Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Note for "Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights" - the lost writings

[Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1992 movie).]

 I probably will write a post about Wuthering Heights one day. But for the moment:

It's always nice to recommend on-line material,  and I think the following is a terrific collection of biographical and critical ideas by Clare B. Dunkle (arising from her researches for a prequel to Wuthering Heights)

She writes about the question of Emily's hypothetical second novel here:

Emily could have had more than two years for writing a second novel - i.e. from the time that Wuthering Heights was first packed off to publishers (July 1846?)  up to when she became ill on October 1st, 1848 (at Branwell's funeral).

[Can I complain here that Brontë chronologies on the web are incredibly inconsistent? Some say that Emily wrote Wuthering Heights between October 1845 and June 1846, some say it was written from December 1845 to July 1846, others again say it was probably begun in August 1845. Beware how your casual guesswork develops immortality! Again, some say that the agreement with Newby to publish Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey was in July 1847, others say August 1847 - this I'd have thought was a matter of record. Bloom's Notes* clearly states that it was on  July 15th that the sisters agreed to Newby's proposal that they bear part of the production costs.]

Juliet Barker says that Emily and Anne at first reacted to the many rejections of their first novels by retreating into the privacy of Gondal. She thinks both Tenant and Emily's possible second novel were begun around mid-1847. In The Brontës she says (re the coming year - 1848): "there was much to look forward to... Emily and Anne had got their first books in print and were both working on a second novel..."

Dear Sir,--

I am much obliged by your kind note and shall have great pleasure in making arrangements for your next novel. I would not hurry its completion for I think you are quite right not to let it go before the world until well satisfied with it, for much depends on your next work. If it be an improvement on your first you will have established yourself as a first-rate novelist, but if it falls short the critics will be too apt to say that you have expended your talent in your first novel. I shall therefore have pleasure in accepting it upon the understanding that its completion be at your own time.

Believe me, my dear Sir,
yrs. sincerely,
T.C. Newby

Feb. 15, 1848

Thomas Newby's letter of Feb 15th 1848 implies that Emily had definitely begun a second novel but not yet completed it. Of course Emily was under no compulsion to tell him the whole truth, she might in fact have practically finished it, or again, she might still have been only projecting it. The only thing that seems definite is she told him there was going to be a second novel. (The rascally Newby seems to me to give quite good advice.)

The letter has no addressee name on it, and it isn't absolutely conclusive that the letter IS addressed to Ellis Bell rather than Acton Bell. (It would of course make perfect sense if it was addressed to Anne, then midway through The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.) However, the letter was found in Emily's writing desk. Among other things in this desk there was also an empty envelope from Newby that is addressed to Ellis Bell. The letter and the envelope were separate, but the folding of the letter is consistent with it having arrived in this envelope.

Emily's last dated poem was Sept 14, 1846. So basically there is no known creative work from the last two years of Emily's active life.

According to Bloom's Notes* there is a conjecture that Emily spent some of her last years writing an "expanded version of Wuthering Heights", which of course does not survive. I have no idea of the source of this conjecture.

Charlotte could (as Clare says) have destroyed the putative second novel out of concern for Emily's reputation. "All the evidence suggests it," though, is too strong. It's also entirely possible that Emily ordered its destruction herself. We know she was a perfectionist and we know she had sensitivities about things being published without her control. Also, if Emily did order its destruction then  it might have been Anne she asked, rather than Charlotte. It's all speculation. (Margaret Lane, The Bronte Story, 1953. - quoted here: 

If Charlotte did have any involvement in destroying Emily's last work then that would cast a certain irony on her words in the Preface to the 1850 edition of Wuthering Heights. 

If the auditor of her work when read in manuscript, shuddered under the grinding influence of natures so relentless and implacable, of spirits so lost and fallen; if it was complained that the mere hearing of certain vivid and fearful scenes banished sleep by night, and disturbed mental peace by day, Ellis Bell would wonder what was meant, and suspect the complainant of affectation. Had she but lived, her mind would of itself have grown like a strong tree, loftier, straighter, wider-spreading, and its matured fruits would have attained a mellower ripeness and sunnier bloom; but on that mind time and experience alone could work: to the influence of other intellects, it was not amenable.  
(By the way, isn't it fascinating to think of Emily reading Wuthering Heights aloud to her sisters?)

