Emily Brontë

19th Century Poet and Novelist

Emily Brontë
Emily Brontë. Hulton Archive/Culture Club/Getty Images

Emily Brontë Facts

Known for: author of Wuthering Heights
Occupation: poet, novelist
Dates: July 30, 1818 - December 19, 1848

Also known as: Ellis Bell (pen name)

Background, Family:

  • Mother: Maria Branwell (April 15, 1783 – September 15, 1821); born in Cornwall. Mother: Anne Crane, whose father was a silversmith. Father: Thomas Branwell, prosperous merchant in Penzance. Maria became a teacher when her parents died.
  • Father: Patrick Brontë (March 17, 1777 – June 7, 1861); born in Ireland; ordained August 10, 1806; poor Anglican clergyman. Studied at St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he changed the spelling of his last name from Brunty. Published poet. Parents: Eleanor McCrory and Hugh Brunty.  (Surname originally mac Aedh Ó Proinntigh)
  • Maria Branwell and Patrick Brontë married December 29, 1812.
  •  Siblings:
    • Maria Brontë April 23, 1814 – May 6, 1825
    • Elizabeth Brontë 1815 – June 15, 1825
    • Charlotte Brontë April 21, 1816 – March 31, 1855
    • Patrick Branwell Brontë June 26, 1817 – September 24, 1848 – usually called Branwell to distinguish him from his father, also Patrick
    • Anne Brontë January 17, 1820 – May 28, 1849
  •  Aunt who helped raise the siblings: Elizabeth Branwell (December 2, 1776 – October 29, 1842), Maria Branwell’s sister

 Education:

  • Clergy Daughters' School, Cowan Bridge
  • Roe Head School, Desbury Moor
  • Pensionnat Heger, Brussels

    Emily Brontë Biography:

    Emily Brontë was the fifth of six siblings born in six years to the Rev. Patrick Brontë and his wife, Maria Branwell Brontë. Emily was born at the parsonage in Thornton, Yorkshire, where her father was serving. All six children were born before the family moved in April 1820 to where the children would live most of their lives, at the 5-room parsonage at Haworth on the moors of Yorkshire.

    Her father had been appointed as perpetual curate there, meaning an appointment for life: he and his family could live in the parsonage as long as he continued his work there.  The father encouraged the children to spend time in nature on the moors.

    Maria died the year after the youngest, Anne, was born, possibly of uterine cancer or of chronic pelvic sepsis.  Maria’s older sister, Elizabeth, moved from Cornwall to help care for the children and for the parsonage. She had an income of her own.

    The Clergymen’s Daughter’s School

    In September of 1824, the four older sisters, including Emily, were sent to the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge, a school for the daughters of impoverished clergy.  The daughter of writer Hannah Moore was also in attendance.  The harsh conditions of the school were later reflected in Charlotte Brontë's novel, Jane Eyre. Emily’s experience of the school, as the youngest of the four, was better than that of her sisters.

    A typhoid fever outbreak at the school led to several deaths.  The next February, Maria was sent home very ill, and she died in May, probably of pulmonary tuberculosis. Then Elizabeth was sent home late in May, also ill. Patrick Brontë brought his other daughters home as well, and Elizabeth died on June 15.

    Imaginary Tales

    When her brother Patrick was given some wooden soldiers as a gift in 1826, the siblings began to make up stories about the world that the soldiers lived in. They wrote the stories in tiny script, in books small enough for the soldiers, and also provided newspapers and poetry for the world they apparently first called Glasstown.  Emily and Anne had small roles in these tales.

    By 1830, Emily and Anne had created a kingdom themselves, and later created another, Gondal, about 1833.  This creative activity bonded the two youngest siblings, making them more independent from Charlotte and Branwell.

    Finding a Place

    In July of 1835, Charlotte began teaching at Roe Head school, with tuition for one of her sisters being payment for her services.  Emily went with her. She hated the school – her shyness and free spirit didn’t fit in.

    She lasted three months, and returned home, with her younger sister, Anne, taking her place.

    Back home, without either Charlotte or Anne, she kept to herself.  Her earliest dated poem is from 1836.  All the writings about Gondal from earlier or later times are now gone – but in 1837, there’s a reference from Charlotte to something Emily had composed about Gondal.

    Emily applied for a teaching job in September of 1838. She found the work grueling, working from dawn until nearly 11 pm every day. She disliked the students. She returned home, quite ill again, after just six months.

    Anne, who had returned home, then took a paying position as a governess. Emily stayed at Haworth for three more years, taking on household duties, reading and writing, playing the piano.

