Emily Brontë, the author of the famed Wuthering Heights
English poet and novelist Emily Jane Brontë is known for her novel, Wuthering Heights, which was her only novel. She wrote under the pen name of Ellis Bell along with her two sisters, Anne and Charlotte, who used pen names with the same surname and pattern of the first letter of each of their name.
On July 30, 1818, Emily Jane Brontë was born in Thornton, West Riding of Yorkshire, England to Irishman Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell. Emily was the fifth of their six children. Her sister Charlotte, who was also an author, was born two years before her, and in 1820, Anne Brontë was born. When Anne was born, Brontë and her family moved to Haworth when their father was employed as a perpetual curate. It was at Haworth where the children developed a love for literature and creating stories.
Emily Brontë was three years old when her mother died of cancer on September 15, 1821. Her older sisters Maria, Elizabeth, and Charlotte were all sent of to Cowan Bridge to the Clergy Daughters’ School. When Bronë was six, she joined the school in November of 1824 for a brief period of time. Soon after, both Maria and Elizabeth caught typhoid fever and Maria was sent home. Maria soon died, though there is speculation that she was perhaps sick with tuberculosis instead. Emily, Charlotte, and Elizabeth were quickly removed from school that June. Sadly, Elizabeth died not long after they arrived home.
Their mother’s sister, Elizabeth Branwell, had come to live with the family after her sister had died to take care of the children. Once Brontë returned home, she and her sisters and their brother Patrick Branwell were educated by their father and aunt. Growing up, Brontë was very shy, never wanting to leave her siblings’ sides. She was known for loving animals and would befriend any stray dog she found near their home. While none of the Brontë’s were given a formal education at Haworth, they did have access to their father’s large library. They grew up especially loving the works of Sir Walter Scott, Byron, and Shelley, also fans of Blackwood’s Magazine.
Brontë and her siblings’ great love of literature inspired them to start writing and creating their own stories. Branwell had received a box of toy soldiers which even further inspired them. The four children created imaginary worlds, one of them being “Angria” as they called it. All of their stories took place in their fictional worlds. Not much of what Emily Brontë wrote as a child survives, but there are a few poems she wrote that were spoken by her characters that still remain. At thirteen, the two younger girls separated from Charlotte and Branwell and Angria to begin their new story set in Gondal. Little of their writings about Gondal exist, save for a few poems and a list of their characters and the places on the island by Anne.
When Brontë was seventeen, she left home to attend the Roe head Girls’ School. Charlotte was teaching there at the time. However, Brontë was overcome with extreme homesickness and returned home. So, Anne took her older sister’s place. The three of them were hoping to all get a good enough education so they could open their own small school. That never ended up happening though.
At twenty, Brontë began working at a school in Halifax called Law Hill School. Due to the stress of working for seventeen hours every day, she returned home the following year in April of 1839. She decided working was not for her and instead stayed with her father, doing the cooking, cleaning, and ironing. With books, Brontë was able to teach herself German and she also spent much of her time practicing piano.
Emily and Charlotte Brontë left in 1842 to Brussels, Belgium to attend the girls’ academy Héger Pensionnat. While Charlotte enjoyed her time there, Emily did not. She refused to adopt any of the Belgian customs and was very uncomfortable. The pair had gone to the school with the intention of perfecting their French and German, once again, in hopes of opening their own school. Today, nine of Brontë’s French essays remain. Constantin Héger, who ran the school, was impressed with Emily and her personality.
By the end of the first term in Belgium, the two Brontë sisters had become extremely skilled in French. Madame Héger proposed that the two girls stay for another year and a half to continue working on the language. She also offered to give Charlotte the position of English teacher and Emily the music and piano teacher. They did not stay in Brussels though and returned home.
Brontë, in 1844, went through all of her poems and copied them into two notebooks, one of them labelled as “Gondal Poems” while the other did not have a label. Fannie Ratchford, Derek Roper, and other scholars and historians have tried to piece together the Gondal poems to create a storyline. When Charlotte found the notebooks in the fall of 1845, she tried to persuade her younger sister to publish them, but Emily Brontë refused. When Anne revealed her own manuscripts and poems to their elder sister, Emily relented. The two younger girls had always read the Gondal stories and poems to each other, but they kept Charlotte out. Brontë was still furious Charlotte had invaded her privacy though and around this time, wrote “No coward soul is mine,” one of her most famous poems. Charlotte later claimed this was Brontë’s last poem, but it was not. In 1845, Anne also took Emily to visit some of her favorite places she had visited when she was a governess. The two even acted out some of their Gondal characters during this time.
In 1846, the Brontë sisters published a collection of poems. They all came up with pen names and titled their book Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. They used the first initial of each of their names then used the last name of Bell, because it also started with the same letter as their surname. At the time, it was very uncommon for women to publish books and poetry, hence the male pseudonyms. Emily and Anne both wrote twenty-one poems for the collection, and Charlotte wrote nineteen. Several months after publication, they were told that one two copies of their books sold, but continued to write. And though they old had two readers, one was so impressed with their work that they requested autographs from the authors. “Ellis possesses a fine, quaint spirit and an evident power of wing that may reach heights not here attempted,” a reviewer for The Athenaeum wrote later on, praising Ellis Bell (Emily Brontë) for “his” work.
Brontë novel Wuthering Heights was published in 1847 by Thomas Cautley Newby in London. It was the first two of a three volume set. The third volume was Agnes Grey by Anne. It wasn’t until 1850 that Emily’s real name began to appear instead of Ellis Bell. In the page of a commercial edition of her novel, it said it was by Emily Brontë. It received mixed reviews and critics were confused by the structure of it. Today, the book is considered a classic of English literature, and alongside the novels of the other two Brontë sister’s, is still very popular.
Wuthering Heights was the only novel Brontë had published, but it was revealed in a letter from her publisher that she had started working on a second manuscript. The manuscripts was never found, and many have come to believe that either Emily or another family member most likely destroyed it at some point. Some have suggested that the letter was intended for Anne Brontë, who was working on her second novel at the time, but that is unlikely.
Emily Brontë’s health was poor, most likely from the harsh climate and unsanitary conditions experienced at home. On September 24, 1848, her brother Branwell died. A week later, Brontë was at his funeral when she seemed to have caught a bad cold. Soon, the cold had developed into tuberculosis. Her health only continued to deteriorate, but she refused to let a doctor come near her. Charlotte and the other members of the family feared for Emily’s health.
On December 19, 1848, Brontë felt even worse that before, barely even able to talk. “if you will send for a doctor, I will see him now,” were her last audible words, which she had spoken to Charlotte. Two hours later at around two o’clock in the afternoon, Emily Jane Brontë passed away, and according to one biographer, she had been sitting on her sofa. It is highly unlikely that was the case, as Charlotte mentioned in a letter that her sister had been lying in bed with her dog at the side. After the death of her brother and her worsening health, Emily had grown so skinny, that the carpenter commissioned to make her coffin made a statement that he had never made such a small one for an adult. She was interred in the family capsule at the Church of St Michael and All Angels in Haworth. Emily was only thirty when she died and would never live to see her novel grow as successful as it did. Anne Brontë passed away not even a year later in May of 1849, and Charlotte died in early 1855. Their father outlived all of his children, dying in 1861.