/*bootstrap*/ My Maugham Collection Concordance Library: Emily Brontë and Wuthering Heights

Emily Brontë and Wuthering Heights

Non-Fiction > Ten Novels and Their Authors >


Hugh Prunty, a young peasant-farmer in County Down, in 1776 married Elinor McClory; and on St. Patrick’s Day in the following year the eldest of his ten children was born and given the name of Ireland’s patron saint. It looks as though he could neither read nor write, for he seems to have been uncertain how his name was spelt. In the baptismal register it is given as Brunty and Bruntee. The small-holding he farmed was insufficient to provide for his large family, and he worked in a lime-kiln and, when things were slack, as a labourer on the estate of one of the neighbouring gentry. It may be supposed that Patrick, his eldest son, did odd jobs about his father’s bit of land till he was old enough to earn a wage. Then be became a hand-loom weaver. But he was a clever lad, and ambitious; and, somehow or other, by the time he was sixteen he had got enough education to become a teacher at a village school near his birth-place. Two years later he got a similar job at the parish school at Drumbally-roney, and held it for eight years. There are two accounts of what happened then: one states that Methodist ministers, impressed by his ability and expecting him to train himself for the ministry, subscribed a few pounds which, added to the little he had saved, enabled him to go to Cambridge; another states that he left the parish school to become a tutor in a clergyman’s family, and it was with his help that he entered St. John’s College. He was then twenty-five, old to enter a university, a tall, very strong young man, handsome and vain of his good looks. He subsisted on a scholarship, two exhibitions and what he was able to earn by coaching. He took his B.A. at the age of twenty-nine, and was ordained in the Church of England. If the Methodist ministers really helped him to go to Cambridge, they must have felt that they had made a bad investment.

It was while he was at Cambridge that Patrick Branty, as his surname is spelt in the list of admissions, changed it to Bronte, but it was not till later that he adopted the diæresis, and signed himself Patrick Brontë. He was appointed to a curacy at Withersfield in Essex and there fell in love with a Miss Mary Burder. She was eighteen and, though not rich, well off. They became engaged. For some reason that has remained obscure, Mr. Brontë jilted her, and it has been supposed that, having a good opinion of his advantages, he thought that by waiting he could do better for himself. Mary Burder was bitterly hurt. It may be that the handsome curate’s behaviour caused a good deal of acid comment in the parish, for he left Withersfield and took a curacy at Wellington in Shropshire and, after a few months, another at Hartshead in Yorkshire. There he met a plain little woman of thirty called Maria Branwell. She had fifty pounds a year of her own and belonged to a respectable middle-class family; Patrick Brontë was thirty-five and perhaps thought that by then, notwithstanding his good looks and agreeable brogue, this was about as well as he could expect to do for himself. He proposed, was accepted and in 1812 the couple were married. While still at Hartshead Mrs. Brontë had two children, and they were named Maria and Elizabeth. Then Mr. Brontë was appointed to still another curacy, this time near Bradford, and here Mrs. Brontë had four more children. They were named Charlotte, Patrick Branwell, Emily and Anne. A year before his marriage Mr. Brontë had published at his own expense a volume of verse entitled Cottage Poems, and a year after that another, The Rural Minstrel. While living near Bradford he wrote a novel, called The Cottage in the Wood. People who have read these productions say that they are devoid of merit. In 1820 Mr. Brontë was appointed to the ‘perpetual curacy’ of Haworth, a Yorkshire village, and there he remained, his ambitions, one may suppose, satisfied, till his death. He never went back to Ireland to see the parents, brothers and sisters he had left there, but as long as she lived he sent his mother twenty pounds a year.

In 1821, after nine years of marriage, Maria Brontë died of cancer. The widower persuaded his sister-in-law, Elizabeth Branwell, to leave Penzance, where she lived, to come and look after his six children; but he wanted to marry again, and after a decent interval he wrote to Mrs. Burder, mother of the girl he had treated so ill fourteen years before, to enquire whether she was still single. After some weeks he received a reply and forthwith wrote to Mary herself. The letter is smug, self-complacent, unctuous and, considering the facts, in execrable taste. He had the impudence to say that his ancient love was rekindled and that he had a longing desire to see her. It was in effect a proposal of marriage. Her reply was stinging, but, undeterred, he wrote again. With amazing tactlessness he told her: ‘You may think and write as you please, but I have not the least doubt that if you had been mine you would have been happier than you now are, or can be as one in single life.’ (The italics are his.) Having failed with Mary Burder, he turned his thoughts in another direction. It does not seem to have occurred to him that a widower of forty-five, with six young children, was no great catch. He made an offer to Miss Elizabeth Frith, whom he had known when he was a curate near Bradford, but she also refused him; upon which he seems to have given it up as a bad job. It was at all events, something to be thankful for that Elizabeth Branwell was there to look after the house and take care of the children.

Haworth Parsonage was a small brownstone house on the brow of the steep hill down which the village straggled. There was a tiny strip of garden in front of it and behind, and, on either side, the graveyard. Biographers of the Brontës have thought this depressing, and to a doctor it might have been, but a clergyman may well have thought it an edifying and even consoling sight; anyhow, this particular clergyman’s family must have grown so accustomed to it that in all probability they noticed it as little as the fisherman at Capri notices the view of Vesuvius or of Ischia in the setting sun. There was a parlour, a study for Mr. Brontë, a kitchen and a storeroom on the ground floor, and four bedrooms and a lobby on the floor above. There were no carpets, except in the parlour and the study, and no curtains to the windows because Mr. Brontë had the greatest dread of fire. The floors and the stairs were of stone, cold and damp in winter, and Miss Branwell, for fear of catching cold, always went about the house in pattens. A narrow pathway led from the house to the moor. With the idea, perhaps barely conscious, of making the story of the Brontës more poignant, it has been customary for authors to write as though it were always bleak, bitter cold and dreary at Haworth. But, of course, even in winter there were days of blue sky and brilliant sunshine, when the frosty air was invigorating, and meadows, moor and woods were painted in the tender colours of pastel. On such a day I went to Haworth. The countryside was bathed in a haze of silver-grey so that the distance, its outlines dim, was mysterious. The leafless trees had the elegance of trees in a wintry scene in a Japanese print, and the hawthorn hedges by the roadside glistened white with hoar frost. Emily’s poems and Wuthering Heights tell you how thrilling the spring was on the moor, and how rich in beauty and how sensuous in summer.

