Growing up in the USA, as a student we were taught Wuthering Heights in English class, and British Literature in general has significantly affected my life growing up. I was often nostalgic for a history that wasn’t technically mine, one that I had only read about in books. This nostalgia and perceived connection meant that I spent years desiring to live in England. Now living in London, I’ve been reflecting on these connections, and as a theatre maker and director these explorations have manifested in a new show called Oh Heroine How I Love You!, where the fictional heroine of my imagined England is interrogated, and that heroine is Cathy.
The deeper the development on the project the more I’ve come to realize that Cathy is special to many people. Yes she can be categorized along with other popular 19th century heroines, but there is something particularly special about Cathy, and also about Emily Brontë.
I began a series of interviews to better understand what is the power that Cathy and Emily hold. Talking with experts at The Brontë Society I was encouraged to think about how we never really get to know Cathy, everything about Cathy is narrated through someone else, as she is not alive during the time the story is being told. This fact is reminiscent of Emily, and how she also left little of her life story in her own words for us today. In both persons there is a mystery, a magnetism, an independence; the tantalizing fact that our interest and approval isn’t why they create. And Emily is one of the authors who when you read her work you are compelled to know her better regardless.
When I asked in interviews what kinds of action have Cathy an Emily inspired in people, I was overwhelmed with the response. Some answers included naming a child Cathy, Heathcliff, and Brontë, making a pilgrimage to the Brontë home, moving to England, becoming a teacher, writer, woman’s rights activist, taking on further academic study, striving to connect with nature, leaving an abusive relationship, and becoming more independent, more honest. These responses came from a survey asking about the impact from all the Brontës, but Emily was the name that got referenced the most, particularly in regards to taking a lifestyle risk.
Emily has proven to be an inspiration for many of the people I’ve come across in my research. Because relatively little is known about her, she, along with Wuthering Heights has become mythic. She exists in the landscape surrounding Haworth, she is there when one feels something so passionately it’s explosive, she’s there when there’s no easy answer, she’s there when the only way forward is to be brave and independent. I value all the Brontë’s and their work, but Emily is the one who haunts me, and gives me as well as many others, the resilience to persevere.