Thursday, March 09, 2006

The weaver's son

The title of our post could pass as the title for a novel, couldn't it? Well, what we hear these days (though it was previously reported in the March 2005 issue of Brontë Studies) is the debate triggered by Sarah Fermi's theory that Emily Brontë might have been seeing one Robert Clayton, a Haworth weaver's son before the year 1837, when he died.

Sarah from the Brontë List wrote to let us know that this morning Juliet Barker - author of The Brontës - and Sarah Fermi - author-to-be of new book Emily's Journal - heatedly debated the question in the BBC's Woman's Hour. Fortunately it can be played time and time again through their website. (Real player required. Duration of approximately 10 minutes). Listen to it if you can, it's really worth it.

We will give Ms Fermi the benefit of the doubt, only hoping this all won't be a blunder like Virginia Moore's Louis Parensell (which was actually Love's Farewell, as it turned out). She doesn't say it in today's debate but apparently she's basing part of her theory on the fact that the Clayton's at one time supposedly owned some letters from Emily which - unfortunately enough - were burnt. Everyone is entitled to believe her or not.

What we can't give her is that Emily managed to write Wuthering Heights simply because she had had this experience in real life. In fact, something similar triggered many responses over at AustenBlog only recently.

This whole question has given way to a radio drama that will air Saturday March 11 at 14:30-15:30 (UK time): Cold in the Earth and Fifteen Wild Decembers (opening line of Emily's famous poem Remembrance). Here's the details:

By Sally Wainwright, based on a theory by Sarah Fermi.

Why did Emily Jane Brontë write Wuthering Heights? And how was she able to do it? In spite of the massive amount of material published about the Brontë sisters over the last 150 years, these two questions still remain unanswered. Yet given the large amount of autobiographical material in the novels of Charlotte and Anne Brontë, it is almost unthinkable that Emily would not have also used her own experience in the creation of her great book. How could she write so vividly about love, grief and hatred without having known these emotions in her own life?

This is a compelling drama about the story of Emily Brontë's socially transgressive love affair with a weaver's son.

Emily Brontë ...... Joanne Froggatt
Robert Clayton ...... Danny Burns
Anne Brontë ...... Rhea Bailey
Charlotte Brontë/Tabby ...... Deborah McAndrew
Branwell Brontë/John Clayton ...... Peter Ash
James Greenwood ...... Adam Paulden
Patrick Brontë ...... Rob Pickavance
Aunt Branwell ...... Janice McKenzie
Pickles/Doctor ...... Gerard Fletcher
Sally Clayton/Miss Wooler ...... Marie Ekins

Director Pauline Harris.

So tune in!

Read the media release the Brontë Society has issued regarding this radio drama.

Sarah Fermi says “I learned all I could about Emily, and carefully examined the
chronological development of her poetry. There are quite a few aspects of her life
which present interesting questions. Why did Emily change from a charming and
outgoing child to a solitary and reserved young woman? Why was she sent away to
Roe Head School in 1835 and what was the real reason for Emily’s near-fatal illness
there?”


"Real reason"? Hasn't it been already agreed on what it was?

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