Mr. Brontë walked long and far on the moor. In his old age he boasted that he had been able to walk forty miles a day. He was a man who shunned company – somewhat of a change, for as a curate he had been a social creature, fond of parties and flirtations; and, with the exception of the neighbouring parsons who sometimes came down the hills to drink a dish of tea, he saw no one but the churchwardens and his parishioners. If these sent for him he went to see them, and if they asked a service he was glad to do it, but he and his family ‘kept themselves very close’. He, the son of a poverty-stricken Irish peasant, would not let his children associate with the village children, and they were driven to sit in the cold little lobby on the first floor, which was their study, reading or whispering low in order not to disturb their father, who, when annoyed or displeased, maintained a sullen silence. He gave them their lessons in the morning, and Miss Branwell taught them sewing and housework.

Even before his wife’s death, Mr. Brontë had taken to having his meals in his study by himself, and this habit he retained for the rest of his life. The reason given for this is that he suffered from indigestion. Emily wrote in a diary: ‘We are going to have for dinner boiled beef, turnips, potatoes and apple pudding.’ And in 1846 Charlotte wrote from Manchester: ‘Papa requires nothing you know but plain beef and mutton, tea and bread and butter.’ This does not seem a very good régime for someone who suffers from chronic dyspepsia. I am inclined to think that if Mr. Brontë took his meals by himself, it was because he did not much care for the company of his children and was irritable when they interrupted him. At eight o’clock at night he read family prayers, and at nine locked and barred the front door. As he passed the room in which his children were sitting, he told them not to sit up late and, halfway up the stairs, stopped to wind the clock.

Mrs. Gaskell knew Mr. Brontë for several years, and the conclusion she came to was that he was selfish, irascible and domineering; and Mary Taylor, one of Charlotte’s intimate friends, wrote to another of her friends, Ellen Nussey: ‘I can never think without gloomy anger of Charlotte’s sacrifices to the selfish old man.’ Of late, attempts have been made to whitewash him. But no whitewashing can get over the letters he wrote to Mary Burder. They are published in full in Clement Shorter’s The Brontës and their Circle. Nor can white-washing get over his behaviour when his curate, Mr. Nicholls, proposed to Charlotte. I will come to that later. Mrs. Gaskell writes as follows: ‘Mrs.Brontës nurse told me that one day when the children had been on the moors, and rain had come on, she thought they would be wet, and accordingly she rummaged out some coloured boots which had been given them by a friend. These little pairs she ranged round the kitchen fire to warm; but when the children came back, the boots were nowhere to be found; only a very strong odour of burnt leather was perceived. Mr. Brontë had come in and seen them; they were too gay and luxurious for his children; so he had put them into the fire. He spared nothing that offended his antique simplicity. Long before this, someone had given Mrs Brontë a silk gown; either the make, the colour, or the material was not according to his notions of consistent propriety, and Mrs. Brontë in consequence had never worn it. But, for all that, she kept it treasured up in her drawers, which were generally locked. One day, however, while in the kitchen, she remembered that she had left the key in her drawer, and hearing Mr. Brontë upstairs, she augured some ill of her dress, and, running up in haste, she found it cut into shreds.’ The story is circumstantial, but it is hard to see why the nurse should have invented it. ‘Once he got the hearthrug, and stuffing it up the grate, deliberately set it on fire, and remained in the room in spite of the stench, until it had smouldered and shrivelled away into uselessness. Another time he took some chairs, and sawed away at the backs till they were reduced to the condition of stools.’ It is only fair to add that Mr. Brontë declared that these stories were untrue. But no one had doubted that he had a violent temper, nor that he was stern and peremptory. I have asked myself whether these unamiable traits of Mr. Brontës may not be ascribed to his disappointment with life. Like many other man of humble origins who has had a galling struggle to raise himself above the class in which he was born and to get an education, he may well have had an exaggerated opinion of his abilities. We know that he was vain of his good looks. His literary efforts had met with no success. It would not be strange if it embittered him to realise that the only reward he had got for his long tussle with adversity was a perpetual curacy in the wilds of Yorkshire.

The hardships and loneliness of life at the parsonage have been made too much of. The talented sisters seem to have been quite satisfied with it; and indeed, if they ever stopped to consider their father’s origin, they may well have thought themselves far from unlucky. They were neither better nor worse off than hundreds of parsons’ daughters all over England whose lives were as isolated and whose means as limited. The Brontës had neighbours, clergymen within walking distance, gentry, mill-owners and manufacturers in a small way, with whom they might have consorted; and if they lived secluded lives it was by choice. They were not rich, but neither were they poor. Mr. Brontë’s benefice provided him with a house and two hundred pounds a year, his wife had fifty pounds a year which, on her death, he presumably inherited, and Elizabeth Branwell, when she came to live at Haworth, brought her fifty pounds a year with her. The household thus had three hundred pounds a year to dispose of, which at that time was worth at least twelve hundred pounds now. Many a clergyman to-day, even with income-tax as it is, would look upon such a sum as riches. Many a clergyman’s wife to-day would be thankful to have one maid: the Brontës generally had two, and whenever there was pressure of work, girls were brought in from the village to help.

In 1824 Mr. Brontë took his four elder daughters to a school at Cowan Bridge. It had been recently established to give an education to the daughters of poor clergymen. The place was unhealthy, the food bad and the administration incompetent. The two elder girls died, and Charlotte and Emily, whose health was affected, were, though strangely enough only after another term, removed. Such schooling as they got, from then on, seems to have been given them by their aunt. Mr. Brontë thought more of his son than of the three girls and, indeed, Branwell was looked upon as the clever one of the family. Mr. Brontë would not send him to school, but undertook his education himself. The boy had a precocious talent, and his manners were engaging. His friend, F. H. Grundy, thus describes him: ‘He was insignificantly small – one of his life’s trials. He had a mass of red hair, which he wore brushed high off his forehead – to help his height, I fancy – a great, bumpy, intellectual forehead, nearly half the size of the whole facial contour; small ferrety eyes, deep sunk and still further hidden by the never removed spectacles, prominent nose, but weak lower features. He had a downcast look, which never varied, save for a rapid momentary glance at long intervals. Small and thin of person, he was the reverse of attractive at first sight.’ He had parts, and his sisters admired him and expected him to do great things. He was a brilliant, eager talker, and from some Irish ancestor, for his father was a morose, silent man, he had inherited a gift for social intercourse and an agreeable loquacity. When a traveller, putting up for the night at the Black Bull, seemed lonely, the landlord would ask him: ‘Do you want someone to help you with your bottle, sir? if so, I’ll send up for Patrick.’ Branwell was always glad to be of service. I should add that when, years later, Charlotte Brontë then being famous, the landlord was asked about this, he denied that he had ever done anything of the kind: ‘Branwell,’ he said, ‘never needed to be sent for.’ You are still shown at Haworth the room at the Black Bull, with its Windsor chairs, in which Branwell tippled with his friends.

