan to open and house their own school in the Parsonage was frustrated by the disreputable Branwell's presence at home. Charlotte now envisioned the three sisters publishing a volume of poetry at their own expense, with Emily's poems anchoring the volume.
Aunt Branwell had left each sister £350 or something more than $7,000. At 3-4% annually, the interest could not support them. But the legacy enabled them to publish Poems at the modest cost of about £11 individually. Emily and Anne contributed twenty-one poems each, Charlotte twenty. (Oddly, Branwell, who had already published several poems in good places, was excluded from the project and may never have been told of it, owing perhaps to Charlotte’s anger with him.) Charlotte did all of the negotiations; from the point that Emily agreed to the project until May, 1846, when Poemsappeared and after, she insisted upon just one stricture, that of maintaining her anonymity. The volume appeared under the names Acton, Currer, and Ellis Bell. Emily spoke of her poems as mere “rhymes” (she’d written fourteen of those in the prior two years, almost the last known poetry she was to write) and seems to have been indifferent to the few reviews but had the solace of finding that those singled out for praise were Ellis’s poems. Nevertheless, the three sisters sold just two copies.
Once they had published their volume of poetry, the prospect of writing and publishing novels seems inevitable. Branwell had talked publishing a novel and was into the writing ot it; Anne had been writing a novel, Emily had written an extensive prose narrative to the Gondal saga, and Charlotte was now embarking on a novel, The Professor.
4. Early Reactions to Wuthering Heights
We have virtually no information about the gestation of Wuthering Heights—no manuscripts exist—and how long Emily took to write it, though the guess is about nine months to a year. It is thought that the novel was initially about half its current length—the story of Heathcliff and Cathy—because Wuthering Heights, bundled along with Agnes Grey and The Professor, was offered as a traditional three-volume set, a "triple-decker." This plan failed owing to The Professor's being repeatedly rejected. Emily and Anne decided to go it alone. They found their own publisher, and either he or the two sisters still wanted a triple-decker. Emily at this point, it is conjectured, elected to expand her novel to two volumes—the story of the next generation—to fill the gap left by Charlotte's novel.
To publish a slender volume of poetry is one thing, to publish a novel and court a mass-reading public quite another. The volume of poetry by three unknowns was an exciting venture into publication and the natural sequel to their years of writing poetry but not likely to transform their lives. Novels, though, could be lucrative. Fiction was the means to avoid becoming governesses or teachers,. However otherworldly Emily appears, she was practical with money when it came to ensuring her freedom. She assumed the management of investing their aunt's legacies with a view to increasing the principal.
Emily's insistence upon anonymity as a poet became a necessity with the publication of her novel. Wuthering Heightsis close to home, beginning with its geography. The principal models for the two houses that act as the novel’s axis are only a vigorous walk away from the Parsonage. However bizarre the events, the novel feels present and lived, its intensity inviting an inquiry into the author. Emily promised in the poem about Reason and Imagination an ascetic obedience to her “God of Visions” and the denial of “Power, Glory, and Pleasure.” All that nominally kept her vow when publishing Wuthering Heights and in a manner of speaking going public is her anonymity.
Wuthering Heights mystified and offended the critics. They were accustomed to melodrama but they expected a defense of Christian morality and the punishment of transgressors. Emily had little patience with such pieties and portrayed her most memorable characters in Gondal and Wuthering Heights as unsympathetic to if not antagonistic to moral and social restraints and to cultural norms. These, she suggests, sought to repress if not annihilate desire. Victorian novel plots focusing on love, courtship, and marriage, on property and wills, on wayward progeny and unsuitable heirs, and on crime were familiar enough. But however graphic the work, the promise was that the novelist, in Dickens's ironic formulation, should never bring a blush to the cheek of a young maiden. Wuthering Heights implicitly ridicules blushing maidens.
Brontë packs with explosive the conventions of the Victorian novel: an orphan, a love story, marriage and property, generational strife, and class conflict. Religion is present but in the person of a fulminating, vindictive Christian promising retribution. The author deals in wholes, in polarities, which means that passionate love is apt to arouse intense hatred. Readers looking for a safe toehold in the maelstrom may try to align themselves with the novel's "good" figures, but Brontë presents decency as more often the result of weakness than of choice. Those who live at Thrushcross Grange are soft and mild, and by the novel's standards effete. Those at the Heights confront winds that erode excess, leaving only the naked will. Without it one does not survive at the Heights, where even Christianity gets pruned to a Calvinism that displaces a merciful Jesus and welcomes back an angry Yahweh. A clue to the author's attitude appears in Charlotte's letter to her editor explaining why Ellis would not accompany her to London to negotiate the novel's publication: the author of Wuthering Heights “turn[ed] aside from the spectacle in disgust,” repelled by “the artificial man of cities.” The Grange is a protected micro-climate built to offer protection from nature's forces; the Heights is so exposed as to incorporate them, unleashing those in its inhabitants.
The novel—and by inference the novelist—appalled the critics. Yet the goings-on themselves are structurally similar to those in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park (1814), and Austen was the standard of taste and decorum. Brontë set the novel in the period from the 1780s to 1801, years that overlap Mansfield Park. That work centers upon an orphan whose appearance impacts the family, though finally for good; there is a ruinous elopement, much conniving by lovers, and betrayal; there’s very little genuine love but a nearly ubiquitous selfishness; there is much licentiousness in the Austen novel, whereas very little in Wuthering Heights, and some bad marriages that result in spoiled, feckless children. The difference is that Austen's plot serves to condemn the immorality she depicts. Ellis Bell's refusal to condemn his characters' conduct alarms the Victorian moralist, for, in not condemning, Ellis Bell must then approve. Emily's view is more complex. One reviewer could not locate “what may be the moral which the author wishes the reader to take from his work,” and concludes, correctly, that there is none!
A female critic complained that the novel’s protagonists sickened her. They were “too odiously and abominably pagan to be palatable even to the most vitiated class of English readers.” She is too polite to say “degraded class.” One American critic (the Americans were more puritanical) marveled “How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide.” One reviewer at least acknowledged that criticism of the day lacked the capacity to deal with the novel: “Wuthering Heights is a strange sort of book,—baffling all regular criticism….” Another shuddered that the protagonists' “vulgar and ill-mannered” conduct infected art itself, as if the novel carried smallpox into the library. One complained of “low and brutal creatures, who wrangle with each other in language too disgusting for the eye or ear to tolerate, and unredeemed, so far as we could see, by one single particle either of wit or humour, or even psychological truth, for the characters are as false as they are loathsome.” The novel must have so stunned that critic as to render him brainless, for there is much humor, the psychological truthfulness of the characters accounts for their offensiveness, and they are honest to the point of offense. The critics had never encountered characters quite like those in the novel and, defeated, lashed out, masking their impotence in outrage. Yet on one other point they are nearly unanimous: the novel has colossal “power,” even if that included the power to offend.
