Wuthering Heights is one of the most respected and disturbing novels in literary history. Emily Bronte‘s story of soul mates, violence, and strict class distinctions has kept readers coming back for more for multiple generations.
In the late 1780s, Heathcliff is the son of an unknown lascar (a sailor from the then British colonies who made their living by working on European ships). Taken in by Mr. Earnshaw, a landowner from Yorkshire, he is immediately labeled as an outsider. Though he tries to remain true to his Indian roots, it creates an even bigger chasm between himself and the family he has been brought into.
Catherine is the younger Earnshaw child. From an early age, she knows what her future will be: marry a man of appropriate stature (and wealth) and bear his children. Even if it means hiding her true nature in the process and slowly dying inside.
Though they appear to be completely different on the surface, they have a bond that is deep and unbreakable. When Catherine’s father dies, everything changes, and not for the better. The cruel treatment that Heathcliff receives goes from 0 to 60 the minute that his adopted father is in the ground.
The question is, will they be themselves and build a life together? Or will they give into the expectations of the greater society around them?
I was blown away by this book. It is one of my favorite books that I have read this year. Using Bronte’s original as source material, Suri takes the narrative in new directions. While delving into colonialism, racism, gender lines, and the strict class structure of the period, she gives the reader new insights into the characters. Like its sister novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, the world expands beautifully beyond the original text.
Most of it takes place in the three years after Catherine says that she cannot marry Heathcliff. While she is flirting with the idea of marrying Edgar Linton, he is doing everything he can to make his name and his fortune. Even if that means getting involved with some shady characters.
If I had to choose a favorite part of the book, it is when Hindley (Catherine’s brother) stops being a drunken brute for a minute and reveals secrets that their father would have preferred to remain buried.
My only warning is that I recommend reading Bronte’s original novel first.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
What Souls Are Made Of: A Wuthering Heights Remix is available wherever books are sold.
The trailer forEmily was released earlier this week. Written and directed by Frances O’Connor, Emma Mackey stars in the lead role as the mysterious and rebellious author.
The movie is about Emily’s life and her supposed romance with William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). William was a local curate who was a friend of the Bronte family and if the narrative of the film is true, interested in Emily romantically.
I got Becoming Jane vibes while watching the trailer. Both Bronte and Weightman died young, leaving it up to conjecture as to the truth about their relationship. Bronte fans and academics have long believed that it was Anne, not Emily, who Weightman was in love with.
Only time will tell if it is true to what we know about Bronte or if it is based on unsubstantiated rumors. Either way, I look forward to seeing it.
Emily will be released in Canada and Europe in the next few months. The release date for the United States has not been announced yet, but it will likely occur sometime next year.
Over the centuries, women have been portrayed as many things: the innocent victim who is in need of rescue, the slut, the man-hater, the marriage-minded miss, etc. The problem with these images is that they are 2-D and without room to grow beyond the boxed-in perception. The only way to smash these stereotypes is to allow us to tell our own stories from our perspective.
This book is a classic for a reason. Forty-plus years after its initial publication, it is as relevant today as it was back then. Their theory that women writers have a greater insight and ability to create 3D fully human characters as opposed to the typecast idea of females that some male writers have can still be seen today on both the page and the screen.
A good biopic does more than lay out the basic facts about the life and work of the subject(s). It brings that story and the subject(s) to life, creating a connection between the audience and the characters.
There are certain cultural shorthands that we all know, even if we are unaware of the deeper context of the specific reference. When we talk about Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, he is symbolic of a romantic ideal that many aspire to, even if that aspiration is far from reality.
I loved this book. The author creates a nice balance of academic authority and adoring fandom without veering too heavily in either direction. It was a fascinating deep dive into this man who has become both a romantic icon and a character type for many a romantic male lead since 1813.
When Patrick Bronte died in 1861, he was the last surviving member of his immediate family. Outliving his wife and all six of his children, his legacy would have faded into history if not for the extraordinary books of his three youngest daughters.