When Charlotte was just under sixteen, she went to school once more, this time at Roe Head, and was happy there; but after a year she came home again to teach her two younger sisters. Though the family, as I have pointed out, were not so poor as has been made out, the girls had nothing to look forward to. Mr. Brontë’s stipend would naturally cease at his death, and Miss Branwell was leaving the little money she had to her amusing nephew; they decided, therefore, that the only way they could earn a living was by training themselves to be governesses or school-mistresses. At that time there was no other calling open to women who looked upon themselves as ladies. Branwell, by now, was eighteen and a decision had to be made on what trade or profession he was to adopt. He had some facility for drawing, as his sisters had too, and he was eager to become a painter. It was settled that he should go to London and study at the Royal Academy. He went, but nothing came of the project, and after a while, which he spent in sightseeing and presumably having as good a time as he could, he returned to Haworth. He tried writing, but with no success; then he persuaded his father to set him up in a studio in Bradford where he might earn a living by painting portraits of the local people; but this failed too, and Mr. Brontë called him home. Then he became tutor to a Mr. Postlethwaite at Barrow-in-Furness. He seems to have done well enough there, but, for reasons unknown, after six months Mr. Brontë brought him back to Haworth. Presently, a job was found for him as clerk-in-charge at the station of Sowerby Bridge on the Leeds and Manchester Railway, and later at Luddenden Foot. He was bored and lonely, he drank too much, and eventually was discharged for gross neglect of his duties. Meanwhile, in 1835, Charlotte had returned to Roe Head as a teacher, and taken Emily with her as a pupil. But Emily became so desperately homesick that she fell ill, and had to be sent home. Anne, who was of a calmer, more submissive temper, took her place. Charlotte held her job for three years, at the end of which, her health failing, she too went home.

She was twenty-two. Branwell was not only a source of worry, but a source of expense; and Charlotte, as soon as she was well enough, felt herself obliged to take a situation as a nursery governess. It was not work she liked. Neither she nor her sisters liked children, any more than their father did. ‘I find it so hard to repel the rude familiarity of children,’ she wrote to Ellen Nussey. She hated to be in a dependent position, and was continually on the look-out for affronts. She was not an easy person to get on with and, so far as one can judge from her letters, seems to have expected to be asked to do as a favour what her employers quite naturally thought they could demand as a right. She left after three months and returned to the parsonage, but some two years later took another situation with a Mr. and Mrs. White at Rawdon, near Bradford. Charlotte did not think them refined. ‘Well can I believe that Mrs. W. has been an exciseman’s daughter, and I am convinced also that Mr. W’s extraction is very low.’ She was, however, fairly happy in this place, but, as she wrote to the same intimate friend: ‘No one but myself can tell how hard a governess’s life is to me – for no one but myself is aware how utterly averse my whole mind and nature are for the employment.’ She had long been toying with the idea of keeping a school of her own, with her two sisters, and now she took it up again; the Whites, who seem to have been very kind, decent people, encouraged her, but suggested that before she could hope to be successful she must acquire certain qualifications. Though she could read French, she could not speak it, and knew no German, so she decided that she must go abroad to learn languages. Miss Branwell was persuaded to advance money for the cost of this; and then Charlotte and Emily, with Mr. Brontë to look after them on the journey, set out for Brussels. The two girls, Charlotte being then twenty-six, Emily twenty-two, became pupils at the Pensionnat Héger. After ten months they were recalled to England by the illness of Miss Branwell. She died, and having disinherited Branwell, owing to his bad behaviour, left the little she had to her nieces. It was enough for them to carry out the plan they had so long discussed of having a school of their own; but since their father was old and his sight failing, they made up their minds to set it up at the parsonage. Charlotte did not think she was sufficiently equipped, and so accepted Monsieur Héger’s offer to go back to Brussels and teach English at his school. She spent a year there and on her return to Haworth the three sisters issued prospectuses, and Charlotte wrote to her friends asking them to recommend the school they intended to start. How they expected to house pupils in the parsonage, which had only four bedrooms, all of which they occupied themselves, has never been explained, and as no pupils came it certainly never will be.


They had been writing off and on since they were children, and in 1846 the three of them published a volume of verse at their own expense under the names of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. It cost them fifty pounds, and two copies were sold. Each of them then wrote a novel. Charlotte’s (Currer Bell) was called The Professor, Emily’s (Ellis Bell) Wuthering Heights and Anne’s (Acton Bell) Agnes Grey. They were refused by publisher after publisher; but when Smith, Elder & Co., to whom Charlotte’s The Professor had finally been sent, returned it, they wrote to say that they would be glad to consider a longer novel by her. She was finishing one, and within a month was able to send it to the publishers. They accepted it. It was called Jane Eyre. Emily’s novel, and Anne’s, had also at last been accepted by a publisher, Newby by name, ‘on terms somewhat impoverishing to the two authors’, and they had corrected the proofs before Charlotte sent Jane Eyre to Smith, Elder & Co. Though the reviews of Jane Eyre were not particularly good, readers liked it and it became a best-seller. Mr. Newby, upon this, tried to persuade the public that Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, which he then published together in three volumes, were by the author of Jane Eyre. They made, however, no impression, and indeed were regarded by a number of critics as early and immature work by Currer Bell. Mr. Brontë had consented, after some persuasion, to read Jane Eyre. When he came in to tea, after finishing it, he said: ‘Girls, do you know Charlotte has been writing a book, and it is much better than likely?’

At the time of Miss Branwell’s death, Anne was in a situation at Thorpe Green as governess to the children of a certain Mrs. Robinson. Her nature was sweet and gentle, and she was apparently better able to get on with people than the exacting and prickly Charlotte. She was not unhappy in her situation. She went back to Haworth for her aunt’s funeral, and on her return to Thorpe Green took with her Branwell, then idling at home, as tutor to Mrs. Robinson’s son. Mr. Edmund Robinson, a wealthy clergyman, was an elderly invalid with a youngish wife, and Branwell, though she was seventeen years older than he, fell in love with her. What their relations were is uncertain. Anyhow, whatever they were, they were discovered. Branwell was sent packing, and Mr. Robinson ordered him ‘never to see again the mother of his children, never set foot in her house, never write or speak to her.’ Branwell ‘stormed, raved, swore he could not live without her; cried out against her for staying with her husband. Then prayed the sick man might die soon; they would yet be happy.’ Branwell had always drunk too much; now in his distress he took to eating opium. It seems, however, that he was able to communicate with Mrs. Robinson, and, some months after his dismissal, they appear to have met at Harrogate. ‘It is said that she proposed flight together, ready to forfeit all her grandeur. It was Branwell who advised patience and a little longer waiting.’ Since this can only have been told by Branwell himself, and is in any case very unlikely to be true, we may accept it as an invention of a young man who was both silly and conceited. Suddenly he received a letter to announce the death of Mr. Robinson; ‘he fair danced down the churchyard as if he was out of his mind; he was so fond of that woman,’ someone told Mary Robinson, Emily’s biographer.

