A portrait of Brontë made by her brother, Branwell Brontë
|Born||Emily Jane Brontë
30 July 1818
Thornton, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
|Died||19 December 1848
Haworth, Yorkshire, England
|Pen name||Ellis Bell|
|Occupation||Poet, novelist, governess|
|Notable work(s)||Wuthering Heights|
Emily Jane Brontë (//; 30 July 1818 – 19 December 1848) was an English novelist and poet, best remembered for her only novel, Wuthering Heights, now considered a classic of English literature. Emily was the third eldest of the four surviving Brontë siblings, between the youngest Anne and her brother Branwell. She wrote under the pen name Ellis Bell.
Early life and education
Emily Brontë was born on 30 July 1818 in the village of Thornton, Yorkshire, in the North of England, to Maria Branwell and Patrick Brontë. She was the younger sister of Charlotte Brontë and the fifth of six children, though the two oldest girls, Maria and Elizabeth, died in childhood. In 1820, shortly after the birth of Emily's younger sister Anne, the family moved eight miles away to Haworth, where Patrick was employed as perpetual curate; here the children developed their literary talents.
After the death of their mother in September 1821 from cancer, when Emily was three years old, the older sisters Maria, Elizabeth and Charlotte were sent to the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge, where they encountered abuse and privations later described by Charlotte in Jane Eyre. At the age of six, Emily joined her sisters at school for a brief period. When a typhoid epidemic swept the school, Maria and Elizabeth caught it. Maria, who may actually have had tuberculosis, was sent home, where she died. Emily was subsequently removed from the school, in June 1825, along with Charlotte and Elizabeth. Elizabeth died soon after their return home.
The three remaining sisters and their brother Patrick Branwell were thereafter educated at home by their father and aunt Elizabeth Branwell, their mother's sister. Their father, an Irish Anglican clergyman, was very strict, and during the day he would work in his office, while the children were to remain silent in a room together. Despite the lack of formal education, Emily and her siblings had access to a wide range of published material; favourites included Sir Walter Scott, Byron, Shelley, and Blackwood's Magazine.
In their leisure time the children began to write fiction at home, inspired by a box of toy soldiers Branwell had received as a gift, and created a number of fantasy worlds, which were featured in stories they wrote – all 'very strange ones' according to Charlotte – and enacted about the imaginary adventures of their toy soldiers along with the Duke of Wellington and his sons, Charles and Arthur Wellesley. Little of Emily's work from this period survives, except for poems spoken by characters. When Emily was 13, she and Anne withdrew from participation in the Angria story and began a new one about Gondal, a fictional island whose myths and legends were to preoccupy the two sisters throughout their lives. With the exception of Emily's Gondal poems and Anne's lists of Gondal's characters and place-names, their writings on Gondal were not preserved. Some "diary papers" of Emily's have survived in which she describes current events in Gondal, some of which were written, others enacted with Anne. One dates from 1841, when Emily was twenty-three: another from 1845, when she was twenty-seven.
At seventeen, Emily attended the Roe Head girls' school, where Charlotte was a teacher, but managed to stay only a few months before being overcome by extreme homesickness. She returned home and Anne took her place. At this time, the girls' objective was to obtain sufficient education to open a small school of their own.
Emily became a teacher at Law Hill School in Halifax beginning in September 1838, when she was twenty. Her health broke under the stress of the 17-hour work day and she returned home in April 1839. Thereafter she became the stay-at-home daughter, doing most of the cooking, ironing, and cleaning and teaching Sunday school. She taught herself German out of books and practised piano.
In 1842, Emily accompanied Charlotte to the Héger Pensionnat in Brussels, Belgium, where they attended the girls' academy run by Constantin Héger. They planned to perfect their French and German in anticipation of opening their school. Nine of Emily's French essays survive from this period. Héger seems to have been impressed with the strength of Emily's character, and made the following assertion:
She should have been a man – a great navigator. Her powerful reason would have deduced new spheres of discovery from the knowledge of the old; and her strong imperious will would never have been daunted by opposition or difficulty, never have given way but with life. She had a head for logic, and a capability of argument unusual in a man and rarer indeed in a woman... impairing this gift was her stubborn tenacity of will which rendered her obtuse to all reasoning where her own wishes, or her own sense of right, was concerned.
