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.