Call me Emily

I have come to the conclusion that Oklahoma is Emily Brontë country.

Not Charlotte Brontë, who wrote "Jane Eyre," a novel of redemptive love and kindness.

No, I mean Emily Brontë, the sister who wrote "Wuthering Heights," which is not, as we like to think of it, a romantic novel of a powerful love. It’s a story of anger, jealousy and revenge in the Yorkshire moors, where both the people and the countryside are fierce and harsh.

The title gives it away. "Wuthering" means a climate that is wild, windy and stormy. Hello, Oklahoma.

Emily is my favorite of the Brontë sisters. Charlotte longed to be sociable and pretty. Emily didn’t give a damn, and she wrote in a style that — for her time — was close to that language. She was reclusive, disagreeable and immovably obstinate. She once wrote an essay in defense of cats saying that their bad qualities of hypocrisy, cruelty and ingratitude made them closely resemble humans.

All of the Brontë sisters wrote in rebellion. Charlotte’s strong protagonist Jane Eyre railed against unjustness for Victorian women. She had her character say that if we are kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it their own way. No, she said, when we are struck without reason, we should strike back again forcefully.

"Jane Eyre" was published in 1847 and became an influential sensation the following revolutionary year in England. Queen Victoria stayed up late reading it to Prince Albert. Florence Nightingale read it and decided to find a "necessary occupation." The workers who had not benefited from the wealth of the Industrial Revolution marched in the streets protesting the political establishment and aristocrats.

If Charlotte’s book is about a young woman demanding dignity and independence, Emily’s book — also published in 1847 — is a howl of fury, but it also is a portrayal of evil wrapped in the character Heathcliff. He is a man consumed by anger, vengeance and self-righteousness. He does not try to build up the society around him — he destroys. At one point he cries out, "I have no pity. The more the worms writhe, the more I yearn to crush out their entrails."

Which brings me back to Oklahoma, my home state, where sometimes we seem as primitive as Emily’s wuthering moors — preoccupied with sex and religion and dedicated to a state budget that lets the worms writhe.

What makes us a great nation is that we are a nation always in revolution. We revolt against injustices like child labor and demand civil rights, women’s suffrage and gay rights. We advocate for the poor, the weak and the persecuted — unless, of course, they’re in our own backyard.

I am assured that we have politicians working hard for the greater good, but it’s the others that turn me into Emily Brontë. What can I, personally, do to protest them? Can I dump tea in the Arkansas River? Can I set up a mock guillotine on Guthrie Green?

How can I revolt against a legislator who wants to sic the immigration authorities on children who don’t speak English or who, while advocating the ban of abortions, suggests rape might be an act of God? I could write them a letter of protest, but what do they care? I’m not in their districts; I can’t vote for them. I can boycott their districts, but so what? I don’t shop there anyway.

We squeaked through this year, but 2016 was the second-hottest summer on record. Some of us brace ourselves for more heat records to come. Can I channel that heat and Emily’s ferocious spirit? Can I write a Brontë book of local revolution? A book that says to the lesser legislators, "Tame your mean souls and still the winds howling over wuthering Oklahoma before it falls down around us."


Connie Cronley is the author of four books, commentator for public radio 89.5 FM and a columnist for TulsaPeople.

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