Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.

JULY 30th  

On this day in history in 1818, was born Emily Bronte.

Bronte was a novelist whose life was a mystery, and who produced only one work, a novel of passion and acrimony, which gives an insight into her sombre anonymity.

Emily Jane Bronte was born on 30th July 1818, at the parsonage at Haworth, Yorkshire, an isolated village on the outskirts of the Yorkshire Moors. Her parents, Patrick Bronte, a clergyman, and Maria Bronte, nee Branwell, had 6 children, Maria and Elizabeth, who died in childhood, Charlotte, a poet and author, Branwell, an author and artist, Emily, a poet and author, and Anne, a poet and author. The children’s mother died in 1821, after which the Reverend Bronte left them very much to themselves. They were educated at home, except for one year that Charlotte and Emily spent at the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge. For amusement the children created stories, which featured imaginary lands, known as Angria, Gondal and Gaaldine, and in which the characters spoke in verse. In 1835, when Charlotte obtained a teaching post at a school in Roe Head, Emily accompanied her as a pupil, but suffered from homesickness, and stayed only three months. In 1838, Emily spent a few months as a teacher, before resigning in frustration at the life, which she described as slavery, working ‘from six in the morning until near eleven at night, with only one half-hour of exercise between’. Emily and Charlotte planned to open a school for girls at the parsonage, and in 1842, they visited Brussels to learn foreign languages. They returned in the same year, having mastered several tongues to their own satisfaction, but the idea of the school never came to fruition.

In 1845, Charlotte thought to publish the verses that the sisters had written as children. They published jointly a volume of verse, poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, the initials of these pseudonyms being those of the sisters, a device designed to conceal their identities, and escape prejudice against female writers. It contained 21 of Emily's poems, which later critics have acclaimed as poetic genius. The venture cost the sisters about £50 in all, but sold only two copies.

Undeterred by the failure of this project, the sisters turned to novel writing. By the summer of 1847, Emily's Wuthering Heights and Anne's Agnes Grey had been accepted for joint publication, but publication of the three volume series was delayed until the appearance of Charlotte's Jane Eyre. Charlotte’s work received popular acclaim, Anne’s was moderately successful, but Emily’s Wuthering Heights, was attacked by the critics as ‘savage’, ‘animal-like’, and ‘clumsy in construction’. These critics would have been astounded, had they lived to see Wuthering Heights, being received as one of the finest novels in the English language.

Those who condemned Wuthering Heights at the time missed the essential point of the novel. Far from being ‘savage’, it is a work of great imagination and passion. The love affair between Cathy and Heathcliff is portrayed, not in an explicit way as Dickens would have done, or by insinuation in the manner of Jane Austen, but by techniques which allow the reader to work out the message themselves. The use of a disingenuous narrator, who relates the plot from his own viewpoint, and comments on the attitudes of other spectators, allows the reader to se the drama from a variety of perspectives. The sinister setting of the wild moorland and the freakish weather conditions show up by contrast the sensitive feelings of the protagonists. The ghostly atmosphere in the background serves to contrast the reality of the situation of the earthly characters, who struggle to come to terms with emotions beyond their control, seemingly from another world. Wuthering Heights has been translated to film several times, but sadly, as in the case of all great works, never makes the transposition appropriately, as filmmakers are wont to concentrate on the macabre action, which the author intended as a backdrop, rather than a prominent feature.

Emily Bronte did not survive to write another novel. She ‘caught her death of cold’ while attending her brother Branwell’s funeral and died aged 30, on 19th December 1848. None of the Bronte sisters lived to a good age. The bleak weather of the moorlands, coupled with the unsanitary conditions of the parsonage and its badly maintained cemetery, took its toll on the family. Charlotte died at 38 and Anne at 29. Anne is buried in Scarborough, where she went to recuperate from consumption. [St Mary’s churchyard, Castle Road, Scarborough, Yorkshire YO11 1TH] Emily and Charlotte are buried in the churchyard of the parsonage where they lived and wrote their celebrated works. [Church of St Michael and All Angels, Church Street, Howarth, Yorkshire, BD22 8DR] The parsonage is now a museum in their honour. [Bronte Parsonage Museum, Howarth, Yorkshire BD22 8DR]

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