Emily left no record of her reactions to the reviews, though she kept five of the most favorable in a tin box. But at the very least they had to confirm her sense of the difference between her and the men and women of the society beyond Haworth. Their reaction proved the necessity of protecting her anonymity. The novelist Elizabeth Gaskell reports that Charlotte had conveyed to her Emily’s unhappiness regarding the reviews, “But Emily—poor Emily—the pangs of disappointment as review after review came out…were terrible.” All of the reviews were not damning. One spoke ofWuthering Heights as “a work of many singular merits…[it] shows boldly the dark side of our depraved nature…how much truth there is hidden under its [the novel's] coarse extravagance.”
Charlotte for a second time betrayed Emily's privacy. In a meeting in London among Anne, Charlotte, and the publisher of Jane Eyre, the purpose being to prove who Charlotte was and that she had not written Wuthering Heights(Emily’s mercenary publisher was now trying to capitalize upon Jane Eyre’s success), Charlotte revealed Emily’s identity as her sister and as the author of Wuthering Heights. Emily’s anger was implacable, in part because she had herself to blame. Charlotte had violated her privacy, but in publishing the novel Emily had compromised her promise to her God of Visions.
Following Emily’s death, Charlotte wrote her Biographical Notice and Preface to expunge rumor and to explain the “girl” who wrote Wuthering Heights and something of the novel itself.Charlotte's sympathetic account of her sister and her attempt to counter some criticisms of the novel while acknowledging what she took to be the truth of others were meant to pre-empt and realign the criticism. With Anne's and Emily's deaths, the critical response became more sympathetic toWuthering Heights, and the reviewers’ acerbity became something like indulgent perplexity, forgiving rather than condemning what they didn’t understand. At the least the Brontë story charmed them.
Yet Charlotte's published defense also did a disservice to Emily by arguing that she could not help what and how she wrote, her excuse being she knew little of the “world.” Amazed by the solitary “girl” who wrote the novel, the critics were confounded by just what sort of girl could write such a novel. Charlotte suggested an approach by singling out one critic who, she believed, understood the novel. Sydney Dobell was a member of the so-called Spasmodic School of Poetry of the 1840s, which, following in the footsteps of Byron, exulted in the outsized feelings of a poet or poet-like figure of passions unknown to most of us. Dobell also had the dubious virtue of anticipating Charlotte’s defense that Emily was a novice: “It is the unformed writing of a giant’s hand; the ‘large utterance’ of a baby god.” Praise, but in the vein of Charlotte patronizing: were Emily more sophisticated, she would have written a different novel.
Charlotte explains Emily’s creative processes in such a way as to absolve her sister of any intentional immorality. Rather, Emily wrote the novel in a sort of trance that enabled her to plumb the unconscious unconsciously: "Having formed these beings, she did not know what she had done” (Preface). This transforms Emily from an intentional author into a passive medium through whom her imagination “wills and works for itself.” The exoneration minimizes Emily's awareness. This is not credible. Her careful plotting, the intricate narrative structure, the knowledge of marriage and property law, and the novel’s complex symmetries prove that Emily was no dreamer but a supremely artful creator.
Adding to Charlotte's discomfort was her finding the novel oppressively dark. Hence she sought a redeeming moral glow in Nelly Dean, “a specimen of true benevolence and homely fidelity.” Nelly is neither, but Charlotte erects a moral counterweight to Catherine and Heathcliff, who repel her. Cathy exhibits “perverted passion and passionate perversity,” and Heathcliff’s love for her is “inhuman; a passion such as might boil and glow in the bad essence of some evil genius,” judgments Nelly herself might have uttered. Charlotte judged Heathcliff from the pulpit, condemning his love as “the bad essence of some evil genius…carry[ing] Hell with him wherever he wanders.” Charlotte's most insidious assessment of Emily appears when she wonders “Whether it is right or advisable to create beings like Heathcliff, I do not know: I scarcely think it is.” (The contemporary novelist J. M. Coetzee addresses just that issue in Elizabeth Costello.)
For those who did not subscribe to Charlotte's view of her sister as an unconscious medium, there remained the question of how the retiring, ascetic Emily was able to depict so convincingly such situations and emotions. How, possibly, could the lonely Parsonage girl conceive a story of love and hate mixed with savagery and sado-masochism? (And, fearful to contemplate, were other seemingly cloistered maidens throughout England harboring such fantasies?) The ready answer was that her imagination must have drawn from her lived experience. Emily, it was argued, must have had a secret lover and/or Branwell helped write the novel. That became the accepted explanation, and for some decades after the novel's publication, such biographical criticism—the life as an explanation of the work—preoccupied critics.
5. Wuthering Heights: An Overview
The novel’s title is the house’s name, and house and novel mirror one another and their author in displaying a fortress mentality. Wuthering Heights is not only inhospitable but menacing. (Emily is reputed to have had a temper and to have become white with anger on occasion.) The gate won't open; there are ferocious dogs; the occupants are hostile. The house's physical layout is difficult to envision. The furniture adds to the effect, one large high-backed settle acts as a barrier and a large built-in bed that is a chest and bench in the day harbors secrets; mysterious names are carved in a sill and scrawled in a book. The narration is complex. Beside the two principal narrators, there is another who tells a portion, and a fourth, who observes and reports an event; and a fifth who is also part of the action and reports a brief but important segment. In the absence of an omniscient narrator, some vital parts of the story remain out of sight entirely and ambiguity flickers over others. At the heart of the house and of the story is what Lockwood (the name suggests concealment as well as inhibition), calls a "penetralium," an inner sanctum we may never be certain that we have entered.
Spaces harbor hidden spots; time has its lacunae. There is the year 1500 engraved in stone on the lintel, the year of Wuthering Heights’s construction. But what of the intervening three centuries or some fifteen generations? Were they like this? Was the Heights timeless? And Heathcliff: the year of his birth is an estimate and his real name unknown, as are his parents and his ambiguous “race.” He may be a gypsy; an Indian prince; a victim of the Irish famine; part black; or, Nelly believes, at times the Devil himself. There is no omniscient narrator.
That fact determines the novel's most significant blank, the times Cathy and Heathcliff shared as children in the house and on the moors. We know those times determine much of what happens though we are not invited to share the experience with them. We know largely generalities. They were entirely free outdoors, rebels and conspirators indoors. They slept in the same bed and enjoyed an intense, private companionship. As children they did not have clearly differentiated identities, and what selves they did have were sufficiently porous to allow them to fuse the “I” and the “You” until they were indistinguishable and hence inseparable. In a rare moment of disclosure, we are shown how one day the two children fashion a curtain from some pinafores, which they then string across an alcove at the base of a piece of massive furniture to create a cave. The account stops there. No entry.
