“Emily,” directed by Frances O’Connor, is based on the life of Victorian-era author Emily Jane Bronte. The story of “Emily” is a fictionalized account of her quest for artistic independence. Emily lost everything on her journey, yet she managed to bring her writings to the readers’ eyes. This is the inspirational story of Emily Bronte, a woman who lived a short life yet left an evergreen legacy. So, let’s explore how the film depicts Emily Bronte’s artistic journey and the sources of inspiration for one of her literary masterpieces, “Wuthering Heights.”
Plot Summary: What Is This Film About?
In the early 18th century, Emily Bronte (played by Emma Mackey) and her family resided in Yorkshire; later, they relocated to Haworth for their schooling. She lived with her siblings, Anne Bronte (played by Amelia Gething), Branwell Bronte (played by Fionn Whitehead), and their father, Reverend Patrick Bronte (played by Adrian Dunbar). She had lost her mother at a young age, but since then, nobody in her family had talked about her mother’s death. Her older sister Charlotte Bronte came back home after completing her graduation to move in with her sisters. However, Charlotte did not like the fact that Emily was still not serious about her career. Actually, Emily had her own imaginative world from her childhood. She used to make up stories with her sister Anne about their toy soldiers. Her elder sister, Charlotte, used to tell her these stories as well, but the sensibilities of the outside world had brought about a change in her. She considered these stories and imaginations as strange behavior for an adult like her who was about to teach in a school. Charlotte requested that Emily stop bringing up those stories in their conversation, as it made them sound crazy. In the interim, Reverend Bronte welcomed a new curate, William Weightman (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen), to the church where the Bronte sisters used to go for their prayers.
In a sermon, the curate, Mr. Weightman, talked about raindrops and how he found them enticing because he felt God was everywhere, even in the rain. Even though his speech impressed Charlotte and Anne, Emily didn’t like it since she believed Weightman had made it up and that he wasn’t truly fond of rain. Emily was not like other people, who would just do as they were told; instead, she used to challenge conventional wisdom. She believed that our perceptions of the world and the laws of God are entirely up to us. She was of the opinion that God wouldn’t have given us brains if He were the one making all the decisions. She even proved to Charlotte that Weightman didn’t like rain. Due to her rebellious nature, Emily was often misunderstood by her family.
Charlotte used to call Emily the strange one and believed that she would bring shame to their family. Also, her father wanted Emily to be a teacher like her sister, even though she didn’t want to. Emily didn’t even want to learn French, but her father insisted she take a lesson from Weightman. Only Branwell was the one who could understand Emily’s thoughts and her poems. Even when Emily wore the gothic mask that her father had and pretended to be possessed by her dead mother, nobody understood her and thought she had some ungodly spirit inside her, but Branwell had an open mind and knew his sister was just telling a story that she wanted everyone to pay attention to. However, Branwell was out of his mind, too; he used to abuse alcohol and substances like opium. At first, Emily was curious about her brother’s drug use, but as time went on, she realized how dangerous that was. Later, Weightman started protecting Emily from all these, and the two of them came closer to each other. She and Weightman started seeing each other privately and had an intimate relationship in the interim. As they spent more time together, they fell in love with each other. Weightman was drawn to her, but every time he read her poems, he felt uneasy.
Emily’s poetry was gothic and dark, which distressed Weightman, leading him to break up with her. Weightman humiliated Emily and her creativity, saying that she might have had some dark spirits inside her. Emily made the decision to stop writing after going through a tremendous amount of agony to move past her split with William. She decided to travel to Brussels to stay with her sister Charlotte and become a teacher. What transpired after Emily left for Brussels is further explored in the film. The events in her life took a dreadful turn, yet she refused to give in. She was inspired to compose “Wuthering Heights,” one of the greatest works of literature, which is still recognized as a masterpiece.
Why Did Emily Decide Not to Write Anymore? Why Did Weightman Want to Stop Her from Going to Brussels?
Weightman was a devout person. He had faith in God and the supremacy of His law. On the other hand, Emily was a non-religious person who didn’t put blind trust in faith. She considered that God had given us the brain for rational thinking and that we should not trust anyone blindly. Emily was thoughtful. Beyond the limitations of religion and conventional wisdom, she had her own imaginative world. She had faith in nature, which she admired. Weightman was drawn to Emily’s ideas, even though he didn’t like them, which led him to want to be in a relationship with her. Eventually, as Weightman read Emily’s gothic and dark poems several times, he concluded that Emily was not an ordinary woman. He abandoned Emily because he was so terrified after reading her poems. He told her that she didn’t have a godly spirit within herself, so being with her would be against God, which Weightman couldn’t do. In my personal opinion, Emily’s writings were so influential that any person reading them would get carried away by the emotions in them, and such lack of control brought about fear in feeble minds. People like Weightman believed any text (other than Bible) that had the power to enchant them was dark text and should be forbidden. They weren’t receptive enough to understand the fact that there are many forces in nature that have the power to generate emotions inside us, and not everything has to be connected with witchcraft.
Emily was heartbroken when she heard such vile words from Weightman and promised herself never to write again. She started traumatizing herself this way. Maybe not physically, but she quelled the creativity and imagination that once fueled her passion for writing poetry. She first tried to please her father but failed to become a teacher, and then her lover also abandoned her for her artistic freedom. She wanted to prove to everyone that she wasn’t unusual, but the strangest individuals were the ones who had dismissed her wish to be herself and criticized her.
