Thursday, 26 November 2015

The poetic mystery of Emily Brontë

The poetic mystery of Emily Brontë
Emily Brontë
In 1818, Emily Jane Brontë, a woman who would mark the women’s Victorian Literature, was born in Thornton (Yorkshire). She was the fifth daughter of the Reverend Patrick Brontë, in charge of the curacy of Haworth, and Maria Branwell Brontë, who died when Emily was only three years old. (Inman 4) There is not a lot of information about Emily’s life what may have led critics to consider her a mysterious character with a personality different from the rest of women of that time. One possible fact that could shape her enigmatic identity was her traumatic childhood which was marked not only by her mother’s death of cancer but also by her two elder sisters’ ones of tuberculosis. Furthermore, she experienced years later a stressed and hard situation looking after his brother, Branwell, who become very aggressive due to his addiction to alcohol and opium. (Inman 6) These happenings could make her be more united to the family centre rather than being involved in a great social life, so there is no any known person with whom she had a close relationship.
In addition, Emily Brontë broke with all the Victorian conventions regarding women’s life. During the XIX century, the destiny of a Victorian middle-class woman was to get married and be dependent on a well-off husband; or, as another possibility, to work as a governess or as a teacher in a boarding school. However, Emily did not play the expected social role of wife, mother and housewife as she did not get engaged to any man. Thus, instead of performing ‘the Angel in the House’, she became an independent woman who has been considered one of the first feminist writers of the English literature.

 Although she went to study to the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge, she spent most of her life in her home at the patronage situated at the edge of Howard (England) next to the cemetery of her father’s church (Inman 5) In this scene surrounded by hills, valleys and vast vegetation, Emily Brontë, together with her two sisters Charlotte and Anne, let her imagination run wild and started reading and writing poetry and novels. Important literary influences that could have shaped Brontë’s writings were Byron’s poems or Walter Scott’s novels, although she also read literary magazines and even the newspapers. This intellectual barrage framed her independent way of thinking and it made Emily have her own opinions and perspectives to see the world. As Inman states in The Poetic World Of Emily Brontë (2004), the originality of her narrative and poetic writings “reveals that she was a forerunner, from a literary and psychological perspective” (12) 
Graveyard next to Brontë family's house in Howard

The Bronte sisters' love of reading and writing awoke their desire of becoming authors one day. Thus, living in a remote district, they refected social life preferring to be surrounded by books. Then, in 1846, being conscious of their talent and of their unstable economic situation, they decided to publish a small selection of their poems wishing that their talent would be appreciated by the reading public. Moreover, being aware of the women's position in the field of writing of that time, they decided to publish the volume under the male pseudonyms: Currer Bell, Ellis Bell and Acton Bell. (Inman 6) As Charlotte Brontë stated in Charlotte Brontë's Notes on the pseudonyms used: "We did not like to declare ourselves women, because -without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called 'femenine' - we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice" 
Anne, Emily and Charlotte Brontë
Therefore, in Brontë's literature it can be found a kind of claim in favour of the female authorship in the Victorian time. For example, in Riches I hold in light steem’, she reveals her frustrated attemp to be a writer. She writes:  “lust of fame was but a dream, / That vanished with the morn” (Hartill 86, lines 3-4) Stevie Davies developed this idea in his book Emily Brontë (1988) by stating that her literature is influenced by a “’feminism’ dominated by the (…) patriarchs of literary criticism, (…) and claiming to reveal [them] as ‘raped away in the world of [their] own creating’ by the father’s pen” (6)

However, in spite of the lack of success of the 'Bell brothers' and although Emily Brontë has been mainly remembered by her successful novel Wuthering Heights. many literary critics have praised Emily as a poet. The first admirer of her poetry was her sister Charlotte who defined Emily's poems in the following way: “[there was] nor 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”. (C.Brontë 1) Additionally, despite her poems have been understood in many cases as a way of venting her feelings and of relief, a collection of her poems was finally published by C.W. Hatfield with the title The Complete Poems of Emily Jane Brontë. (Inman 1)
The Complete Poems of Emily Jane Brontë

It has been highlighted the autobiographical reflection in her poems leading to an intimate and personal poetry full of emotions, feelings, thoughts and reactions to life. Nevertheless, the greatness of Emily Brontë is the way in which, by writing subjective and innermost poems, she achieves that the reader is also able to participate in those lines by echoing and being reflected in those sentiments. According to John Keats, Emily Brontë had what he called the 'negative capability' referring to her "ability to be outside [herself] and [connect with] the minds of other people or creatures" (Inman 12) 

All the biographical aspects and happenings commented above may, consequently, have been significant when analysing not only the way of writing but also the topics dealt in Emily's poetry. On the one hand, her poetic tone was psychological and abstract. Moreover, her singular personality is also mirrored in the enigmatic nature of her poetry. On the other hand, and true to this literary abstraction, she developed metaphysical and spiritual themes approached from different perspectives but, surprisingly enough, far from the conventional religious sense instiled by her father as a reverend, what shows once more her independent way of thinking.