Perhaps we should not be surprised, for Emily says very little about her own childhood paradise. We cannot, though, imagine that it was much different from her ecstatic times as a grown woman on the moors. There the child and the adult became indistinguishable. As a child she invented powerful, passionate young adults. These people bore no resemblance to Aunt Branwell and to the administrators, teachers, and students she encountered at the Roe Head school and in Brussels. Explorers, bold lovers, imperious female royalty, the Gondalians were in some ways closer to children—willful, demanding, unsubdued. Charlotte noted that Emily's characters speak a “rough, strong utterance” and demonstrate “harshly manifested passions...unbridled aversions.” Cathy and Heathcliff never experience nostalgia for childhood, because it remains vividly within and present for them, and emotionally they are unchanged. The tragedy in Wuthering Heights is not death but the necessity of growing into adulthood in a repressive, judgmental society hostile to childhood, a society bent upon subduing the God of Visions and installing the reign of "Reason."
Two of English literature’s finest 20th-c. critics, Frank Kermode and J. Hillis Miller, see Wuthering Heights as terminally elusive. Kermode in The Classic (1975) argues for a plurality of interpretations. Maybe Wuthering Heights is not much different from any great and complex novel but it seems unusual in lending itself to such diverse critical gambits, some of which are intrinsically antithetical. The more determined a critic is to write the novel’s epitaph, the more surely the novel will live beyond that encapsulation of it. “There is so much,” Kermode writes, “that is blurred and tentative [in the novel], incapable of decisive explanation; however we set about our reading, with a sociological or a pneumatological [religious-spiritual], a cultural or a narrative code [type of criticism] uppermost in our minds, we must fall into division and discrepancy.... And it is surely evident that the possibilities of interpretation increase as time goes on” (129-30).Wuthering Heights will remain a moving target. Kermode's conclusion is not that all of these different readings are largely wrong and that we are to expect at any moment a grand synoptic one. It is that many are right, but not exclusively so, and that no ultimately right one will emerge. It is even possible, Miller argues in The Disappearance of God, that the novel allows contradictory readings to be correct; it cannot be reduced to a single meaning or truth: “…Wuthering Heights is a difficult and elusive work, a work with which no reader has felt altogether at ease” (162).
Why does the novel leave so many not “altogether at ease.” True, Wuthering Heights is unusually dense and labyrinthine, but those do not distinguish it. Our being left uneasy may have much to do with the novel's dark import. Our discomfort, then, does not originate as Charlotte and others suggested in the novel’s lack of artistry. Rather, its artistry aims to affirm its view of life, and that view is unsettling.
Swinburne's essay commends Brontë’s “tragic genius” and the novel's “the fresh dark air of tragic passion.” What is meant by “tragic”? There is undeniably much unhappiness, violence, and self-inflicted harm. There are brutally harsh conditions, systemic injustice, a redemption-less religion, and much early death. Wuthering Heights does not grant much in the way of fulfillment, which appears in inverse relation to one's having had a passionate, free childhood. The only limitless joy in the novel belongs to childhood. As adults we can never recover that joy and, burdened with sexualized bodies and mummified by restraints, face either capitulation, the way of most, or fruitless and finally self-destructive rebellion. Only in childhood did one feel at home in the world and was one able to be “as God made me.” That defines paradise. As for those who have not had the childhood the Heights granted Cathy and Heathcliff, their adult lives appear shallow and narrow. Lacking a distinguished past, they are relatively small in stature, their aspirations and fears those of Lockwood.
Cathy and Heathcliff grow up into an adulthood cross-hatched with binaries, the chief one being the opposed houses and what each stands for—Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, the raw and the cooked. Yet if the world as Emily sees it is defined by polarities, then even fixity has its in change. Inexorable change. Genetic bits of the past become the ice that splits rock. The novel proceeds in something like 2:3 time, the repetitive, static binaries set against triplets: three generations; three centuries; a milestone with three points; three surnames, “Earnshaw-Heathcliff-Linton.” Three penetrates the binaries, forcing the static to yield to the dynamic. The first two generations exist as thesis and antithesis, the third as a synthesis. From which will emerge thesis and antithesis. The need, if that were the case, to enlarge Wuthering Heights by the addition of another generation vastly expanded the novel intellectually. The addition, which seems pale in comparison with the first half, redeems itself by elevating the novel into a work with philosophical ramifications.
Brontë is writing in the era of Darwin (he published The Voyage of the Beagle in 1839 and The Origin of the Species twenty years later) and only two years before Tennyson's In Memoriam, which anticipates Darwin's Nature:
"So careful of the type?" but no.
From scarpéd cliff and quarried stone
She cries, "A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go.”
No type remains, no two types; oppositions shift. The Victorians chose to believe that Darwinian evolutionary theory proved a limitless progress toward perfection. This is a misreading of Darwin and of Wuthering Heights. There is no progress, only biological and cultural mutations. Time does not play the role of moralist. A successor generation is not superior to its predecessor, and Wuthering Heights is not some reassuring tale of advance being squeezed from mayhem. The last generation is better in some ways, worse in others. All that we can be certain of is that the advance of civilization is at the expense of powerful emotions, which results in society being a less dangerous place.
When we ask what real progress would be in Wuthering Heights, it would consist of the society's enlarging and protecting our childhoods, allowing more room for their imaginative power and capacity for selfless love to endure. Emily is a romantic in the tradition of Rousseau, Blake, and Wordsworth: to grow up should not be to grow into bondage, or, as Wordsworth writes, “Shades of the prison-house begin to close / Upon the growing boy....”:
Thou little child, yet glorious in the might
Of heaven-born freedom on thy being’s height,
Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke
The years to bring the inevitable yoke,
Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife?
Full soon thy soul shall have her earthly freight,
And custom lie upon thee with a weight,
Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!
There is one unequivocal gain, and it is the turning-point between being a child and an adult: learning to read and write. Reading and writing (and the stories they enable) have a sacred place in the novel, which opens with a name and a date three centuries before: “Hareton Earnshaw” and “1500.” One character's life changes when he can read this abracadabra. Emily Brontë did not want us to know her place in the story, which is to say know her story, but she did want us to know that reading and writing compensate for the loss of childhood. Learning to read is for many of us the outstanding moment of our early life, our birth into enlarged awareness and an invincible freedom.
Emily Brontë went to Brussels to learn to read, write, and speak French sufficiently well to be able to teach it, should the Brontë sisters open a school. Her teacher, the rigorous M. Heger, insisted that she write essays in French on various assigned topics. She balked at such constraints and complained that a compulsory subject stifled spontaneity and creativity. Nevertheless, she wrote amazingly well and managed to so personalize his topics that we might suppose she, herself, had chosen the subject.