    In August 1839 came the arrival of the Rev. Patrick Branwell’s new assistant curate, William Weightman.  Charlotte and Anne were apparently quite taken with him, but not so much Emily.  Emily’s only friends outside the family seem to have been Charlotte’s school friends, Mary Taylor and Ellen Nussey, and the Rev. Weightman.

    Brussels

    The sisters began to make plans to open a school.  Emily and Charlotte went to London and then Brussels, where they attended a school for six months.  Charlotte and Emily were invited to stay on as teachers to pay their tuition; Emily taught music and Charlotte taught English.  Emily didn’t like M. Heger’s teaching methods, but Charlotte took a liking to him.  The sisters learned in September that the Rev. Weightman had died.

    Charlotte and Emily returned in October to their home for the funeral of their aunt Elizabeth Branwell.  The four Brontë siblings received shares of their aunt’s estate, and Emily worked as a housekeeper for her father, serving in the role their aunt had taken.  Anne returned to a governess position, and Branwell followed Anne to serve with the same family as a tutor.   Charlotte returned to Brussels to teach, then came back to Haworth after a year.

    Poetry

    Emily, after returning from Brussels, began to write poetry again.

      In 1845, Charlotte found one of Emily’s poetry notebooks and was impressed with the quality of the poems. Charlotte, Emily and Anne discovered each others’ poems. The three selected poems from their collections for publication, choosing to do so under male pseudonyms. The false names would share their initials: Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. They assumed that male writers would find easier publication.

    The poems were published as Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell in May of 1846 with the help of the inheritance from their aunt. They did not tell their father or brother of their project. The book only initially sold two copies, but got positive reviews, which encouraged Emily and her sisters.

    The sisters began preparing novels for publication.  Emily, inspired by the Gondal stories, wrote of two generations of two families and the spiteful Heathcliff, in  Wuthering HeightsCritics would later find it coarse, without any moral message, a highly unusual novel of its time.

    Charlotte wrote The Professor and Anne wrote Agnes Grey, rooted in her experiences as a governess. The next year, July 1847, the stories by Emily and Anne, but not Charlotte’s, were accepted for publication, still under the Bell pseudonyms.  They were not actually published immediately, however.   Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre which got published first, in October 1847, and became a hit.  Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, their publication financed in part with the sisters’ inheritance from their aunt, were published later.

    The three were published as a 3-volume set, and Charlotte and Emily went to London to claim authorship, their identities then becoming public.

    Family Deaths

    Charlotte had begun a new novel, when her brother Branwell, died in April of 1848, probably of tuberculosis.  Some have speculated that the conditions at the parsonage were not so healthy, including a poor water supply and chilly, foggy weather. Emily caught what seemed to be a cold at his funeral, and became ill. She declined quickly, refusing medical care until relenting in her last hours.  She died in December.  Then Anne began to show symptoms, though she, after Emily’s experience, did seek medical help.  Charlotte and her friend Ellen Nussey took Anne to Scarborough for a better environment, but Anne died there in May of 1849, less than a month after arriving.  Branwell and Emily were buried in the family vault under Haworth church, and Anne in Scarborough.

    Legacy

    Wuthering Heights, Emily’s only known novel, has been adapted for stage, film and television, and remains a best-selling classic. Critics do not know when Wuthering Heights was written nor how long it took to write. Some critics have argued that Branson Brontë, brother to the three sisters, wrote this book, but most critics disagree.

    Emily Brontë is credited as one of the major sources of inspiration for Emily Dickinson poetry (the other was Ralph Waldo Emerson).

    According to correspondence at the time, Emily had begun working on another novel after Wuthering Heights was published.  But no trace of that novel has turned up; it may have been destroyed by Charlotte after Emily’s death.

    Books About Emily Brontë

    • Emily Brontë. Robert Barnard, 2000. Young Adult.
    • The Complete Poems of Emily Jane Brontë. Emily Brontë; C. W. Hatfield, editor, 1995. (order from Amazon)
    • Wuthering Heights. Emily Brontë. Reissue, 1983. (order from Amazon)
    • Brontës at Haworth: The World Within. Charlotte, Anne and Emily Brontë, published 1993. (order from Amazon)
    • The History of the Brontë Family: From Ireland to Wuthering Heights. John Cannon, 2000.
    • A Life of Emily Brontë. Edward Chitham,1987.
    • A Chainless Soul. Katherine Frank, 1990.
    • Emily Brontë. Winifred Gérin, 1971.
    • Four Brontës: The Lives & Works of Charlotte, Branwell, Emily & Anne Brontë: Lawrence and Elisabeth Hanson, 1967.(order from Amazon)
    • Twin Spirits: The Novels of Emily & Anne Brontë. Robert Liddell, 1990.
    • Emily Brontë. A. Mary F. Robinson. 1883, 1978.
    • Brontë Transformations: The Cultural Dissemination of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Patsy Stoneman, 1996.
    • Critical Essays on Emily Brontë. Tom Winnifrith, editor. 1997.

