Last reviewed: June 2018
July 30, 1818
Thornton, Yorkshire, England
December 19, 1848
Haworth, Yorkshire, England
Emily Jane Brontë, the fifth child of the Reverend Patrick Brontë and his wife, Maria Branwell, is best remembered as the author of one of the most enigmatic novels in English, Wuthering Heights. The close relationship she enjoyed with her sisters Charlotte and Anne, both acclaimed novelists in their own rights, shaped her life and determined the subject and quality of her writing. Emily Brontë
Brontë spent her adult life at Haworth parsonage, the home to which her father moved when she was not yet two years old. Raised by her Aunt Elizabeth after Maria Brontë died of cancer in 1821, she came to love the barren Yorkshire moors and to appreciate the Romantic literature that was becoming popular as she grew to adulthood. As a child, she and her sisters, along with their only brother, Branwell, amused themselves by inventing elaborate fantasy worlds while their father carried out his clerical duties. For nearly two decades Emily and Anne worked on a private project known as the Gondal sagas. Writing about this imaginary kingdom prepared Emily for her brief career as a serious writer. Early in her life Emily began writing poetry that she preserved in notebooks, keeping her work secret even from her sisters.
The Brontë family seemed cursed by illness and premature death. Emily’s oldest sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, died in 1825 after contracting an illness at school. Emily attended the same school briefly from 1824 to 1825 and accompanied her sister Charlotte to Roe Head School in 1835 when Charlotte secured a teaching post there. Emily stayed only three months, however, suffering during the entire period from a homesickness that made her physically ill. In 1838 she secured a teaching position at Law Hill School but returned home less than a year later. In February 1842, she and Charlotte went to Brussels to study, hoping to develop skills to start a school in Yorkshire. Emily did not stay long, however, returning home to become her father’s housekeeper when her Aunt Elizabeth died in October 1842. It seems that, no matter how diligently she may have tried to live away from home, Emily Brontë suffered both physically and psychologically when away from the Yorkshire region; her attachment to Haworth contributed to her reputation as the most reclusive member of the Brontë family.
By 1845 the Brontë sisters had each begun work on separate novels. The following year the three sisters agreed to collaborate on a volume of poetry that was issued pseudonymously under the title Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. A year later, publisher Thomas Newby agreed to bring out a three-volume set containing Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey. Initial reception of both the poems and Emily’s novels was modest, but the sensation caused by the revelation that the three Bells were actually young women from the North gave all their works sufficient notoriety that Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell was reissued in 1848.
Unfortunately, Emily did not live to see her novel achieve fame among her contemporaries; she died of consumption (tuberculosis) in December 1848. Almost immediately, the reputation of her novel began to bring notice to her memory, and as details of the Brontë sisters’ lives became public, a kind of cult began to form that worshiped both Wuthering Heights and its mysterious author. On the strength of this single novel, Emily Brontë has been elevated to a position as a premier English novelist, her work ranking as one of the most remarkable achievements during the nineteenth century.