Tuesday, November 29, 2022

What's up with Emily?


Emily, dir. & writ. Frances O'Connor - with Emma Mackey, Fionn Whitehead, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Alexandra Dowling, Amelia Gething, Adrian Dunbar, Gemma Jones - (UK / USA, 2022)

Well, quite a bit, really. For a start, she and Branwell seem to be the only writers in the Brontë family, and his efforts aren't much cop - as she brutally informs him halfway through the film. Charlotte is a bespectacled geek who's put aside such childish things, and Anne's a poor waif who sways whichever way the wind is blowing. Which it does quite a bit, it being Yorkshire, and all of them stuck in some nowhere village in the back of beyond.


Patrick Branwell Brontë: Emily Brontë (1833)


A bit of opium helps, and some sex with the local curate, but nothing really touches the tired spot till she sits down one day and starts writing on a blank sheet of paper - and lo and behold, there's a novel called Wuthering Heights!

Joking apart, I did greatly enjoy the film, and even found it quite moving in parts, just so long as I could suspend the inner literary historian - never an easy task, I'm afraid. I mean, I can understand eliding over all that complicated business about the three sisters' pseudonyms, Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (was 'Currer' really a common first name at the time? It does seem a particularly egregious choice).


Emily Brontë [as 'Ellis Bell']: Wuthering Heights (1847)


So, yes, I can see why, when a small package with a copy of her novel in it finally arrives in Haworth, it has the name 'Emily Brontë' on the titlepage. I don't like it, but I can, I suppose, accept it as a dramatic convenience.

But why was it necessary to edit out the other sisters' part in this literary revolution? Wuthering Heights first appeared in a three-volume package with Anne's novel Agnes Grey: two volumes for Emily, one volume for Anne. And owing to the dithering of their publisher, although it had been accepted earlier, their book didn't actually appear until after Charlotte's Jane Eyre had already come out from another firm and caused something of a literary sensation.



So the film's decision to show Charlotte sitting down to write her own novel in the wake of Emily's death, and thus - in a sense - carrying on her work, just doesn't seem a necessary fiction to me. I share director (and script-writer) Frances O'Connor's fierce appreciation of Emily's genius - she is, for me, the pick of the bunch, and her novel a masterpiece on a quite different level from Charlotte's and Anne's more numerous works.

I also understand why Emma Mackey, the actor who plays her so spiritedly, feels so protective of her. Emily Brontë is a writer who inspires affection rather than simple respect: her work did, after all, have to make its way against the odds. Charlotte's preface to the second, 'corrected' edition of Wuthering Heights could certainly be said to be damning it with faint praise; and of course in Anne's case she tried to suppress further editions of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall altogether, as she considered its subject matter unbecoming for a lady to acknowledge - let alone write about.


Edward Chitham & Derek Roper, ed.: The Poems of Emily Brontë (1996)


Emily was a genius or she was nothing. And I suppose it's for this reason that one can accept this fantasia on themes suggested by the life of Emily Brontë as a legitimate response to her. She's the only one of the three sisters who's ever been regarded as a poet of distinction, and the strange, clockwork machinery of her sublime Gothic novel belies any attempts that have been made since to write it off as hysterical melodrama.


Mrs. Gaskell: The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857 / 2009)


Mind you, there's also the usual battle of the biographers to take into account. In this case the Brontë mythos (for want of a better word) was established early on by Charlotte's first biographer, the novelist Mrs. Gaskell.

She it was who first revealed the identity of the three sisters, as well as the secrets of their childhood: the massive corpus of juvenilia Charlotte and Branwell produced about Angria, while Emily and Anne collaborated on their own stories of Gondal.



The editorial efforts of renowned literary forger Thomas J. Wise to establish a reliable text of the the lives, works and correspondence of the entire family were, I suppose, the next major event in Brontë studies. They culminated in the 21-volume Shakespeare Head edition (1931-38).


Thomas J. Wise et al., ed.: The Shakespeare Head Brontë (1931-38)


This includes four volumes of The Brontës: Their Lives, Friendship and Correspondence; two volumes of the Miscellaneous and Unpublished Writings of Charlotte and Patrick Branwell Brontë, three volumes of poetry - Poems of Emily and Anne Brontë, Poems of Charlotte and Patrick Branwell Brontë, and Gondal Poems - as well as 11 volumes of novels and another of bibliography.

Given Wise's subsequent fall from grace, it's a bit distressing that this remains the best and most convenient edition of the family's complex and serried works: though the Oxford English Texts series has gradually superseded most of its component parts.


