No coward soul…

I am the only being whose doom
No tongue would ask, no eye would mourn;
I never caused a thought of gloom,
A smile of joy, since I was born.

Oh Emily Brontë – how wrong you are! I don’t know if this poem of yours is autobiographical or not, but you really have caused many smiles of joy and thoughts of gloom, and all sorts of other feelings, since you were born 200 years ago on 30 July 1818 in West Yorkshire.

image_proxyThink how many people have swooned over Heathcliff – surely the ultimate Byronic hero – and been captivated by the passion and strangeness of Wuthering Heights, Emily’s only published novel. It is in many ways a brutal and nasty book, considered shocking when it was first published in 1847, but has stood the test of time to be considered one of the greatest novels in the English language.

Emily is also known for her intense, intellectual poetry, although reading ‘I am the only being whose doom‘ has made feel a tad bit gloomy. In her isolated, seemingly lonely life, did she really feel that she had to keep her emotions under control because they were corrupting her? Or has she created a narrator to explore her thoughts around emotions and the need to be loved? We’ll never know, for Emily Brontë is so very elusive, perhaps the most mysterious of her incredible family.

She is also a canvas on which other authors have speculated – both about her life and about some of the gaps in Wuthering Heights.

I don’t really know how comfortable Emily would be with all this continued attention, but I hope she knows that she’s appreciated the world over. We’ll certainly be remembering her on her birthday and her wonderful way with words. I’ll leave you with this quote I love from Chapter 9 of Wuthering Heights:

I’ve dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas: they’ve gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind.

Do you have any favourite Emily Brontë poems or quotes or Heathcliffs?

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Happy birthday, Emily Brontë

Cover of Wuthering HeightsOh Emily. Your creations and their goings-on out on that moor have captured the imaginations of millions of women everywhere. And more than a few men I guess, although I’ve never met one.

You only lived for thirty years but Cathy and Heathcliff (and Linton and Isabella and Edgar and Hareton and Nelly) are immortal.

Even your possessions still fascinate.

Here’s to you, and to Wuthering Heights, and thanks for one of my favourite books.

“The whited air”- books about snow

I suspect Emily Brontë was a smidgen overwrought when she described snow as “O transient voyager of heaven! O silent sign of winter skies!” but Yorkshire and consumption can make one edgy, and really I’m sure we’d all agree, snow is rather cool (pun!).

We all hanker for snow in my household  even the pathetic dusting Christchurch receives; a day off school/work and the opportunity to stoically trudge around the back garden in a doomed but gutsy manner à la Robert Scott. Ah yes, a little flurry of the white stuff transforms our city, and it certainly adds instant atmosphere to any book.

And there is a surprising number of books which feature snow, either in the title or content:

  • Miss Smilla’s feeling for snow by Peter Høeg- published to great acclaim in 1992, this is a  fantastically strange literary mystery. With its part Inuit heroine and setting in Copenhagen and Greenland, this is the ultimate in snow-flakey fiction.
  • Snow falling on cedars by David Guterson- another literary mystery, this time set on the Washington State coast in 1954. A  local farmer of Japanese descent is being tried for murder, and while the worst snow for decades falls on the courthouse, the local town is burning with prejudice.
  • Snow by Orhan Pamuk- set in Turkey on the Armenian and Georgian border, the central character Ka, a poet, arrives as the snow begins to fall. Ka gets drawn into the local political tension between secularists and Islamists. The conflict between traditional and modern Turkey is controversially explored in this snow titled novel.
  • White Fang/ Call of the wild by Jack London– companion novels and classic tales set in the deep snow of Yukon Territory, Canada and featuring noble animals and feral humans.
  • The snow tourist by Charlie English- we are all familiar with the concept of eccentric, solar toupee clad Brits exploring the hotter parts of  the globe. Instead, Charlie English, associate editor at the Guardian, dons thermals to find ” the world’s purest, deepest snowfall”. He pays visits to Northern Canada, the Alps, Vermont, Syracuse and even Scotland to see the snow and delivers snow-lore and a multitude of snow facts.
  • The people’s act of love by James Meek- Siberia post -1919 revolution and a convict escaping from the northern most gulag is captured by a renegade Austrian army unit. Throw in a beautiful widow, a religious cult and the seriously inhospitable climate et voilà, a Man Booker nomination.
  • Let the right one in by John Ajvide Lindqvist- a Scandinavian vampire tale and reviewed on this blog last year. Our perspicacious reviewer Mo-mo noted its ” icy Swedish settings”, adding “if you’re looking for something a little different from your run-of-the-mill fang-tastic potboiler, Let the right one in might be just the thing”.
  • The worst journey in the world: Antartica, 1910-1913 by Apsley Cherry-Garrard- survivor of Robert Falcon Scott’s disastrous expedition to Antarctica, Cherry-Garrard’s first hand account is considered a chilly classic.