Study of the “post genetic”: Emily Brontë’s “EJB” notebook, 1844 to the present
Ayrton, Patricia Anne
Emily Brontë began transcription of two poetry notebooks in February 1844. The title of one, ‘Gondal Poems’ is self-explanatory in its content and focus. But the purpose of the second, simply headed ‘EJB. Transcribed Febuary [sic] 1844’ has never been fully explored. It has not been recognised as a discrete piece of work, nor has it been printed in a complete edition of Emily’s work with the exact text, and in the sequence in which she created it. In this thesis I ask what Emily’s composition of her EJB notebook reveals about her as a writer and thinker, and why readers have never had the opportunity to read the poems in the context that she created for them. Chapter One examines the critical history of the poems, and here I describe the ‘lexicon’ created by Charlotte Brontë, Emily’s first posthumous editor, through which much of Emily’s work is still interpreted. I propose that the continued use of elements of this ‘lexicon’ impedes a recognition of Emily as a rigorous intellectual and thinker. In Chapter Two I show how a sequential reading of the EJB poems places her within her contemporary intellectual world. I propose that her purposeful creation of the notebook provides evidence of an engagement with the philosophies and literature of early nineteenth-century Europe, and reveals not only a profound understanding of the thought-systems of the time, but also a capacity to use those systems to develop a unique philosophy through poetry, a philosophy which she then employed in her creation of Wuthering Heights. The EJB holograph is not currently available for examination but this investigation is supported by my own transcription of the notebook which is based on a set of photographs taken over eighty years ago. Chapters Three, Four and Five are supported by a series of ‘post genetic’ diagrams which describe the textual development of the poems from the first publication of fifteen of them in 1846, to the most recent collected edition published in 1995. These chapters elucidate the effects of the activities and decisions of the editors, collectors and scholars who have influenced the texts and the presentations of the poems since the beginnings of transcription in 1844. This thesis proposes that in creating her EJB notebook Emily constructed a discrete piece of work which should stand alone as evidence of her distinctive philosophical engagement with her contemporary intellectual world. It demands a new vocabulary through which to interpret Emily and her work, and it requires an end to the ‘lexicon’ which has shaped Emily Brontë scholarship since her death in 1848. The evidence presented in this thesis supports the need for a new and definitive edition of Emily’s poems, and particularly for a contextual presentation of the EJB notebook. This will enable a new conception of her as a systematic, methodical and abstract thinker, a philosopher-poet who has engaged with some of the foremost ideas of the early nineteenth-century.