‘The next morning he rose, dressed himself with care and prepared for a journey; but before he had even set out from Haworth, two men came riding to the village posthaste. They sent for Branwell and when he arrived, in a great state of excitement, one of the riders dismounted and went with him into the Black Bull.’ He brought a message from the widow begging him not to come near her again, for if she even saw him once she would lose her fortune and the custody of her children. This is what he told, but since the letter was never produced and it has been discovered that Mr. Robinson’s will contained no such clause, there is no knowing whether he told the truth. The only thing sure is that Mrs. Robinson let him know that she wanted to have nothing more to do with him, and it may be that she made up this excuse to render the blow less mortifying. The Brontë family were convinced that she had been Branwell’s mistress, and ascribed his consequent behaviour to her evil influence. It is possible that she was, but it is just as possible that, like many a man before and after him, he boasted of a conquest he had never made. But if she had been for a brief period infatuated with him, there is no reason to suppose that it had ever entered her head to marry him. He proceeded to drink himself to death. When he knew the end was near, one who attended him in his last illness told Mrs. Gaskell that, wanting to stand up to die, he insisted upon getting up. He had only been in bed a day. Charlotte was so upset that she had to be led away, but her father, Anne and Emily looked on while he rose to his feet and after a struggle that lasted twenty minutes died, as he wished, standing.

Emily never went out of doors after the Sunday following his death. She had a cold and a cough. It grew worse, and Charlotte wrote to Ellen Nussey: ‘I fear she has pain in the chest, and I sometimes catch a shortness in her breathing, when she has moved at all quickly. She looks very, very thin and pale. Her reserved nature causes me great uneasiness of mind. It is useless to question her; you get no answer. It is still more useless to recommend remedies; they are never adopted.’ A week or two later, Charlotte wrote to another friend: ‘I would fain hope that Emily is a little better this evening, but it is difficult to ascertain this. She is a real stoic in illness; she neither seeks nor will accept sympathy. To put any questions, to offer any aid, is to annoy; she will not yield a step before pain or sickness till forced; not one of her ordinary avocations will she voluntarily renounce. You must look on and see her do what she is unfit to do, and not dare say a word …’ One morning Emily got up as usual, dressed herself and began to sew; she was short of breath and her eyes were glazed, but she went on working. She grew steadily worse. She had always refused to see a doctor, but at last, at midday, asked that one should be sent for. It was too late. At two she died.

Charlotte was at work on another novel, Shirley, but she put it aside to nurse Anne, who was attacked by what was then known as galloping consumption, the disease from which Branwell and Emily had died, and did not finish it till after the gentle creature’s death only five months after Emily’s. She went to London in 1849 and 1850, and was made much of; she was introduced to Thackeray and had her portrait painted by George Richmond. A Mr. James Taylor, a member of the firm of Smith, Elder, whom she described a s a stern and abrupt little man, asked her to marry him, but she refused. Before that, two young clergymen had proposed to her, only to be rejected, and two or three curates, her father’s or those of neighbouring parsons, had shown her marked attention; but Emily discouraged suitors (her sisters called her the Major, because of the effective way she dealt with them), and her father disapproved, so that nothing had come of it. It was, however, a curate of her father’s whom she at last married. This was the Rev. Arthur Nicholls. He went to Haworth in 1844. Writing to Ellen Nussey in that year, she said of him: ‘I cannot for my life see those interesting germs of goodness you discovered; his narrowness of mind always strikes me chiefly.’ And, a couple of years later, she included him in her sweeping contempt of curates in general. ‘They regard me as an old maid, and I regard them, one and all, as highly uninteresting, narrow and unattractive specimens of the coarser sex.’ Mr. Nicholls, an Irishman, went to Ireland on his holiday, and Charlotte wrote to her usual correspondent: ‘Mr. Nicholls is not yet returned. I am sorry to say that many of the parishioners express a desire that he should not trouble himself to recross the Channel.’

In 1852 Charlotte wrote a long letter to Ellen Nussey. She enclosed a note from Mr. Nicholls which, she said, ‘has left on my mind a feeling of deep concern …’ ‘What papa has seen or guessed I will not inquire, though I may conjecture. He has irritably noticed all Mr. Nicholls’s low spirits, all his threats of expatriation, all his symptoms of impaired health – noticed them with little sympathy and much indirect sarcasm. On Monday evening Mr. Nicholls was here to tea. I vaguely felt without clearly seeing, as without seeing I have felt for some time, the meaning of his constant looks, and strange feverish restraint. After tea I withdrew to the dining-room as usual. As usual Mr. Nicholls sat with papa till between eight and nine o’clock; I then heard him open the parlour door as if going. I expected the clash of the front door. He stopped in the passage; he tapped; like lightning it flashed on me what was coming. He entered; he stood before me. What his words were you can guess; his manner you can hardly realise, nor can I forget it. Shaking from head to foot, looking deadly pale, speaking low, vehemently, yet with difficulty, he made me for the first time feel what it costs a man to declare affection where he doubts response.

‘The spectacle of one ordinarily so statue-like thus trembling, stirred, and overcome, gave me a kind of strange shock. He spoke of sufferings he had borne for months, of sufferings he could endure no longer, and craved leave for some hope. I could only entreat him to leave me then and promise a reply on the morrow. I asked him if he had spoken to papa. He said he dared not. I think I half led, half put him out of the room. When he was gone I immediately went to papa, and told him what had taken place. Agitation and anger disproportionate to the occasion ensued; If I had loved Mr. Nicholls, and had heard such epithets applied to him as were used, it would have transported me past my patience; as it was, my blood boiled with a sense of injustice. But papa worked himself into a state not to be trifled with; the veins on his temples started up like whipcord, and his eyes became suddenly bloodshot. I made haste to promise that Mr. Nicholls should on the morrow have a distinct refusal.’

In another letter, dated three days later, Charlotte writes: ‘You ask how papa demeans himself to Mr. Nicholls. I only wish you were here to see papa in his present mood: you would know something of him. He just treats him with a hardness not to be bent, and a contempt not to be propitiated. The two have had no interview as yet; all has been done by letter. Papa wrote, I must say, a most cruel note to Mr. Nicholls on Wednesday.’ She went on to say that her father thought ‘a little too much about his want of money; he says the match would be a degradation, that I should be throwing myself away, that he expects me, if I marry at all, to do very differently.’ Mr. Brontë, in fact, behaved as badly as he had behaved years before to Mary Burder. Relations between Mr. Brontë and Mr. Nicholls grew so strained that the latter resigned his curacy. But his successors at Haworth did not give Mr. Brontë satisfaction, and Charlotte, at last exasperated by his complaints, told him that he had only himself to blame. He had only to let her marry Mr. Nicholls and all would be well. Papa continued ‘very, very hostile, bitterly unjust,’ but she saw and corresponded with Mr. Nicholls. They became engaged and in 1854 were married. She was then thirty-eight. She died in childbirth nine months later.

