Emily Bronte’s Shocking News!
It’s enough to spur excitement into Heathcliffe’s restless spirit.
Whether Emily Bronte’s secret hoard of poems – almost two hundred of them –would ever have seen the worldwide light of day had it not been for the vision of her sister, Charlotte, is doubtful. In memoriam, Charlotte released the genius of that private, anguished soul and, in so doing, balked against the views of the former Poet Laureate, Robert Southey, who in 1837 had written to her to say that “literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life and it ought not to be.”
Recognised today as one of the country’s greatest lyric poets, and translated worldwide, well almost, how would Emily Bronte have reacted to the announcement this week that her poetry has been translated into Catalan? Yes Catalan – a language with roots in Vulgar Latin and the national and only official language of Andorra and a few other European territories.
Given that Emily was essentially writing for herself rather than for public consumption, and given that this announcement has taken place over 150 years after her death from, strangely enough, consumption, it is, in writing terms, not to be sniffed at.
For years authors have been encouraged to maximise their international marketability by writing in ways that might interest foreign co-edition publishers. It makes obvious economic sense. If a British publisher can sell foreign rights to other parts of the world they will then undercut their unit costs. And that goes for many involved in the creative arts who are encouraged to be sensitive to innuendo and idiomatic expressions – although one or two have fallen through the net. Were the Swiss cinema goers of The Full Monty, a film about six unemployed steel workers who form a male strip act disappointed when one local picture house described it on their listings as Die Stripper Von Sheffield? And what would AA Milne think of the pupil who drew a lovely picture of his creation only to find it erroneously labelled – Winnie The Pooh By Walt Disney – although I suppose that depends on whether the red t-shirt floats your boat or not.
As an author I have spent many hours considering British peculiarities and eccentricities such as crumpets, hedgehogs, lollipop ladies, rubbish bins and Guy Fawkes and only written in rhyme when asked to by publishers and always avoided slang. On top of that, our illustrators need to ensure their pictures will travel – I am not sure if readers in, say, Bahrain watch out for the first swallows of summer or that children in the Congo would get excited about pictures of an egg and spoon race.
So, for a nation with writing in its DNA we have, for years tripped along quite merrily and occasionally, as an author, I am taken by surprise. Mixed Up Fairy Tales is now published in Chinese so the fact that Cinderella was laughed at by ducks and dreamt of marrying a bowl of porridge clearly appeals to far eastern sensibilities as well as my own. And then, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised when The Copper Tree, a book for young children about the delicate subject of death and bereavement is snapped up within weeks of publication by the far east as well – for death is, as was pointed out to me recently, a cross cultural inevitability.
So, reflecting on this vita post mortem achievement of Emily Bronte I confess to being full of admiration not only for the fact that it breathes even more life into that isolated parsonage in Haworth but also for the translator who was charged with the responsibility of recreating the effect the poems had in the first place. One reviewer, in 1864, noted that Bronte “had things to speak that men will be glad to hear” – indeed she does – and, perhaps, fortuitously, that she had “an evident power of wing that may reach heights not here attempted.” Or was that a criticism? The translator has not only had to have the ability to recreate the metronomic rhythms of Emily Bronte’s carefully crafted stanzas but also, at the same time, had to find a way of communicating the pantheistic vision inspired by, to quote Kate Bush, those “wily, windy moors” – not to mention of course, the essential bit, what rhymes with what, in Catalan.
So, whether or not Emily Bronte would welcome this latest development in her literary longevity lies with the ghosts of that rugged moorland that informed her incredible talent in the first place . But one thing is for certain – she can take heart in the fact that the decadence of modern cafe society was yet to infuse her work for, had Heathcliffe ridden out beyond those moors to, say, Lunenberg Heath in Germany and ordered a “latte” he might well have got more than he bargained for. Latte is German slang for … well look it up – I am a children’s author after all.