Last Things: Emily Brontë's Poems

Last Things: Emily Brontë's Poems

Last Things: Emily Brontë's Poems

Last Things: Emily Brontë's Poems


At present, Emily Bront's poetry is more frequently celebrated than read. Ironically, the very uniqueness of her poems has made them less interesting to current feminist critics than other poems written by Victorian women. Last Thingsseeks to reinstate Emily Bront's poems at the heart of Romantic and Victorian concerns while at the same time underlining their enduring relevance for readers today. It presents the poems as the achievement of a powerfully independent mind responding to her own inner experience of the world and seeking always an abrogation of human limits compatible with a stern morality. It develops Georges Batille's insight that it doesn't matter whether Bront had a mystical experience because she "reached the very essence of such an experience." Although the book does not discuss all of Bront's poems, it seeks to be comprehensive by undertaking an analysis of individual poems, the progress she made from the beginning of her career as a poet to its end, her poetical fragments and her writing practice, and her motives for writing poetry. For admirers ofWuthering Heights,Last Thingswill bring the concerns and methods of the novel into sharper focus by relating them to the poems.


And first an hour of mournful musing
And then a gush of bitter tears
And then a dreary calm diffusing
Its deadly mist o'er joys and cares

And then a throb and then a lightening
And then a breathing from above
And then a star in heaven brightening
The star the glorious star of love

When I edited Emily Brontë's poems for the Penguin English Poets series, I was surprised to discover so many poems and poetical fragments that had the pure cry of genuine poetry, and then to see how little had been written about them. Although Brontë's poems have always had their admirers—Virginia Woolf thought they might outlast Wuthering Heights—they have frequently been criticized as self-indulgent and self-dramatizing, crude and extravagant, or lacking in judgement and finish. Like Emily Dickinson's poems, many have been thought to begin better than they end, but unlike them, they have not been redeemed from neglect as forerunners of high modernism and are unlikely to be. Nor have they been restored to view by feminist critics, who have rehabilitated so much nineteenth-century poetry written by women. In my second chapter, I argue that it is the very uniqueness of Emily Brontë's poems—the justice of Charlotte Brontë's observation that no woman ever wrote poems like those her sister was writing—that makes them less interesting to recent feminist critics than the poems of either Elizabeth Barrett Browning or Mathilde Blind. My book seeks to redress this neglect by offering new ways to read Brontë's poems and new reasons for wanting to read them.

As a writer, Emily Brontë didn't suffer from either an anxiety of influence or an anxiety of authorship. In her poems, she succeeded . . .

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