The two sisters were committed to their studies and by the end of the term had attained such competence in French that Madame Héger made a proposal for both to stay another half-year, even offering to dismiss the English master, according to Charlotte, so that she could take his place, while Emily was to teach music. However, the illness and death of their aunt meant that they had to return to Haworth, and though they did try to open a school at their home, they were unable to attract students to the remote area.
In 1844, Emily began going through all the poems she had written, recopying them neatly into two notebooks. One was labelled "Gondal Poems"; the other was unlabelled. Scholars such as Fannie Ratchford and Derek Roper have attempted to piece together a Gondal storyline and chronology from these poems. In the autumn of 1845, Charlotte discovered the notebooks and insisted that the poems be published. Emily, furious at the invasion of her privacy, at first refused, but relented when Anne brought out her own manuscripts and revealed she had been writing poems in secret as well.
In 1846, the sisters' poems were published in one volume as Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. The Brontë sisters had adopted pseudonyms for publication, preserving their initials: Charlotte was Currer Bell, Emily was Ellis Bell and Anne was Acton Bell. Charlotte wrote in the 'Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell' that their "ambiguous choice" was "dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because... we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice". Charlotte contributed 20 poems, and Emily and Anne each contributed 21. Although the sisters were told several months after publication that only two copies had sold, they were not discouraged (of their two readers, one was impressed enough to request their autographs). The Athenaeum reviewer praised Ellis Bell's work for its music and power, singling out his poems as the best: "Ellis possesses a fine, quaint spirit and an evident power of wing that may reach heights not here attempted", and The Critic reviewer recognized "the presence of more genius than it was supposed this utilitarian age had devoted to the loftier exercises of the intellect."
Personality and character
Emily Brontë remains a mysterious figure and a challenge to biographers because information about her is sparse, due to her solitary and reclusive nature. She does not seem to have made any friends outside her family. Her sister Charlotte remains the primary source of information about her, although as Emily's elder sister, writing publicly about her shortly after her death, Charlotte is not a neutral witness. According to Lucasta Miller, in her analysis of Brontë biographies, "Charlotte took on the role of Emily's first mythographer." In the Preface to the Second Edition of Wuthering Heights, in 1850, Charlotte wrote:
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. Though her feeling for the people round was benevolent, intercourse with them she never sought; nor, with very few exceptions, ever experienced. And yet she know them: knew their ways, their language, their family histories; she could hear of them with interest, and talk of them with detail, minute, graphic, and accurate; but WITH them, she rarely exchanged a word.
Emily's unsociability and extremely shy nature has subsequently been reported many times. According to Norma Crandall, her "warm, human aspect" was "usually revealed only in her love of nature and of animals". In a similar description, Literary news (1883) states: "[Emily] loved the solemn moors, she loved all wild, free creatures and things", and critics attest that her love of the moors is manifest in Wuthering Heights. Over the years, Emily's love of nature has been the subject of many anecdotes. A newspaper dated December 31, 1899, gives the folksy account that "with bird and beast [Emily] had the most intimate relations, and from her walks she often came with fledgling or young rabbit in hand, talking softly to it, quite sure, too, that it understood". The following anecdote is also related:
Once she was bitten by a dog that she saw running by in great distress, and to which she offered water. The dog was mad. She said no word to any one, but herself burned the lacerated flesh to the bone with the red hot poker, and no one knew of it until the red scar was accidentally discovered some weeks after, and sympathetic questioning brought out this story.
In Queens of Literature of the Victorian Era (1886), Eva Hope summarizes Emily's character as "a peculiar mixture of timidity and Spartan-like courage", and goes on to say, "She was painfully shy, but physically she was brave to a surprising degree. She loved few persons, but those few with a passion of self-sacrificing tenderness and devotion. To other people's failings she was understanding and forgiving, but over herself she kept a continual and most austere watch, never allowing herself to deviate for one instant from what she considered her duty."
Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights was first published in London in 1847, appearing as the first two volumes of a three-volume set that included Anne Brontë's Agnes Grey. The authors were printed as being Ellis and Acton Bell; Emily's real name didn't appear until 1850, when it was printed on the title page of an edited commercial edition. The novel's innovative structure somewhat puzzled critics.
Wuthering Heights's violence and passion led the Victorian public and many early reviewers to think that it had been written by a man. According to Juliet Gardiner, "the vivid sexual passion and power of its language and imagery impressed, bewildered and appalled reviewers." Even though it received mixed reviews when it first came out, and was often condemned for its portrayal of amoral passion, the book subsequently became an English literary classic.
Although a letter from her publisher indicates that Emily had begun to write a second novel, the manuscript has never been found. Perhaps Emily, or a member of her family, eventually destroyed the manuscript, if it existed, when she was prevented by illness from completing it. It has also been suggested that, though less likely, the letter could have been intended for Anne Brontë, who was already writing The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, her second novel. In any case, no manuscript of a second novel by Emily has survived.
Emily believed that her health, like her sisters', had been weakened by the harsh local climate and by unsanitary conditions at home, the source of water being contaminated by runoff from the church's graveyard. She caught a severe cold during the funeral of her brother Branwell in September 1848 which led to tuberculosis. Though her condition worsened steadily, she rejected medical help and all proffered remedies, saying that she would have "no poisoning doctor" near her. On the morning of 19 December 1848, Charlotte, fearing for her sister, wrote thus:
She grows daily weaker. The physician's opinion was expressed too obscurely to be of use – he sent some medicine which she would not take. Moments so dark as these I have never known – I pray for God's support to us all.
At noon, Emily was worse; she could only whisper in gasps. With her last audible words she said to Charlotte, "If you will send for a doctor, I will see him now", but it was too late. She died that same day, at about two in the afternoon, while sitting on the sofa at Haworth Parsonage. It was less than three months since Branwell's death, which led a housemaid to declare that "Miss Emily died of a broken heart for love of her brother". Emily had grown so thin that her coffin measured only 16 inches wide. The carpenter said he had never made a narrower one for an adult. She was interred in the Church of St Michael and All Angels family capsule, Haworth, West Yorkshire, England. Emily Brontë would never know the extent of fame she achieved with her one and only novel, Wuthering Heights, as she died a year after its publication. She was 30 years old.
- American Heritage and Collins dictionaries
- Columbia Encyclopedia
- The New Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 2. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 1992. p. 546.
- The Houghton Mifflin Dictionary of Biography (2003), p. 224
- Hilda D. Spear, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1985), p. 1
- Catherine Brighton, The Brontës: Scenes from the Childhood of Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne (2004)
- Rod Mengham, Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (1988), p. 1
- "In 1824, the family moved to Haworth, where Emily's father was perpetual curate, and it was in these surroundings that their literary oddities flourished." — The Brontė Collection (2009)
- A DETAILED GENEALOGY OF THE BRONTË FAMILY
- Lyn Pykett, Emily Brontë (1989)
- "Emily Brontë, although she led an almost secluded life, was not completely cut-off from literature. She read fairly widely. She and the other members of her family knew the older authors, especially Shakespeare, and also the contemporary romanticists like Scott, Wordsworth and Byron. Emily Brontë was fond of reading the articles, reviews and stories, especially with a Gothic flavour, which were published in Blackwood's Magazine." — Jibesh Bhattacharyya (2006). Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (the Atlantic Critical Studies). Atlantic Publishers & Dist. pp. 7–8.
- Richard E. Mezo, A Student's Guide to Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (2002), p. 1
- "All our plays are very strange ones." — The life of Charlotte Brontë, by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (1870), p. 62
- The Brontës' Web of Childhood, by Fannie Ratchford, 1941
- An analysis of Emily's use of paracosm play as a response to the deaths of her sisters is found in Delmont C. Morrison's Memories of Loss and Dreams of Perfection (Baywood, 2005), ISBN 0-89503-309-7.