Winifred Gérin: Brontë Biographies (1959-71)


The next major player in the saga was the redoubtable Winifred Gérin (1901-1981), who wrote successive biographies of the entire Brontë family and their biographer over a period of twenty-odd years:
Anne Brontë (1959)
Branwell Brontë (1961)
Charlotte Brontë: The Evolution of Genius (1967)
Emily Brontë: A Biography (1971)
The Brontës (1973)
Elizabeth Gaskell: A Biography (1976)
Gérin's second husband, John Lock, another Brontë enthusiast, was the co-author, with Canon W. T. Dixon, of A Man of Sorrow: The Life, Letters, and Times of the Rev. Patrick Brontë, 1777-1861 (1965), thus completing the tally.




Gérin, who lived in Haworth for many years, and regarded this as an essential foundation for insight into their works, approached the sisters with a blend of sympathy and indefatigable research into the physical context of their lives. She also, it must be said, provided a great deal of information about them which had not been available before. One reviewer of her prize-winning biography of Charlotte did, however, criticise it for lacking "the Yorkshire pith and terseness of the Brontë style."


Juliet Barker: The Brontës (1994)


Certainly that's the attitude taken by the sisters' next major biographer, Juliet Barker. She attempts to dispel the myths which have grown up around the family with a mixture of hard-headed scepticism and minute attention to detail. Emily, in particular, gets a bit of a caning in her account of the hotbed of genius that was the Brontë household.


Helen Burrow: Juliet Barker (1958- )


So who should we believe? Mrs. Gaskell, who had the advantage of actually meeting and befriending Charlotte shortly before her death? Winifred Gérin, who clearly filled some inner need in herself by living on the Haworth moors with her imaginary friends, the sisters and their circle? Or Juliet Barker, whose undisguised scorn for her (allegedly) more credulous predecessors makes one wonder at times just who appointed her chief custodian of their posthumous reputations?


Juliet Barker: The Brontës: A Life in Letters (1997 / 2016)


The literary donnybrook continues, as such things tend to do. In the meantime, though, we have six fascinating novels to read (and reread) by the three sisters - at least two of them, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, undoubted masterpieces. We also have a substantial number of poems by Emily: enough to guarantee her place among the English poets.

We also - as I discussed in an earlier post - have the ongoing revelation of the sheer extent and variety of the Brontës' surviving juvenilia. The various overlapping editions of that have now begun to rival editions of their own mature works.


Charlotte Brontë: Juvenilia 1829-1835, ed. Juliet Barker (1996)





Patrick Branwell Brontë: The Brontë Sisters (c.1834)

The Brontës
(1815-1855)

  1. Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855)
  2. Branwell Brontë (1817-1848)
  3. Emily Brontë (1818-1848)
  4. Anne Brontë (1820-1849)
  5. Anthologies & Secondary Literature

[titles I own are marked in bold]:




George Richmond: Charlotte Brontë (1850)

Charlotte Brontë
(1816-1855)

    Juvenilia:

