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Emily Brontë

The legendary Emily Brontë (1818–1848) was born in Thornton, Yorkshire, in North-Eastern England.

Emily Brontë
Emily Brontë

Childhood

Emily Brontë (1818–1848) was born into a famous well-educated, literary family of novelists, writers and poets, Emily was one of 6 siblings: Maria (1814-1825), Elizabeth (1815–1825), Charlotte (1816-1855), Anne (1820 –1849), and Patrick Branwell (1817–1848). Emily was two years old when her father moved the family to the small village of Haworth in 1820. Here, the Reverend Patrick Brontë became curate. Haworth was to become Emily’s inspiration for the setting found in her one and only novel, Wuthering Heights with its moors, freezing winds and wild nature. Catherine’s and Heathcliff’s manic behavior in Wuthering Heights can easily be attributed to the bleak environment in which they live.

Emily’s mother died in 1821 when Emily was only three years old. The first two sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, died of hunger, cold and privation due to the despotic, disciplinary regime inflicted at Cowan Bridge School, an English boarding school. They both contracted tuberculosis, an illness which would later claim the life of Emily and her younger sister Anne.
The conditions and abuse the two sisters suffered would later be described in Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Jane Eyre.

The fact that the Brontë children were forced to grow up with little parental guidance in an isolated, bleak northern parsonage may have contributed to their own creative imaginations. They were cared for by an overly religious, Methodist aunt who is said to have lacked affection and whose duty was only to educate, clothe and feed them. Aunt Branwell’s emotional coldness as well as religious zeal may have been the source of several of the characters in Wuthering Heights.

Emily - The Recluse

Although it is said that Emily was an unemotional recluse, she was also an observer. She understood the society and times in which she lived. Her father’s congregation gave her glimpses into a tiny microcosm of English social structure. The passionate temperaments and vengeful behavior we meet in Wuthering Heights may have been demonstrated by the neighboring villagers. The torments administered by the inhuman headmistresses at Cowan Bridge School on Maria, Elizabeth and later Emily exposed her to the darker sides of human behavior. Her brother, Patrick Branwell, the fourth sibling, died at an early age of alcoholism and drugs. Emily’s insight into the demonic behavior of her characters was probably experienced firsthand.

Left to their own resources, the Brontë children’s greatest outlet was writing and making up stories. One event which all the biographies mention took place in 1826 when Mr. Brontë brought home twelve wooden soldiers for Branwell. The Brontë children all took part in building up imaginary landscapes, i.e. “Gondal” where fantasy characters and stories could run free. They even wrote little books full of stories, plays, histories and poems all written by their fantasy heroes and heroines. But it wasn’t until 1846 that Emily’s, Charlotte’s and Anne’s poems from the “Gondal” period were published, Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Fear of publicity, caused the sisters to adopt pseudonyms. Charlotte was known as Currer Bell, Emily was Ellis Bell and Anne was known as Acton Bell.

Strong Family Ties

It has been suggested that Emily was emotionally and artistically attached to her family and the countryside where she grew up. She had no suitors nor was she often away from home. The few times she did venture out into the world were also motivated by the sisters’ dream of setting up their own school. In 1835, she went to school at Roe Head where her sister, Charlotte, was a teacher. However, illness and homesickness forced Emily to return to her moors. Then in 1837, she tried the position as governess at Miss Patchett’s School in Law Hill near Halifax, England, only to return home a few months later. In 1842, Charlotte and Emily devised a plan to fulfill their dream of opening their own school in Haworth. To prepare, Emily travelled to Belgium with Charlotte to study French and German. Nevertheless, the plan failed when they were unable to recruit students to such an isolated area as Haworth.

The symbiotic relationship between the Brontë sisters was somewhat revealed in their publications the same year. Emily’s Wuthering Heights, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Anne’s Agnes Grey were all published in 1847. While Jane Eyre became an immediate success, Wuthering Heights was grossly criticized for its shockingly unyielding and brutal passions. Agnes Grey, although accepted by critics and praised for its simple prose style and wit, fell into obscurity.

Unfortunately, Emily did not live long enough to publish other works. While Emily’s brother, Branwell, lay dying of alcoholism, drug addiction and tuberculosis, Emily tended him until the end. The harsh life Emily experienced at home and at school had weakened her physically. She caught cold at her brother’s funeral which developed into tuberculosis. Emily Brontë died at the age of 30 on December 19th, 1848, only a year after Wuthering Heights was published.


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Literature from 1780 to 1840

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