Friday, December 19, 2008

Emily Brontë peels apples

Emily Brontë, author of Wuthering Heights one of the classics of British 19th century literature, died 160 years ago today aged only 30. There is no evidence that she kept a diary or journal, however she did write four diary-like pieces in collaboration with her sister Anne, and these, in fact are the only pieces of autobiographical writing that Emily left behind. All of them are freely available online - and very domestic they are too.

Emily was born on 30 July 1818 at Thornton near Bradford in Yorkshire, the fifth of six children. In 1820, the family moved to Haworth, also in Yorkshire, where Emily’s father was curate. The following year, Emily’s mother died, and her sister joined the household. The children were sent away to school at various times during their lives, but when at home they encouraged each other in imaginative games and writing. Emily worked for a while as a governess, and taught the piano. In 1842, she and two surviving sisters travelled to Brussels to improve their French, with the idea of starting a school on their return. But that plan never came to fruition. A year or two later, though, they published an edition of their poetry under pseudonyms (Ellis for Emily, Currer for Charlotte, and Acton for Anne).

In 1847, Emily published her only novel, Wuthering Heights. Although now considered a classic of English literature, Wikipedia says, it met with mixed reviews initially, ‘with many horrified by the stark depictions of mental and physical cruelty’. Oddly, Wikipedia’s entry on Wuthering Heights is much longer that the one on Emily. In September 1848, Emily caught a cold at the funeral of her brother, and this led to tuberculosis. She refused medical help and died 19 December 1848, 160 years ago today.

There are no records of Emily Brontë ever having kept a diary. However, there are four autobiographical pieces which seem to have been written as one-off diary entries. Two of them were written with her sister, Anne, in 1834 and 1837, and signed together - these are referred to as Diary Papers. And two were written by Emily on her birthdays in 1841 and 1845, and these are referred to both as Diary Papers and Birthday Papers. They can all be found online, for example at the website of the Brooklyn College English Department, and in several biographies, such as Emily Brontë by Lyn Pykett, published by Rowman & Littlefield, in 1989 (viewable at Googlebooks). The British Library has a photograph of the 1837 Diary Paper and some further information.

Pykett says, of the 1834 fragment, that it hardly suggests ‘the sixteen-year-old Emily is undergoing a stormy adolescence’ and instead offers ‘a sufficiently mundane impression of the daily life of the Haworth Parsonage’. Moreover, she adds, Emily’s ‘tenuous grasp of spelling and punctuation’ only adds to ‘the general impression of rather happy-go-lucky chaos’ in a ‘scene of female industry’.

Here is the 1834 Diary Paper, dated 24 November.

‘I fed Rainbow, Diamond Snowflake Jasper pheasant (alias) this morning Branwell went down to Mr. Driver’s and brought news that Sir Robert Peel was going to be invited to stand for Leeds Anne and I have been peeling apples for Charlotte to make us an apple pudding and for Aunt nuts and apples Charlotte said she made puddings perfectly and she was of a quick but limited intellect. Taby said just now Come Anne pilloputate (i.e. pill a potato) Aunt has come into the kitchen just now and said where are your feet Anne Anne answered On the floor Aunt papa opened the parlour door and gave Branwell a letter saying here Branwell read this and show it to your Aunt and Charlotte - The Gondals are discovering the interior of Gaaldine Sally Mosley is washing in the back kitchen

It is past Twelve o’clock Anne and I have not tidied ourselves, done our bedwork or done our lessons and we want to go out to play we are going to have for Dinner Boiled Beef, Turnips, potatoes and applepudding. The Kitchin is in a very untidy state Anne and I have not done our music exercise which consists of b major Taby said on my putting a pen in her face Ya pitter pottering there instead of pilling a potate I answered O Dear, O Dear, O dear I will directly with that I get up, take a knife and begin pilling (finished) pilling the potatoes papa going to walk Mr. Sunderland expected.

Anne and I say I wonder what we shall be like and what we shall be and where we shall be if all goes on well in the year 1874 - in which year I shall be in my 54th year Anne will be going in her 55th year Branwell will be going in his 58th year And Charlotte in her 59th year hoping we shall all be well at that time we close our paper’

1 comment:

Anne said...

In 1842, she and two surviving sisters traveled to Brussels to improve their French, with the idea of starting a school on their return.

Just Emily and her sister, Charlotte went to Brussels