Contemporary Arts - 2018 - Making Thunder Roar Exhibition

Well-known Emily admirers share their fascination with her life & work
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Well-known Emily admirers share their fascination with her life & work

Emily Brontë is one of the greatest writers in English literature, and yet very little is actually known about her. What we do know survives as fragments of information from the people who knew her best, while years of fascination by her biographers have introduced speculation and myth to fill the gaps in our knowledge.

To mark the bicentenary of Emily Brontë’s birth, we invited a number of well-known Emily admirers to share their own fascination with her life and work. We commissioned creative contributions which responded in thoughtprovoking ways to a selection of Emily’s possessions, writing and artwork as well as some of the well-loved household objects she used daily. 

These personal responses to Emily acknowledged the gaps in our understanding about this intriguing writer, but also encouraged fresh perspectives on her life and work.

You can find Helen Oyeyemi's contribution by clicking on 'read more', below, and we also worked with the following creatives on our exhibited contributions: Anita Rani, Jessica HansonJosie Long, Caryl Phillips, Mike Carey, Dame Judi Dench, Sally Wainwright, Benjamin Myers, Lily Cole, Rosie Garland, and Maxine Peake. 

Kei Miller produced an audio response for the exhibition and Lucy Powrie produced a digital response using her literary YouTube presence.
Bread and roses: the dual life support system of all labourers, domestic or otherwise. ‘Bread and roses for all’ wouldn’t establish itself as a slogan until sixty-three years after Emily Jane Brontë’s death, but I think (believe? hope?) that the writer of this 1834 diary paper was chief Bread and Roses officer at the Parsonage. It’s probably a bit too fanciful to picture her writing these words even as dough bloomed in the bread tin, and definitely much too fanciful to add roses to the final presentation – wild roses, white petalled dog roses of course, their stems emerging from cavernous sub-crust air pockets. Some aberration in the behaviour of the yeast, which wouldn’t settle the way it ought. Or: a side effect of reading this diary paper, in which Emily blends observations on two adjoining planes of her present (current events in the fictional world she co-created, while over in the non-fictional world Tabby issues a compelling command to ‘pillopotate’) and those floating hopes for her own future and that of her siblings. 24th November 1834 was just another day in the Brontë household, but the day demanded what each day of a fully lived life demands of us, the diligent work of observation and play of imagination that Emily made such seemingly light work of. With capabilities like that, there’s a sense in which putting out bread bouquets at teatime becomes a matter of course.

Helen Oyeyemi

Novelist and short story writer
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