Wuthering Heights eText - eText

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What is a literary classic and why are these classic works important to the world?

A literary classic is a work of the highest excellence that has something important to say about life and/or the human condition and says it with great artistry. A classic, through its enduring presence, has withstood the test of time and is not bound by time, place, or customs. It speaks to us today as forcefully as it spoke to people one hundred or more years ago, and as forcefully as it will speak to people of future generations. For this reason, a classic is said to have universality.

Emily Brontë was born on July 30, 1818, in England. She was one of six children, five girls and one boy. The Brontës moved to a village near the Yorkshire moors, a wild and desolate area of England and also the inspiration for the setting of some of the sisters' books. Theirs was a difficult and tragic existence, with the specter of disease and death a constant presence. Before Emily turned ten, her mother had died after a short bout with cancer, and two sisters had succumbed to tuberculosis. Elisabeth Branwell, an aunt, raised the remaining children. Although she was an authoritarian and imposing figure, Elisabeth did not stifle the children's imaginations; they read many books from the large family library and constructed their own worlds of imaginary people and situations.

In 1846, Emily and her two sisters published, using male names, a collection of their poems; it was titled The Poems of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, pseudonyms that stood for Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë. The book, despite some of Emily's poems being singled out by a critic as excellent, sold only two copies. This disappointment did not discourage them, however, and they each began writing a novel.

Emily and her sister Charlotte went to Brussels in 1842 to learn foreign languages, but Emily soon returned home, where she lived for the remainder of her life.

Emily wrote only one novel, Wuthering Heights (1847), but it did not become an instant success like her sister Charlotte's Jane Eyre did. As with Charlotte's book, critics were reluctant to admit that a woman who lived a sheltered life, could have written such a passionate book, especially one filled with “such vulgar depravity.”

Emily Brontë died on December 19, 1848, only three months after her brother's Branwell's death; she had caught a serious cold at the funeral and refused any medical treatment.