More time

Charlotte, Emily and Ann Brontë
Charlotte, Emily and Ann Brontë

Here is an untitled poem by Emily Brontë

The night is darkening round me,
The wild winds coldly blow;
But a tyrant spell has bound me,
And I cannot, cannot go.
The giant trees are bending
Their bare boughs weighed with snow;
The storm is fast descending,
And yet I cannot go.
Clouds beyond clouds above me,
Wastes beyond wastes below;
But nothing drear can move me;
I will not, cannot go.

Cathy read this poem to us at our First Literary Meeting in January.

I love this gloomy, dark atmosphere of Emily Brontë. She is of course best known for having written Wuthering Heights — hard to get any scarier with the Brontë sisters, huh? 🙂

Emily was born in England in 1818 and was the third eldest of the four surviving Brontë siblings. They were originally five siblings. Maria and Elizabeth died during their childhood during a typhoid epidemics at a boarding school. The living conditions in the 1900’s were not that great, and on top of it, the two girls suffered abuse and deprivation at school. Many of such punishments Charlotte Brontë later described in “Jane Eyre“, one of my favorite books.

The three remaining sisters and their brother were then educated at home by their father and an aunt. Their father was a very strict Irish clergyman. He would work in his office during the day and force the children to be silent the entire time, gathered in an adjacent room.

Maybe that was good after all. The kids, probably all bored to death, were surrounded by books. They had access to a wide range of published material, including pieces by Sir Walter ScottByronShelley, and Blackwood’s Magazine, some of their favorites.

The Brontë brother, Bramwell, had a box of toy soldiers he had received as a gift, and that was the vessel for them to start writing all sorts of stories and poems about imaginary worlds where the soldiers had to fight.

The poem above that Cathy read to us takes place in one of the imaginary worlds Emily created — I’m guessing probably Gondal, a fictional island whose myths and legends made Emily and Anne’s imagination run amok throughout their lives. Unfortunately, most of the kids’ writing on those world weren’t preserved, except for Emily’s Gondal poems and Anne’s lists of Gondal’s characters and place-names.

Emily believed that her health, like her sisters’, had been weakened by the harsh local climate and by unsanitary conditions at home, the source of water being contaminated by runoff from the church’s graveyard. (May that have been another source of dark inspiration in their lives?)

She caught a severe cold during the funeral of her brother in September 1848 and was soon showing symptoms of tuberculosis. (Let me say that what was called “consumption” or tuberculosis back in the day does not originate from catching a cold. It’s transmitted by inhaling airborne droplets of mucus or saliva carrying this bacterium. But contaminated people can go long periods of time after the infection without symptoms, and developing the disease later on when the immune system becomes weak.)

Her condition worsened steadily, and she rejected medical help and all available remedies, saying that she would have “no poisoning doctor” near her. She died in 1848, less than three months since Bramwell’s death. Some people say that she died of a broken heart for love of her brother.

Emily Brontë never knew the extent of fame she achieved with her one and only novel, as she died a year after its publication, aged 30. I keep wondering what other amazing books and poems we would be reading today if Emily — if all the Brontë siblings had lived longer. They were such prolific writers, and so talented.

They all needed more time. All of us need more time. There are so many stories to be written and read.

6 thoughts on “More time

  1. Thanks for all the info you compiled, Daniela.
    I once visited the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth Village, West Yorkshire. It was a cold and rainy day for my visit (even though it was July), and the parsonage was very dark and bleak inside. The church cemetery was very close by, practically right up to its walls on several sides, and the house looked directly out on the Pennine Moors. I could see firsthand how children in that environment would be inspired to write the dark and stormy stories of the imaginary Gondal, and with “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre” as adult writers.

    1. How interesting, Cathy! I can picture how strangely familiar sickness and death must have been to them. It reminded me of a quote I heard decades ago: “Men are born pregnant with death.” I tried to trace its author and found the name of a Brazilian writer, Herminio Sargentim. Not sure, though, if it’s really his. Anyway I find it fascinating that even though we tend to forget, we will all find our end one day, and that this reality may have been so ingrained in this family because of the place they lived in and the sad circumstances of their health. I wonder if there was actually a connection between the proximity of the cemetery and the quality of water or something.

      1. Yes, sadly, the tour guide at the parsonage told us that the proximity of the cemetery, where new graves were very frequent, definitely contributed to bad water quality and illness in people living nearby.

        We bought a copy of “Wuthering Heights” in the gift shop, and an English friend we were traveling with read it aloud to us as we drove back to London. She had never read the book before and found it fascinating — AND she was able to do the regional accents of the characters in the book for us as she read! It was a memorable experience.

        1. Wow, I wish I could have experienced that too!

          _______

          Daniela Caride

          Taildom – Founder and blogger Literary Lincoln – Founder and blogger Phinney’s Friends – President of the Board

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