One of her essays, “The Butterfly,” bears on our understanding of Wuthering Heights (you’ll find the short essay below.) The essay opens describing a wintry blight that has settled on the speaker’s mind despite its being a lovely August day. “Everything seemed happy…,” but this “was only a semblance.” The speaker hears the nightingale’s beautiful song, yet knows the bird’s singing is the hunter's bullet's target. The paradox cuts through nature: “All creation is equally insane.” It is serial murder: “Nature is an inexplicable puzzle, life exists on a principle of destruction; every creature must be the relentless instrument of death to the others, or himself cease to live.” The speaker expresses astonishment that we celebrate our birthday, which initiates us into carnage. She or he picks a lovely flower only to find that a caterpillar within it is killing the thing that nourished and protected it. A sanctuary in Nature is nothing more than an abattoir. Man is more vicious in that he kills “for his amusement or for his needs.” God has created “a vast machine constructed only to bring forth evil….” And continues, “I almost doubted the goodness of God for not annihilating man on the day of his first sin. The world should have been destroyed.”
At that the speaker crushes the caterpillar. Almost immediately a gorgeous butterfly flutters through the leaves. The speaker concludes: “Let not the creature judge his creator, here is a symbol of the world to come” (the butterfly is also in Greek myth Psyche, the soul). Despite its substance, the second statement does not refute the earlier that the creation is insane. The first is an observed fact; the other questions our response. Even so, the juxtaposition of earth and heaven bears out the conviction that Nature is inexplicable. The saint in heaven “leaves enough misery here below to sadden him even before the throne of God.”
The butterfly that materialized from the caterpillar is an emissary reminding us that “this globe is the embryo of a new heaven and of a new earth.” The image of the embryo is perfectly consistent yet has the effect of putting biology within the flower of theology. To believe that “God is the God of justice and mercy,” we must not focus upon life on earth or upon Nature but recognize that each “pain…each suffering of our unhappy nature is only a seed for that divine harvest,” for which sin and death act as fertilizer. The ultimate harvest will occur when both sin and death have exhausted themselves. They, too, belong to Nature and so even they have their life-spans: “both will expire on the funeral pyre of a universe in flame, and will leave their former victims to an eternal realm of happiness and glory.” Yet Emily's account of our passage from victim to victor, from pain to the eternal realm of happiness and glory is, perhaps inevitably, far more convincing about pain and death than about redemption and happiness.
Wuthering Heights inverts the caterpillar/butterfly : earth/heaven structure. As children we inhabit a heavenly earth. Our early years are those of butterflies, free and practically bodiless. With adulthood we metamorphose into caterpillars, earthbound, our abode shrinking to an earthly prison.
Emily Brontë seems as an adult to have kept her childhood being intact by withdrawing as nearly as possible from the empty world—the “abyss” as she names it in the novel—and sequestering herself in her imagination. The Parsonage was a refuge and the only place, the place that she was born, that connected her present with her childhood past. By imagining love rather than loving and by remaining alone, she made herself immune to the forces driving Cathy and Heathcliff. Their togetherness as children confounds their adulthoods. They are victims of a paradox: the happier their childhoods, the more fallen their adulthoods. Early bliss creates insatiable desires and unfulfillable hopes. As children they knew liberty, for they had grown up at the Heights.
6. Some Later Trends in Criticism
The excesses of biographical criticism engendered a counter-reaction. Critics and theorists such as Swinburne, Walter Pater, and Oscar Wilde articulated an argument for an aesthetic of art that the three embedded in their own novels, Love's Cross Currents (1905), Marius the Epicurean (1885), and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) respectively. For these writers the artist’s sole responsibility was to create a work of beauty as the author defined the word, not as the society did. Art required no justification. It is not the vehicle no less the slave of a prevailing morality but if anything its natural enemy. Swinburne, who also addressed the matter of a reader's unease, connected Wuthering Heights with King Lear, maintaining that the novel possesses an unparalleled power of “tragic genius,” and it is this, “the threatening shadow of tragedy,” that he believed offends when it does not frighten readers. He admitted how forbidding both Brontë and the novel are for many, including Charlotte's friend Mrs. Gaskell, whom Swinburne described as “scared and perplexed” by Emily, and if she was, pity the average reader. But there remain the fortunate few, and he ends his essay, “it is certain that those who do like it [Wuthering Heights] will like nothing very much better in the whole world of poetry or prose” (270).
Swinburne dismisses any attempt to seek in Emily's life a key to the novel: “The book is what it is because the author was what she was” (264), meaning her mind, not her experience, and concludes that “It is hardly ever safe to say dogmatically what can or cannot be done by the rarest and highest genius” (265). We are to focus upon the novel, which conveys the “motherhood of earth…[and] the anguish, the intolerable and mortal yearning, of insatiate and insuppressible homesickness…” (265). Swinburne is an incisive critic, and that sentence illuminates much of Wuthering Heights. Henry James in a 1905 essay on Balzac assails the mix of smarmy biography and befuddled reading that made Wuthering Heights party to “’the most complete intellectual muddle…ever achieved, on a literary question, by our wonderful public…” Then, in a gymnastic reversal of life and art, James warns the “wonderful public,” who expect art to grow from life: “it is life that is the unconscious, the agitated, the struggling, floundering cause…. But the fashion has been, in looking at the Brontës, so to confound the cause with the result that we cease to know, in the presence of such ecstasies, what we have hold of or what we are talking about.’”
The twentieth century came to celebrate Wuthering Heights as an astonishing achievement, and the novel's reputation only increased with the next development in criticism, which reached its apex during the middle decades of the century. The New Criticism, also known as Formalism, concentrated exclusively upon the work as a self-supporting aesthetic artifact, complete in itself, needing nothing of biography and historical context to explain it. The critic employed an exacting analysis of patterns of imagery, diction, symbol, character, and structure.
The formalist’s textual analysis revealed Wuthering Heights to be composed of parallels and polarities of character and plot, of images and symbols, and of precisely managed diction that led to ambiguities of meaning, ambiguity being for the New Critic the pearl, and the novel certainly had plenty of those. Wuthering Heights, the formalists agreed with Swinburne and company, does not teach anything; rather it means something, and what it means can be deduced from the patterns and symbolism.
The magnifying lens the New Criticism deployed was more successful with lyric poetry than with a novel as multi-faceted as Wuthering Heights, which lends itself to any number of critical approaches while exposing the limitations of each. Whichever lens criticism employed rendered disproportionately large what it focused upon, so that everything beyond it remained indistinct.Wuthering Heights feels huge, and Formalism, like so many other –isms, left one sensing the novel’s substance and energy were elsewhere.
