I remember I lingered somewhat long over the schooldays at Cowan Bridge and that I found the Brussels period dull; M. Heger struck me as a tiresome pedant, and I wondered how Charlotte could ever have put up with him. There was a great deal about Branwell that I could not understand at all, and so forgot. And I skipped all the London part, and Charlotte’s literary letters. I had a very vague idea of Charlotte apart from Haworth and the moors, from the Parsonage and the tombstones, from Tabby and Martha and the little black cat that died, from the garden where she picked the currants, and the quiet rooms where she wrote her wonderful, wonderful books.
But, for all that skipping and forgetting, there stood out a vivid and ineffaceable idea of Emily; Emily who was tall and strong and unconquerable; Emily who loved animals, and loved the moors; Emily and Keeper, that marvellous dog; Emily kneading bread with her book propped before her; Emily who was Ellis Bell, listening contemptuously to the reviews of Wuthering Heights; Emily stitching at the long seam with dying fingers; and Emily dead, carried down the long, flagged path, with Keeper following in the mourners’ train.
And, all through, an invisible, intangible presence, something mysterious, but omnipotently alive; something that excited these three sisters; something that atoned, that not only consoled for suffering and solitude and bereavement, but that drew its strength from these things; something that moved in this book like the soul of it; something that they called “genius”.
Now that, as truly as I can set it down, is the impression conveyed to a child’s mind by Mrs. Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Bronte. And making some deductions for a child’s morbid attraction to tombstones, and a child’s natural interest in children, it seems to me even now that this innocent impression is the true one. It eliminates the inessential and preserves the proportions; above all, it preserves the figure of Emily Bronte, solitary and unique.
Anyhow, I have never been able to get away from it.
THE KEY TO THE BRONTE WORKS
More than once Mr. Malham-Dembleby has approached us with his mysterious “Key”. There was his “Key to Jane Eyre”, published in the Saturday Review in 1902; there was his “Lifting of the Bronte Veil”, published in the Fortnightly Review in 1907; and there was the correspondence that followed. Now he has gathered all his evidence together into one formidable book, and we are faced with what he calls his “miraculous and sensational” discovery that it was Charlotte and not Emily Bronte who wrote Wuthering Heights, and that in Wuthering Heights she immortalized the great tragic passion of her life, inspired by M. Heger, who, if you please, is Heathcliff.
This is Mr. Malham-Dembleby’s most important contribution to the subject. M. Heger, Mr. Malham-Dembleby declares, was Heathcliff before he was M. Pelet, or Rochester, or M. Paul. And as it was Charlotte and not Emily who experienced passion, Charlotte alone was able to immortalize it.