- "Emily Brontë's Letters and Diary Papers", City University of New York
- "Liberty was the breath of Emily's nostrils; without it she perished. The change from her own home to a school, and from her own very noiseless, very secluded, but unrestricted and unartificial mode of life, to one of disciplined routine (though under the kindest auspices), was what she failed in enduring... I felt in my heart she would die, if she dd not go home, and with this conviction obtained her recall." — Charlotte Brontë, as quoted in The life of Charlotte Brontë, by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (1870), p. 101
- At Roe Head and Blake Hall with pictures of the school then and now, and descriptions of Anne's time there.
- Steven Vine, Emily Brontë (1998), p. 11
- Christine L. Krueger, Encyclopedia of British writers, 19th century (2009), p. 41
- Jean Pierre Petit, Emily Brontë: a critical anthology (1973), p. 130
- "A deep and earnest student of German, a pianist of wonderful fire and brilliancy, a writer of marvelous promise, she did willingly and untiringly the heaviest household drudgery." —The Record-Union, "Sacramento" , 31 December 1899.
- "Emily was the serious pianist in the house, even before her study in Brussels." — Robert K. Wallace (2008). Emily Bronte and Beethoven: Romantic Equilibrium in Fiction and Music. University of Georgia Press. p. 223.
- Constantin Héger, 1842, referring to Emily Brontë, as quoted in The Oxford History of the Novel in English (2011), Volume 3, p. 208
- "Madame Heger has made a proposal for both me and Emily to stay another half year, offering to dismiss her English master, and take me as English teacher; also to employ Emily some part of each day in teaching music to a certain number of the pupils." — Charlotte Brontë, Brussels, 1842, as quoted in Gaskell's The life of Charlotte Brontë (1870), p. 176
- Jibesh Bhattacharyya, Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (2006), p. 7
- "Emily had become a competent piano teacher." — Norma Crandall (1957). Emily Bronte, a Psychological Portrait. R. R. Smith Publisher. p. 85.
- Fannie Ratchford, ed., Gondal's Queen. University of Texas Press, 1955. ISBN 0-292-72711-9.
- Derek Roper, ed., The Poems of Emily Brontë. Oxford University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-19-812641-7.
- "What actually distinguishes 'No coward soul is mine' as marking a distinctive moment in Emily Brontë's career is not that it was her last poem but that it actually appears to have been the first poem that she wrote after Charlotte Brontë read a manuscript volume of Emily's poetry without Emily's knowledge or permission, an act that Charlotte herself later admitted had profoundly upset her sister. For Charlotte Brontë, the act seemed at least partially justified in hindsight because through it she discovered that her sister was a much more accomplished poet than she had realized. As Charlotte tells the story,her discovery of the remarkably high quality of some of Emily's poetry gave Charlotte the afflatus she had to that point been lacking to enlist both her sisters in publishing a volume of their poems, and soon thereafter they began to establish themselves as professional novelists." — Meredith L. McGill (2008). The Traffic in Poems: Nineteenth-century Poetry and Transatlantic Exchange. Rutgers University Press. p. 240.