Lord David Cecil’s Victorian Novelists (1935) represents what is broadly called humanist criticism. His view is less doctrinal and dogmatic, more eclectic than the formalist’s. Patterns of imagery, diction, and plot interest him less than how the novel enters our lives and illuminates their psychological and social contradictions. He mounts another attempt to revise upward the prevailing assessment of Emily Brontë, who “has never been generally appreciated as she deserved…[and is] still regarded, even by admirers, as an unequal genius, revealing some flashes of extraordinary imagination but remote from the central interests of human life...”(136). He intends to show the novel’s centrality to human life. His essay extols Wuthering Heights’s achievement as so extraordinary as to belie the novel’s being “the unique of work of a lonely genius, [when it might be] the culminating achievement of a whole literary civilization” (182). He targets those who see its author as either naïve or possessed: “So far from being the incoherent outpourings of an undisciplined imagination, it is the one perfect art amid all the vast varied canvasses of Victorian fiction” (181).
Yet in his ardor to commend one side of Wuthering Heights, he fails to see another: “Like Blake,” he writes, “Emily Brontë is concerned solely with those primary aspects of life which are unaffected by time and place. Looking at the world, she asks herself not, how does it work? What are its variations?—but what does it mean?...she sees human beings, not as [other Victorian novelists] in relation to other human beings, or to human civilizations and societies and codes of conduct, but only in relation to the cosmic scheme of which they form a part” (139; italics added). Cecil has helped us to discern facets of the novel (his famous distinction between “children of storm, and children of calm”) but ultimately does no service to Brontë and the novel by insisting upon their otherworldliness. He depicts a still naïve country girl, though now one with cosmic awareness, and allows her interest in the cosmos to come at the expense of any interest in society. He errs in the way criticism of Wuthering Heights often does: in his enthusiasm to expound one view, he neglects or denies others. What distinguishes Wuthering Heights is not how brilliantly it does one thing but how deeply and suggestively it does many—more, one suspects, than criticism has yet discovered.
Among the forms of criticism Cecil’s approach neglects is what we call sociological, which is here chiefly Marxist. Brontë, contrary to Cecil's insistence upon her exclusive attention to the relations between her characters and the cosmos, explores the relations of people in that society. Haworth was a small, steeply elevated village connected to a town, Keighley, below it. Haworth’s remoteness is apparent only. The village is close to the great industrial centers of the Midlands, especially Bradford and the smaller Halifax, some ten miles away. There was when the young Rev. Brontë arrived in Yorkshire much labor unrest, and during his first years there he was actively involved in the struggle between master and man. He allied himself with the masters. Yet he was no Tory ideologue, no dogmatic Church-and-King parson but understood well the case of the men. As a pitifully underpaid perpetual curate, he engaged in his own struggle between the master, his miserly rector, and the dependent man. But as a gentleman who supported the masters, he had in a time of some violence and rioting joined the local militia. It was then that he acquired the habit of carrying a pistol, which he continued to discharge nightly over the churchyard. Unemployment and the new machinery which exacerbated it, appalling working conditions, cycles of boom and bust, and the high-handed views of the masters contributed to the strife surrounding Haworth.
There are no factories in Wuthering Heights, but Emily Brontë brings to the waif and identity-less Heathcliff a sense of his vulnerability among the rigidly stratified, money-conscious landed gentry. The landed society was hierarchical, and here its remoteness made it immune to changes that were softening the stratifications of the larger society. The ownership of land was one definition of a gentleman, and primogeniture (ReSearch) kept the land intact and in the family. Heathcliff is an outsider, his origins unknown, his appearance dubious. The elder Earnshaw's impulsive, disruptive act of kindness places the child in an insulated, immobile society. Heathcliff's foothold is precaious and he feels the powerlessness of the mass of Englishmen of his time. He grows up to understand how the gentleman masks his acquisitiveness in suave manners and conceals in the niceties of courtship the aggrandizement of property. He intuits a tenet of Marxist thought: that the propertied class’s leisured comforts and self-indulgence enfeeble them, rendering the owners defenseless against the raw energy and resentment of the oppressed. An outcast such as Heathcliff has little to lose by attacking the cultured, gentlemanly world that despises him. He shrewdly deploys against that world its own methods of control through ownership of property, the linch-pin. From a Marxist perspective, the novel is not exotic, not cosmic so much as pointedly realistic.
Psychoanalytic criticism has also been illuminating in showing that Brontë has a sophisticated sense of the mind, especially the power of one's memories of childhood determine adult behavior. She grasps the intrinsic enmity between our desires and the forces, especially of religion and the reigning morality, to impose order by sublimating if not extinguishing them. A dichotomy in the novel between the barbaric and the civilized anticipates Freud’s late, great essay Civilization and Its Discontents, including what Freud has to say about how adult eroticism draws on our memories of an early paradise in which libidinal energies expressed themselves.
In the last third of the 20th century feminist criticism helped to re-center the novel away from Heathcliff to Cathy and to dwell upon the larger question of female authors in a patriarchal culture. Feminist critics have been diverse among themselves. Two of the most distinguished, Susan Gilbert and Sandra Gubar, discuss the novel in The Mad Woman in the Attic (the title derives fromJane Eyre) as a feminist critique that upends Paradise Lost. Patsy Stoneman notes of their book that “'Emily Brontë thought in polarities, whether the Miltonic 'hell and heaven' or Claude Lévi-Strauss's anthropological 'raw and cooked'” (158). Stoneman observes that Gilbert and Gubar are eclectic, absorbing psychoanalytic, myth, feminist, and historicist criticism of a number of writers, male and female. The Mad Woman in the Attic drew on the best in different critical modes and in turn inspired superb feminist criticism that includes Margaret Homans' Bearing the Word, whose first word is a pun. Stevie Davies has written a number of books on Emily Brontë, all of which are distinguished by Davies' poetic understanding of language.
An Emily Brontë Chronology in Its Historical Context
1809. The Rev. Patrick Brontë becomes assistant curate at Wellington, Shropshire.
Arthur Wellesley ( about to be made Duke of Wellington) defeats French at Oporto and Talavera in Spain. Beethoven, 5th Piano Concerto (“Emperor”).
1810. The Rev. Brontë publishes “Winter Evening Thoughts” in local newspaper.
Sir Walter Scott, “The Lady of the Lake.”
1811. Cottage Poems. Moves to West Riding in Yorkshire, to be asst. curate at Hartshead.
Austen, Sense and Sensibility; Luddites attack and destroy factory weaving machines in the the north of England, aligning the Rev. Brontë's sympathies with the owners.
1812. The Rev. Patrick Brontë (b. 1777) marries Maria Branwell (b. 1783) of Penzance. She is a woman of deep religious faith and hardy spirit.
Napopleon's invasion of Russia and subsequent retreat results in the loss of 530,000 men out of an army of 550,000. Assassination of British P.M., Spencer Perceval. U.S. declares war on Britain. Emancipation of Jews in Prussia. Humphrey Davy, Elements of Chemical Philosophy.