In order to please the world, Emily transformed herself completely. She made the decision to stop writing and move to Brussels with her sister, Charlotte. When Weightman discovered that Emily had stopped writing following their split, he felt utterly remorseful. He knew that by killing Emily’s creative spirit, he had committed a sin. He watched Emily entirely change right in front of him, and it tormented him day after day. So, he arranged to send Emily a letter from Branwell’s hand. Branwell had disliked Weightman for his religious views since day one, so when he found out that Weightman and Emily were romantically involved, he didn’t want to encourage the relationship. Therefore, Branwell hid the letter from Emily. So, Weightman could no longer tell her that he didn’t want Emily to stop writing or leave everything and go to Brussels. During his last days, the burden of guilt tormented Weightman heavily, and finally, he lost the battle with cholera and passed away.
Why Did Emily Misbehave with Branwell?
Only Branwell, Emily’s brother, could understand Emily. He was aware that Emily had an extraordinary talent that, if practiced, might one day create a masterpiece. Even Emily loved the idea of Branwell, who didn’t really care about the world so much and adored his freedom of thought. So, Emily did what Branwell enjoyed doing. Alcohol, drugs, and snooping into people’s homes were all the mischiefs that Branwell and Emily did together. But Emily knew these addictions would one day harm her like they had Branwell. Branwell wanted to be a writer and was also good at painting. But his inner artistic side was gradually lost when he became addicted to drugs. Most of his sketches were copied from Byron, and he started writing confusing and self-explanatory novels. Emily could have calmly explained everything to him, but after Weightman left, abandoning her, her mind was no longer functioning properly. She suffered even more, when she witnessed her brother’s descent into the depths of addiction. She consequently lost control of her rage and acted out. However, Branwell was still not interested in getting better; instead, he completely killed his creativity and sank even more into alcoholism after hearing her sister’s disapproval. Ultimately, Emily paid a last visit to her dying brother Branwell when he confessed his guilt that he hadn’t shown Weightman’s letter to her. Emily had forgiven her brother; after all, she had misbehaved with him as well. She knew her brother loved her and had always tried to protect her, no matter what. So, she hugged Branwell’s lifeless body one last time and bid him farewell.
‘Emily’ Ending Explained: What Inspired Emily Jane Bronte To Write “Wuthering Heights”?
The only novel by Emily Jane Bronte that eloquently portrays romance, realism, and gothic surrealism is “Wuthering Heights.” In the movie “Emily,” Frances O’Connor fictionalized the potential source of inspiration for Emily’s novel. We see Emily receive Mr. Weightman’s last letter from her brother. She learned that Weightman felt guilty about his past actions and did not want Emily to go to Brussels. Weightman wrote that he realized that the most beautiful feeling in the world is to love and be loved. Emily was motivated by the fact that the man she was emotionally and physically connected to might have once loved her. Emily realized that every human being has faults, but humans transform when they recognize their faults. Even if we read “Wuthering Heights,” we would see that the characters had a lot of flaws, which made them more realistic and helped us connect with them. Emily mourned at the grave of her beloved Weightman and slowly began to overcome her pain. She saw the branches of the trees spread in the sky, which took on a ghostly shape in the cloudy and darkened sky. Emily combined her life experiences with her own imagination to write this novel. She wanted to create something of her own, which she did despite all odds.
While Emily was taking her last breath, she asked her sister where those stories came from. It actually comes from her own experiences in life. As Emily states, her sister Charlotte once said that people must live and be fooled. This is how Emily wrote her novel. She lived a life without any restrictions and risked everything to get a story out of it. She expressed her life experiences with a touch of fiction in “Wuthering Heights.” She wanted to convey that the source of all creativity in the world comes from a person’s real-life experience, which is why it is so important for each one of us to live a life worth living. We shouldn’t hold back from adventures or heartbreaks and take as many risks as possible because, at the end of the day, these are the encounters that will eventually turn into a story. Our Story.
Emily wanted his sister Charlotte to do the same. So, she asked her sister to write again. When she whispered in Charlotte’s ears to express her last desire, it might have been her wish that her sister would write the stories again. Or it might be another possibility that she wanted her sister to bury her dead body near her beloved Weightman, just like we have read in “Wuthering Heights,” where Heathcliff was buried near the grave of his beloved Catherine. However, we see Charlotte and Anne burn all of Emily’s letters after her death. Though the film didn’t reveal what the reason was behind that, it is entirely the creative liberty of the makers that they showed that this is how Emily Bronte hid her romantic relationship with Weightman so that the true inspiration of “Wuthering Heights” would never be discussed in history. Emily Bronte’s work got huge recognition in English literature, but she probably never wanted her personal relationship to be exposed to everyone. So, maybe getting rid of her letters could be her last wish too.
“Wuthering Heights” is still a timeless novel in the history of English literature. However, Emily Bronte did not get the opportunity to further explore her talent and show it to us because she died very young, at only 30 years old, in 1848. After her death, the novel gained far more popularity than Emily had enjoyed while she was alive. In real life, Emily Bronte lost her mother to cancer at a very young age, and later, her two older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, died of tuberculosis. She also lost her brother Branwell a few months before her death. But Emily’s talent didn’t stop there. In addition to “Wuthering Heights,” she had also published a collection of poetry written by the Bronte sisters entitled “Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.” Both Charlotte and Anne Bronte later became novelists, as depicted in the film, where we see Charlotte take up the pen and prepare herself to write and express her artistic view. Frances O’Connor’s “Emily,” tells us that not everyone around us is equal. If their vision is different from others, then it doesn’t mean that their worldviews are unacceptable. Normalcy depends on perception. There were many obstacles in Emily Bronte’s life, including those who wanted to impose their perception on her, but Emily overcame all those obstacles and expressed her thoughts freely through her writing, which may be unconventional but is still appreciated by the whole world.
“Emily” is a 2022 Drama Biopic film directed by Frances O’Connor.