Five things you may not know about Emily Brontë:
1. She was the fifth of six children born to an Irish clergyman educated at Cambridge. Her mother, along with the two eldest children, died before Emily was eight years old, leaving Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne to grow into adulthood. All four children were writers and had stories and poems published, with varying degrees of success, during and after their lives.
2. Charlotte, Emily's older sister, based the title character in her novel, Shirley, on what she imagined Emily might have been with money and health.
3. Emily was the most rebellious of the sisters and refused to wear a corset or petticoat.
4. She did not want to publish, preferring her writing to be kept to herself. It was only after her sisters' insistence that she agreed to publish under a pseudonym.
5. Emily was once bitten by a salivating dog. She went into the kitchen and cauterised the wound herself with a red-hot poker to avoid infection. She told none of the family of the incident until after it had healed.
In history, nothing is certain. History is as much about the unreliability and bias of its documentation, as it is about the facts.
Emily Bronte has proved a popular figure in historical speculation. Almost nothing remains of her, except for a multitude of poems, a few sketches, two brief letters, a few diary papers, and a novel: one of the most popular and famous novels in the English canon - Wuthering Heights.
This wild Yorkshire girl has been mythologised, scandalised, and plagiarised. She has been called a lesbian, a mystic, and a hermit. The book she is famous for has been described as blasphemous, debase, and a work of genius. There are biographies, films, and plays published continuously on the subject of her and her family. Who was she, and how does an actor begin to fill the shoes of this literary giant?
Was she quiet and sombre? Is it true that, as her brother, Branwell, is quoted to have said, she never laughed? Was she dreamy and light, or full of earth and strength? Was she graceful, or boyish and awkward? Actors are good at categorising their characters, wanting a perfect, black and white picture of dark or light, soft or loud, introverted or extroverted. But the truth usually lies somewhere in between. People are full of contradictions. They play different roles for different people. What is in their soul, and how they behave in a room full of strangers, can be entirely hypocritical or juxtaposed.
Historians can argue it out, but the truth is, unless there is a rare and unexpected discovery, no one will ever know the truth. It remains to the actor to study as much as they can, and then be true to their own instinct and the story of the play.
I have never played a historical figure before. It is a sobering thought that in a Haworth church thousands of kilometers away lays the body of this person, a real person, who lived and breathed as I do now. I can't help but feel that she would have argued strongly against her life being played out on the stage. I hope that if I ever meet her in the other world, she will understand...
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot know, courage to know the things I can...hang on, was Emily a believer...?
An uncanny resemblance?
Stay tuned for more episodes of the Bronte blog over the next few days.
Kathryn Marquet (Emily Brontë)