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On the bicentenary of Emily Brontë’s birth, Katherine Clements reviews a new ‘biography with a twist’.
Emily, the elusive Brontë sister, is often portrayed as antisocial, difficult, perhaps even slightly unhinged.
“There were two drivers behind the book,” she tells me.
“The first was the space opened up by Sophie Franklin’s companion title on Charlotte, that aimed to look back at her life and work 200 years after her birth, and I was inspired to do the same with Emily.
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Two centuries of Brontë scholarship have created an inscrutable image of this singular woman; Emily as enigma has become integral to Brontë myth making. “We have next to nothing from Emily Emily – other than her poetry and only novel,” she says.
“We have a void of sorts that readers and fans of the family rightly want to fill; we all want to know Emily better because we can’t fully know her.” In century perspective.
Assertions that, had Emily been alive today, she would have been a passionate environmental and animal rights activist, and that she was indeed a staunch feminist, might ruffle a few feathers, but O’Callaghan makes it very clear that this is conjecture, even while backing up her convincing argument.
I particularly enjoyed the final chapter, which aims to dispel ‘fake news’ stories about Emily.
Another stand out chapter examines onscreen representations of Emily and her work.