Pride and Prejudice. Byron, The Giaour. Shelley, Queen Mab. Prussia and then Austria declare war on France; Battle of Leipzig, Allies defeat Napoleon; Welling defeats French in Spain and enters France. The waltz.
1814. first child, Maria b.
Austen's Mansfield Park; Byron, The Corsair; Scott, Waverley; Wordsworth, The Excursion. Allies enter Paris, defeat Napoleon, who abdicates and is exiled to Elba. Congress of Vienna. British army burns Washington, D.C.; Treaty of Ghent ends Amer.-Brit. War. Steam presses print LondonTimes. George Stephenson, first steam locomotive. Gas street-lighting of a section of Westminster, London. Schubert begins composition of lied, which until his death in 1828 will reach over 700. Goya, Second of May;
1815. Elizabeth b. Moves to become perpetual curate (ReSearch) of Thornton-le-Dale.
British defeated at Battle of New Orleans before ship bearing news of Treaty of Ghent arrives. Napoleon lands in France, start of “100 Days,” culminating in his defeat at Waterloo by Wellington and Blücher; Byron, “Hebrew Melodies”; Scott, Guy Mannering; “Beau” Nash re-builds Brighton according to the Prince Regent's tastes. Biedermeier style. Apothecaries Act: compulsory apprenticeship and qualifications for apothecaries, who were acting as both pharmacists and doctors; schooling in anatomy, botany, chemistry, drugs, and six months of training in a hospital. John Macadam's development of a safer, faster road surface of crushed rock. Beginning of econ. depression in Britain.
1816. Charlotte b.
Austen, Emma; Coleridge, “Kubla Khan” and “Christabel,” written 1797, 1797-1800 respectively; Shelley, Alastor; Byron, The Siege of Corinth; Elgin marbles become part of British Museum;Blackwood's periodical; Cobbett, Political Register (through clever avoidance of stamp duties, the first cheap periodical).
1817. Patrick Branwell b.
Jane Austen d.; Byron, Manfred; Thos. Moore, Lalla Rookh; John Constable, Flatford Mill;Derbyshire riots. Assassination attempt on Prince Regent.
1818. Emily Jane b., July 30.
Austen, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (posth.); Keats, Endymion; Thomas Love Peacock,Nightmare Abbey; Scott, The Heart of Midlothian; Mary Shelley, Frankenstein. Rossini, Moses in Egypt. Savannah becomes lst steamship to make trans-Atlantic crossing (26 days).
1819. Following troubling deliberations involving the rector and the congregation over the Rev. Brontë's salary; he is offered the perpetual curacy of Haworth, a small, remote village near Halifax and industrial Bradford in Yorkshire.
Scott, Ivanhoe; Byron, Don Juan, I, II (-1820), Mazeppa; Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea; Gericault, The Raft of the Medusa; Keats, "Odes to Psyche," "Ode to a Nightingale," "Ode on a Grecian Urn," and "Ode on Melancholy" publ. 1820. Peterloo Massacre; opening of Burlington Arcade, London.
1820. Anne b. The family moved to Haworth Parsonage.
Shelley, Prometheus Unbound; Washington Irving, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.; King George III d., Prince Regent becomes Geo. IV, -1830; controversy over Queen Caroline; Cato Street Conspiracy to assassinate British ministers uncovered, leaders hanged; revol. in Portugal.
1821. Maria Branwell B. ill—uterine cancer—and dies in Sept. after a protracted illness and much pain; her older, unmarried sister, Elizabeth Branwell, moves from Penzance to Haworth to manage the household.
Keats d. Thos. De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater; Scott, Kenilworth; Shelley,Adonais. Constable, The Hay Wain; founding of London Co-operative Society; George IV crowned; Greek war of independence from Turkey. Goethe, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship; Heinrich Heine, Poems.
Shelley d. Washington Irving, “Bracebridge Hall”; Stendhal, On Love; John Martin, Destruction of Herculaneum. Greeks proclaim indep. from Turkey, and Turkey massacres the residents of Chios and invades Greece; Daguerre and Bouton devise “diorama,” the illumination of paintings in a darkened room to give a heightened sense of realism; Schubert “Unfinished Symphony” (no. 8). Sir Wm. Herschel d.
Death penalty abolished for over 100 crimes; rugby developed at the Rugby School; the Erard, the first modern piano; Chas. Macintosh invents waterproof fabric; Chas. Babbage begins work on calculating machine, the prototype of the computer; Mechanics' Institute founded in London and Glasgow.
1824. Maria and Elizabeth are enrolled in the newly-opened Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge, some thirty-seven miles away (£14 per yr. per child). Charlotte enrolled in August, Emily in November, the youngest child of the forty-four at the school (four under ten, and the oldest twenty-two).
Lord Byron d. at Missolonghi, leading a private army to aid the Greeks in their struggle for independence from the Turks; Scott, Redgauntlet; Mary Russell Mitford, Our Village (-32); repeal of Combinations Law, which prohibited unionization of workers in GB; founding of Athenaeum Club, London. Delacroix, The Massacre at Chios; J. Overbeck, Christ's Entry into Jerusalem(Nazarenes). Beethoven, 9th Symphony.
1825. Maria ill and is brought home. She dies of consumption (tuberculosis) on May 6; Elizabeth comes home and dies June 15. Charlottle and Emily are brought home June 1.
Hazlitt, The Spirit of the Age. Constable, Leaping Horse. World's first r.r. line for passengers, Stockton to Darlington, England.
1826. The Rev. returns from a trip to Leeds with a box of twelve wooden soldiers for Branwell, quickly re-named by the children the Twelves, which he divided among him and his sisters. Perhaps hand-carved but hand-painted, each soldier is somewhat individual. (Emily chose a stern one, who was named Gravey as in serious.) The children had already been inventing stories, but the Twelves in their individual characters became the nucleus of the the dramas, prose, and poetry the children invented; the first chronicle or saga is called Glasstown. The children also “publish” the Young Men's Magazine.
Benjamin Disraeli, Vivian Grey; Jas. Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans. Founding of University College, London, as well as Royal Zoological Society.
1827. “Emily's and my Bed Plays were established the 1st December 1827.” (Charlotte.)
John Keble, The Christian Year. Beginning of Evening Standard, London newspaper. Constable,The Cornfield, Schubert, Der Winterreise. Wm. Blake d. Beethoven d.
Turks enter Athens, despite plea by Russia, France, and Britain to end war. Treaty of London: Allies determine to force Turkey's cessation of war; Turkish and Egyptian fleets defeated at Battle of Navarino. John Walker invents sulphur friction match.
1828. Aunt Branwell gives the children as a New Year's present Sir Walter Scott's Tales of a Grandfather, firing a passion for Scott and Scotland.
