2018 marks the two hundredth anniversary of Emily Brontë’s birth. The fifth of six children, Emily lived with her parents and siblings at Haworth, a Pennine village in Yorkshire, England. Born on the 30th of July 1818, Emily Brontë, along with her sisters Anne and Charlotte, are the most well-known of the Brontë siblings.
Growing up, Emily didn’t receive much formal schooling than her sisters. Instead, most of her education took place at Haworth from tutors, and family members, such as her sister Charlotte. Her broader education came from her father. Happiest at home, Emily didn’t last long in traditional school or working for other people.
Emily wrote from the time she could read, much like her sisters, Charlotte and Anne, and brother, Branwell, creating the imaginary world of Gondal together, a collaboration that does not seem to have lasted. However, this literary family has produced some of the most famous works in English literature that are still widely known and read even today, over a century after their publication. The Haworth website speculates that it is possible that Emily never abandoned her imaginary world, yet it is her 1847 novel she is best known for.
Emily’s only book, Wuthering Heights was first published in 1847, just over 170 years ago. Today, it is a much-loved classic read by many, and known across the literary world. However, at the time it was published, Emily wrote under a nom de plume – Ellis Bell, and her sisters wrote as Acton and Currer Bell. Not wanting to reveal her true identity upon publication, Emily refused to go to London to do so. Only a year after Wuthering Heights was published, at the age of thirty, Emily died on the 19th of December 1848.
The endurance of the Brontës and their writing for over 150 years could be due to the passion in their books, and the fact that people will mostly love them or hate them – for me, perhaps it has more to do with the spectrum of emotions that these books evoke. I’m not on either extreme, but somewhere comfortably in the middle, where I can enjoy it but don’t need to declare an extreme love or hatred for the book. Perhaps Wuthering Heights has enjoyed the endurance it has after Emily’s death because it was her only book, whereas her sisters, Anne and Charlotte, wrote a few more – the titles lesser well known than their most famous ones – The Tennant of Wildfell Hall and Jane Eyre respectively. Whatever the reason, the fact that it is still readily available in bookstores and libraries, and still read and studied, indicates that it has indeed made a mark on literary culture – and that it has endured over the decades to be one of the best known stories ever.
Synopsis taken from the Penguin Random House website:
Wuthering Heights has achieved an almost mythical status as a love story, yet it is also a unique masterpiece of the imagination: an unsettling, transgressive novel about obsession, violence and death.
“May you not rest, as long as I am living. You said I killed you – haunt me, then
Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange on the bleak Yorkshire moors, is forced to seek shelter one night at Wuthering Heights, the home of his landlord. There he discovers the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before: of the intense passion between the foundling Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, and her betrayal of him. As Heathcliff’s bitterness and vengeance is visited upon the next generation, their innocent heirs must struggle to escape the legacy of the past.
The Penguin English Library – 100 editions of the best fiction in English, from the eighteenth century and the very first novels to the beginning of the First World War.
It has been a while since I read Wuthering Heights. But with the 200th anniversary of Emily Brontë’s birth approaching, I will try to plan another read. Have any of you read it, and what did you think about it?