Thursday, 15 May 2014

Emily Brontë Her Life and Work by Muriel Spark and Derek Stanford - part I

This book I bought in a book shop with second hand books in Haworth. The other items connected to the Brontës that I bought you see below; book marks and a BBC version of Wuthering Heights from the 60s. I remember seeing the series on TV. After that, nobody portrayed Heathcliff as well as Ian McShane! Can't remember much of it to be honest and so far I have only seen part 1. So far so good. I think this is the most true account of Emily's book.

My purchases

I have just finished the book I bought.  The first part is about the life of Emily written by Muriel Spark and the second part a critical review of Emily's poem and Wuthering Heights written by Derek Stanford. It turns out to be a rather long post so I divide it into two. To start with the first part, there is not much there that I did not already know, but there is an interesting discussion in the end about Emily's relationships with people and the way it is interpreted through her writing. I quote Muriel Spark:

"One thing strikes one about Emily Brontë's relationship with people: she had no apparent desire for any company outside her family, and in particular, Anne. This may be evidence of her single-minded absorption in her work. But she did not therefore have an opportunity to realise her potentiality for the type of love she did understand, and which is apparent in her poems and in Wuthering Heights. It is a type of love peculiar to the natural celibate, and is a relationship which the current usage of the term 'Platonic' does not altogether describe. it is not a passionless friendship. It is a passionate and in many ways mystical union; and is described in early writings to the effect that the individuals are so closely united that they share as it were a single soul, without losing personal identity not a common state, but not a freakish one.
From the evidence of the love relationships which Emily depicts in her work, it appears that this was the type of love she could understand. In Wuthering Heights, of course, there is no conjoining Absolute to give us the sense that Cathy and Heathcliff are involved in any system more significant than each other. To that extent they appear as lost souls. Most likely, the only type of love she could have become personally engaged in, was that of a mystical union, but she was unlikely to find a celibate soul-mate at Haworth, indeed she did not look. Desire, either to possess or to be desired by, another of such nature, is not the motive of this type of union. Desire for the Absolute, which Emily possessed in passionate quantity, is seen as the motive. In an earlier age, Emily Brontë would most possibly have thrived in a convent. ...
To a post-Freudian age, it is difficult to convey, without giving rise to scepticism, the nature of the type of celibate it is suggested Emily was, in the context of the term 'passion' which rightly adheres to her name. The most precise definition might be that she was a passionate celibate; (and it should be clear that a frustrated spinster is not meant). So far as this affected her life, it is unlikely that Emily would have been an 'unfulfilled' woman. The later dissatisfaction and disintegration in her life, arose from her shift of apprehension of the Absolute; she shifted it from an objective, to a subjective position. She became her own Absolute; so that she would be forced to expend passion, adoration, worship, contemplation, on herself - a destructive process, since sources of replenishment are not self-generated. ...
To the extent that she universalised every relationship between man and woman which she touched, she was unrealistic. But her genius was most positively manifest, in its most distinctive forms, when she offered these universalised forms of love. "I am Heathcliff" cries Cathy in Wuthering Heights, the proposition may not appeal to us, for the reasons already described: the lovers are not really significant enough, they have not the magnitude, to convince us that such a rare relationship is in any way justified; for they have no purpose beyond their mutual love, to measure by. However, Cathy's is a definitive statement; the men and women in Emily's work are apt to meet each other on the grounds of passionate mutual identity, which excludes sexual union: we are not told this, but it is a generally observed fact that Emily's men and women appear to be 'sexless'."

It is all very interesting and gives, at least me, another view on Wuthering Heights. With the criticism of Derek Stanford, which I will continue in a part II, we will hear more about the mysticism and stoicism in Emily's writing. Stanford is rather critical which gives another angle on her writing.

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