Monday, July 30, 2018

The 200th Anniversary of Emily Brontë's Birthday

It was 200 years ago today that Emily Brontë was born in the village of Thornton, a small village now on the outskirts of the city of Bradford that was then in the West Riding of Yorkshire. While Miss Brontë's name might not sound familiar to many, most people have probably heard of the one novel she wrote: Wuthering Heights. Published in 1847, it would become one of the most influential novels of the 19th Century.

Very little is known about Emily Brontë. She was one of the famous Brontë siblings, which included fellow authors Charlotte and Anne and artist Branwell. For a time she was a teacher at Law Hill School in Halifax until her health failed due to the school's heavy workload. She wrote a number of poems, many of which were published in the anthology Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, which included poetry by Charlotte (who was Currer Bell) and Anne (who was Acton Bell). Wuthering Heights was published in 1847 under Emily Brontë's pen name of Ellis Bell. Initially receiving mixed reviews, Wuthering Heights would later be hailed as a classic.

Indeed, the influence of Wuthering Heights can be seen not only in other works of literature, but movies, television shows, and even songs. Sylvia Path wrote a poem titled "Wuthering Heights" in 1961, the poem drawing upon the novel's imagery for inspiration. Albert Camus referenced Heathcliff, the anti-hero of Wuthering Heights, in his essay "The Rebel". Wuthering Heights would inspire yet other novels. Lin Haire-Sargent's 1974 novel H: The Story of Heathcliff's Journey Back to Wuthering Heights detailed Heatcliff's time away from Wuthering Heights. In the 1995 novel Heathcliff and the Great Hunger, author Terry Eagleton put forth the idea that young Heathcliff had survived the Irish potato famine. Alice Hoffman's 1997 novel Here on Earth updated Wuthering Heights to modern times. This is only a short list of works inspired by Wuthering Heights, and the novel is referenced in works from Anne Carson's poem "The Glass Essay" to V. C. Andrews's novel Flowers in the Attic.

Of course, there have been numerous film and television adaptations of Wuthering Heights, so many that it would be difficult to list them all. The first film adaptation was made in 1920. Sadly it is believed to be a lost film. Perhaps the most famous adaptation is the 1939 version directed by William Wyler and starring Lord Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. The film adapted only the first part of the novel. The first television adaptation of the novel was made as an episode of the anthology series Studio One in 1950. Charlton Heston starred as Heathcliff. Since then the novel has been adapted several times to film and on television, with the most recent version being a film adaptation released in 2011. Even Monty Python's Flying Circus used Wuthering Heights as the source for a skit, "The Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights" (in which Heathcliff and Cathy communicate through semaphore flags).

Even music has drawn inspiration from Wuthering Heights. The most famous song inspired by Wuthering Heights may well be Kate Bush's 1978 single "Wuthering Heights". The song has since been covered several times by other music artists. Interestingly enough, Kate Bush shares her birthday with Emily Brontë (July 30). Ten's song "Alone In The Dark Tonight" was inspired by Heathcliff's loss of Cathy. Among other songs inspired by Wuthering Heights are "Cath..." by Death Cab for Cutie, "Total Eclipse of the Heart"(performed by Bonnie Tyler and written by Jim Steinman), and "A Dark Congregation" by The Hush Sound.

Through the years several authors have been inspired by Wuthering Heights, including V. C. Andrews, Margaret Atwood, Sally Green, Ernest Hemingway (who included on a list of books he "..rather read again for the first time ... than have an assured income of a million dollars a year"), Henry Miller, and Kate Mosse.

Never particularly healthy, Emily Brontë died at the extremely young age of 30 on December 19 1848. It was only about a year after the publication of Wuthering Heights. While Miss Brontë's life was short, she left behind a legacy more lasting than some authors who lived to old age. Wuthering Heights would prove to be one of the most influential novels of its era. What is more, its influence is still being felt 200 years after Emily Brontë's birth.

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