The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever

Before you conclude that international days can’t get any better (or weirder depending on your point of view), do I have the ultimate day for you - The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever.

Every year Kate Bush fans around the world of all ages, genders, and red dress designs, gather to recreate the music video of the singer's hit song 'Wuthering Heights' (big shout out to the wise and wonderful Joyce, for alerting me to the existence of this seriously awesome day).

This year the event is on Saturday 11 July (the date varies a bit, year to year), but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many events in other parts of the world are non-starters. But nevermind. You can always practice or do an reenactment at home on your own, thanks to handy instructional videos, or by watching the original, of course.

The event was born in Brighton, UK, in 2013, when ‘The Ultimate Kate Bush Experience’ (a part of the Brighton Fringe events), attempted to set the world record for the most amount of people dressed as Kate Bush in one place. Since then, 'The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever' has been held in cities around the world including Amsterdam, Atlanta, Berlin, and our very Christchurch (where some of our very own librarians attended).

This maddeningly catchy song speedily rose to number one in the UK after its release in 1978, claiming the top spot for four weeks and usurping Abba's ‘Take a Chance on Me ‘. At the age of 18, Kate became the first UK artist to top the charts with a song written and performed by a woman. And the secret to those moves we know and love? Kate was gifted dance lessons from EMI, with choreographer Lindsay Kemp (David Bowie’s mentor in mime and rumoured lover). Perhaps a little Ziggy Stardust can be detected there?

Under the Ivy

Of course, this big day isn’t just about the dance moves. The lyrics to Kate's song are inspired - in more ways than one.

Written on the night of a full moon, ‘Wuthering Heights ‘, of course, draws inspiration from the classic novel by Emily Brontë . Emily and Kate both share a birthday, and I think we can safely assume, a love of the gothic and ghosts.

Like Emily Brontë, Kate Bush is a also a bit of a recluse, taking a twelve year break from any public performances in 1993, and a 35 year break from touring. However, she was game enough to go and see one of the many parodies of her and her songs (including 'Wuthering Heights', naturally), performed by Steve Coogan in 1999. Her lovely response to the comic was: ‘it was so nice to hear those songs again’.

Kate Bush

Kate was drawn to write her smash hit after watching the last ten minutes of the BBC series of 'Wuthering Heights', and consequently setting about to read the book. She has been inspired by literature throughout her career- penning ‘Babushka’ after watching a Russian period drama, and echoing ‘Ulysses‘ in her song ‘The Sensual World’.

But there is of course another woman we need to acknowledge on this day - Emily Brontë, the second eldest of the celebrated Brontë sisters. She was recorded by many (including her sister, Charlotte), as being very shy and solitary :

"My sister's disposition was not naturally gregarious; circumstances favoured and fostered her tendency to seclusion; except to go to church or take a walk on the hills, she rarely crossed the threshold of home".

Wuthering Heights

Born on July 30th 1818, Emily was the fifth child of Reverend Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell Brontë . At just three years old, Emily and the rest of her siblings (all under the age of 8), lost their mother to cancer.

Their aunt, Elizabeth Branwell took over their care, and once Emily had turned 6 years old, sent her to join Charlotte, Elizabeth, and Maria at the Clergy Daughters School. The experience turned out to be devastating - the girls suffered great neglect and abuse, and upon their return home, Elizabeth and Maria succumbed to the typhoid epidemic that had swept the school.

From then on the three remaining sisters and their brother, Branwell, were educated at home by their father and Elizabeth. The siblings had access to an impressive collection of literature - from the poems of Byron to the novels of Walter Scott. Of course, they also had tremendous imaginations, creating stories together of an imaginary world called Angria. 

Emily had another attempt at a formal education at the age of 17, joining Roes Head Girl school (where Charlotte was teaching ) in the hope of gaining enough education to open a school with her sisters. However, an incredibly homesick Emily returned home to the parsonage a few months later. Later, aged 20, Emily did a stint as a teacher in Halifax, but her poor health saw her return home six months later. 

Emily and Charlotte would make one more attempt to realise their ambition to open a school when they attended a girls academy in Belgium to perfect their German and French. Emily also became a gifted pianist, but the death of their aunt drew them back to the parsonage. Sadly for a whole generation of school girls living around the Yorkshire moors, the sisters were unable to attract students to their remote area and any chance of a Brontë sister run school was dismissed.

Emily Brontë

In 1846, the three sisters released a joint volume of their poetry. Although just two copies were sold, Emily was recognised by critics as being truly gifted.

A year later ‘Wuthering Heights ‘ was published (at Charlotte's insistence ) under the pseydonym 'Ellis Bell’, along with Anne’s ‘Agnes Grey’. Tragically Emily died the following year of tuberculosis, just three months after her beloved brother Branwell's death.

It was only after Emily's early death (aged 30) that her novel became recognised as a literary masterpiece.

Initially, critics complained of the book's clumsy construction, and wild savagery. In Charlotte's preface to her sisters masterpiece in 1850, even she appears to bounce between support and disapproval, at one point even stating: ‘Whether it is right or advisable to create beings like Heathcliff, I do not know: I scarcely think it is’.

Approve or disapprove, what can’t be denied is the power of Wuthering Heights to consume its reader all these decades later. Emily Brontë challenges us, presenting the ultimate tale of anti heroes, twisted love, and simmering hate. It’s hard to think of another masterpiece with the emotional range of ‘Wuthering Heights ‘. No other classic manages to  madden, overwhelm, and enthrall it’s reader quite like the story of Heathcliff and Cathy, and just as in the novel, the effects of their story linger on.

Whether you are perfecting your Kate Bush moves, or setting aside a moment to delve back into the world of Emily Brontë, ‘The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever’ is the ideal time to acknowledge the contributions of these two 'sisters', born 140 years apart.

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