Bulwer-Lytton, Pelham. Duke of Wellington P.M.; Repeal of Test and Corporation Acts, permitting Nonconformists and Catholics to hold public office; Thos. Arnold, headmaster of Rugby; The Spectator, illus. periodical, and the weekly Athenaeum founded; Schubert d.
Turkey agrees to withdraw from Greece; Russia declares war on Turkey.
Catholic Emancipation permits Catholics to sit in Parliament and hold virtually any other public office in G.B.; Parliament enacts Robt. Peel's bill to establish a Metropolitan Police Force. Omnibuses introduced in London.
Delacroix, Sardanapalus; Turner, Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus. Rossini, William Tell; Mendelssohn rediscovers Bach's St. Matthew's Passion.
William IV, third son of George III, crowned; Earl Grey P.M.; Paris Revolution, Charles X abdicates; Louis Philippe crowned;
Wm. Hazlitt d. Tennyson, Poems, Chiefly Lyrical. C. Lyell, Principles of Geology (1st vol.). Stendhal, The Red and the Black. Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People. Liverpool-Manchester R.R.
1831. Charlotte sent to the Miss Woolers' school, leaving Emily without her bedmate and the co-creator of the “Bed Plays.” Creation with Anne of Gondal in part from the “Island Plays” that Charlotte had been involved with. Charlotte returns after seven mos.
Reform Bill passes House of Commons, vetoed by House of Lords. Division of Grand Duchy of Luxembourg into Netherlands and Belgium. T.L. Peacock, Crotchet Castle. F. Hegel d. C. Darwin on board H.M.S. Beagle. Cholera spreads from India to Russia, moving toward G.B., popuplation of which is 13.9 million.
Sir Walter Scott d.; Jeremy Bentham d.; Johann W. von Goethe d. (Faust, Part II, publ.); Bulwer-Lytton, Eugene Aram. Mrs. Trollope, Domestic Manners of the Americans; Tennyson, “Lady of Shalott”; Washington Irving, The Alhambra; Leigh Hunt, Poetical Works; Berlioz, Symphone Fantastique; Donizetti, L'Elisir d'Amore.
Passage of Reform Bill, subsequently known as “First.” Giuseppe Mazzini founds “Giovine Italia” (Italian Youth), nurturing political agitation for Italian independence.
Carlyle, Sartor Resartus; Chas. Lamb, Last Essays of Elia; R. Browning, Pauline; Mendelssohn,Italian Symphony.
Factory Act (regulations, but lacking sufficient inspection and prosecution); Oxford Movement or Tractarianism begins with Keble, Pusey, and Newman individually writing Tracts for the Times,which initially attempt to prove that Anglicanism represents the true Church; Slavery abolished throughout Brit. empire; all German states unite in Zollverein or customs union; lst steamship crossing of Atlantic.
1834. First of Emily's birthday records, which she'll write every four years.
Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame; Balzac, Père Goriot; Frederick Marryat, Peter Simple; Bulwer-Lytton, Last Days of Pompeii; last (begun 1808) of Thos. Moore's Irish Melodies;Berlioz, Harold en Italie symphony, inspired by Byron's Childe Harold; Samuel Taylor Coleridge d.; Chas. Lamb d.; Thos. Robt. Malthus d.
New Poor Law (Poor Law Amendment Act) decrees that no able-bodied person will receive public assistance (outdoor relief from the parish) unless he or she first enters a workhouse; “Tolpuddle Martyrs” transported; fire destroys Houses of Parliament. Melbourne becomes P.M., succeeded shortly by Robt. Peel; South Australia Act initiates colony; Chas. Babbage outlines the theory of the “analytical engine,” which will be realized in the computer.
1835. Emily accompanies Charlotte to the Miss Woolers' school, Huddersfield (some thirteen miles away and known also as Roe Head for its location there), as a teacher of the younger girls and Charlotte a teacher of the older ones. They depart on the eve of Emily's seventeenth birthday. In under three mos. Emily returns to Haworth, a victim of psychosomatic illness and something approaching a breakdown. Beginning of nearly two yrs. close friendship with Branwell.
Wordsworth, Yarrow Revisted, and Other Poems; R. Browning, Paracelsus; Bulwer-Lytton, Rienzi;Wm. Cobbett d.; Felicia Hemans d.; James Hogg d.
Municipal Corporation Act reforms borough govt; Wm. Henry Fox Talbot makes first negative photograph.
1836. Emily at home. In Jan. Anne takes Emily's place at the Miss Woolers's/Roe Head.
Dickens, Sketches by Boz, lst Series published as a book. Frederick Marryat, Mr. Midshipman Easy; Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature.” Wm. Godwin d.
The People's Charter, first national workingman's movement in GB: charter of six points demands among other things universal male sufferage, secret ballot, and pay for MPs.
1837. Branwell as usher to a boys' school near Halifax. Emily goes as teacher to Miss Hatchett's school (known also as Law Hill) at Law Hill house, near Halifax (about eight miles from Haworth), and serving some forty female students. Ponden Hall, a large manor, is near Law Hill, and is thought to be a model for Wuthering Heights, as is High Sunderland, another large manor. In Dec. Anne returns home. Anne returns in Dec., ill with a bad cold.
Serialization of Dickens's Papers of the Pickwick Club; Oliver Twist begins monthly serialization. First scheduled channel service crossing, to France and Belgium.
Thos. Carlyle, The French Revolution; Balzac, Lost Illusions; N. Hawthorne, Twice-told Tales. J. Constable d.
William IV d.; Victoria Queen. Electric telegraph. Financial panic in U.S.
1838. By early spring Emily returns from Law Hill. In May Charlotte returns from Miss Woolers's and takes position with the Sidwick family at Stonegappe Hall near Skipton (eleven miles from Haworth); quits after two mos. Branwell opens artist's studio in Bradford for portraits. Emily's drawing of father's new dog, Keeper, April.
Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby begins publication.
Coronation of Victoria. Richard Cobden and John Bright begin Anti-Corn Law League in Manchester; 1st British-Aghan War (-42). GB has 90 ships of the line; Russia next with 50.
1839. Anne goes out as governess to the Ingrams of Blake Hall, Mirfield, some four miles from where she'd been at the Miss Woolers's. Branwell's studio a failure, and he returns home in May. The Rev. B. receives a grant from the Curates' Aid Society to hire a curate to assist him. Tabitha(Tabby) Ackroyd leaves Parsonage, in part because of Aunt Branwell.
Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby publ. in vols. Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma; J.M.Turner, The Fighting Téméraire. First Opium War, GB and China.
1840. The three sisters together in Haworth. The Rev. Wm. Weightman hired, and it is he who nicknames Emily "The Major."
Dickens begins publication of The Old Curiosity Shop (40 weekly numbers). R. Browning,Sordello; E.A. Poe, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque; Fanny Burney d.