  1. Stories & Poems (c.1830-1839)

    1. The Young Men's Magazine, Number 1 – 3 (August 1830)
    2. A Book of Ryhmes (1829)
    3. The Spell
    4. The Secret
    5. Lily Hart
    6. The Foundling
    7. The History of the Year
      • Included in: The Professor; Tales from Angria; Emma: A Fragment / Together with a Selection of Poems by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Ed. Phyllis Bentley. 1954. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1976.
    8. A Romantic Tale
      • Included in: The Professor; Tales from Angria; Emma: A Fragment / Together with a Selection of Poems by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Ed. Phyllis Bentley. 1954. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1976.
    9. Characters of Celebrated Men
      • Included in: The Professor; Tales from Angria; Emma: A Fragment / Together with a Selection of Poems by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Ed. Phyllis Bentley. 1954. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1976.
    10. Albion and Marina
      • Included in: The Professor; Tales from Angria; Emma: A Fragment / Together with a Selection of Poems by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Ed. Phyllis Bentley. 1954. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1976.
    11. The Bridal
      • Included in: The Professor; Tales from Angria; Emma: A Fragment / Together with a Selection of Poems by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Ed. Phyllis Bentley. 1954. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1976.
    12. Tales of the Islanders
    13. Tales of Angria (1838–1839)
      • Tales of Angria. 1837-39. Ed. Heather Glen. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2006.
    14. Passing Events
      • Included in: Five Novelettes. Transcribed from the Original Manuscripts and Edited by Winifred Gérin. London: The Folio Press, 1971.
    15. Julia
      • Included in: Five Novelettes. Transcribed from the Original Manuscripts and Edited by Winifred Gérin. London: The Folio Press, 1971.
    16. Mina Laury
      • Included in: Five Novelettes. Transcribed from the Original Manuscripts and Edited by Winifred Gérin. London: The Folio Press, 1971.
      • Included in: The Professor; Tales from Angria; Emma: A Fragment / Together with a Selection of Poems by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Ed. Phyllis Bentley. 1954. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1976.
        • Included in: Tales of Angria. 1837-39. Ed. Heather Glen. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2006.
    17. Stancliffe's Hotel
      • Stancliffe's Hotel. 1837-39. Ed. Heather Glen. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2003.
      • Included in: Tales of Angria. 1837-39. Ed. Heather Glen. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2006.
    18. The Duke of Zamorna
      • Included in: Tales of Angria. 1837-39. Ed. Heather Glen. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2006.
    19. Henry Hastings
      • Included in: Five Novelettes. Transcribed from the Original Manuscripts and Edited by Winifred Gérin. London: The Folio Press, 1971.
      • Included in: Tales of Angria. 1837-39. Ed. Heather Glen. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2006.
    20. Caroline Vernon
      • Included in: Five Novelettes. Transcribed from the Original Manuscripts and Edited by Winifred Gérin. London: The Folio Press, 1971.
      • Included in: Tales of Angria. 1837-39. Ed. Heather Glen. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2006.
    21. The Roe Head Journal Fragments
      • Included in: Tales of Angria. 1837-39. Ed. Heather Glen. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2006.
    22. Something about Arthur
      • Something about Arthur. Ed. Christine Alexander. The University of Texas at Austin: Humanities Research Center, 1981.
    23. My Angria and the Angrians
      • Included in: The Professor; Tales from Angria; Emma: A Fragment / Together with a Selection of Poems by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Ed. Phyllis Bentley. 1954. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1976.
    24. Farewell to Angria
      • Included in: The Professor; Tales from Angria; Emma: A Fragment / Together with a Selection of Poems by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Ed. Phyllis Bentley. 1954. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1976.
    25. [as Lord Charles Albert Florian Wellesley] The Green Dwarf, A Tale of the Perfect Tense (1833)

  2. The Professor; Tales from Angria ['The History of the Year' / 'A Romantic Tale' / 'Characters of Celebrated Men' / 'Albion and Marina' / 'The Bridal' / 'My Angria and the Angrians' / 'Mina Laury' / 'Farewell to Angria']; Emma: A Fragment / Together with a Selection of Poems by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Ed. Phyllis Bentley. 1954. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1976.
  3. Five Novelettes: Passing Events; Julia; Mina Laury; Henry Hastings; Caroline Vernon. Transcribed from the Original Manuscripts and Edited by Winifred Gérin. London: The Folio Press, 1971.
  4. Something about Arthur. Transcribed from the Original Manuscript and Edited by Christine Alexander. The University of Texas at Austin: Humanities Research Center, 1981.
  5. The Juvenilia of Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë. Ed. Frances Beer. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986.
  6. Alexander, Christine, ed. An Edition of the Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë. 3 vols. Shakespeare Head Press. Oxford & New York: Basil Blackwell, 1987-91.
    • Volume I: The Glass Town Saga, 1826-1832 (1987)
    • Volume II: The Rise of Angria, 1833-1835. Part 1: 1833-1834 (1991)
    • Volume II: The Rise of Angria, 1833-1835. Part 2: 1834-1835 (1991)
  7. Juvenilia 1829-1835. Ed. Juliet Barker. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996.
  8. Stancliffe's Hotel. 1837-39. Ed. Heather Glen. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2003.
  9. Tales of Angria: Mina Laury; Stancliffe's Hotel; The Duke of Zamorna; Henry Hastings; Caroline Vernon; The Roe Head Journal Fragments. 1837-39. Ed. Heather Glen. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2006.

  10. Novels:

  11. [as 'Currer Bell'] Jane Eyre (1847)
    • Jane Eyre. 1847. Introduction by Margaret Lane. Everyman’s Library, 287. 1908. London: J. M. Dent & Sons / New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1953.
    • Jane Eyre. 1847. Introduction by Bonamy Dobrée. 1953. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1977.
  12. [as 'Currer Bell'] Shirley (1849)
    • Shirley. 1849. Introduction by Phyllis Bentley. 1953. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1977.
  13. [as 'Currer Bell'] Villette (1853)
    • Villette. 1853. Introduction by Phyllis Bentley. 1953. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1975.
  14. The Professor (1857)
    • Included in: The Professor; Tales from Angria; Emma: A Fragment / Together with a Selection of Poems by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Ed. Phyllis Bentley. 1954. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1976.
  15. Emma: A Fragment (1860)
    • Included in: The Professor; Tales from Angria; Emma: A Fragment / Together with a Selection of Poems by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Ed. Phyllis Bentley. 1954. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1976.

