Emily Brontë was metal-as-fuck and deserves to be remembered as such.
A love-letter to the middle and most badass Brontë sister.
When I was younger, I idolised Charlotte Brontë. She was the eldest of her three surviving sisters, described as a ‘motherly friend’ who penned the infamous Jane Eyre and was so tiny, her wedding bonnet made her look like a ‘little snowdrop.’
I think I wanted to emulate her. She seemed to have her head firmly screwed on, was exceedingly clever, wrote frequently about the roles of women in society and at her core, valued the relationships with her family the most.
Charlotte was serious, small, delicate and mighty. Anne, the youngest, was gentle, quiet and dutifully hard-working.
But Emily, the middle sister, was vicious.
It wasn’t until I reached my teenage years that I fell utterly in love with Emily. She is a woman of conflicting sides, timid and fierce, clever and emotive. Her personality was somewhat wilful, and her determination and faith in herself (somewhat to a fault) made her intriguing to me.
Emily embodied the part of me that Charlotte couldn’t quite cover. The part that wanted to shake off decorum and go romping up a hill, screaming and bleeding and utterly feral — all whilst wearing a petticoat.
I read and re-read Wuthering Heights, simultaneously loathing and adoring her characters and wondering just how a tiny woman from Yorkshire could come up with such terrible humans.
Her only novel was dark and filled with natural supernaturalism, with vengeful phantoms and very little regard for God as a saviour at all, instead finding Him in the power of the moors and the Earth. The book was so violent and sexually passionate that most early reviewers thought it could only be written by a man.
It appalled and shocked readers. I like to think she would have revelled in that fact.
Whilst she was very much like her sisters, shy and a little introverted, Emily also possessed a “Spartan-like courage.”
She favoured seclusion, and only rarely left the house to go to church or go on huge walks around the moors for hours at a time — traversing through gloomy terrain in heavy dresses without complaint. Herself and Anne were famously close, but to anyone else she was aloof and without ‘human warmth.’
Emily kept to herself, never seeking contact with others. But she was intuitive and had the ability to know the ins-and-outs of others, as Charlotte wrote in the preface of the second edition of Wuthering Heights:
Though her feeling for the people round was benevolent, intercourse with them she never sought; nor, with very few exceptions, ever experienced. And yet she knew them: knew their ways, their language, their family histories; she could hear of them with interest, and talk of them with detail, minute, graphic, and accurate; but WITH them, she rarely exchanged a word.
Aside from her family, the only things Emily truly loved were animals and nature. Many anecdotes about her ways with beasts pepper the family’s history, with many commenting how she would walk through the door with a baby bird or rabbit and it would seemingly understand what she was whispering to it.
Her preference to animals over humans was so great that whilst as a teacher at Law Hill School, she quite frankly told her pupils that she preferred the school’s dog over any of them. (Savage.)
But my favourite anecdote about Emily goes as follows and, in my eyes, is what gives her a particular ‘metal-as-fuck’ quality.
Whilst on one of her sprawling hikes, she came across a distressed dog wandering the moors. When she tried to offer it water, the animal panicked and gave her quite a nasty bite. But without much fuss she picked up her skirts, with one hand bleeding profusely and marched herself back to the parsonage. She didn’t speak to anyone, instead making her way straight to the kitchen where she picked up the red-hot poker from where it lay in the coals and ‘calmly’ cauterised the flesh to the bone.
Nobody knew what had happened until the wound was accidentally discovered weeks later as a puckered red scar.
But Emily was also painfully stubborn. This was probably one of her most endearing and frustrating traits, especially to poor level-headed Charlotte. In the week following the funeral of Branwell, the only Brontë son, Emily caught a severe cold. When combined with the bad conditions of the water at the house, her health worsened until she had tuberculosis.
She refused all medical help and treatments, saying she’d let “no poisoning doctor” near her. She strongly believed that if she was going to get better, it would be by her own strength of will and no-one else’s. In her mind, the tuberculosis would be magically cured by sheer saltiness alone.
Charlotte was understandably in pieces, writing in her diary on the morning of the 19th December 1848:
She grows daily weaker. The physician’s opinion was expressed too obscurely to be of use — he sent some medicine which she would not take. Moments so dark as these I have never known — I pray for God’s support to us all.
By noon Emily could only speak in wheezes. Her last reported audible words to Charlotte were, “If you will send for a doctor, I will see him now.”
But by then it was too late, and her desire to be stubborn (and a little more extra than usual) meant she passed away around two that afternoon. She was thirty years old and would never know the extent of success that her only novel, the then year-old Wuthering Heights would bring her.
The night before she died, Emily had insisted to get up and feed the family dogs.
Emily Brontë was a hurricane put inside a slight body. But with her strength of character, powerful reasoning and logical mind, many people (including her Belgian teacher Constantin Héger) thought she “ought to be a man.”
But she wasn’t. She was a woman. And a strong one at that, who wrote a book so subversive and powerful that it shook all expectations of female writing of her era. Yet Emily, throughout it all, was inexplicably herself. She was a mixture of many things, good and bad, and I have no doubt that her brother and sisters loved her for it.
Emily Brontë is metal-as-fuck. No two ways about it. It’s in her writing, it was in her personality and it still rattles around in the anecdotes we still hear about her nearly two hundred years later.
She was a bad bitch. But she pretty much knew that anyway.