On July 30th, 198 years ago, Emily Jane Brontë was born in Thornton, West Yorkshire, England.
“I know you love to play Mendelson.” Anne grasped Emily’s hand, hoping she wouldn’t mind.
Emily endorsed Anne’s effort with a quick squeeze of her fingers. “I have to catch up with his Songs without Words volumes. I believe there are eight now. I only have five.”
Now she knew what it should be, Anne was glad there was just enough time to send away for Emily’s birthday present.
© 2016 DM Denton
Although my current work in progress is a novel focusing on her younger sister, Anne, Emily is essential to the narrative, whether they are together at Haworth, on an excursion to York, or separated for long periods of time.
Emily was an imaginative and liberating influence on dutiful, devout Anne, a constant and protective best friend who by example more than precept reminded her little sister to leave at least some of her spirit unfettered and even encouraged her to now and then step out of life’s responsibilities and live a little wildly, especially as mother earth beckoned her to.
For nature is constant still
For when the heart is free from care
Whatever meets the eye
Is bright, and every sound we hear
Is full of melody …
~ Anne Brontë, from Verses for Lady Geralda, 1836
Long after the Brontë sisters had died, Charlotte’s friend Ellen Nussey wrote in Reminisces of Charlotte Brontë that “(Emily) and Anne were like twins – inseparable companions, and in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption.”
What better way to enjoy time with Emily again than by reliving their childhood habit of wandering daily to meet only earth and sky, now with Keeper and Flossy, their dogs like themselves, despite contrasting physiques and personalities, discovering intrinsic similarities, especially the need to often escape the stuffiness and lack of possibilities indoors. For the dogs, too, the companionship of walks that took them west past tilting, spindly conifers and thorn bushes into the wind-swept vastness behind the parsonage, acknowledged the basic wildness of their natures and left no doubt they were more alike than different.
© 2016 DM Denton
As children they formed an alliance apart from Charlotte, brother Branwell and the fictional world of Angria to invent their own imaginary kingdom of Gondal. The departure of Charlotte to Roe Head School meant they became even closer, but something more powerful than circumstance cemented their devotion: the innate ability to understand, unconditionally love, lighten, consolingly burden and so strengthen each other, to speak in silence as much as conversation, and, perhaps, most significantly, to create “the very closest sympathy” through the infinite sisterhood of their imaginations.
To Imagination by Emily Brontë
When weary with the long day’s care,
And earthly change from pain to pain,
And lost, and ready to despair,
Thy kind voice calls me back again
O my true friend, I am not lone
While thou canst speak with such a tone!
So hopeless is the world without,
The world within I doubly prize;
Thy world where guile and hate and doubt
And cold suspicion never rise;
Where thou and I and Liberty
Have undisputed sovereignty.
What matters it that all around
Danger and grief and darkness lie,
If but within our bosom’s bound
We hold a bright unsullied sky,
Warm with ten thousand mingled rays
Of suns that know no winter days?
Reason indeed may oft complain
For Nature’s sad reality,
And tell the suffering heart how vain
Its cherished dreams must always be;
And Truth may rudely trample down
The flowers of Fancy newly blown.
But thou art ever there to bring
The hovering visions back and breathe
New glories o’er the blighted spring
And call a lovelier life from death,
And whisper with a voice divine
Of real worlds as bright as thine.
I trust not to thy phantom bliss,
Yet still in evening’s quiet hour
With never-failing thankfulness I
welcome thee, benignant power,
Sure solacer of human cares
And brighter hope when hope despairs.
Anne was less hesitant to being drawn into Emily’s simply lived yet creatively complex orbit; then Anne had grown up in it, been sustained by it, and found true friendship in it. She knew, welcoming the hope in that knowledge, that even as Emily seemed unsentimental, letting them go to their beds and disappointments and fears and useless efforts to change what couldn’t be changed, she was keeping a place for them by the fire of her imagination and fidelity.
© 2016 DM Denton
What was complicated for her sisters and brother was simple for Emily: there was no going back to working for little profit that left her essentially impoverished. Instead, she settled once and for all into the confinement that unleashed her fantasies, escaping change except as she grew taller and stronger and unapologetically herself. “I am as God made me,” Charlotte reported Emily’s answer to the “silly” girls at the Pensionnat who ridiculed her clothes, walk, thoughts, and habits. Anne couldn’t decide if such certainty made Emily saintly or blasphemous. According to Charlotte it did the trick in stopping the harassment, so it would seem an enlightened declaration after all.
Emily knew her place and stuck with it without being stuck, like a solitary tree on the moor, as violently content, shaped by the wind yet unyielding, in motion without leaving the spot she was rooted in.
© 2016 DM Denton
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