  16. Poetry:

  17. Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846)
    • Included in: The Professor; Tales from Angria; Emma: A Fragment / Together with a Selection of Poems by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Ed. Phyllis Bentley. 1954. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1976.

  18. Secondary:

  19. Gaskell, Elizabeth. The Life of Charlotte Brontë. 1857. Ed. Alan Shelston. Penguin English Library. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975.
  20. Gérin, Winifred. Charlotte Brontë: The Evolution of Genius. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967.



  21. Jane Eyre, dir. Cary Fukunaga, writ. Moira Buffini (based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë) – with Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender – (USA, 2011).
[There are, of course, many adaptations of Jane Eyre. This is definitely one of the better ones, though possibly the most interesting of all is Val Lewton's I Walked with a Zombie (1943).]

Cary Fukunaga, dir.: Jane Eyre (2011)





Branwell Brontë: Self-portrait (c.1840)


    Juvenilia:

  1. Stories & Poems (c.1830-1839)

    1. Battell Book
    2. The Glass Town
    3. The Young Men's Magazine, Number 1 – 3 (August 1830)
    4. The Revenge A Tradgedy
    5. The History of the Young Men from Their First Settlement to the Present Time (1829–1831)
    6. The Fate of Regina
    7. The Liar Detected
    8. Ode on the Celebration of the Great African Games
    9. The Pirate A Tale
    10. Real Life in Verdopolis, volume 1–2
    11. The Politics of Verdopolis
    12. An Angrain Battle Song
    13. Percy's Musings upon the Battle of Edwardston
    14. Mary's Prayer
    15. An Historical Narrative of the War of Encroachment
    16. An Historical Narrative of the War of Agression
    17. Angria and the Angrians
    18. Letters from an Englishman (1830–1832)
    19. Life of Warner Howard Warner
    20. Tales of Angria (1838–1839)
      • Tales of Angria. 1837-39. Ed. Heather Glen. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2006.

  2. Poetry:

  3. Winnifrith, Tom, ed. The Poems of Patrick Branwell Brontë: A New Annotated and Enlarged Edition of the Shakespeare Head Brontë. The Shakespeare Head Press. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Publisher Limited, 1983.

  4. Works:

  5. The Works of Patrick Branwell Brontë. Ed. Victor A. Neufeldt. 3 vols. New York: Garland Publishing, 1997-1999.

  6. Secondary:

  7. du Maurier, Daphne. The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë. 1960. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972.
  8. Gérin, Winifred. Branwell Brontë: A Biography. 1961. A Radius Book. London: Hutchinson & Co (Publishers ) Ltd., 1972.



  9. Wainwright, Sally. To Walk Invisible (BBC, 2016)
[A number of actors have now had the dubious distinction of playing poor Branwell Brontë, among them Michael Kitchen in The Brontës of Haworth (1973), Adam Nagaitis in To Walk Invisible (2016), and now, in Emily (2022), Fionn Whitehead.]

To Walk Invisible: Adam Nagaitis as Branwell Brontë (2016)





Branwell Brontë: Emily Brontë (c.1843)

Emily Jane Brontë
(1818-1848)

    Novels:

  1. [as 'Ellis Bell'] Wuthering Heights: A Novel (1847)
    • Wuthering Heights. 1847. Introduction by Bonamy Dobrée. 1953. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1977.
    • Wuthering Heights. An Authoritative Text, with Essays in Criticism. 1847. Ed. William M. Sale, Jr. A Norton Critical Edition. New York & London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1963.

  2. Poetry:

  3. Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846)
    • Included in: The Professor; Tales from Angria; Emma: A Fragment / Together with a Selection of Poems by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Ed. Phyllis Bentley. 1954. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1976.
  4. Emily Jane Brontë: The Complete Poems. Ed. C. W. Hatfield. 1941. New York & London: Columbia University Press & Oxford University Press, 1963.
  5. The Complete Poems of Emily Brontë. Ed. Philip Henderson. London: The Folio Society, 1951.
  6. Gondal's Queen: A Novel in Verse by Emily Brontë. Ed. Fannie Elizabeth Ratchford. Austin: University of Texas Press / London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Limited, 1955.
  7. The Complete Poems. Ed. Janet Gezari. Penguin English Poets. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992.

  8. Secondary:

  9. Gérin, Winifred. Emily Brontë: A Biography. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971.



  10. Wuthering Heights, dir. & writ. Elisaveta Abrahall (based on the novel by Emily Brontë) – with Paul Eryk Atlas & Sha'ori Morris – (UK, 2018).
[There's a huge number of film adaptations of Wuthering Heights. Wikipedia lists at least 13, though it misses the one pictured below. Probably the most memorable remains William Wyler's 1939 movie, with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. Despite its obvious lacunae, it's attained an almost mythic status among cinéastes.]

