How does Anne Lister’s story connect with the Brontës? In 1826 Lister inherited from her uncles Shibden Hall, a name that will certainly sound familiar to all Brontë enthusiasts. It is believed in fact, that Shibden Hall and the land all around Law Hill could be among the places that inspired Heathcliff and Catherine’s story in Wuthering Heights. In the winter of 1838-39 Anne Lister and Emily Brontë were living just about two kilometers away from each other, which led some scholars to wonder if they had ever met.
Emily arrived at Law Hill in September 1838, when the rich heiress was still travelling around Europe with her wife Ann Walker. The couple returned to Shibden Hall that same year on the 27nd of November, while Emily left Law Hill in March 1839. Despite they lived so close to each other for a few months, according to most scholars there are very little chances that Emily and Anne have ever met. Lister was older than Emily – she was 47 at the time and Emily was only 20. Their lives, their financial resources, their social circles, were completely different. Anne’s income allowed her to live in a way that was the very opposite of Emily’s secluded life. However, there seem to be some kind of connection between the two of them.
Even though Anne never spoke to Emily, she must have had some casual conversations with Miss Patchett – Emily’s employer. Law Hill was in fact property of Anne Lister, and there are records of the two women knowing each other in Lister’s diaries. It was more a matter of business though, they weren’t certainly friends. Still, this acquaintance could be the element that joined Emily and Anne Lister’s stories but, before I explain how, we need to recollect our knowledge of the Brontës and the name of Jack Sharp.
He was adopted by John Walker of Walter Clough Hall, who lived a few kilometers away from Shibden Hall. Despite having other children, John seemed to favour his foster child and when he died, Jack expropriated the inheritance of Richard, his older brother and legitimate heir. Eventually, Richard found a way to get back what had been stolen from him and Jack left planning retaliation. After building Law Hill, Jack Sharp decided to mend fences with his family but eventually led them to ruin by inducing Richard to gamble. Doesn’t this story remind you of something?
Emily was a very good listener, and some of the biographers think that she may have been inspired by this story, possibly told by Miss Patchett, when Heathcliff took shape in her mind. However, there’s another coincidence that links it all to Anne Lister and her wife, Ann Walker. She was in fact related to John Walker, Jack Sharp’s foster father, and this is what eventually brings Lister and Brontë stories together again, in the backstage of Wuthering Heights’s birth.
Do you want to know more about Anne Lister and her adventurous life? Here’s the link to our first part of the article: Gentleman Jack and the Brontës – Pt1: Who is Anne Lister?
Cover picture from Wikipedia: Portrait of Anne Lister (1791-1840), by Joshua Horner, ca. 1830