Emily Bronte with Anne in To Walk Invisible

Celebrating Emily Brontë At Christmas

This week saw a very sad anniversary for Brontë lovers, as the 19th of December marked the 171st anniversary of the death, aged 30, of Emily Brontë. The last weeks of her life were traumatic, especially for her family, and as Charlotte said of her, ‘She died in a time of promise’. Let us not remember the details of her passing however, but instead concentrate on her life and her work – for they were truly brilliant.

Those who knew Emily paid testament to the fact that, even though she was painfully shy, she was tremendously kind-hearted. Today we can get to know Emily through her work, and whether it was painting, poetry or prose it was universally fantastic. Emily, like her sisters and brother, was a more than proficient artist, so I’ve used some of her art to illustrate this post, including this picture of Nero, the hawk she rescued from the moors and nursed back to health:

"Nero, body of a merlin" by Emily Bronte
“Nero, body of a Merlin” by Emily Bronte

You may have noticed that we are rapidly approaching Christmas! Time really does fly, but whilst technology is changing every aspect of our world it’s nice to know that some traditions remain, especially during this festive period. That means that some of the activities that the Brontës would have enjoyed at this time of year, from pudding making to carol singing, remain today.

'Keeper from life' by Emily Bronte
“Keeper from life” by Emily Bronte

On Christmas day itself I will have a special post that will, as has become my blogging tradition, finish with Anne Brontë’s own Christmas words, but it will also include a celebration of something which was only invented in the Brontës’ lifetime – the Christmas card. I know that many of you will be too busy on the big day itself to spend time on the net, so today’s post is finishing with a Christmas theme too, this time courtesy of Emily.

Flossy by Emily Bronte
Flossy by Emily Bronte, her portrait of Anne’s spaniel

If I won’t get the chance to say it to you on Wednesday I will say it now: Merry Yule and Happy Christmas (oh and Happy Hanukkah to those who are celebrating that today as well)! If you’re spending it with your family, friends and loved ones – have a joyous one; if you’re on your own, turn to the company of a great book and have a glass of something nice. Treat yourself – you deserve it! We close this post with a look at Christmas day celebrations from Wuthering Heights, and we can think of how Emily Brontë and her siblings must have witnessed similar events every year at that parsonage in Haworth. I must go now, I think I can hear the approach of the Gimmerton band:

“The little party recovered its equanimity at sight of the fragrant feast. They were hungry after their ride, and easily consoled, since no real harm had befallen them. Mr. Earnshaw carved bountiful platefuls, and the mistress made them merry with lively talk. I waited behind her chair, and was pained to behold Catherine, with dry eyes and an indifferent air, commence cutting up the wing of a goose before her. ‘An unfeeling child,’ I thought to myself; ‘how lightly she dismisses her old playmate’s troubles. I could not have imagined her to be so selfish.’ She lifted a mouthful to her lips: then she set it down again: her cheeks flushed, and the tears gushed over them. She slipped her fork to the floor, and hastily dived under the cloth to conceal her emotion. I did not call her unfeeling long; for I perceived she was in purgatory throughout the day, and wearying to find an opportunity of getting by herself, or paying a visit to Heathcliff, who had been locked up by the master: as I discovered, on endeavouring to introduce to him a private mess of victuals.

In the evening we had a dance. Cathy begged that he might be liberated then, as Isabella Linton had no partner: her entreaties were vain, and I was appointed to supply the deficiency. We got rid of all gloom in the excitement of the exercise, and our pleasure was increased by the arrival of the Gimmerton band, mustering fifteen strong: a trumpet, a trombone, clarionets, bassoons, French horns, and a bass viol, besides singers. They go the rounds of all the respectable houses, and receive contributions every Christmas, and we esteemed it a first-rate treat to hear them. After the usual carols had been sung, we set them to songs and glees. Mrs. Earnshaw loved the music, and so they gave us plenty.

Tree by Emily Bronte
Tree by Emily Bronte (unfortunately she didn’t draw a Christmas tree)

Catherine loved it too: but she said it sounded sweetest at the top of the steps, and she went up in the dark: I followed. They shut the house door below, never noting our absence, it was so full of people. She made no stay at the stairs’-head, but mounted farther, to the garret where Heathcliff was confined, and called him. He stubbornly declined answering for a while: she persevered, and finally persuaded him to hold communion with her through the boards. I let the poor things converse unmolested, till I supposed the songs were going to cease, and the singers to get some refreshment: then I clambered up the ladder to warn her. Instead of finding her outside, I heard her voice within. The little monkey had crept by the skylight of one garret, along the roof, into the skylight of the other, and it was with the utmost difficulty I could coax her out again. When she did come, Heathcliff came with her, and she insisted that I should take him into the kitchen, as my fellow-servant had gone to a neighbour’s, to be removed from the sound of our ‘devil’s psalmody,’ as it pleased him to call it. I told them I intended by no means to encourage their tricks: but as the prisoner had never broken his fast since yesterday’s dinner, I would wink at his cheating Mr. Hindley that once. He went down: I set him a stool by the fire, and offered him a quantity of good things: but he was sick and could eat little, and my attempts to entertain him were thrown away. He leant his two elbows on his knees, and his chin on his hands and remained rapt in dumb meditation. On my inquiring the subject of his thoughts, he answered gravely—‘I’m trying to settle how I shall pay Hindley back. I don’t care how long I wait, if I can only do it at last. I hope he will not die before I do!’”

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2 thoughts on “Celebrating Emily Brontë At Christmas”

  1. Fascinating – amazing- love the pictures by Emily and the final quote from Heathcliffe. He certainly achieved his aim.

    Have a wonderful Christmas.

  2. Nick, many blessings to you and yours this yuletide. I so enjoy reading these little Brönte snippets and transport myself on the winds of your words into their lives as if it were happening today. The drawings of the various animals are truly delightful and Emily’s way with words knits one to the page. Thanks again, and be well in every breath.
    In Appreciation
    Zanna

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