- "Emily's literary success might not have occurred at all if Charlotte had not discovered a notebook containing her poems in the autumn of 1845. Emily was furious at the violation of her privacy and initially resisted Charlotte's urge to publish them. The poems eventually appeared alongside verses by Anne and Charlotte, published under a pseudonym in 1846 as Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. The sisters chose masculine names in the hope that their works would be taken more seriously." — Grace Moore, Wuthering Heights (2012), 'About the author'
- "In 1845 Charlotte 'accidentally lighted upon' the manuscripts of Emily's poems, and on reading them was impressed by their power. She confronted her younger sister with her discovery, and admitted that she had been writing poetry too. Emily was nevertheless vexed at having been found out, though she eventually was persuaded to submit her work for publication. In the meantime, Anne quietly brought her own poetry manuscripts out of hiding." — Wuthering Heights (1989), p. vi (ISBN 978-0812505160)
- Encyclopedia of British writers, 19th century (2009), p. 41
- Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, The life of Charlotte Brontë (1870), p. 218
- Winifred Gérin, Charlotte Brontë: the evolution of genius (1969), p. 322
- Margot Peters, Unquiet Soul: A Biography of Charlotte Bronte (1976), p. 219
- In the footsteps of the Brontës (1895), p. 306
- The poems of Emily Jane Brontë and Anne Brontë (1932), p. 102
- Lorna Sage The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English (1999), p. 90
- "The life of Emily Bronte is shrouded in mystery, and she remains an elusive and mysterious figure" — Lyn Pykett, Emily Brontë (1989)
- "Emily's reclusive nature had already made her less known than the siblings who had moved in wider social circles" — U. C. Knoepflmacher, Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights (1989), p. 112
- Grace Moore, Wuthering Heights (2012), 'About the author'
- "Then there is what might be called Charlotte's smoke-screen. Her sister evidently shocked her, to the point where she may even have doubted Emily's sanity. After her death, Charlotte rewrote Emily's character, history and even poems on a (to her and the bourgeois reading public) more acceptable model." — Stevie Davies (1994). Emily Brontë: Heretic. Women's Press. p. 16.
- Lucasta Miller (2002). The Brontë Myth. Vintage. pp. 171–174. ISBN 0 09 928714 5.
- Editor's Preface to the Second Edition of Wuthering Heights, by Charlotte Brontë, 1850.
- Cf. Charlotte Brontë's "Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell", in Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey: In Two Volumes, Vol. I (1951), p. xiii: "In Emily's nature the extremes of vigour and simplicity seemed to meet. Under an unsophisticated culture, inartificial tastes, and an unpretending outside, lay a secret power and fire that might have informed the brain and kindled the veins of a hero; but she had no worldly wisdom; her powers were unadapted to the practical business of life; she would fail to defend her most manifest rights, to consult her most legitimate advantage. An interpreter ought always to have stood between her and the world. Her will was not very flexible, and it generally opposed her interest. Her temper was magnanimous, but warm and sudden; her spirit altogether unbending."
- "Emily Bronte is altogether an enigma. We perceive a power about her which could not find reasonable vent or utterance, so shut in was it by her repulsive and unsocial qualities. The intense love of life is as strange a feature as any." — The Living Age (1857), Volume 55, p. 409
- "[Emily Bronté]'s leanings and affinities were all of a weird character. Unsocial, stubborn in will, destitute of affection for any human being, seemingly unsusceptible of influence or impression from her sisters..." — The Ladies' Repository, February, 1861.
- "Emily Bronte was quite unlike her sisters. She was eccentric, antisocial, painfully shy, and probably meant what she said when she expressed a preference for dogs over people" — Alexander, Sellars, The Art of the Brontës (1995), p. 100
- Norma Crandall, Emily Bronte: a psychological portrait (1957), p. 81
- Pylodet, Leypoldt, Literary news (1883) Volume 4, p. 152
- Brontë Society, The Brontës Then and Now (1947), p. 31
- The Record-Union, "Sacramento", December 31, 1899.
- Eva Hope, Queens of Literature of the Victorian Era (1886), p. 168
- Richard E. Mezo, A Student's Guide to Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (2002), p. 2
- Carter, McRae, The Routledge History of Literature in English: Britain and Ireland (2001), p. 240
- Juliet Gardiner, The History today who's who in British history (2000), p. 109
- Wuthering Heights, Mobi Classics (2009)
- The letters of Charlotte Brontë (1995), edited by Margaret Smith, Volume Two 1848–1851, p. 27
- Gaskell, Elizabeth (1857, reprinted 1998). The Life of Charlotte Brontë. New York: Penguin. p. 264.
- A letter from Charlotte Brontë to Ellen Nussey is quoted in Elizabeth Gaskell. The Biography of Charlotte Brontë. Oxford Edition 1996. Charlotte refers to the winter of 1833/4 which was unusually wet and there were a large number of deaths in the village — thought to be caused by water running down from the Churchyard.
