It was quite hard not to think about Emily Brontë and Wuthering Heights during the 8-mile walk across the moors from her home in Haworth. There is a rock shaped like a chair between the Brontë falls and the Brontë bridge where Emily is supposed to have sat and gathered her thoughts.
“Are you sure it was Emily and not the other one who sat here?” my daughter asked me before sitting in it herself.
My daughter doesn’t like Charlotte. Something in Jane Eyre irks her but she can’t say what. It was my daughter’s idea to come to Haworth and go on this walk — because of Emily.
“It was definitely Emily who sat there,” I said.
Relief flooded her face and she leapt on.
I liked Charlotte best when I was a teenager. I liked her openness and vulnerability. There was a passage in Villette that impressed me greatly where she wrote about how it felt to be depressed. I thought this was brave, honest writing because it must have come from her own experience; but she was also very pragmatic and had a sharp, sarcastic sense of humour that I admired.
Anne was not as lively as Charlotte; and Branwell was a shadowy enigma.
But Emily — she was fierce, forbidding and completely unapproachable. She had a big dog called Keeper that bit people. Her romantic hero was a puppy-murderer and wife-beater who thought nothing of gouging out a person’s eyes.
I read the first 50 pages of Wuthering Heights three times before I understood them. And after that I had to keep re-reading almost everything three times. There is one shocking incident after another, not just the brutish violence of Heathcliff, but the equally shocking capitulations of Cathy.
If Northanger Abbey gently mocks romantic fiction, Wuthering Heights rips it limb from limb.
I’m not sure at what point I decided that Emily was the better novelist but, certainly, by the time my daughter was born I knew. That’s why her middle name is Emily.
I’m very glad I waited to have a child until I was sure.
Today is Emily Brontë’s birthday. Strange, that I have been thinking of her so much this week.