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Biography of Emily Bronte

Painting of Emily Bronte

Emily Bronte was the second eldest of the Victorian Yorkshire sisters who wrote novels and is probably most famous for “Wuthering Heights”.

When and Where was she Born?

30th July 1818, The Parsonage, 74 Market Street, Thornton, Yorkshire, England.

Family Background:

Emily was the daughter of a Cleric, Patrick Bronte and his wife Maria (nee Branwell) who was originally from Cornwall. She was the fifth of their six children. Patrick was the son of a poor tenant farmer who had left Ireland in 1802 in order to study at Cambridge. Emily was a sister to Branwell, Charlotte and Anne Bronte. The family were always short of money relying on her father’s small income and and her mother’s annuity but the Parsonage at Haworth was large and enabled them to live rent free.

Education:

Clergy Daughter’s School, Cowan Bridge. Miss Wooler’s School, Roe Head and at home at Haworth.

Timeline of Emily Bronte:

1820: Anne is baptised in the “Old Bell Chapel” at Thornton on 25th March. The Bronte family move to the Parsonage at Haworth during April.

1821: Death of her mother on 5th September eighteen months after the move to Haworth. Her elder sister Elizabeth Branwell had come from Penzance to nurse her and now takes up permanent residence with the family. She enforced order and neatness in the house and their were later many clashes with the nieces.

Bronte Parsonage, Haworth
The Bronte Parsonage where all the sisters lived with their father and brother. (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1824: The four eldest Brontë girls are sent to the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge, a new charity to educate the daughters of impoverished Anglican clergymen. Conditions at the school are harsh with poor food and little heating. Discipline was also harsh. Several pupils are sent home ill, among them her elder sisters Maria and Elizabeth who both succumbed to tuberculosis. Emily and Charlotte return to Haworth.

1825: Death of her sisters Maria (aged 11) on 6th May and Elizabeth (aged 10)  on 15th June from consumption. The remaining children are now educated at home by Patrick and his sister-in-law.

1826: Mr Bronte gives Branwell some model soldiers in June which help the girls form their own fantasy world of little people. Charlotte chose to call hers Wellington and Branwell Bonaparte, while Emily’s was “a grave looking fellow called Gravey” and Anne’s was “Waiting Boy”.

1827: Emily is influence day the writings of Walter Scott and choses him to be her Chief Man in the Brontë plays of the Gondal Islanders.

1829: All the Bronte children receive art lessons from John Bradley of Keighley. Charlotte and Branwell record the adventures of the Young Men in home-made miniature books.

1830: Emily and Anne create Parrysland which Charlotte mocked for being mundane and provincial.

1833: Emily and Anne probably develop the fantasy world of Gondal at this time. Emily is by now fourteen. Gondal is a large imaginary island in the Pacific Ocean. Charlotte’s friend Ellen Nussey visits Haworth at this time.

1834: The earliest surviving diary paper written jointly with Anne on November 24th describes life in the parsonage and intersperses it with the goings on in their imaginary world of Gondal and describes Caaldine. Branwell paints the famous painting of his three sisters now known as the “gun group” as he was studying portraiture at the time.

1835: Charlotte returns to work as a teacher at Roe Head, Mirfiel. Emily goes with her but after three months of being miserable there she becomes ill and her father calls her back home and her place is taken by Anne. With Anne away Emily makes a conscious effort to collect her poems to show her when she comes home.

1836: Writing of the earliest poem on 12th July which still exists.

1837: The diary written on 26 June gives the first direct mention of Gondal although sadly the entire Gondal prose cycle has disappeared. (One theory is that Charlotte destroyed much of Emily’s work after her death). 

1838: Emily goes to Halifax, Yorkshire to teach at Law Hill School for a six months. The spartan regime there makes her ill and she returns to Haworth. Charlotte describes it as “hard labour from six in the morning to eleven at night.”

1839: In August a handsome new curate, the Revd William Weightman, arrives at the parsonage. Emily seems to be the only one not seduced by his charms and is given the nickname “the Major” for defending Charlotte’s friend Ellen against Weightman’s advances.