- "Branwell died suddenly, on September 24, 1848, a Sunday. At his funeral service, a week later, Bronte caught a severe cold which developed with deadly speed into inflammation of the lungs and consumption." — Richard Benvenuto, Emily Brontë (1982), p. 24
- "Branwell collapsed and died on September 24; Emily caught a chill at his funeral and died of galloping consumption on December 19" — The Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 1. Americana Corp. 1973. p. 596.
- Fraser, Rebecca (2008). Charlotte Brontë: A Writer's Life (2 ed.). 45 Wall Street, Suite 1021 New York, NY 10005: Pegasus Books LLC. p. 261. ISBN 978-1-933648-88-0.
- "[Emily's] extraordinary temper... showed itself in its utmost exaggeration as bodily disease gained upon her. She rejected all sympathy and medical assistance; the sisters dared not notice her failing limbs and panting breath; she would receive help from none." — The Ladies' Repository, February, 1861.
- Elizabeth Gaskell, The life of Charlotte Brontë (1870), p. 281
- The Ladies' Repository for July 1857
- Folio Society, The complete poems of Emily Brontë (1951), p. 282
- Javier Marías, Margaret Jull Costa, Written Lives (2006), p. 171
- "She dragged herself down to the sitting-room, and died there, about two o'clock. She must have had some horror of dying in that room of death overhead; for, at noon, when the last pains seized her, she refused to be taken back to it. Unterrified, indomitable, driven by her immortal passion for life, she fought terribly. Death took her as she tried to rise from the sofa and break from her sisters' arms that would have laid her there. Profoundly, piteously alienated, she must have felt that Anne and Charlotte were in league with death; that they fought with her and bound her down; and that in her escape from them she conquered." — May Sinclair, The Three Brontes (2004), p. 22
- "To Martha Brown and her sisters, loyal servants of the Brontë family, there never appeared to be any doubt that Emily died of grief for her brother. She was taken ill after his funeral and was dead within three months. It was as simple as that." — Winifred Gérin, Emily Brontë: a biography (1971), p. 242
- Catherine Reef, The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne (2012)
- "Brontë inscribed her desire on her flesh as hunger—and her body became, in the absence of speech, the very text of her deprivation. She died on 19 December 1848 and was buried three days later. Her coffin maker, William Wood, had to construct the narrowest coffin he had ever made for an adult; it measured just 16 inches across" — Steven Vine, Emily Brontë (1998), p. 20
|About Emily Brontë|
|By Emily Brontë|
- Emily Brontë, Charles Simpson
- In the Footsteps of the Brontës, Ellis Chadwick
- Last Things: Emily Brontë's Poems, Janet Gezari
- The Oxford Reader's Companion to the Brontës, Christine Alexander & Margaret Smith
- Literature and Evil, Georges Bataille
- The Brontë Myth, Lucasta Miller
- Emily, Daniel Wynne
- Dark Quartet, Lynne Reid Banks
- Emily Brontë, Winifred Gerin
- A Chainless Soul: A Life of Emily Brontë, Katherine Frank
- Emily Brontë. Her Life and Work, Muriel Spark and Derek Stanford
- Emily's Ghost: A Novel of the Brontë Sisters, Denise Giardina
- Charlotte and Emily: A Novel of the Brontës, Jude Morgan
- L. P. Hartley, 'Emily Brontë In Gondal And Galdine', in L. P. Hartley, The Novelist's Responsibility (1967), p. 35–53
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Emily Brontë|
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Emily Brontë.|
- Works by Emily Brontë at Project Gutenberg
- Emily Brontë public domain audiobooks from LibriVox
- Website of the Brontë Scoeity and Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth
- Wuthering Heights overview
- Some poems by Emily Brontë
- Emily Brontë, by A. Mary F Robinson, 1883 A Biography Archive.org
- Emily Brontë's grave
- Memorial Page for Emily Brontë at Find-a-Grave
- Short biography and selected Poems
- Reader's Guide to Wuthering Heights
- Map of Locations associated with Wuthering Heights and Emily Brontë
- Dutch website on the Brontës