Elisaveta Abrahall, dir.: Wuthering Heights (2018)





Charlotte Brontë: Anne Brontë (c.1834)

Anne Brontë
(1820-1849)

    Novels:

  1. [as 'Acton Bell'] Agnes Grey (1847)
    • Included in: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall & Agnes Grey. 1848 & 1847. Introduction by Phyllis Bentley. 1954. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1977.
  2. [as 'Acton Bell'] The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848)
    • Included in: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall & Agnes Grey. 1848 & 1847. Introduction by Phyllis Bentley. 1954. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1977.

  3. Poetry:

  4. Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846)
    • Included in: The Professor; Tales from Angria; Emma: A Fragment / Together with a Selection of Poems by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Ed. Phyllis Bentley. 1954. Collins Gift Classics. London: Collins, 1976.

  5. Secondary:

  6. Gérin, Winifred. Anne Brontë. London: Thomas Nelson, 1959.



  7. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, dir. Mike Barker, writ. David Nokes & Janet Barron (based on the novel by Anne Brontë) – with Toby Stephens, Tara Fitzgerald, Rupert Graves – (UK, 1996).
[There are at least two television adaptations of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, the one pictured below and a 1968 version as well. It's also been adapted for the stage on a number of occasions.]

Mike Barker, dir.: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)



  1. The Works of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Illustrations by A. S. Greig. Ornaments by T. C. Tilney. 12 vols. 1893. London: J. M. Dent, 1895-96.
    1. Jane Eyre, by Currer Bell (Charlotte Brontë). Vol. 1 of 2. Introduction by F. J. S. (1896)
    2. Jane Eyre. Vol. 2 of 2 (1896)
    3. Shirley, by Currer Bell (Charlotte Brontë). Vol. 1 of 2. Introduction by F. J. S. (1896)
    4. Shirley. Vol. 2 of 2 (1896)
    5. [Villette, by Currer Bell (Charlotte Brontë). Vol. 1 of 2.]
    6. [Villette. Vol. 2 of 2.]
    7. The Professor, by Currer Bell (Charlotte Brontë). Introduction by F. J. S. 1893 (1895)
    8. Poems of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. With Cottage Poems by Patrick Brontë, Introduction by F. J. S. (1896)
    9. [Wuthering Heights, by Ellis Bell (Emily Brontë). Vol. 1 of 2. Introduction by F. J. S.]
    10. Wuthering Heights. Vol. 2 of 2. Agnes Grey, by Acton Bell (Anne Brontë). Introduction by F. J. S. (1896)
    11. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Acton Bell (Anne Brontë). Vol. 1 of 2. Introduction by F. J. S. (1893)
    12. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Acton Bell (Anne Brontë). Vol. 2 of 2 (1893)

  2. The Brontës. Collins Gift Classics. 1953-54. London: Collins, 1975-1977.
    1. Brontë, Anne. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall & Agnes Grey. 1848 & 1847. Introduction by Phyllis Bentley. 1954 (1977)
    2. Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. 1847. Introduction by Bonamy Dobrée. 1953 (1977)
    3. Brontë, Charlotte. Shirley. 1849. Introduction by Phyllis Bentley. 1953 (1977)
    4. Brontë, Charlotte. Villette. 1853. Introduction by Phyllis Bentley. 1953 (1975)
    5. Brontë, Charlotte. The Professor; Tales from Angria ['The History of the Year' / 'A Romantic Tale' / 'Characters of Celebrated Men' / 'Albion and Marina' / 'The Bridal' / 'My Angria and the Angrians' / 'Mina Laury' / 'Farewell to Angria']; Emma: A Fragment / Together with a Selection of Poems by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Ed. Phyllis Bentley. 1954 (1976)
    6. Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. 1847. Introduction by Bonamy Dobrée. 1953 (1977)

  3. The Brontës. Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal: Selected Writings. Ed. Christine Alexander. Oxford World's Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.



  4. Barker, Juliet. The Brontës. 1994. A Phoenix Giant Paperback. London: Orion Books Ltd., 1995.
  5. Barker, Juliet. The Brontës: A Life in Letters. London: Viking, 1997.
  6. Barker, Juliet. The Brontës: A Life in Letters. 1997. Little, Brown. London: Little, Brown Book Group, 2016.
  7. Bentley, Phyllis. The Brontës and Their World. 1969. London: Thames & Hudson, 1974.
  8. Clarke, Pauline. The Twelve and the Genii. Illustrated by Cecil Leslie. 1962. Faber Paper Covered Editions. London: Faber, 1970.
  9. Gérin, Winifred. The Brontës. London: Longmans, 1973.
  10. Gérin, Winifred. Elizabeth Gaskell: A Biography. 1976. Oxford Paperbacks. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.
  11. Ratchford, Fannie Elizabeth. The Brontës’ Web of Childhood. 1941. New York: Columbia University Press, 1949.



