1 Delving deeply into Emily Brontë's work, Davies finds evidence to suggest that the shy and virginal Emily was much more than she seemed. Shy she certainly was, silent to the point of rudeness in the company of strangers. Virginal, too, for there is no hint of a lover, male or female. But Davies argues that Emily had a profound understanding of human passion and sexuality, and that, politically, she was a true revolutionary. While her sisters could be categorised as "Tory, Anglican, individualist feminists", advocating judicious reform, she was sceptical, convinced that human nature would never change. Davies presents a provocative view of a highly unconventional woman, living in an age which could not accommodate her.
  The Sunday Times


2 Stevie Davies's impassioned and brilliant study of Emily Brontë, rather like turning from an epic to a lyric, occupies the space Barker [The Brontës by Juliet Barker] leaves empty. It is an ambitious and arresting rereading of Emily's poems, novel and essays, and rightly takes her seriously as an intellectual with a profoundly philosophical and audacious imagination.

Emily Brontë was a heretic, she argues, because she denied the possibility of a benevolent God and a benign natural order: she asserted the independent power of her own feminine sexuality and refused patriarchy; she interpreted Victorian social hierarchies as the ultimate in brutal power struggles; she refused the metaphysic of human superiority to animals and asserted parity between men and animals because of their shared propensity to violence; she became a convinced political revolutionary by the end of her life. Hence Charlotte's extreme embarrassment and shame.

In an essay, "The Butterfly", composed in Belgium, Emily Brontë wrote that "the entire creation is equally meaningless... the universe seemed to me a vast machine constructed solely to produce evil". Davies wonderfully contextualises the granite intransigence of this statement. She sees Brontë as a Blake-like writer of the contraries who recognised that the logical consequence of a binary universe of struggle is a harsh, perpetual questioning of stable values.

Returning from Brussels, she believes, Emily avidly pursued the German thought — Friedrich Schlegel and F. W. J. Schelling, for instance — which explored the idea of dialectic and the notions of dualism and romantic irony associated with it. Davies reads Wuthering Heights as an ironic exploration of power and violence rooted in German ideas. At the same time she is attentive to the detail of the novel, showing how subtle is its use of simple, solid household objects — such as the dresser at the Heights, which is part of the visual and physical experience of two generations of Earnshaws and Lintons.

Davies is aware of the irony of Emily's assertion, "No coward soul is mine", when her inability to tolerate anywhere but the safety of Haworth is well known, but argues that only by refuge in regression could she sustain the burden of her heresy. This account of Emily will be influential for some time to come. For this reason it is worth making some cautionary points.

The book has a tendency to pass too quickly over perplexing aspects of Emily's life and work. Just as it oversimplifies her sexual knowledge by resorting in some desperation to a theory of masturbation, so it converts Emily's celebration of power too precipitately into an overcoming of violence. The Brontës were saturated in the Tory ideology that put the Duke of Wellington — detested and reviled as a dictator by radicals of the early 1830s — at the centre of their childhood fantasies. Here Barker's historical world should meet Davies's philosophical world, as we see the contradictions of Patrick Brontë handed on to his children.

They were fascinated by the will to power that justified Victorian discriminations of class and race even while they struggled with it. Emily Brontë's heroic philosophical struggle did not always slip the noose of the master/slave sadism that shocked her early readers. A tradition of reactionary violence, issuing in writers as different as Tennyson and, later, Lawrence, came down to her.

Both Barker and Davies concur in their dislike of bossy old Charlotte... Without her Emily would be unknown...
  Times Higher


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