Anyway,  Charlotte attributes the shocking aspects of Wuthering Heights to immaturity and claims Emily's writing would have mellowed had she lived. That claim of course does not fit in very well with the hypothesis that Charlotte had to destroy a second novel for being even more shocking than the first.

[This has become, for many, a matter of fact rather than speculation:

We'll never know how Brilliant Emily's next novel was, because her sister, Charlotte, destroyed it.
I believe one theory is that Charlotte was trying to protect Emily's posthumous reputation - the implication being that the second novel might have been even more transgressive than the first.

(Comments by BMacLean in a Guardian comments stream.) ]

I am inclined to believe in Charlotte's good faith here. I think that Emily's second novel never existed or never got very far (or if it did, Charlotte didn't know anything about it).

The disappearance of the Gondal prose writings is almost more painful still, because we know more about them. It's certainly possible that Charlotte destroyed them after the death of her two sisters, though I don't know if she would necessarily have thought them in any danger of being published. It's also possible that Emily and Anne took the decision to destroy them. After all that's the most common fate of adolescent writings - their authors get rid of them.

So I think the claim "Again, almost certainly, Charlotte disposed of them when she went through her sisters' papers" is overstated. Clare infers Charlotte' attitude from some minor edits (e.g. of poems and WH) and her public judgments of her sisters' work, which seem to many so distressingly lukewarm. But I don't know what evidence there may be that Charlotte did do any actual destroying. What I do know is that she didn't destroy the Angria work that she wrote with Branwell, though she might quite reasonably have thought of it as prejudicial to her own and her brother's reputation, if she was the kind of tender-minded tidy-upper who would worry about the Gondal writings. Who knows, maybe Charlotte was the family member who was least exacting when it came to tidying up papers? Against this, of course, you could argue that Charlotte might have been too ill to deal with her own juvenile work in the same way she had allegedly dealt with Emily's and Anne's.

As Ian Jack pointed out, Emily's sole literary remains consisted of Wuthering Heights and the poems, three letters and some remarks or opinions conveyed by family and acquaintances.

Coming back to the other side again, Charlotte re-edited Wuthering Heights in 1850, and though she made unauthorized changes to paragraphing and to the rendering of Joseph's dialect, her main intention was to put right the many errors in Newby's edition (Newby having ignored Emily's list of corrections). Was this evident care for her sister's work compatible with obliterating the bulk of her other writings? Perhaps. "'Wildfell Hall' it hardly appears to me desirable to preserve." There's a sinister ring to that remark. Suppression, though in this case impracticable, was apparently something Charlotte viewed without qualms.

Perhaps as a result of proprietorial remarks like that, we tend to assume Charlotte the famous novelist would naturally feel that she had control over the manuscripts left behind by her sisters. That may be right, but it is rather a big assumption. The unquestioned head of the family and the inheritor of Emily's and Anne's manuscripts would of course be her father, Patrick Brontë. (Charlotte's manuscripts, on the other hand, became the property of her husband, who published The Professor.) So perhaps it was Patrick who destroyed the Gondal prose and Emily's "second novel"; or again, he might have acted in collusion with Charlotte while she was still alive. There are doubtless facts here of which I'm ignorant.

We need to remember that we don't know. It's always tempting to put well-known individuals into the frame, just as anti-Stratfordians always imagine a nobleman must have written Shakespeare's plays, in line with Scott's observation :   "..vulgar fame, which is always disposed to ascribe remarkable actions to a remarkable name..." (1830 Introduction to A Legend of Montrose). But Emily's and Anne's papers could have disappeared or been destroyed without Charlotte's involvement, especially after Charlotte's death. Persons responsible unknown.

* Harold Bloom, ed. Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (Bloom's Notes), 1996. I found this online, but I can't track it down again.

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