30th July 1818. Wuthering Heights.
A reviewer in 1848 of Wuthering Heights reflecting on its austere background suggested it should have been called Withering Heights.
Today Emily Bronte was born in 1818, the fifth of six children of Patrick Bronte, Irish born, perpetual curate of the Yorkshire village of Haworth.
Known for her only novel Wuthering Heights, a tale of a passionate war between two families, the book didn’t get off to a good start with one reviewer saying, ‘it was coarse and loathsome’, which in that Evangelical, god-fearing age it would have been so considered.
Another said that, ‘in spite of much power and cleverness… and truth to life in remote nooks and corners of England, Wuthering Heights is a disagreeable story’.
The three Bronte girls adopted pseudonyms to hide their true identities; Emily became Ellis Bell with one reviewer assuming it was a man writing pedantically; ‘Mr Ellis Bell should have known that forced marriages under threat are illegal’.
It was thus a difficult age for female writers who felt so constrained that they couldn’t advertise their name, so when Jane Austen was published, the book was described as written ‘By a Lady’.(1)
The Bronte’s brother, Branwell hoped to be a professional painter and the portraits above show the sisters separated by a pillar which originally had shown Branwell, who painted himself out.
However with the passage of time more of Branwell is being revealed and the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) is investigating through examination of the painting’s pigments to see how it was altered.
The picture, incredibly, was found on top of a wardrobe folded up, in 1906 by the 2nd wife of Charlotte Bronte’s husband, the Rev.A.B. Nicholls.
Many books of the early 19thc were only rescued from obscurity later in the century with Wuthering Heights being championed in the 1880.s by Charles Swinburne, Matthew Arnold and G.K. Chesterton who said it was ,’written by an eagle’.
In an age of airport books that ‘fly off’ shelves it is difficult to imagine a time when they were not written to order, but in the case of the Brontes with ample time on their hands it was a chance to retreat into a fantasy world with no notion of monetary reward.
However with reviews such as the one which said, ‘the brutal master of the lonely house…had his prototype in those ungenial remote districts, where human beings like the trees grow gnarled and dwarf”, it’s no surprise they were not instant best sellers.
(1) Thus they were known as Acton (Anne), Currer ( Charlotte) and Ellis (Emily) Bell.
telegraph.org.uk. 18.12.2015. Hannah Furness article on NPG painting/Pic.
wikipedia.org/title page of Wuthering Heights.
ebay.co.uk/6 books Pic.