Emily Bronte’s "Second Novel"

A few days ago I went to the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn to see a play about the Bronte family.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was well written and well acted and in almost every respect excellent.  I was however surprised when I heard the actors twice say that Emily had written or partially written a second novel after Wuthering Heights that Charlotte supposedly destroyed after Emily’s death.  There is even a scene where Charlotte tears pages out of Emily’s book, throws them into a bucket and then sets them alight.

Since this seemed so unlike anything about Charlotte I had ever heard or read I thought I would check out the truth of it.  A quick internet search showed that there has in fact been quite a lot of talk about the existence of a supposed second novel of Emily’s written by her after Wuthering Heights, which Charlotte is supposed to have destroyed.  The basis for all this talk comes down to just three documents none of which were written by Emily. I have read the three documents all three of which are easy to find on the internet.  The first is a letter sent to Emily by her publisher Thomas Newby in which he tells her to take as long as she needs over her second novel because an author’s reputation depends on the quality of the second novel, which should improve on the first.  The two other documents are two letters written by Charlotte during Emily’s final illness.  Both letters say that Emily is too ill to write.  Some have construed this to mean that were Emily not ill she would be writing something and this has in turn led to further speculation that Emily must have been writing something before she fell ill.  In the second letter Charlotte also says words to the effect that when Emily recovers then it will be time to decide whether or not her present publisher is a worthy person to publish her second work.

In my opinion there are absolutely no grounds for seeing in these documents evidence for the existence of a second novel.  The first is a letter from Newby to Emily written following the success of Wuthering Heights.  The letter was obviously intended to prompt Emily to write a second novel that would build on the success of the first.  It was also clearly intended to ensure that when Emily did write her second novel that Newby would be the one who would publish it.  The comment that Emily should “take her time” was obviously intended to dispel the impression that Newby was being pushy.  Emily did in fact have good reason to be unhappy with Newby who had held back publication of Wuthering Heights until after the success of Charlotte’s novel Jane Eyre, which had been published by a different publisher whom Charlotte had approached after Newby had turned down Charlotte’s first novel The Professor.  As well as prompting Emily to write a second novel Newby’s letter was therefore clearly intended to placate her.  As for the two letters from Charlotte not only do they not show that at the time of her death Emily had written or partially written a second novel but on the contrary they strongly suggest the opposite.  Both say that Emily is too ill to write.  It is curious that some people have construed this to mean that Emily had written something when that is not what the letters say.  The letters do not say that Emily had been writing something but had been obliged to interrupt her work because she had fallen ill.  To argue that they do is to construe a positive out of a negative, which is false reasoning.  As for Charlotte’s comment that in the event of Emily’s recovery it would be the time to decide whether or not to persist with her present publisher, that is a comment about Newby not about the existence of a second novel that Emily might have been writing or might have written.  I gather that Newby had something of a dubious reputation and quite apart from any concerns about him that Emily (and Charlotte and Anne) might have had because of his belated publication of Wuthering Heights and Anne’s first novel Agnes Grey Charlotte would also have had cause to dislike him because of the way he had turned down her first novel The Professor.

No doubt Charlotte and Emily had their issues but there is no evidence that Charlotte ever destroyed anything that Emily ever wrote and especially given the complete absence of any evidence for the existence of any second novel by Emily I think it is unfair to Charlotte to suggest that she did.

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