Though history tells us that Patrick died without any descendants, author Catherine Lowell asks what if someone living today could claim otherwise. In her 2016 book, The Madwoman Upstairs, Samantha Whipple is an American woman raised in Boston who can make this kind of statement. Raised by her late unconventional father after her parent’s divorce, many believe that she has access to a treasure trove of previously unseen materials created by her ancestors. But Samantha has no knowledge of these artifacts and believes them to be fiction. When she enrolls at Oxford University, clues begin to confirm that what Samantha believes to myth is fact. Working with a handsome professor who she gets along with like oil and water, the mystery of her birthright starts to reveal itself.
I loved the first half of the book. There are plenty of Easter eggs to please the most ardent of Bronte fans. I will warn that the reader should go into the novel with at least some knowledge of their life and work. Otherwise many of the details of the plot will go over their heads. The problem is the second half. The unraveling of the truth is not as exciting as it could be. Neither is “romance” between Samantha and her professor. The sisters are known for heart pounding, blood pumping sexuality (Charlotte and Emily to be specific. Anne‘s novels are not as highly charged in that manner). There is no chemistry between the characters, nor do I believe that in their happily ever after.
It takes a brave or naïve person (or both) to step out of the boundaries that the world around them has created. This person knows that when they start to think for themselves, there is a potential firestorm of naysayers and finger pointing. But they do it anyway.
I loved this book. The artwork is beautiful, the description of the subjects are beautifully written. It made we want to learn more about these women and continue to work towards the day when my writing will be as good and inspiring as theirs.
Among Bronte fans, Lydia Robinson is seen as a controversial figure. Employing both Anne and Branwell as a governess and a tutor respectively, Lydia appeared to dutifully follow the rules of both gender and class that ruled women of the Victorian era. She was also having an alleged affair with Branwell. Bronte’s Mistress, the debut novel by Finola Austin, gives Lydia the voice that fans of the Bronte’s have yet to hear.
I’m looking forward to the novel and I am thrilled that Finola will be answering a few questions.
AB: What drew you to the Brontes and more specifically, Lydia’s story?
FA: I have always loved Victorian literature. I grew up reading the novels of writers such as Charles Dickens, the Brontes, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy, and studied Classics & English as an undergraduate at the University of Oxford. I then stayed on at Oxford to complete a Masters in English Literature, 1800-1914. My dissertation was on the works of Victorian sensation novelists Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Wilkie Collins, but I also wrote an essay on student/teacher attraction in the novels of Charlotte Bronte as part of my graduate studies.
I was drawn to Lydia’s story in 2016 when I finally read Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Bronte (the first Bronte biography). It was a book I’d been meaning to read for a very long time. Gaskell describes Lydia as a “profligate woman,” who “tempted” Branwell into sin. I was enthralled by the scandal and controversy (Lydia threatened to sue Gaskell for libel), as well as by the Bronte connection. I just knew this was a story I had to tell.
AB: When did you read your first Bronte novel and what was your impression of that first book?
FA: My first Bronte novel was Jane Eyre and it was read to me by my mother, when I was pretty young—I’d guess I was seven or eight at the time? I loved the book, especially the early sections set during Jane’s horrific schooldays. But, even as a child, I had questions. I didn’t think I’d have been as good as Jane, refusing to live in sin with Rochester, and I thought Jane was very judgmental, especially of Blanche Ingram. Wasn’t she just trying to make her own way as Jane was?
AB: Do you have a favorite Bronte novel?
FA: Jane Eyre is probably still my favorite, though I also love Charlotte’s Villette.
AB: You spent a year researching the novel. Can you describe your experience with the research and how that changed your impression of the characters along the way?
FA: My full research process is detailed in my Author’s Note at the end of my novel, so no spoilers here, but I will say it was extensive. A huge focus was understanding the lives of Lydia’s servants better, and this was an area where my research went beyond a lot of what has been done by Bronte scholars through the years. The most fun part of my research was visiting Yorkshire. I found it quite emotional to see the graves of many of the Robinson family and their neighbors, and to visit the Monk’s House, the building where Branwell once slept.
