Emily Brontë, feminism in the Victorian age
Women’s history in the domain of the arts and science, as well as in other domains, has been invisibilized since ancient times. The field of writing has also been a battle arena dominated by men.
Emily Brontë emerged, alongside her sisters, as one of the pillars of Victorian writing. The expansion of the feminist movement has been responsible for giving just recognition to many female figures that history and the patriarchy had tried to erase.
Hence, revealing these details and works that conform to today’s literary heritage, have brought justice to them for the sake of all women. If we take Emily Brontë, for example, we can see that she was no exception. Emily and her sisters, Anne and Charlotte, started off writing by using male pen names. That gave them the chance to write free from taboos which strongly reigned over the conservative Victorian society.
Female writers of that time could not even publish their literary works: they either wrote hiding their true identities (and sex) or were forced to live enclosed and ostracized in their own houses, which was the case for Emily Dickinson, who, famously, from a young age, decided to confine herself in her bedroom.
Emily Brontë: hidden feminism in “male” writing
Having the analysis of feminist writing hidden behind male pen names as a goal, it is imperious to investigate these pen names more thoroughly, because we can find behind them the most prodigious and outstanding women writers from the XIXth century.
These women, who were glossed over in the artistic scene of their time just for being women, had to become male writers (in the name) to achieve and accomplish their creative endeavours without fear of retaliation and rejection from their social milieu and community.
As for the Brontë sisters, the pen names under which they published their works were Currer Bell and Ellis Bell. Under these names, they succeeded in publishing their first novels. Emily, the author of “Wuthering Heights” was Ellis Bell, while Charlotte Brontë was Currer Bell: her masterpiece was “Jane Eyre”, which was published in 1874. As for Anne Brontë, she wrote under the name Acton Bell.
The characters created in each of the Brontë sisters’ novels reflected strong, brave and independent women who experienced passionate love stories. They portrayed abuse, domestic violence, alcoholism and everyday life negotiations which were subjects that were not allowed for women to explore in literature, as it was frowned upon. The Brontë sisters were Avant-Garde and wrote about the things nobody dared to write about. They made visible what many people would have prefered remained invisible.
In “Wuthering Heights” Emily Brontë not only portrays the ever-unrequited love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff but, also sheds light on the crossroads of violence and abuse. She describes a new type of masculinity, unheard of in her time and with her poetic words manages to describe the impunity which graces the powerful and the selfish, who never get what they deserve, and who certainly never show any signs of remorse or regret.
“If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.” Emily Brontë - Wuthering Heights
These villains without morals become then the centre of her critique – especially targeting the patriarchal society and the Victorian laws of marriage.
The nature of her characters alongside her narrative prowess and the structure of the piece, which aligns with protofeminist views, make Emily Brontë a radical female writer who even today, two hundred years after her death, keeps captivating audiences with her work.