    Poems by Emily Brontë

    Last Lines

      NO coward soul is mine,
    No trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere:
      I see Heaven's glories shine,
    And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.

      O God within my breast,
    Almighty, ever-present Deity!
      Life--that in me has rest,
    As I--undying Life--have power in Thee!

      Vain are the thousand creeds
    That move men's hearts: unutterably vain;
      Worthless as wither'd weeds,
    Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,

      To waken doubt in one
    Holding so fast by Thine infinity;
      So surely anchor'd on
    The steadfast rock of immortality.

      With wide-embracing love
    Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
      Pervades and broods above,
    Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.

      Though earth and man were gone,
    And suns and universes cease to be,
      And Thou were left alone,
    Every existence would exist in Thee.

      There is not room for Death,
    Nor atom that his might could render void:
      Thou--Thou art Being and Breath,
    And what Thou art may never be destroyed.

    The Prisoner

    STILL let my tyrants know, I am not doom'd to wear
    Year after year in gloom and desolate despair;
    A messenger of Hope comes every night to me,
    And offers for short life, eternal liberty.

    He comes with Western winds, with evening's wandering airs,
    With that clear dusk of heaven that brings the thickest stars:
    Winds take a pensive tone, and stars a tender fire,
    And visions rise, and change, that kill me with desire.

    Desire for nothing known in my maturer years,
    When Joy grew mad with awe, at counting future tears:
    When, if my spirit's sky was full of flashes warm,
    I knew not whence they came, from sun or thunder-storm.

    But first, a hush of peace--a soundless calm descends;
    The struggle of distress and fierce impatience ends.
    Mute music soothes my breast--unutter'd harmony
    That I could never dream, till Earth was lost to me.

    Then dawns the Invisible; the Unseen its truth reveals;
    My outward sense is gone, my inward essence feels;
    Its wings are almost free--its home, its harbour found,
    Measuring the gulf, it stoops, and dares the final bound.

    O dreadful is the check--intense the agony--
    When the ear begins to hear, and the eye begins to see;
    When the pulse begins to throb--the brain to think again--
    The soul to feel the flesh, and the flesh to feel the chain.

    Yet I would lose no sting, would wish no torture less;
    The more that anguish racks, the earlier it will bless;
    And robed in fires of hell, or bright with heavenly shine,
    If it but herald Death, the vision is divine.

    REMEMBRANCE

    Cold in the earth - and the deep snow piled above thee,
    Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
    Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee,
    Severed at last by Time's all-severing wave?

    Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover
    Over the mountains, on that northern shore,
    Resting their wings where heath and fern-leaves cover
    Thy noble heart for ever, ever more?

    Cold in the earth - and fifteen wild Decembers,
    From those brown hills, have melted into spring:
    Faithful, indeed, is the spirit that remembers
    After such years of change and suffering!

    Sweet Love of youth, forgive, if I forget thee,
    While the world's tide is bearing me along;
    Other desires and other hopes beset me,
    Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong!

    No later light has lightened up my heaven,
    No second morn has ever shone for me;
    All my life's bliss from thy dear life was given,
    All my life's bliss is in the grave with thee.

    But, when the days of golden dreams had perished,
    And even Despair was powerless to destroy;
    Then did I learn how existence could be cherished,
    Strengthened, and fed without the aid of joy.

    Then did I check the tears of useless passion -
    Weaned my young soul from yearning after thine;
    Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten
    Down to that tomb already more than mine.

    And, even yet, I dare not let it languish,
    Dare not indulge in memory's rapturous pain;
    Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,
    How could I seek the empty world again?

    SONG

    The linnet in the rocky dells,
    The moor-lark in the air,
    The bee among the heather bells
    That hide my lady fair:

    The wild deer browse above her breast;
    The wild birds raise their brood;
    And they, her smiles of love caressed,
    Have left her solitude.

    I ween that, when the grave's dark wall
    Did first her form retain,
    They thought their hearts could ne'er recall
    The light of joy again.

    They thought the tide of grief would flow
    Unchecked through future years;
    But where is all their anguish now,
    And where are all their tears?

    Well, let them fight for honor's breath,
    Or pleasure's shade pursue:
    The dweller in the land of death
    Is changed and careless too.

    And, if their eyes should watch and weep
    Till sorrow's source were dry,
    She would not, in her tranquil sleep,
    Return a single sigh.

    Blow, west-wind, by the lonely mound,
    And murmur, summer streams!
    There is no need of other sound
    To soothe my lady's dreams.