My research gave me a much fuller understanding of my characters. For the servants, it told me what roles they played in Thorp Green Hall, who their loved ones were, and what happened to them after the disbandment of the Robinson household. When it comes to Lydia, in my work in the archives of the Bronte Parsonage Museum, I held 1) an inventory of her furniture, allowing me to picture the objects that surrounded her; 2) eighteen letters in her hand, giving me her distinctive sign-off, “yours very truly,” which I use throughout the book; and 3) her husband’s accounts book, which is important to the plot of my novel.
AB: The hardest thing for a historical novel to do is to balance the history with the fictional narrative. How did you stay true to the history of your subjects while making the story palatable for modern readers?
FA: Bronte’s Mistress, unlike many historical novels, has a very quiet backdrop—this is rural Yorkshire, not Dickensian London. Wars and politics are distant concerns to the Robinsons and their peers. This makes the balancing act of history and narrative a little easier than if I was writing characters on a grand historical stage.
Bronte’s Mistress is also written in first person, so I hope Lydia’s voice is what readers find compelling. Through it, we can cut through the formalities of Victorian middle-class existence and get to what’s human, timeless and universal—the voice inside us.
AB: Did you have any expectations about Lydia when you started the research or were you open to whatever information you were able to locate?
FA: I held myself to a very high standard, when it came to the accuracy of my story. By that I mean that everything that happens in Bronte’s Mistress is something I think could have happened, based on all the facts currently at our disposal. Where the fiction piece comes in is in exploring what characters thought, felt and said. What I was looking for when researching the novel was dramatic possibility. I searched for the places that the historical record was silent and looked to create something beautiful in that void.
AB: How do you think Bronte fans will react to your novel?
FA: I hope fellow Bronte fans will discover the more subtle references to the works of all three Bronte sisters in my novel! These were fun to include and are little Easter eggs for you. I also think they’ll be excited to see Branwell and Anne, the overlooked siblings, foregrounded in this novel. Their time at Thorp Green Hall was very important to both of them—to Branwell’s deteriorating mental state and to Anne’s development as a talented novelist.
AB: If you were casting the movie version of the book, which actors would you ideally cast?
FA: This is a question I can never answer. My characters are like real people to me in my mind, so they don’t resemble actors (though of course I’d be thrilled to see them portrayed on screen!). One thing I do know is I that I would want an actor of the right age to be cast as Lydia. Lydia is forty-three at the start of my novel, and forty-eight by the end. She’s not the typical historical fiction heroine, who seems to be rarely older than twenty-one! There’s such a problem with women actors disappearing from the film industry when they’re deemed “too old” to be the romantic lead, but “too young” to be the matriarch. I think this would be a fantastic role for an actress in this, all too often, invisible decade.
AB: In your novel, Lydia Robinson could be interpreted is a more empathetic or even feminist character than Bronte lore implies. Was this your intention or did her character change as you were writing and researching?
FA: Lydia is no saint. She’s flawed—by turns, self-centered, petty, and oblivious to the emotions of those around her. And, even if in some ways she’s a feminist, straining against the strictures of nineteenth-century womanhood, she’s definitely a “bad feminist.” She is classist; she pretends to be against slavery for attention at a dinner party; and she is horrified when another character tells her they are attracted to people of the same sex. But, despite all of this, I hope that readers can have empathy for Lydia and her impossible situation. She’s been raised to do one thing—marry and produce children. She’s done that and she’s facing the question “now what?” Her husband is cold and uncaring. She has no recourse to divorce. She’s doomed to a life without sex, freedom, or excitement. I see Bronte’s Mistress as an exploration of the extreme claustrophobia of upper middle-class women’s lives in the period, and of the ways many women perpetrated misogyny, while also suffering from the consequences of it themselves.
AB: This is your first published novel. What advice do you have for aspiring novelists?
FA: Read constantly and critically. Join a writing group for feedback. Write an outline. Don’t use filter words. Finish the books you start.