illustrated portrait of English author Emily Brontë

Emily Brontë

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Emily Brontë Biography

Emily Brontë’s innovative writing style conveys energy, emotion, and even violence—all of which show up to great effect in her famous novel Wuthering Heights. She also uses natural and mystical elements to draw readers into the world she has created. It is unfortunate, however, that these literary characteristics were not well-received during her lifetime. Perhaps her father’s liberated teaching style lent itself to Emily’s flare for poetry and fiction, as he allowed his children to read whatever they chose and treated them as equals. She and her sisters, Charlotte and Anne, formed an early bond wrapped tightly around language and imagination. Although much of the author’s life remains a mystery, it is certain that Emily Brontë did not live long enough to show the world her full potential.

Facts and Trivia

  • While Emily and her siblings were homeschooled, they all became very close, especially she and her sister Anne. It is said that the two sisters were almost like twins, companions unable to be torn apart.
  • Emily finally returned to school at the age of seventeen; however, after only three months, she returned home, unable to handle life away at school.
  • After revealing their poetry to each other, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne published a collection titled Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, pseudonyms each sister chose corresponding to their real initials.
  • Wuthering Heights, Emily’s only published novel, was not well-received at first. It is now considered a classic of English literature.
  • After Emily’s death, Charlotte, the only surviving sibling, edited Wuthering Heights and had it republished under Emily’s full name. It had previously been published under the pseudonym Ellis Bell.


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Emily Jane Brontë was one of six children, five girls and a boy, born to an Anglican clergyman of Irish descent, Patrick Brontë, and his Cornish wife, Maria Branwell. When Emily was two years old, the family moved to Haworth, where her father had accepted a permanent curacy. Haworth, a place now often associated with the Brontë name, is a village on the moors of West Riding, Yorkshire, in the north of England. In Emily’s day, this rural spot was quite removed from the changing events of city life. The parsonage itself is an isolated building of gray stone near an old cemetery with its slanting worn tombstones. In this somber-looking house, in this quiet village, Emily spent most of her life.

The people filling this world were few in number. As a parson’s children, Emily and her brother and sisters were not encouraged to associate with the village children, who were regarded as lower in social status. Their father seems to have valued his privacy, often keeping to himself, even dining alone, although there is no reason to doubt his affection for his children. As a result of these social limitations, the children provided their own entertainment, which often consisted of acting out imaginative games and later writing them down. Their education was in part provided by their aunt, Elizabeth Branwell, who came to care for them after their mother died in September, 1821, shortly after their arrival in Haworth. Tutors in art and music were occasionally hired for the children, and at least two libraries were available to them: their father’s, and that of the Keighley Mechanics’ Institute.

Emily left Haworth few times in her life. When she did, it was usually to continue her education or to gain employment. At the age of six, she and three of her sisters—Maria, Elizabeth, and Charlotte—were sent to the Clergyman Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge. Their stay was brief, for when the two older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, were stricken with tuberculosis, from which they later died, their father had all his daughters sent home. Several years later, in 1835, Emily attended school for a few months at Roe Head with Charlotte. Their plan was to prepare themselves better for one of the few occupations open to them, that of governess. While at Roe Head, Emily became extremely distressed with her situation. In later years, after her death, Charlotte indicated that she believed the cause to have been intense homesickness. Shortly after this rather unsuccessful venture from home, Emily did leave again, this time to take a position as a teacher at a large school near Halifax called Law Hill, but again her stay was brief. She returned home, obviously unhappy with her life as a teacher. One last trip from Haworth was taken in 1842, when she accompanied Charlotte to Brussels to attend Madame Héger’s school. The sisters wanted to increase their knowledge of German and French to become better qualified to open their own school, a project that was to remain only in the dreaming and planning stages. While in Brussels it again became clear that Emily was not comfortable in an environment strange to her, and when the sisters returned home in November, 1842, for their aunt’s funeral, Emily remained, seemingly content to do so. Thereafter, she stayed at the parsonage, helping with the household chores. Her family accepted this choice and considered her contribution to the running of the household a valuable one. In September, 1848, Emily caught a cold while attending her brother’s funeral. It developed into an inflammation of the lungs from which she...

(This entire section contains 906 words.)

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never recovered. Her death was perhaps hastened by her refusal to seek medical attention until the very end.

Much consideration has been given to Brontë’s inability to adjust to life away from Haworth. Emphasis has been placed on her love of the moors, which was so intense that she could not long be away from the heather and open fields. It is true that her work indicates an abiding—at times compelling—love for their somber beauty; however, some attention should also be given to the fact that all these journeys from home required adjusting to a structured world, one perhaps hostile to the private world of her imagination. It is clear that the powers of the imagination played a dominant role in Brontë’s emotional life from her childhood on. Apparently, at home in the parsonage, she found an environment that suited the needs of her imagination and its creative powers.

As the fame of the Brontë family increased, Emily Brontë herself became a figure of legend. She was described as a passionate genius of almost mythic proportions, possessing supreme will and strength. This interpretation was encouraged very early by Charlotte, whose respect for her sister increased greatly during the last months of her life: In Charlotte’s eyes, her seemingly unobtrusive sister had become a solitary being, towering above others, heroically hastening her death. So long has this view been presented that it is now inextricably woven with Emily Brontë’s name and image. She herself left so few biographical clues that perhaps the actual woman must always be seen from a distance; however, in her work there is indeed evidence of a poet of original, imaginative power, who, having chosen her God of Visions, was able to give poetic expression to the essential emotions of the human soul.


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