So the Rev. Patrick Brontë, having buried his wife, her sister and his six children, was left to eat his dinner alone in the solitude that he liked, walk on the moors as far as his waning strength permitted, read the papers, preach his sermons and wind up the clock on his way to bed. There is a photograph of him in his old age. A man in a black suit with an immense white choker round his neck, with white hair cut short, a fine brow and a large straight nose, a tight mouth and ill-tempered eyes behind his spectacles. He died at Haworth at the age of eighty-four.


It is not without intention that in writing of Emily Brontë and Wuthering Heights, I have said so much more about her father, her brother and her sister Charlotte than about her; for in the books written about the family it is of them that we hear most. Emily and Anne hardly come into the picture. Anne was a gentle, pretty little thing, but insignificant; and her talent was small. Emily was very different. She is a strange, mysterious and shadowy figure. She is never seen directly, but reflected, as it were, in a moorland pool. You have to guess what sort of woman she was from her one novel, her poems, from an allusion here and there and from scattered anecdotes. She was aloof, an intense, uncomfortable creature; and when you hear of her given over to unrestrained gaiety, as on walks over the moor she sometimes was, it makes you uneasy. Charlotte had friends, Anne had friends, Emily had none. Her character was full of contradictions. She was harsh, dogmatic, self-willed, sullen, angry and intolerant; and she was pious, dutiful, hard-working, uncomplaining, tender to those she loved and patient.

Mary Robinson describes her at fifteen as ‘a tall, long-armed girl, full grown, elastic as to tread; with a slight figure that looked queenly in her best dresses, but loose and boyish when she slouched over the moors, whistling the dogs, and taking long strides over the rough earth. A tall, thin, loose-jointed girl – not ugly, but with irregular features and a pallid thick complexion. Her dark hair was naturally beautiful, and in later days looked well, loosely fastened with a tall comb at the back of her head; but in 1833 she wore it in an unbecoming tight curl and frizz. She had beautiful eyes of a hazel colour.’ Like her father, her brother and her sisters, she wore spectacles. She had an aquiline nose and a large, expressive, prominent mouth. She dressed regardless of fashion, with leg-of-mutton sleeves long after they had ceased to be worn; in straight long skirts clinging to her lanky figure.

She went to Brussels with Charlotte. She hated it. Friends, wishing to be nice to the two girls, asked them to spend Sundays and holidays at their house, but they were so shy that to go was agony for them, and after a while their hosts came to the conclusion that it was kinder not to invite them. Emily had no patience with social small-talk, which of course is for the most part trivial; it is merely an expression of general amiability, and people take part in it because they have good manners. Emily was too shy to take part in it and was irritated by those who did. There was in her shyness both diffidence and arrogance. If she was so retiring, it is strange that she should have made herself so conspicuous in her dress. The very shy not uncommonly have in them a streak of exhibitionism, and it may occur to one that she wore those absurd leg-of-mutton sleeves to flaunt her contempt for the commonplace people in whose company she was tongue-tied.

At school, during the hours of recreation, the two sisters always walked together, Emily leaning heavily on her sister, and generally in silence. When they were spoken to, Charlotte answered. Emily rarely spoke to anyone. They were both of them several years older than the rest of the girls, and they disliked their noisiness, their high spirits and the sillinesses natural to their age. Monsíger found Emily intelligent, but so stubborn that she would listen to no reason when it interfered with her wishes or beliefs. He found her egotistical, exacting and, with Charlotte, tyrannical. But he recognised that there was something unusual in her. She should have been a man, he said: ‘Her strong, imperious will would never have been daunted by opposition or difficulty; never have given way but with life.’

When Emily went back to Haworth after Miss Branwell’s death, it was for good. She never left it again. It looks as though only there was she able to live the reveries which were the solace and the torment of her life.

She got up in the morning before anyone else and did the roughest part of the day’s work before Tabby, the maid, who was old and frail, came down. She did the household ironing and most of the cooking. She made the bread, and the bread was good. While kneading the dough, she would glance at the book propped up before her. ‘Those who worked with her in the kitchen, young girls called in to help in stress of business, remember how she would keep a scrap of paper, a pencil at her side, and how when the moment came that she could pause in her cooking or her ironing, she would jot down some impatient thought and then resume her work. With these girls she was always friendly and hearty – pleasant, sometimes quite jovial like a boy! So genial and kind, a little masculine, “say my informants”, but of strangers she was exceedingly timid, and if the butcher’s boy or the baker’s man came to the kitchen door she would be off like a bird into the hall or the parlour till she heard their hobnails clumping down the path.’ The people of the village said that she ‘was more like a boy than a girl’, and that her figure looked ‘loose and boyish when she slouched over the moors, whistling to her dogs and taking long strides’. She disliked men and, with one exception, was not even ordinarily polite to her father’s curates; this was the Rev. William Weightman. He is described as young and fair, eloquent and witty; and there was about him ‘a certain girlishness of looks, manner and taste’. He was known in the family as Miss Celia Amelia. Emily got on famously with him. It is not difficult to know why. May Sinclair, in her book called The Three Brontës, constantly uses the word virile when she speaks of her. Romer Wilson, speaking of Emily, asks: ‘Did the lonely father see himself in her and feel that she was the only other male spirit in his house? … She early knew the boy in herself, and later knew the man.’ Shirley, in Charlotte’s novel, is understood to have been modelled on Emily; it is curious that Shirley’s old governess should reprove her for constantly speaking of herself as though she were a male; it is not a usual thing for a girl to do, and one can only suppose that it was a habit of Emily’s. Much in her character and behaviour that disconcerted her contemporaries can today be easily explained. Homosexuality was not at that period openly discussed as it is now, often to an embarrassing extent, but it existed, both in men and women, as it has always done, and it may well be that neither Emily herself, her family nor her family’s friends, for, as I have said, she had none of her own, recognised what made her so strange.

