The Origins Of Emily Bronte’s Character
Numerous polls have shown that of all the romantic heroes in literature the character that is most frequently voted as number one is that of Heathcliff from the novel ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte. He was even the subject of a chart topping pop song by the brilliant Kate Bush which contains in the lyrics lines from the novel ‘Heathcliff, let me in at your window’…’bad dreams in the night’ etc. For the character of Heathcliff is, if you read the book, one mean, moody, brutal, aggressive and at times almost demonic individual with dark swarthy looks. He is a tortured loner, an outsider, obsessed by his love for Catherine. For some reason many women find Heathcliff one extremely sexy man. Emily Bronte was a very proper young lady from a clerical family, she would have no personal experience of anyone like Heathcliff. So how did such a well educated, rather protected lady dream up such an unorthodox character? What follows is, I believe, the answer.
As a Spiritualist it is part of my belief that I am totally responsible for my own actions and I do not accept that my sins belong to anyone else, they are mine. As a general rule I also believe that as you sow, so shall you reap. In other words if my deeds are destructive then what follows will be negative, I sincerely hold that to be true. Of course I try to do good things, to help others and be a kind, compassionate soul, but now and then someone comes along that needs special attention. We all have that within us, at least I believe we do and in my case most certainly. It is a strange paradox, is it not, that a spiritual individual can switch from being gentle and forgiving to being an agent of retribution. How can this be? Is it nature or is it nurture? That question has puzzled psychologists and psychoanalysts for as long as there has been scientific inquiry into the human mind. One well known idiom or wise saw that suggests an answer is this ‘the fruit does not fall far from the tree’. In my personal experience that has often been proven to be an unfortunate truth. As an example, whilst working in HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs I was dealing with a young man who had just been sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, he had poured a can of petrol over his victim and burnt him to death. The strangest thing was that his prison record showed that his own father had also been sentenced to life imprisonment many years previously for committing a murder in exactly the same way. Now as I said I am by nature and by my belief in Spiritualism a forgiving and kindly soul, but there is something within me that, when the time comes, alters my personality quite dramatically. Could it be, I have often wondered, that my physiological and psychological genetic composition predisposes me to be a man for all seasons? If so where then did this interesting and at times highly volatile nature bear its genesis? What strange family tree bore this mysteriously motivated individual fruit-cake?
Inspired by the television series ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ I set out to research into the history of my own family, The Sutton’s, starting at my paternal line. I was already aware, having spoken briefly to my cousin Keith F. Sutton, that our line could be traced back many centuries. Keith had already discovered that we shared a direct ancestor, one Charles Sutton, who was the father of my grandfather. This man had been in charge of a country estate at Old Langho in Lancashire acting as the gamekeeper, a trade and job he had learned from his father Robert Sutton who previously held that position. This seemed to me about what one might reasonably expect as the Sutton family were residents of the countryside in Yorkshire and Lancashire. So going back to my Great Great Grandfather there was nothing particularly remarkable. The occupation of gamekeeper and estate manager was though one requiring a certain firmness of character, especially in late Victorian England. But there was something more that Keith wanted to tell me about The Sutton family, he said that we shared a direct line ancestor named Richard Sutton of West House in the town of Dent in Yorkshire. There was, Keith advised me, something really quite unique about this Richard Sutton, he was, according to certain serious academics, considered to be the source material for the dark, rather brooding character of Heathcliff from the novel WutheringHeights by Emily Bronte.
The Bronte sisters actually lived some fifty or so miles to the south east of Dent in the town of Haworth where their father was a minister. However the Bronte family had wide social connections throughout Yorkshire and Lunesdale and the brother of Emily and Charlotte Bronte named Branwell Bronte was an artist who paid a visit to Hartley Coleridge the brother of Samual Taylor Coleridge the famous Lakeland poet. In his article for The Sedbergh Historian Mr. Christopher Heywood in ‘Hartley Coleridge and the Bronte Novels’ concludes that the remarkable story of Richard Sutton and his rise to prominence was passed to Branwell at Nabb Cottage on Rydal Water during the occasion of his visit there. It is assumed that Branwell subsequently recounted this story to his sister Emily. This was the true story of Richard Sutton a man both infamous and important in his time who climbed from being little more than a boot-black to being a land owning gentleman of substance. A great deal of painstaking detailed research has been conducted into the life of this man by another of my distant cousins a rather erudite lady named Jan Bridget of Todmorden in Yorkshire. Jan has discovered that our ancestor Richard Sutton (1782-1851) was orphaned at a young age and taken in to work amongst the slaves owned by the powerful Sill family of Dentdale. Edmund Sill, the master of West House and owner of many farms in the Yorkshire dales, was a slave trader with two ships trading with Jamaica where he was associated with a sugar plantation. From Jamaica Edmund Sill brought slaves through the port of Liverpool to work on his lands in Yorkshire. When Richard Sutton, then little more than a boy, was taken to work for the Sill family he worked alongside the slaves enduring extreme harsh treatment.
Richard Sutton in his position as general hand for the Sill family is recorded as being subjected to a flogging for some misdemeanour, so he was not treated with great favour by the family. There is a DVD film made about the Sills and the use of slave labour in Yorkshire titled ‘A Regular Black: The Hidden Wuthering Heights’ in which it was claimed that Richard Sutton went on from being a slave to becoming the richest man in Dentdale and was of an unpleasant nature. The generally accepted story being that Richard Sutton was in love with Ann Sill the daughter of his benefactor Edmund Sill. Richard and Ann would have been virtually raised under the same roof albeit in vastly different quarters. This is no doubt the source of the gossip about Richard Sutton that was current during his lifetime and would have been discussed by people in the area. The film suggests that Richard Sutton may have been a black slave but this is wrong as Jan Bridget discovered he was baptised in St. Oswald’s church at Thornton-in-Lonsdale. The mythology surrounding Richard Sutton was clearly evident during his lifetime as he gradually achieved great prominence in the Dentdale locality owning properties such as Rigg End Farm and buying the mansion West House the former home of Edmund Sill. In her will Ann Sill left Richard Sutton a considerable amount of money and he did indeed die a rich man in the year 1851. His story has, it seems, been embellished and elaborated by Emily Bronte as there are many similarities between the character of Heathcliff and Richard Sutton. As undoubted proof that he attained social prominence his rather grand raised gravestone can be seen under a cherry tree in the graveyard of the 14th century church of St. Andrew’s at Dent, Yorkshire. It says ‘Richard Sutton of West House’. Inside the church are a number of plaques dedicated to the Sill family mentioning the plantation in Jamaica. One such plaque is in memory of Ann Sill who may have been the inspiration for Cathy in WutheringHeights with Richard Sutton as her Heathcliff. I am a direct line descendent of Richard Sutton, he is my Great, Great Great, Great Grandfather.
In my column next month I will be looking at the peculiar characteristics and individual idiosyncrasies that have seemingly passed from generation to generation of the Sutton family. I will be discussing how familial tendencies and predilections may prejudice free will potentially compromising our spiritual progression. The technical term for this reproduction of ancestral characteristics is palingenesis and the descendents of Richard Sutton do indeed show that in many respects the fruit has not fallen far from the tree.
I am John G. Sutton. You can read my latest book ‘PSYCHIC SCREW’ about my own tough life available in paperback or as a Kindle E Book on Amazon. More of my work is also available online at WWW. Psychicworld.net