Emily Bronté wrote just one novel in her relatively short life, Wuthering Heights. But what a novel it was, and its impassioned, romantic reach has extended far beyond the bleak Yorkshire moors where that dark story of Heathcliffe's and Cathy's unrequited love was set. It was on similar moors that Emily Bronté and her five siblings spent their childhood in the early 1800s.
Her father, a country minister and writer, was posted to the small town of Haworth when Emily was two years old. A year later her mother died, leaving the six Bronté children to be raised by their Aunt Elizabeth, who came to stay with the struggling family. When she was six, Emily and her three older sisters were packed off to a grim boarding school, and soon two of them, Maria and Elizabeth, had died of the illness that they had contracted there. Emily and Charlotte survived and returned to Haworth, where they rejoined their younger sister Anne and brother Branwell.
Encouraged by their father and the physical and imaginative freedom they found playing and roaming the moors together, the four remaining Bronté children all resolved to become writers. They had been reading The Arabian Nights together, and so they called themselves the Genii, and as if by magic, little books began to appear, the texts in nearly microscopic handwriting; the books themselves made from scraps of paper, envelopes, bits of sugar bags. They began constructing fantasies that were based on the lives they invented for a troup of toy soldiers that their father had given Branwell. That led to them creating tales of two island worlds, Gondal and Gaaldine, and of a place called "Glass Town."
Later, in their twenties, and using a pen name, the Bronté sisters published a book of poems that went completely unnoticed. But this snub from the poetry world led them to try novels instead, which all three of them quickly wrote in the next year. In 1848, not quite a year after Emily's Wuthering Heights appeared in print, she died of tuberculosis. She had probably gotten ill the year before while attending the funeral of her unfortunate brother. Emily was only thirty. Still, the genii's lamp had granted her her deepest wish.
Copyright 2007© John Cech
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Friday, 29-Jun-2007 20:49:18 EDT