Mrs. Gaskell did not like her. Someone told her that Emily ‘never showed regard to any human creature; all her love was reserved for animals’. She liked them wild and intractable. She was given a bulldog called Keeper, and concerning him Mrs. Gaskell tells a curious story: ‘Keeper was faithful to the depths of his nature so long as he was with friends; but he who struck him with stick or whip, roused the relentless nature of the brute, who flew at his throat forthwith, and held him there till one or the other was at the point of death. Now Keeper’s household fault was this. He loved to steal upstairs, and stretch his square, tawny limbs on the comfortable beds, covered over with delicate white counterpanes. But the cleanliness of the parsonage arrangements was perfect; and this habit of Keeper’s was so objectionable, that Emily, in reply to Tabby’s remonstrances, declared that, if he was found again transgressing, she herself, in defiance of warning and his well-known ferocity of nature, would beat him so severely that he would never offend again. In the gathering dusk of an autumn evening Tabby came, half-triumphantly, half-tremblingly, but in great wrath, to tell Emily that Keeper was lying on the best bed, in drowsy voluptuousness. Charlotte saw Emily’s whitening face and set mouth, but dared not speak to interfere, no one dared when Emily’s eyes glowed in that manner out of the paleness of her face, and when her lips were compressed into stone. She went upstairs, and Tabby and Charlotte stood in the gloomy passage below, full of the dark shadows of the coming night. Downstairs came Emily, dragging after her the unwilling Keeper, his hind legs set in a heavy attitude of resistance, held by the “skuft of his neck”, but growling low and savagely all the time. The watchers would fain have spoken, but durst not, for fear of taking off Emily’s attention, and causing her to avert her head for a moment from the enraged brute. She let him go, planted in a dark corner at the bottom of the stairs; no time was there to fetch stick or rod, for fear of the strangling clutch at her throat – her bare clenched fist struck against his red fierce eyes, before he had time to make his spring, and in the language of the turf, she “punished” him till his eyes were swelled up, and the half-blind stupefied beast was led to his accustomed lair, to have his swollen head fomented and cared for by the very Emily herself.’

Charlotte wrote of her: ‘Disinterested and energetic she certainly is; but if she be not quite so tractable and open to conviction as I could wish, I must remember perfection is not the lot of humanity.’ Emily’s temper was uncertain and her sisters appear to have been not a little afraid of her. From Charlotte’s letters one gathers that she was puzzled and often irritated by Emily, and it is plain that she didn’t know what to make of Wuthering Heights; she had no notion that her sister had produced a book of astonishing originality, and one compared with which her own were commonplace. She felt constrained to apologise for it. When it was proposed to republish it, she undertook to edit it. ‘I am likewise compelling myself to read it over, for the first time of opening the book since my sister’s death,’ she wrote. ‘Its power fills me with renewed admiration; but yet I am oppressed: the reader is scarcely permitted a taste of unalloyed pleasure, every beam of sunshine is poured down through black bars of threatening cloud; every page is surcharged with a sort of moral electricity; and the writer was unconscious of it.’ And again: ‘If the auditor of her work, when read in manuscript, shuddered under the guiding influence of natures so relentless and so implacable – of spirits so lost and fallen; if it was complained that the mere hearing of certain vivid and fearful scenes banished sleep by night, and disturbed mental peace by day, Ellis Bell would wonder what was meant, and suspect the complainant of affectation. Had she but lived, her mind would of itself have grown like a strong tree – loftier, straighter, wider-spreading – and its matured fruits would have attained a mellower ripeness and sunnier bloom; but on that mind time and experience alone could work; to the influence of other intellects it was not amenable.’ One is inclined to think that Charlotte never knew her sister.


Wuthering Heights is an extraordinary book. For the most part, novels betray their period, not only in the manner of writing common to the time at which they were written, but also by their concurrence with the climate of opinion of their day, the moral outlook of their authors, the prejudices they accept or reject. Young David Copperfield might very well have written (though with less talent) the same sort of novel as Jane Eyre, and Arthur Pendennis might have written a novel something like Villette, though the influence of Laura would doubtless have led him to eschew the naked sexuality which gives Charlotte Brontës book its poignancy. But Wuthering Heights is an exception. It is related in no way to the fiction of the time. It is a very bad novel. It is a very good one. It is ugly. It has beauty. It is a terrible, an agonising, a powerful and a passionate book. Some have thought it impossible that a clergyman’s daughter who led a retired humdrum life, and knew few people and nothing of the world, could have written it. This seems to me absurd. Wuthering Heights is wildly romantic. Now, romanticism eschews the patient observation of realism; it revels in the unbridled flight of the imagination and indulges, sometimes with gusto, sometimes with gloom, in horror, mystery, passion and violence. Given Emily Brontë’s character, and fierce, repressed emotions, which what we know of her suggest, Wuthering Heights is just the sort of book one would have expected her to write. But, on the face of it, it is much more the sort of book that her scapegrace brother Branwell might have written, and a number of people have been able to persuade themselves that he had in whole or in part done so. One of them, Francis Grundy, wrote: ‘Patrick Brontë declared to me, and what his sister said bore out the assertion, that he wrote a great part of Wuthering Heights himself … The weird fancies of diseased genius with which he used to entertain me on our long walks at Luddenden Foot, reappear in the pages of the novel, and I am inclined to believe that the very plot was his invention rather than his sister’s.’ On one occasion two of Branwell’s friends, Dearden and Leyland by name, arranged to meet him at an inn on the road to Keighley to read their poetical effusions to one another; and this is what Dearden some twenty years later wrote to the Halifax Guardian: ‘I read the first act of the Demon Queen; but when Branwell dived into his hat – the usual receptacle of his fugitive scraps – where he supposed he had deposited his manuscript poem, he found he had by mistake placed there a number of stray leaves of a novel on which he had been trying his “prentice hand”. Chagrined at the disappointment he had caused, he was about to return the papers to his hat, when both friends earnestly pressed him to read them, as they felt a curiosity to see how he could wield the pen of a novelist. After some hesitation, he complied with the request, and riveted our attention for about an hour, dropping each sheet, when read, into his hat. The story broke off abruptly in the middle of a sentence, and he gave us the sequel, viva voce, together with the real names of the prototypes of his characters, but, as some of these persons are still living, I refrain from pointing them out to the public. He said he had not yet fixed upon a title for the production, and was afraid he would never be able to meet with a publisher who would have the hardihood to usher it into the world. The scene of the fragment which Branwell read, and the characters introduced in it – so far as they developed – were the same as those in Wuthering Heights, which Charlotte confidently asserts was the production of her sister Emily.’

Now this is either a pack of lies, or it is true. Charlotte despised and, within the bounds of Christian charity, hated her brother; but, as we know, Christian charity has always been able to make allowances for a lot of good honest hatred, and Charlotte’s unsupported word cannot be accepted. She may have persuaded herself, as people often do, to believe what she wanted to believe. The story is circumstantial, and it is odd that anyone should, for no particular reason, have invented it. What is the explanation? There is none. It has been suggested that Branwell wrote the first four chapters, and then, drunk and doped as he was, gave it up, whereupon Emily took it over. The argument that these chapters are written in a more stilted manner than the subsequent ones does not, to my mind, hold water; and if there is in them a somewhat greater pomposity in the writing, I should ascribe it to a not unsuccessful attempt on Emily’s part to show that Lock-wood was a silly, conceited ape. I have no doubt at all that Emily, and Emily alone, wrote Wuthering Heights.

