Exploring Emily Brontë

Librarian Antony Ramm highlights some books that take an oblique look at the Emily Brontë story…

Last Monday marked the 200th-anniversary of Emily Brontë’s birth, and there have been a wide range of articles in the local, national, specialist and social media describing and analysing both Emily’s life and her masterpiece: the novel Wuthering Heights (1847).

One of the most interesting – to this reader anyway – was published on the website of The Conversation: ‘How incest became part of the Brontë family story’ by Amber Pouliot of Harlaxton College . It’s not the intention of this blog to rewrite that article (those interested should read the original), nor to restate its thesis in more than the most simple terms: namely, a brief history of the ways readers and writers have mapped, from Wuthering Heights and the story of Catherine and Heathcliff, the suggestion of a more-than-usually-close relationship between Emily and her brother, Branwell onto the real-world Brontë family biography.

This ‘incest story’ – or fantasy, or cruel rumour – has been further explored in other creative responses to the Brontë myth by later authors; and Pouliot provides a snapshot of the major works, beginning with A. Mary F. Robinson’s 1883 biography of Emily Brontë.

Pouliot describes five such texts in total – and we’re pleased to say that the Local and Family History department at the Central Library holds copies of them all. Below is a brief bibliographical list of those titles, which can all be accessed by visiting the department on the 2nd-Floor of the Central Library.

Emily Brontë (1883) – A. Mary F. Robinson

Pouliot says: “As early as 1883, A. Mary F. Robinson argued that Wuthering Heights could be explained if one looked into Emily’s relationship with Branwell”.

Stone Walls: A Play about the Brontës (1936) – Ella Moorhouse

Pouliot explains: “In some of these texts, Branwell and Emily’s relationship is sexually abusive. In Ella Moorhouse’s Stone Walls (1936), for instance, Branwell tries to force a knife and bottle of liquor into Emily’s mouth.”

Wild Decembers: A Play in Three Acts (1932) – Clemence Danes

Of this extraordinary dramatic account, Pouliot remarks that it “features a fictional Branwell indulging in masturbatory fantasies while looking at his sister.”

Divide the Desolation: A Novel Based on the Life of Emily Brontë (1937) – Kathryn Jean MacFarlane

This novel tells, in part, the story of how “Emily and Branwell engage in a form of childhood S&M play, with Emily delighting in the fact that her brother cares enough to hurt her.”

The Brontë Sisters (1931) – Emile Romieu

Romieu’s novel “features an extended erotic fantasy in which Emily pulls Branwell from his burning bed and against her body while wearing a translucent, wet night gown.”

Please note these are all reference copies and subsequently not available for loan.

A fuller list of our Brontë holdings can be found in our research guide. Please contact the Local and Family History  to arrange access to any of these titles.

A previous blog article relating to the Brontë family may also be of interest.

Undated, Image shows the old George Hotel on Lower Briggate. First owned by the Knights Templar in the 13th century, the building displays Templar crosses on its front. Opened as the hotel ‘Ye Bush’ in the 17th century it became ‘The George’ in 1714 and ‘The Old George’ in 1815 when ‘The George and Dragon’ opened nearby. Sometimes called Simpson Hotel, Charlotte Brontë once stayed here and described the interior in her novel Jane Eyre. (Leeds Libraries, www.leodis.net)

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