        Firstly, in some of her poems she tries to put into words the frustrations and despair she experienced along her life due to the dramatic happenings that she lived. For instance, in the poem ‘Hope’, the author expresses how she feels marginalized by this virtue that has refused Emily her help. Thus, she claims: “Hope, whose whisper would have given / Balm to all my frenzied pain, / Stretched her wings, and soared to Heaven, / Went and ne’er returned again”. (The Literary Network 1,lines 17-20) It is interesting how the author personifies hope by giving it alive qualities. This is a recurrent technique when she treats death, freedom or other abstract nouns. One of the possible reasons is the meaningful and potential role of them in her life and, then, in her poetry. Dealing with hope and despair, Emily also reveals in ‘I’ll not weep that thou art going to leave me’, her tiredness of having suffered so long “I’m sick to see the spirit languish/ Through years of dead despair” (Hartill 80, lines 11-12) and we can perceive her negative approach to life as if she would have resigned to live with suffering:  “I’ll not weep, because the summer’s glory/ Must always end in gloom” (Hartill 80,lines 5-6) A characteristic feature of Emily’s poetry is the use of seasons to create metaphors. Thus, winter and autumn represents hopelessness, death, grief and sadness while summer and spring represent the opposite attributes. Secondly, the repeated and early presence of death in her life had a great impact as a topic in her poetry. However, she deals with death from different perspectives. Death is sometimes the end of everything as, for example, in ‘Death, that struck when I was most confiding’ where the continued perturbing presence of death: “Death, that struck when I was most confiding / (…) Strike again, Time’s withered branch dividing / From the fresh root of Eternity” (Hartill 122, lines 1,3-4 ). However, other times, death is the only way out. It is difficult to know but in some of her lines readers may think in some possible suicide desires in Emily Brontë. In ‘I’ll not weep that thou art going to leave me’, she says: “So, if a tear, when thou art dying, / (…) It is but that my soul is sighing / To go and rest with thee” (Hartill 80, lines 13, 15-16) Most of the times, she personifies death with elements of nature as the setting in which she was confined living and writing was during many years the main audience of her works. Finally, the idea of love was also developed by the author in relation to loneliness and memories. In ‘Cold in the earth, and the deep snow piled above thee!’, we can see how she weeps the absence of a loved one but, because of her mysterious life, we do not know if that person is a relative or a beloved as she refers to a “Sweet Love of youth” (Hartill 120, line 13). She cries his/her loss like that: “Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave! / Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee, / Severed at last by Time's all-severing wave?” (Hartill 120, lines 2-4) A desire for freedom is presented in ‘Riches I hold in light esteem’ as if she felt oppressed and overwhelmed by her situation: “Tis all that I implore; / In life and death a chainless soul” (Hartill 86, lines 10-11)
So, having revised Emily’s Bronte life and work, she can be considered “a fascinating person: an independent spirit, a forward thinker, and a literary genius” (Inman 4) Even more, the uncertainty about the life of this singular author motivates us to know more about her literary production. Furthermore, she should be admired not only by her talent as a writer but also by her courage as a woman.
Works Cited (Research):
The website. Emily Brontë Biography. Web. 24 November 2015.
Brontë, Charlotte. Charlotte Bronte's Notes on the pseudonyms used. 1997. Web. Project Gutenberg EBook. 24 November 2015. 
Davies, Stevie. Emily Brontë. Hertfordshire: Harvester, 1988. Print. 
Hartill, Rosemary. Emily Brontë: Poems. Chatham: W & J Mackay Limited, 1973. Print
Inman, Laura. The Poetic World of Emily Brontë. Poems from the author of Wuthering Heights. Eastbourne: Susex Academic Press, 2014. Web. ProQuest ebrary. 24 November 2015.
The Literary Network. The Literary Network: Emily Brontë, Hope. 2000. Web. 24 November 2015.
Works Cited (Images):
Brontë, Branwell. Emily Brontë. Digital Image. . 24 November 2015. Web
Brontë Parsonage, Haworth, West Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom. Digital Image. . 24 November 2015. Web
Brontë, Branwell. Anne, Emily and Charlotte Brontë. Digital Image. . 24 November 2015. Web
The Complete Poems of Emily Jane Brontë. Digital Image. . 24 November 2015. Web                                                 


  1. Hi Clara, I really enjoyed this insight into Emily Bronte's life. I like the analysis of her poetic technique - I didn't know she wrote poetry at all. You get a much more intimate portrait of her through this work than you do through Wuthering Heights I think. The preoccupation with death, hope, freedom and other Platonic Forms that you point out gives a completely new dimension to her other work.

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  3. Hi Clara,
    Thank you for sharing such a great blog post on Emily Bronte. It was really nice to read over your details regarding Emily's early life and reminded me of many of the facts I had forgotten after studying both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. My favourite part about your blog post was your analysis of Emily's poetic skills as like Alastair I was not previously familiar with her poems. Through your blog, I have learned so much more about Emily's life and I thank you for that!