It must be admitted that it is badly written. The Brontë sisters did not write well. Like the governesses they were, they affected the turgid and pedantic style for which the word litératise has been coined. The main part of the story is told by Mrs. Dean, a Yorkshire maid of all work like the Brontës’ Tabby; a conversational style would have been suitable; Emily makes her express herself as no human being could. Here is a typical utterance: ‘I tried to smooth away all disquietude on the subject, by affirming, with frequent iteration, that that betrayal of trust, if it merited so harsh an appellation, should be the last.’ Emily Brontë seems to have been aware that she was putting into Mrs. Dean’s mouth words that it was unlikely she would have known, and, to explain it, makes her say that in the course of her service she has had the opportunity to read books, but, even at that, the pretentiousness of her discourse is appalling. She does not read a letter, she peruses an epistle; she doesn’t send a letter, but a missive. She does not leave a room, she quits a chamber. She calls her day’s work her diurnal occupation. She commences rather than begins. People don’t shout or yell, they vociferate; nor do they listen, they hearken. There is pathos in this parson’s daughter striving so hard to write in a lady-like way, only to succeed in being genteel. Yet one would not wish Wuthering Heights to have been written with grace: it would be none the better for being better written. Just as in one of those early Flemish pictures of the burial of Christ the anguished grimaces of the emaciated creatures concerned, their stiff, ungainly gestures, seem to add a greater horror, a matter-of-fact brutality, to the scene, which make sit more poignant, more tragic, than when the same event is pictured in beauty by Titian; so there is in this uncouth stylisation of the language something which strangely heightens the violent passion of the story.

Wuthering Heights is clumsily constructed. That is not surprising, for Emily Brontë had never written a novel before, and she had a complicated story to tell, dealing with two generations. This is a difficult thing to do because the author has to give some sort of unity to two sets of characters and two sets of events; and he must be careful not to allow the interest of one to overshadow the interest of the other. This Emily did not succeed in doing. After the death of Catherine Earnshaw there is, until you come to the last finely imaginative pages, some loss of power. The younger Catherine is an unsatisfactory character, and Emily Brontë seems not to have known what to make of her; obviously she could not give her the passionate independence of the older Catherine, nor the foolish weakness of her father. She is a spoilt, silly, wilful and ill-mannered creature; and you cannot greatly pity her sufferings. The steps are not made clear which led to her falling in love with young Hareton. He is a shadowy figure, and you know no more of him than that he was sullen and handsome. The author of such a story as I am now considering has also to compress the passage of years into a period of time that can be accepted by the reader with a comprehensive glance, as one seizes in a single view the whole of a vast fresco. I do not suppose that Emily Brontë deliberately thought out how to get a unity of impression into a straggling story, but I think she must have asked herself how to make it coherent; and it may have occurred to her that she could best do this my making one character narrate the long succession of events to another. It is a convenient way of telling a story, and she did not invent it. Its disadvantage is that it is impossible to maintain anything like a conversational manner when the narrator has to tell a number of things, descriptions of scenery for instance, which no sane person would think of doing. And of course if you have a narrator (Mrs. Dean) you must have a listener (Lockwood). It is possible that an experienced novelist might have found a better way of telling the story of Wuthering Heights, but I cannot believe that if Emily Brontë used it, it was because she was working on a foundation of someone else’s invention.

But more than that, I think the method she adopted might have been expected of her, when you consider her extreme, her morbid, shyness and her reticence. What were the alternatives? One was to write the novel from the standpoint of omniscience, as, for instance, Middlemarch and Madame Bovary were written. I think it would have shocked her harsh, uncompromising virtue to tell the outrageous story as a creation of her own; and if she had, moreover, she could hardly have avoided giving some account of Heathcliff during the few years he spent away from Wuthering Heights – years in which he managed to acquire an education and make quite a lot of money. She couldn’t do this, because she simply didn’t know how he had done it. The fact the reader is asked to accept is hard to believe, and she was content to state it and leave it at that. Another alternative was to have the story narrated to her, Emily Brontë, by Mrs. Dean, say, and tell it then in the first person; but I suspect that that, too, would have brought her into a contact with the reader too close for her quivering sensitivity. By having the story in its beginning told by Lockwood, and unfolded to Lockwood by Mrs. Dean, she hid herself behind, as it were, a double mask. Mr. Brontë told Mrs. Gaskell a story which in this connection has significance. When his children were young, he, desiring to find out something of their natures, which their timidity concealed from him, made each inturn put on an old mask, under cover of which they could answer more freely the questions he put to them. When he asked Charlotte what was the best book in the world, she answered, ‘The Bible’; but when he asked Emily what he had best do with her troublesome brother Branwell, she said: ‘Reason with him; and when he won’t listen to reason, whip him.’

And why did Emily need to hide herself when she wrote this powerful, passionate and terrible book? I think because she disclosed in it her innermost instincts. She looked deep into the well of loneliness in her heart, and saw there unavowable secrets of which, notwithstanding, her impulse as a writer drove her to unburden herself. It is said that her imagination was kindled by the weird stories her father used to tell of the Ireland of his youth, and by the tales of Hoffmann which she learned to read when she went to school in Belgium, and which she continued to read, we are told, back at the parsonage, seated on a hearthrug by the fire with her arm around Keeper’s neck. I am willing to believe that she found in the stories of mystery, violence and horror of the German romantic writers something that appealed to her own fierce nature; but I think she found Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw in the hidden depths of her own soul. I think she was herself Heathcliff, I think she was herself Catherine Earnshaw. Is it strange that she should have put herself into the two chief characters of her book? Not at all. We are none of us all of a piece; more than one person dwells within us, often in uncanny companionship with his fellows; and the peculiarity of the writer of fiction is that he has the power to objectify the diverse persons of which he is compounded individual characters: his misfortune is that he cannot bring to life characters, however necessary to his story they may be, in which there is no part of himself. That is why the younger Catherine in Wuthering Heights is unsatisfactory.