  12. The Brontës of Haworth: 4-part miniseries, dir. Marc Miller, writ. Christopher Fry – with Alfred Burke, Vickery Turner, Ann Penfold, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Michael Kitchen, Rosemary McHale – (UK, 1973). 2-DVD set.
[Despite having been made almost fifty years ago, The Brontës of Haworth remains a remarkably convincing version of the family story. A good deal of this has to be attributed to renowned British playwright Christopher Fry's superlative script. It's an exceptionally grim and depressing tale, mind you - and the series makes no attempt to disguise this. The recurring motif of the sisters walking and talking around the kitchen table until finally there's only Charlotte left is still quite haunting. Fry also does a good job of humanising the often overlooked Anne.]





Emily Brontë: Keeper - from life (1838)


Monday, November 21, 2022

28 Days Haunted & Other Spooky TV Shows



Don't get me wrong. I hugely enjoyed The Conjuring (2013) - and its 2016 sequel, based on the famous Enfield poltergeist case in London in the late 1970s.

The sympathetic portrayal of self-described demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren in both movies was, admittedly, a little troubling, but then the same could be said of many Hollywood films. If they weren't, in real life, quite the sweethearts portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, then surely some dramatic licence must be conceded.



Recently, however, Bronwyn and I have been watching the Netflix Reality TV Series 28 Days Haunted, which accords the Warrens almost folk-hero status as occult visionaries. The show purports to be a rigorous test of their theory that there's a period of 28 days (based on lunar cycles, perhaps?) which is necessary to 'break through' in any investigation of a haunting.


Sydney Morning Herald: Ed & Lorraine Warren


Needless to say, the theory passes the test with flying colours, and succeeds, too, in providing viewers such as ourselves with riveting footage of husky Americans with video cameras running around corridors screaming their heads off.

Is this serious paranormal research? Well, of course not. Is it particularly entertaining? Shamefully, the answer would have to be yes.


Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House (1959)


It was the late lamented Shirley Jackson who first propounded the thesis that the most fascinating thing about haunted house investigations is the people who undertake them. The interaction between the various eccentric personalities on display far outweighs in interest any alleged 'findings' they may obtain.

The result, as you no doubt already know, was her classic novel The Haunting of Hill House (appallingly, shamefully, misadapted by clunkster extraordinaire Mike Flanagan in his travesty of a TV series of the same name).


Mike Flanagan: The Haunting of Hill House (2018)





1 - Most Haunted (2002- )


Such is my fascination with the genre, that I've inveigled poor Bronwyn into suffering through a whole slew of True Ghost Stories on TV. Let's see, there was the long-running British show Most Haunted, hosted by Yvette Fielding - we watched a huge amount of that.

Derek Acorah, the resident psychic, was worth the price of entry on his own. I still remember him channelling 'Cloggie', the spirit haunting a ghost train ride in, I think, Brighton.

Convincing? Not very, but there was also much entertainment to be had from watching the host, Yvette, getting steadily more and more terrified as it got darker and darker. Seldom did she last in any 'haunted' room for more than a minute or two ...


2 - Knock Knock Ghost (2014- )


Canadian TV show Knock Knock Ghost is more of pisstake of such hand-held camera reality shows than a serious investigation of hauntings. It can be very amusing - if a trifle one-note - particularly the struggle of host Richard Ryder's assistant Brie Larsen to achieve some on-camera recognition for her endless travails.


3 - Ghost Hunt (2005-6)


Continuing our international coverage, Kiwi TV programme Ghost Hunt was a surprisingly successful attempt to showcase various local pyschic hotspots, including Larnach Castle in Dunedin, the Waitomo Caves Hotel, and the Kinder House in Parnell.

The show's basic methodology was to have two investigators, Carolyn Taylor and Michael Hallows, wandering around in the dark with head-mounted cameras, with a subsequent analysis (i.e. digital tweaking) of their footage by computer whiz Brad Hills. I loved it. I wish they'd made a lot more episodes.



For convenience's sake, it seems best to sample some of the many American contributions to the genre in chronological order.

We'll start with Haunted Lives: True Ghost Stories, which I used to watch on idle afternoons back in the 1990s. Hosted first by Leonard Nimoy, then Stacey Keach, and directed by Tobe Hooper, the stories were first restaged with actors. Interviews were then conducted with the actual victims.