1840: Tabby Aykroyd, the Brontë’s servant since 1824 leaves the parsonage due to complications following a fall and Emily takes on many of her household duties. She is also now an accomplished pianist and plays mainly to the family and family friends. She also takes possession of a pet bullmastiff dog called Keeper as well as a cat and some geese.

1841: Her diary entry on 30 July is optimistic and tells of a scheme to set up a school of their own.

1842: In February Emily goes to Brussels with Charlotte to study at the Pensionat Heger, and they are accompanied by their father. After only nine months there, Charlotte and Emily are summoned home by the death of Aunt Branwell. 

1843: Charlotte returns to Brussels but Emily remains and becomes the official housekeeper at the parsonage. She continues to write about Gondal and produces a large amount of poetry.

1844: Emily divides her Gondal work from her non-Gondal work into two separate notebooks. She tries to open a school in Haworth with Charlotte but there are no takers for such an isolated spot.

1845: Her last diary entry written on 31st July was as much about Gondal as real life events and her brother Branwell’s affair and his dismissal from his post as tutor at Thorp Green only gets a passing mention. Emily is annoyed when Charlotte finds one of her poems without her permission. Anne intervenes and they all finally accept Charlottes idea that they should publish as book of poetry together.  Branwell suggests to his sisters that novel writing is a profitable business. In October Charlotte stumbles across her poems much to her annoyance but convinces her that they should publish some poems together.

Top Withens Farmhouse
Top Withens farmhouse on the Penine Way. 
Emily is thought to have used the location for Wuthering Heights 
although the description of the house differs substantially (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1846: “Poems” by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell” (The sister’s pseudonyms) is published in May by Aylott and Jones of Paternoster Row with the family paying the costs with money from their Aunt’s will. Only two copies were sold and they received no royalties. “Wuthering Heights” is finished during July, heavily influenced by her Gondal stories and is sent to several publishers along with Anne’s “Agnes Grey” and Charlotte’s “The Professor”.

1847: The publisher Thomas Cautley Newby accepts “Wuthering Heights” and “Agnes Grey” but not “The Professor”. Cautley delays publishing until Charlotte’s “Jane Eyre” (by another publisher) arouses interest in the “Bells” during December. The sisters again had to contribute £50 towards the publication Emily recorded the Yorkshire dialect of their servant Joseph so accurately that Charlotte later had to change it to make it accessible to southerners. Newby brought out the books as a three-volume set in December. “Wuthering Heights” in particular received hostile reviews and was described as being savage. Sales were so poor that non of the authors received any payment. It was not until the 1870’s when the poet Algernon Swinburne championed “Wuthering Heights” that it was seen as a ground breaking work and became a classic.

1848: The literary world, including their publisher, think that the three “Bells” are in fact the same author. Anne publishes the “Tenant of Wildfell Hall“. Emily withdraws from life. Her brother Branwell dies from consumption on 24th September although at first the family thought it was complications from his alcoholism. Emily leaves the Parsonage on 1st October for the last time to attend Branwell’s funeral and catches a severe cold which becomes an inflammation of the lungs. It is clear that she also had tuberculosis. She refused any medical help and continued with her household duties to the end, finally succumbing to the disease in December.

(1850): “Wuthering Heights” is re-issued with some of Emily’s poems and an introduction by Charlotte.

(1893): The Bronte Society Established.

When and Where did she Die?

19th December 1848, Haworth, Yorkshire, England, of consumption (tuberculosis).

Age at Death:

30.

Written Works:

1846: “Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell”.
1845-6: “Wuthering Heights”.
(1941): “The Complete Poems of Emily Jane Bronte”.

St Michael and All Angels Church
St Michael and All Angels Church, Haworth and a sign showing the gate 
used by the family to access the church from the parsonage (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Marriage:

Never Married.

Site of Grave:

St. Michael and All Angels Church, Haworth, Yorkshire, England.

Bronte Memorial
Memorial Plaque to Emily and Charlotte in St Michael and All Angels Church 
and engraving above the family vault
(copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:

YORKSHIRE:

Bronte Parsonage Museum, Haworth, Keighley, West Yorkshire, BD22 8DR. www.bronte.info/

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