Having watched To Walk Invisible the BBC’s dramatized life of the Brontë sisters I was struck anew by the force of Emily Brontë’s poetry, the words given life force through the power of the voice that spoke them – so much more immediate than merely reading from a page. Even more extraordinary is to consider how these works were produced – at the dining room table in between housekeeping and caring duties.
What I enjoyed about this view of the Brontës is that it allowed them – even through their immortality – to look cold, wet and ordinary beings. 19th century Yorkshire anyone? We do not really know what they were like. What they had to cope with. How they related to one another. We can only imagine and the programme imagines very well.
Juliet Barker says in her introduction to her biography of the siblings The Brontës:
“The known facts of their lives could be written on a single sheet of paper. Their letters, diary papers and drawings would not fill two dozen.”
Not, then, a treasure trove of autobiographical materials. It is for this reason that seekers after the facts look to the Brontë’s fiction to shed light on their own lives. Did they write to reproduce their own difficulties on paper? I imagine not. They wrote to escape all the many shackles, financial, physical, social, with which they were faced. But even more I imagine they wrote because they could.
And not at any other time has a single family produced three such literary giants
The single, gloriously romantic, shot of Heathcliff outlined against the stormy moorland included offered a huge contrast to the very unromantic and – in the case of three of the siblings – disastrously short lives that were the subject of the drama.