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Was Emily Bronte Working on a Second Novel?

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Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) There is considerable debate as to whether or nor Emily Bronte was working on another novel following the publication of Wuthering Heights and her death on December 19, 1848. In answering a thread in the 'Victorians Group,' I did some research and responded with a comment. I thought I'd bring the question and my response over here for all of those interested in the Brontes.

From Margaret Lane's 1953 biography, The Bronte Story: A Reconsideration of Mrs. Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Bronte (published by Duell, Sloan & Pearce & Little, Brown and Co.) comes the following:

"There seems to be some grounds for believing that Emily may have begun a second novel after the publication of Wuthering Heights, but, as with every other speculation about her, we have no proof. The only scrap of possible evidence is a single letter, found in Emily's little folding writing desk many years after her death, and in two slight references in Charlotte's letters. The lone letter is from T.C. Newby, and although it was not in its envelope when found, there was an empty envelope in the desk addressed to 'Ellis Bell Esq' in same hand, and the letter is folded to fit into it. Many people believe that it was addressed to Acton Bell, whose second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, was published by Newby in July 1848, six months after the date of this letter; but nothing else relating to Anne was found in Emily's desk, and the existence of the envelope proves that Emily was at least in communication with her publisher.

'Dear Sir,--

I am much obliged by your kind note and shall have great pleasure in making arrangements for your next novel. I would not hurry its completion for I think you are quite right not to let it go before the world until well satisfied with it, for much depends on your next work. If it be an improvement on your first you will have established yourself as a first-rate novelist, but if it falls short the critics will be too apt to say that you have expended your talent in your first novel. I shall therefore have pleasure in accepting it upon the understanding that its completion be at your own time.

Believe me, my dear Sir,
yrs. sincerely,
T.C. Newby

Feb. 15, 1848'

Nine months later, when Emily was in her last illness, Charlotte wrote to George Smith that Emily was 'too ill to occupy herself with writing,' which seems to suggest that if she were not ill there was at least writing on hand; and to W.S. Williams, less than two weeks before Emily's death, 'Ellis Bell is at present in no condition to trouble himself with thoughts either of writing or publishing. Should it please Heaven to restore his health and strength, he reserves to himself the right of deciding whether or not Mr. Newby has forfeited every claim to his second work.'

These references, though not conclusive, do suggest that Emily was at work on a second novel when she died. The manuscript, like that of the Gondal prose chronicles, is missing. Emily herself may have destroyed them, or laid such an obligation, in the event of her death, upon Anne; Charlotte may have thought it prudent to burn them after the deaths of her sisters; or they may still be lying undiscovered in some forgotten cupboard. Should they ever come to light, the world would seize them with eagerness."

pages 259-261, The Bronte Story: A Reconsideration of Mrs. Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Bronte, Margaret Lane, 1953.

So, there you have it; at least from one reputable source. Maybe somebody will turn up additional evidence that either conclusively points to a manuscript that she was working on; or, that she wasn't working on anything substantive prior to her death.

Cheers! Chris


message 2: by Hope (last edited Dec 14, 2009 04:57PM) (new)

 Hope That is a very interesting idea and I hope that someone will come to a conclusion because I would very much like to know, now that I have heard of it.


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