It's easy to imagine oneself the Creator when one seems to wring human beings and landscapes from mere pen and ink, but I wonder if writers aren't tapping into something that already exists, like our dream world seems to exist. At any rate, that's what writing for me has always been like. And when I began writing Solsbury Hill, when I sat down to that first empty page, Eleanor Abbott (the heroine of the novel) was already there, sitting in a Manhattan cafe sipping coffee.
I knew I was writing a book connected to Wuthering Heights. My editor had proposed the idea: the notion of a contemporary novel with a connection to this classic novel we keep reading. I'd just finished writing two novels about troubled young people in deeply troubled families and, as I finished reading Emily Brontë's novel again, I felt an unmistakable kinship with the author. When, as a teenager, I had read Wuthering Heights, I had the feeling I was missing something, or seeing something no one else was seeing. Teacher and students alike had seen the love between Catherine and Heathcliff as a great love, some exalted meeting of souls, while I saw it as a childhood love gone terribly wrong. I saw sibling loyalty, then jealousy and pettiness, then viciousness and cruelty in a story that became increasingly mired in its gothic sensibility.
Wuthering Heights is a labyrinth of Emily's preoccupations. One can trace the threads, though they're buried in twists of contradictions and emotional confusion, through the endless repetition of themes. She's preoccupied with obsessive and possessive love, with filial loyalty, with laws for passing wealth and land, with an isolating family life, with violence and cruelty, and with a concern that what happened to the mother might continue in the daughter.
Emily Brontë was a passionate writer all her life, but left none of her compulsive writing, no journals, no poetry, from the last few years of her life. And no one will ever know the extent of complication in the relationship between Emily and the drug-addled brother she cared for those last years, but Branwell and Heathcliff share qualities, this much is sure. What is less certain is what Edgar Linton stood for. The outsider, the stranger living in a well-lit house, the kind and refined young man who invited Catherine Earnshaw to join him at Thrushcross Grange and settle into adulthood there.
For at the heart of Wuthering Heights - topographically and emotionally - was a brightly lit home with gentleness and decency inside. I imagined or maybe intuited that there was a secret hidden inside the novel - that in it Emily had left a clue to something in her life - that she had had a chance to know a kind and gentle love, something separate from her family, something completely her own, before she died.
With all of this, and more, on my mind, I sat down to write. Solsbury Hill is the story of a contemporary young woman who stumbles upon the secrets buried inside Wuthering Heights. It begins with a young woman, orphaned in her teens, who is called to visit her ailing aunt in a grand old house in the Yorkshire moors. We follow Eleanor Abbott as her heart is broken, then as she gains strength from her long walks through heather and bracken, holding her own against the wild wind. Lost and curious about her own identity, and a legacy that seems to pass from mother to daughter, Eleanor has the courage to ask questions and look for answers to puzzles.
As I wrote Solsbury Hill, I felt something healing in Emily's story. I had the sense that Eleanor was related to Emily, in some way. I watched Eleanor, as she learned from the moors that one might only withstand the power of great love if one is brave enough to seek one's Self - and to find it.
Following Eleanor Abbott as she moved through the country estate she was set to inherit, Trent Hall, I realized that maybe the force of Emily's novel came from something pulling at her in another direction. Maybe she met something, someone, on the moors who pulled her toward something other than the life to which she was accustomed - cloistered and close and potentially suffocating in the Parsonage - gave her a taste of freedom and passion and self. What might have begun as a weekend with friends, a walk on the moors, might have become the beginning of an urge to resist the pull of home and Branwell's needs and the exigencies of being a Bronte.
I wrote Solsbury Hill to give Emily Brontë a taste of a kind and generous love. Maybe through some quantum physics magic - writing it has made it so.
Susan Wyler is the author of Solsbury Hill Riverhead, $16.00].