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Portrait of Emily Bronte as a Young Artist

By Lori Perkins

Emily opens today, a feature film about the life of Emily Bronte who we all know wrote Withering Heights and died at 30. Sister to Charlotte Bronte, author of Jane Eyre, books we all read in high school-for many of us the first real encounter with female novelists held in equally high esteem to the many, many male writers we had already read.

So I was interested to see if there was depth to her life that I had missed. I did remember reading that a hand-written collection of original poems of the Bronte sisters sold a few years ago for over a million pounds, but I think that was the last of recent Bronte news that I could recall.

Emily is obviously a movie made from the director’s passion for the author, her family and, I would imagine, the book she wrote. The director and writer, Frances O’Connor, is an Australian actress (who appeared in the 1999 production of Mansfield Park).

The movie opens with Emily on her deathbed as older sister Charlotte looks at multiple author copies of Wuthering Heights by her bedside and asks her how she wrote her novel. The movie unfolds, spiraling through an entirely fictional relationship between Emily and the assistant curate of the parsonage her father led. In real life, it is surmised that this William Weightman might have been involved with youngest Bronte sister Anne, but in this film he is Emily’s secret lover and obvious inspiration for Heathcliff, amid lots of pouring rain and moody running through the moors. It’s beautifully shot, and quite riveting, once you get through the first half hour.

Wightman dies of Cholera, and then Emily’s beloved, bad-boy brother also dies. She writes Wuthering Heights, we can assume in reaction to all the loss, and then succumbs to weather-related death herself (as does Anne the same year, but that’s not in this film). On her deathbed, she finally answers Charlotte, who is portrayed as much more popular, and very jealous of her sister’s talents. Emily tells her in answer to her question about how she wrote her book, “to live and be a fool,” which is something Charlotte often said to her.

After Emily dies, we see Charlotte put pen to paper, and burn her sister’s poems, which Emily had requested she do on her deathbed (but not all of them, as could be seen by the aforementioned sale.) Charlotte ended up being keeper and storyteller of the family’s literary reputation, which may be why we know so little about Emily.

So, not an inspiring story about love and women writers, but certainly a captivating look into a dysfunctional literary family. For me, well worth the watch.


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