I was brought up in the north of England, in Lancashire, not far from Haworth, Yorkshire, where the famous Brontë sisters, Emily, Charlotte and Anne lived. Growing up, I spent many a happy hour trudging through the bracken and heather on the West Yorkshire moors with my family.
The Moors around Haworth
I loved Emily Brontë’s gothic novel, Wuthering Heights, a fascinating story of love and revenge, charting the bizarre life of Heathcliff, a dark, brooding character, from his complicated childhood to his bitter, haunted adulthood. I used to imagine Cathy and Heathcliff in their ‘perfect misanthropist’s heaven’ around the moors and would really get into the part. I could often be heard screeching, ‘Heathcliff!’ when chasing after my two older brothers and sister. They thought I was odd then and that hasn’t changed much either.
Emily Brontë, the daughter of a curate, lived in the parsonage in Haworth, a wild isolated village on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. She had a short, sad life; her mother died when she was only three years old and she also lost two sisters when they were young children. Emily was a quiet, solitary, almost reclusive girl, who rarely left her home, except to attend church or walk on the moors. I often wonder how she could have written such a classic masterpiece when she had so little experience of life outside her family sphere.
The Village of Haworth
Emily wrote Wuthering Heights under the pseudonym of Ellis Bell because she (rightly) felt her chances of publication were higher if she pretended to be a man and the book was duly published in London in 1847. Emily never knew of the book’s huge success because, sadly, she died in December 1848, aged just thirty and only three months after losing her beloved brother, Bramwell.
Emily’s surviving sisters, Charlotte and Anne, were devastated by their loss. Charlotte wrote the following heartrending poem at Christmas time, a few days after Emily’s death.
On the Death of Emily Brontë
My darling thou wilt never know
The grinding agony of woe
That we have bourne for thee,
Thus may we consolation tear
E’en from the depth of our despair
And wasting misery.
The nightly anguish thou art spared
When all the crushing truth is bared
To the awakening mind,
When the galled heart is pierced with grief,
Till wildly it implores relief,
But small relief can find.
Nor know’st thou what it is to lie
Looking forth with streaming eye
On life’s lone wilderness.
“Weary, weary, dark and drear,
How shall I the journey bear,
The burden and distress?”
Then since thou art spared such pain
We will not wish thee here again;
He that lives must mourn.
God help us through our misery
And give us rest and joy with thee
When we reach our bourne!
The wild Yorkshire moors
When I think about the life of Emily Brontë, I feel sad that an awesome talent was struck down at such a young age, but on the other hand, appreciate how fortunate we are that at least her legacy lives on in one of our most outstanding pieces of Victorian literature. If you haven’t read Wuthering Heights yet, I highly recommend it. You will be transported into a different world, created by the most talented, imaginative of authors. If you ever find yourself in the north of England, be sure to check out Haworth and Brontë Country. You, too, could find yourself in those sweeping, wild Yorkshire moors listening to the howling wind, or maybe you might just hear a broken–hearted voice, ‘pierced with grief’ crying out, ‘Cathy, Cathy….’
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