Queen Victoria marries Prince Albert. Afghan surrender. End of transportation of felons to New South Wales; Penny Post; Botanical Gardens at Kew open. Sir Chas. Barry begins reconstruction of Houses of Parliament.
1841. In the spring, Anne goes out as governess to the Robinsons and Charlotte as governess to the White family, Upperwood House, Rawdon. Birthday note mentions the three sisters' plans to open a school.
Publication of Dickens's Barnaby Rudge in weekly numbers in Master Humphrey's Clock. The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge complete weekly publication and are issued as single volumes. Carlyle, On Heroes, Heroe-Worship, and the Heroic in Histoy; Marryat, Masterman Ready; Poe, “Murders in the Rue Morgue”; Cooper, The Deerslayer. Punch begins publ. Ludwig Feurbach, The Essence of Christianity.
Edward, first son of Victoria and Albert, b. Whig Lord Melboure resigns as PM, succeeded by Tory Sir Robt. Peel. Pop. of GB, 18.5 mill.
1842. Feb. Charlotte and Emily leave to go to a school at the Pensionnat Heger, Brussels, to learn French. October, the Rev. Wm. Weightman, who had become a close friend of Branwell, dies, owing to attending the sickbeds of cholera victims; Aunt Branwell gives away Emily's pet hawk Hero and pet geese. Aunt Branwell d.; Emily and Charlotte return in Nov.
Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit begins monthly serialization, 20 numbers. Tennyson, Poems;Macaulay, Lays of Ancient Rome; Gogol, Dead Souls. Poe, “The Masque of the Red Death.” Stendhal d.
Treaty of Nanking ends lst Opium War, and China surrenders Hong Kong to GB; treaty to determine border betw. Canada and US.
1843. Charlotte returns to Brussels, and Emily remains at Haworth. Branwell becomes tutor to the Robinson family, Thorp Green Hall, for whom Anne is governess. Tabby returns to the Parsonage. Emily does chores, plays for her father the small upright in his study, and informs herself about investing the three sisters' legacies from their aunt.
Dickens's A Christmas Carol. T. Carlyle, Past and Present; John Ruskin, Modern Painters, I (of 5, through 1850); Tennyson, “Morte d'Arthur,” “Locksley Hall”;. R. Browning, “A Blot in the Scutcheon.” Mendelssohn, incidental music A Midsummer Night's Dream; R. Wagner, The Flying Dutchman. Thames tunnel bet. Rotherhithe and Wapping; Great Britain, first propeller-driven ship, makes trans-Atlantic crossing.
1844. Jan. Charlotte returns from Brussels. Emily managing the portfolio. Anne at Thorp Green, writes parts 1 and 2 of a novel, eventually titled Agnes Grey.
W. M. Thackeray, Barry Lyndon; Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Poems; B. Disraeli, Coningsby;Emerson, Essays, II; J. M. Turner, Rain, Steam, and Speed; Mendelssohn, violin conc.
Geo. Williams founds YMCA in England. First public baths in England, Liverpool.
1845. May, the Rev. B., whose cataracts are reducing him to near blindness, hires as curate the Rev. Arthur Bell Nicholls, who will eventually become Charlotte's husband. Anne leaves the Robinsons' Thorp Green. Emily and Anne take a three-day trip by themselves to York. Branwell, fired from his position, returns home, suffering a mental and physical collapse. Some months later begins writing a novel, And the Weary Are at Rest, and completes fifty-eight pp. Charlotte in Oct. discovers one of Emily's Gondal notebooks, which contains forty-three poems, reads them, and is astonished by their quality. Speaks with Emily, who is furious at the intrusion. Emily eventually placated, and Anne, Charlotte, and Emily decide to publish a volume of their own poetry.
Disraeli, Sybil, or The Two Nations; F. Engels, The Condition of the Working Classes in England in 1844; Poe, The Raven and Other Poems; Wagner, Tannhauser. John Henry Newman converts from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism.
Beginning of Irish Famine (-50).
1846. Poems, by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. The three turn to writing novels, The Professor, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Grey. The latter two accepted for publication but not Charlotte's. She begins writing Jane Eyre.
Dickens's serialization of Dombey and Son. H. Melville, Typee; Balzac, La Cousine Bette; F. Dostoyevsky, Poor Folk. H. Berlioz, The Damnation of Faust.
1847. Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey published together by T. C. Newby; Jane Eyrepublished by Smith, Elder & Co.
W. M. Thackeray, Vanity Fair. Verdi, Macbeth.
Factory Act ordains a max. 10-hr. work day for women and for children between 13 and 18 but little provision for inspection leaves Act toothless.
1848. A. Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Her and Emily's publisher, T. C. Newby, falsely advertises The Tenant as written by the author of the now hugely popular Jane Eyre. Charlotte and Anne go to London to Smith, Elder to offer ocular proof of two of the “Bells.” During the meeting Charlotte breaks her oath to Emily and reveals Emily's identity. When she learns, Emily is implacable. Branwell d. Sept. 24 of TB. Emily d. Dec. 19.
Eliz. Gaskell, Mary Barton; Thackeray, Pendennis. Thos. B. Macaulay, History of England (-'61); J.S. Mill, Principles of Political Economy. John Everett Millais, D.G. Rossetti, and Holman Hunt found the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. E. Brontë d.
Corn Law Repeal. Cholera, London. Public Health Act. Second Sikh War. Revolts in Paris, Vienna (3 over the year), Venice, Berlin, Milan, Rome. Sardinia revolts against Austria, as do Czechs, both defeated. End of U.S.-Mexico war. Gold rush in CA. Emperor Ferdinand I abdicates, nephew becomes Emperor Franz Joseph I. Serfdom abolished in Austria.
1849. Anne d. of TB, May 28, in a rooming-house. Charlotte had accompanied her to the sea, where she wished to die.
Serialization of David Copperfield in 20 monthly numbers. C. Brontë, Shirley; Chas. Kingsley,Alton Locke; J. Ruskin, Seven Lamps of Architecture; Matthew Arnold, The Strayed Reveller and Other Poems.
Brit. defeat Sikhs and annezes Punjab; B. Disraeil, leader of Tory (Conservative) Party; Bedford College for Women, London, founded. Venice surrenders to Austria; French enter Rome, restoring Pius IX.
1850. Charlotte oversees the publication by Smith, Elder of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Greyand some of her sisters' poetry and includes a Biographical Notice and Introduction she has written for the edition.
Eliz. Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese; Tennyson, In Memoriam; Tennyson Poet Laureate upon death of W. Wordsworth; Wordsworth, The Prelude; N. Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter. J. E. Millais, Christ in the House of His Parents; Jos. Paxton, Crystal Palace; Courbet, The Stone Breakers; Millet, The Sower.
Public Libraries Act. Pope restores Catholic hierarchy in England.