EMILY BRONTË

Gustave Moreau, Scottish Horseman, 1854

Branwell Brontë, detail from a portrait of his sisters

Edmund John Niemann, A Storm on the Moors

FROM ‘MARA, MARIETTA’
Part One Chapter 2

̶ That’s lovely!
̶ It’s not too soppy?
̶ Soppy?
̶ Sentimental. My Achilles heel, sentimentality. I’ve been told more than once I could make a fortune writing Harlequin Romances.
̶ If you could write one as good as Wuthering Heights!
̶ Emily—I do adore her.

FROM ‘MARA, MARIETTA’
Part Seven Chapter 5

I’d been thinking about Emily, about her ravaging love story, ever since Ingrid had told us she’d been commissioned to write the music for a dance version of Wuthering Heights that a Dutch troupe was developing.

̶ I can’t wait to hear what music she’ll come up with!
̶ Whatever it is, it’ll be powerful. She loves Wuthering Heights as much as I do.

A gust of wind rattles the brittle grass; softly, the soughing of the breeze resumes.

̶ Marietta, I am Emily.
̶ Like a million other readers!
̶ You think so?
̶ I’m sure of it.
̶ Yes, I suppose so. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how she bewitches us?
̶ It is. When I was seventeen I was quite in love with her. And that feeling has never really diminished. It’s very subtle, the sexual power she exerts, but no less strong for that.
̶ How do you explain it?
̶ The book doesn’t flatter the reader, it guards its secrets. And that, as every woman knows, is an aphrodisiac.
̶ And yet she died a virgin. Unknown.
̶ But not unknowing. She may or may not have loved someone at Law Hill School, but what’s certain is that she loved herself. That’s enough to know the essential.
̶ You think so?
̶ Yes.
̶ I don’t.
̶ My view, Sprague, is this: All the mirroring in the book, the mixing of names and genders, suggests a lesbian consciousness. When you understand the role of Heathcliff, it all becomes clear.

Johann Heinrich Füseli, The Incubus Leaving Two Sleeping Women, 1793

Johann Heinrich Füseli, Portrait of a Young Woman, 1781

̶  So you believe Emily was lesbian?
̶  I’m sure of it.

We cross the border into France.

̶  What makes you so sure?
̶  Wuthering Heights is a book shot through with ambivalence, and driving it all is Emily’s sexuality. She was your age, Sprague—twenty-seven—when she wrote it. And at that age…

Her demonic masterpiece, and my humble haiku.

̶  …all she knew was that she was an oddity. The language didn’t have the resources for her to conceive of herself any other way. ‘Invert’, maybe.
̶  So the tension in the book, it derives from her response to her sexuality?
̶  Yes. It’s an expression of her ambivalence. And all the violence is a sign of her frustration.
̶  At what?
̶  At not being able to affirm herself frankly.

The traffic’s light; you’re pushing one sixty.

̶  ‘I am Heathcliff’: How do you interpret it?
̶  Heathcliff is the cipher of Emily’s homosexuality. The outsider, the alien, the odd one out. He’s Catherine’s double, not her complement.
̶  He embodies her sexuality?
̶  Yes. That strategy of doubling is very lesbian. Catherine and Heathcliff are one and the same.
̶  So when she has to choose between Heathcliff and Edgar Linton…
̶  She has to choose to affirm or deny her homosexuality. She chooses Linton and her world falls apart. The pain of abandoning such a fundamental part of herself kills her.

Staring at the stubbled fields, I suddenly imagine them as golden wheat.

̶  Yes, I see that now. It all makes sense!

I open the Evian.

̶  How could I have missed it before?

I pass you the bottle. When you give it back, I drink a mouthful and find myself savouring it: So this is the taste of transparency.

̶  Did you really see that scene as Catherine confessing to Nelly her dilemma in choosing marriage partners?
̶  Yes, I suppose I did.
̶  You are sentimental, Sprague.
̶  I told you, when I give up haiku, I’m going to write a Harlequin Romance.

In your sly smile I see my future: I don’t have Emily’s genius, I cannot write a novel as vicious as hers. Instead, I will write one that walks the knife-edge of tenderness, and when I’m done something more will remain than the sheen of my blood on the blade.

̶  For every lesbian, that scene with Nelly is perfectly transparent. Catherine is confessing that she’s going to deny her homosexuality, and she’s aware that it’s a fatal mistake. Remember, she says, ‘If all else remained and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger’.
̶  And in rejecting the stranger, she becomes a stranger to herself.
̶  Yes. Without Heathcliff, she loses all sense of who she is. She didn’t die after giving birth to Cathy, she died when she turned her back on Heathcliff.

You’re pushing one-seventy. I caress your cheek with the back of my fingers; you kiss my fingertips.

Johann Heinrich Füseli, The Nightmare, 1790-1791