A certain lack of verisimilitude was therefore inevitable. Some of the accounts were very interesting, though.


5 - Ghost Hunters (2004- )


Despite its longevity, and its status as a pioneer in the field, I'm afraid I've never been able to warm to Ghost Hunters. It's hard to see how the investigators can maintain their enthusiasm for each uneventful night in yet another banal setting. Their pop psychology explanations of the 'phenomena' they discover are similarly unexciting. It seems more like an ongoing pension plan for the participants than a legitimate, edge-of-your-seat reality series.



I feel a bit ashamed at having watched so many of these Celebrity Ghost Stories. As I recall, the best one of all was provided by David Carradine, about his partner's ex's ghost, and his participation in their lives. Given that Carradine died shortly after filming it, it had a certain punch to it that the others tend to lack.

A few of the participants - C. Thomas Howell, I mean you - seem just to be taking the piss with obviously made-up tales designed to bolster up their flagging careers, but for the most part they're surprisingly convincing. I'd go so far as to say that one or two of them were genuinely disturbing.


7 - Paranormal Witness (2011- )


The sheer number of stories presented on Paranormal Witness over the years - albeit with 'reconstructions' of the principal events doubling with the victims' retellings of their experiences - have combined to give it a certain air of authenticity.

How could so many people bother to conspire to create such elaborate and circumstantial lies? It's far easier to believe in the basic sincerity of at least the vast majority of them.

Mind you, the easily deduced off-camera psychological effects of repressive parents, abusive spouses, and stressful living situations - as Stephen King once sagely observed, one thing people are really serious about is real estate: especially losing their equity in a hard-bought property - certainly offer possible alternative explanations for many of the events described.

But then that's another reason why this series' essential honesty makes it of genuine value to the aficionado.


8 - Haunted (2018- )


I never felt that the format the producers chose for Haunted worked very well. Friends and relatives of the people telling the story would sit in a circle around them, reacting to the events as they were recounted (and simultaneously reconstructed on screen for the benefit of viewers).

Unfortunately, this had a strangely stilted effect, and while it certainly sounds all right in theory, in practice the simiplicity of a talking head being interviewed directly about their experiences (as in Paranormal Witness, above) is far more effective.

We gave up on it after awhile, as the stories grew increasingly far-fetched. There was a Latin American spin-off which was rather more spirited, but still struggled to surmount this formatting issue.



Paranormal Caught on Camera can be, at times, mind-numbingly tedious - in particular all the shots of blurry lights moving around in the sky. But it's worth sitting through all that for the truly bizarre things it occasionally presents.


Susan Slaughter (Paranormal Caught on Camera)


My own favourite among the various half-psychic investigator, half standup comic commentators they feature to contextualise each piece of grainy film would have to be the redoubtable Susan Slaughter. It doesn't matter what they show - strange scissor-people without bodies, shadow figures, were-creatures of various varieties - she's seen them all already: had lunch with them in some cases.

I see from her IMDb profile that as well as being a "paranormal expert, she openly identifies as a Witch ... Susan is well known for her duality in both acting and the paranormal." All power to her, imho.


10 - Unsolved Mysteries (2020- )


Unsolved Mysteries mostly specialises in missing-person cases and gruesome, unsolved murders. Every now and then they include an episode on more supernatural matters, however, including a truly wonderful piece, "Paranormal Rangers", on the Navaho Reservation policemen whose job it is to investigate any and all unexplained sightings in the immense stretch of territory under their jurisdiction.



So, in conclusion, turning back to the UK, we come to the great-grandaddy of them all, Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World (13 episodes, 1980), and its sequels Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers (13 episodes, 1985), and Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World (26 episodes, 1994).

What can I say about this? It's clearly a masterpiece of the genre, though it could be argued that the longer it went on the less it stayed in tune with the sceptical reductionism of Clarke himself and more it was dominated by the wide-eyed credulity of the TV producers. But (as I explained in my previous blogpost on Clarke) that's of small concern to me.