I think Emily put the whole of herself into Heathcliff. She gave him her violent rage, her sexuality, vehement but frustrated, her passion of unsatisfied love, her jealousy, her hatred and contempt of human beings, her cruelty, her sadism. The reader will remember the incident when, with so little reason, she beat with her naked fist the face of the dog she loved as perhaps she loved no human being. There is another curious circumstance related by Ellen Nussey. ‘She enjoyed leading Charlotte where she would not dare to go of her own free will. Charlotte had a mortal dread of unknown animals, and it was Emily’s pleasure to lead her into close vicinity, and then tell her of how and what she had done, laughing at her horror with great amusement.’ I think Emily loved Catherine Earnshaw with Heathcliff’s masculine, animal love; I think she laughed, as she had laughed at Charlotte’s fears, when, as Heathcliff, she kicked and trampled on Earnshaw and dashed his head against the stone flags; and I think when, as Heathcliff, she hit the younger Catherine in the face and heaped humiliations upon her, she laughed. I think it gave her a thrill of release when she bullied, reviled and browbeat the persons of her invention, because in real life she suffered such bitter mortification in the company of her fellow-creatures; and I think, as Catherine, doubling the roles, as it were, though she fought Heathcliff, though she despised him, though she knew him for the beast he was, she loved him with her body and soul, she exulted in her power over him, and since there is in the sadist something of the masochist too, she was fascinated by his violence, his brutality and his untamed nature. She felt they were kin, as indeed they were, if I am right in supposing they were both Emily Brontë. ‘Nelly, I am Heathcliff,’ Catherine cried. ‘He’s always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.’

Wuthering Heights is a love story, perhaps the strangest that was ever written, and not the least strange part of it is that the lovers remain chaste. Catherine was passionately in love with him as Heathcliff was with her. For Edgar Linton, Catherine felt only a kindly, and often exasperated, tolerance. One wonders why those two people who were consumed with love did not, whatever the poverty that might have faced them, run away together.

One wonders why they didn’t become real lovers. It may be that Emily’s upbringing caused her to look upon adultery as an unforgivable sin, or it may be that the idea of sexual intercourse between the sexes filled her with disgust. I believe both the sisters were highly sexed. Charlotte was plain, with a sallow skin and a large nose on one side of her face. She had proposals of marriage when she was obscure and penniless, and at that period a man expected his wife to bring a portion with her. But beauty is not the only thing that makes a woman attractive; indeed, great beauty is often somewhat chilling: you admire, but are not moved. If young men fell in love with Charlotte, a captious and critical young woman, it can surely have only been because they found her sexually attractive, which means that they felt obscurely that she was highly sexed. She was not in love with Mr. Nicholls when she married him; she thought him narrow, dogmatic, sullen and far from intelligent. It is clear from her letters that after she married him she felt very differently towards him; for her they are positively skittish. She fell in love with him, and his defects ceased to matter. The most probable explanation is that those sexual desires of hers were at last satisfied. There is no reason to suppose that Emily was less highly sexed than Charlotte.


The genesis of a novel is a very curious affair. In a novelist’s first novel, and Emily, so far as we know, wrote but one, it is not unlikely that there will be something of wish-fulfilment and something of imagined autobiography. It is conceivable that Wuthering Heights is the product of pure fantasy. Who can tell what erotic reveries Emily had during the long watches of her sleepless nights, or when she lay all summer day among the flowering heather? Everybody must have noticed how strong the family likeness is between Charlotte’s Rochester and Emily’s Heathcliff. Heathcliff might be a by-blow, the bastard a younger son in the Rochester family might have had by an Irish biddy met in Liverpool. Both men are swarthy, violent, hard-featured, fierce, passionate and mysterious. They differ only as differed the natures of the two sisters who constructed them to satisfy their urgent, thwarted desires for sexual satisfaction. But Rochester is the dream of the woman of normal instincts who hankers to give herself to the domineering, ruthless male; Emily gave Heathcliff her own masculinity, her violence and her savage temper. But the primary model on which the sisters created these two uncouth, difficult men was, I surmise, their father, the Rev. Patrick Brontë.

But though, as I have said, it is conceivable that Emily constructed Wuthering Heights entirely out of her own fantasies, I do not believe it. I should have thought that it was only very rarely that the fruitful idea which will give rise to a fiction comes to an author, like a falling star, out of the blue; for the most part, it comes to him from an experience, generally emotional, of his own, or, if it is told him by another, emotionally appealing; and then his imagination in travail, character and incidents little by little grow out of it, until at length the finished work comes into being. Few people, however, know how small a hint, how trivial to all appearances an occurrence, may be that will serve to set the spark that will kindle the author’s invention, when you look at the cyclamen with its heart-shaped leaves surrounding a profusion of flowers, their careless petals wearing a wilful look as thought they grew at haphazard, it seems incredible that this luscious beauty, this rich colour, should have come from a seed hardly larger than a pin’s head. So it may be with the productive seed that will give rise to an immortal book.

It seems to me that one only has to read Emily Brontë’s poems to guess what the emotional experience was that led her to seek release from cruel pain by writing Wuthering Heights. She wrote a good deal of verse. It is uneven; some of it is commonplace, some of it moving, some of it lovely. She seems to have been most at home with the metres of the hymns which she sang of a Sunday in the parish church at Haworth, but the commonplace metres she used do not veil the intense emotion beneath. Many of the poems belong to the Gondal Chronicles, that long history of an imaginary island with which she and Anne amused themselves when they were children, and which Emily continued to write when she was a grown woman. It may be that she found this a convenient way to deliver her tortured heart of emotions which, with her natural secretiveness, she could not have borne to set out in any other way. Other poems seem to be the direct expression of feeling. In 1845, three years before her death, she wrote a poem called The Prisoner. So far as is known, she had never read the works of any of the mystics, yet in these verses she so describes the mystical experience that it is impossible to believe that they do not tell of what she knew from personal acquaintance. She uses almost the very words that the mystics use when they describe the anguish felt of the return from union with the Infinite:

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

These lines surely reflect a felt, a deeply felt, experience. Why should one suppose that Emily Brontë’s love poems were no more than a literary exercise? I should have thought they pointed very clearly to her having fallen in love, to her love having been repulsed, and then to her having been bitterly hurt. She wrote these particular poems when she was teaching at a girls’ school at Law Hill, near Halifax. She was nineteen. There was little chance of her meeting men there (and we know how she fled from men), and so, from what we surmise of her disposition, it is likely enough that she fell in love with one or other of the mistresses, or with one of the girls. It was the only love of her life. It may well be that the unhappiness it caused her sufficed to implant the seed in the fruitful soil of her tortured sensibility which enabled her to create the strange book we know. I can think of no other novel in which the pain, the ecstasy, the ruthlessness of love have been so powerfully set forth. Wuthering Heights has great faults, but they do not matter; they matter as little as the fallen tree-trunks, the strewn rocks, the snow-drifts which impede, but do not stem, the alpine torrent in its tumultuous course down the mountain-side. You cannot liken Wuthering Heights to any other book. You can liken it only to one of those great pictures of El Greco in which in a sombre, arid landscape, under clouds heavy with thunder, long, emaciated figures in contorted attitudes, spell-bound by an unearthly emotion, hold their breath. A streak of lightning, flitting across the leaden sky, gives a mysterious terror to the scene.

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