Did you know that the Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, wrote and published a book of poetry that sold only two copies? Though well reviewed, the book flopped. Even when they did achieve literary success, it came under male pseudonyms, and reviews after they were outed as females took a nosedive.
Yet Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre remain two of the greatest and best-loved novels in history.
The Bronte sisters wrote together, and we can imagine them bouncing their ideas off of one another, but they also wrote wildly. Their stories were too “improper” to be written by women. Yet they couldn’t help themselves. In their regular walks along the Yorkshire moors, strolling through thigh-high fields of heather, they captured the passion and raw fury of winds and rain and exposure, stamping unforgettable settings and emotion in their work. They wrote true to their natures, and their boldness has kept their novels in the public ever since.
Recently I had the great privilege to walk the moors the Bronte sisters once did. I visited the home where they made history, looking at their tiny clothes (including Charlotte’s wedding bonnet) and pondering their lives. Of course, I came home with a stack of books to learn more about them. As always, it helped me as a writer to literally walk their path. A hike to Top Withens, said to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights, brought the stories more deeply into my bones.
I don’t pretend to even come close to the skill of these authors. I do know, though, as I walk along the moors, absorbing the life and strength they emanate, I am adding to the files of my imagination. The Bronte ghosts tell me they, too, were merely human, and struggled to balance their unusual writing styles with the marketplace of the time. Their struggles are different, but we understand each other. I return to my own work renewed and inspired to continue.