It gave rise to a series of illustrated coffee-table books, as well as various sets of videos and DVDs (most of which I own):
    Books:

  1. John Fairley & Simon Welfare. Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World (London: Collins, 1980)
  2. John Fairley & Simon Welfare. Arthur C. Clarke’s World of Strange Powers (London: Collins, 1984)
  3. John Fairley & Simon Welfare. Arthur C. Clarke’s Chronicles of the Strange & Mysterious (London: Guild Publishing, 1987)
  4. John Fairley & Simon Welfare. Arthur C. Clarke’s A-Z of Mysteries: From Atlantis to Zombies. Foreword by Arthur C. Clarke (London: Book Club Associates, 1993)
  5. Simon Welfare & John Fairley. Arthur C. Clarke's Mysteries (London: Collins, 1998)

  6. DVDs:

  7. Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World, narrated by Gordon Honeycombe, prod. John Fanshawe & John Fairley, dir. Peter Jones, Michael Weigall & Charles Flynn (UK, 1980). 2-DVD set.
  8. Arthur C. Clarke’s World of Strange Powers, narrated by Anna Ford, prod. John Fairley, dir. Peter Jones, Michael Weigall & Charles Flynn (UK, 1985). 2-DVD set.
  9. Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious Universe, narrated by Carol Vorderman, prod. John Fairley, dir. Peter Jones, Michael Weigall & Charles Flynn (UK, 1994). 4-DVD set.
Not many of the episodes were specifically about ghosts, but those that were were models of the investigative genre: well-researched, well-constructed, and profoundly atmospheric. It's definitely worth watching again, if you ever have the good fortune to come across it.


Simon Welfare & John Fairley: Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World (1980)





28 Days Haunted: The Control Room, with hosts Aaron Sagers & Tony Spera (2022)


So what are the principal hallmarks of the genre? Let's see:
  • a complete lack of verifiable information or results
  • deliberately poor picture and sound quality
  • endless credulity in the face of flimsy conjectures
  • constant reliance on weird and pointless - mostly electronic - gadgets
  • frequent bombastic assertions of close knowledge of the Other Side and its ways

And yet, and yet, every now and then one gets the slightest glimmer that there might actually be something going on in some of the places these investigators get themselves into. It's that, I suppose, that keeps me watching.

To adopt a more (Shirley) Jacksonian perspective, however, even the most sceptical viewer would have to admit that some of the personalities on display in 28 Days Haunted really are quite priceless:


28 Days Haunted: Madison Dry Goods (Madison, North Carolina)
l-to-r: Brandy Miller & Jereme Leonard


Jereme [sic.] and Brandy, shut inside a Dry Goods store in Madison, North Carolina, were particularly good - he a loud, useless, fraidy-cat, who, despite his claims to be a 'Cajun Demonologist,' actually managed to get himself possessed by one of the entities; she a dedicated nag who could go on and one about the same topics for hours in an endless, terrifying loop (as the onscreen time-count recorded so dispassionately).

The most frightening thing about their stay, however, was not so much the building they were trapped in as the weirdly deserted town surrounding it. Cars would occasionally pass, but not a single person could be seen on the streets or in the surrounding shops and offices. It might as well have been Innsmouth, Massachusetts, rather than Madison, North Carolina.


28 Days Haunted: Captain Grant’s Inn (Preston, Connecticut)
l-to-r: Nick Simons & Sean Austin


Then there were those three tomfools, Sean, Nick and Aaron, staying in Captain Grant’s Inn in Preston, Connecticut. Sean, the self-professed psychic was locked in a constant battle with sceptical technician Nick. The latter presumed to doubt the validity of a message written on a steamed-up mirror in the bathroom. The more Sean denied having written it himself, the guiltier he looked.



Hapless would-be peacemaker Aaron felt increasingly overlooked and undervalued by the other two as the investigation progressed. In W. H. Auden's phrase, he sank "into a more terrible calm" as their seemingly interminable ordeal continued.


28 Days Haunted: Lumber Baron Inn (Denver, Colorado)
l-to-r: Ray Causey, Amy Parks, & Shane Pittman


Somewhat surprisingly, Shane, Ray and Amy, at the Lumber Baron Inn in Denver, Colorado, may qualify as the least harmonious group of all. The brutal way in which the two men conspired to bully psychic sensitive Amy into dangerous and uncomfortable situations had to be seen to be believed. She made it clear that she would not channel spirits through 'mirror-portals' (whatever those are). Her counter-offer of using candles to establish contact was accepted reluctantly by the thuggish pair.

That is, until Shane managed, fortuitously, to resuscitate his own psychic abilities as a result of immersing himself in a tin bath under a tent out in the grounds. Ray, by contrast, seemed to do little except complain, foment mutiny, and (we're reliably informed) do most of the cooking.

Riveting though 28 Days Haunted was at times, it was hard to persuade ourselves that there was much more to it than some kind of unholy cross between Survivor and The Amazing Race with a few bits of hokey psychic folklore thrown in.


Joel Anderson, dir. & writ.: Lake Mungo (2008)


All in all, none of these programmes can really compare with the sheer sense of strangeness and haunting loss achieved by Australian filmmaker Joel Anderson in his classic faux-documentary Lake Mungo. If only some real film footage could be found to rival the brilliantly executed camera trickery he beguiles us with so impeccably!