Authors: Emily Brontë

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

English novelist

July 30, 1818

Thornton, Yorkshire, England

December 19, 1848

Haworth, Yorkshire, England

Biography

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

(Library of Congress)

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.

Author Works Long Fiction: Wuthering Heights, 1847 Poetry: Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, 1846 (with Charlotte Brontë and Anne Brontë) The Complete Poems of Emily Jane Brontë, 1941 (C. W. Hatfield, editor) Gondal’s Queen: A Novel in Verse by Emily Jane Brontë, 1955 (Fannie E. Ratchford, editor) Nonfiction: Five Essays Written in French, 1948 (Lorine White Nagel, translator) The Brontë Letters, 1954 (Muriel Spark, editor) Bibliography Barker, Juliet. The Brontës: Wild Genius on the Moors, The Story of a Literary Family. 2nd ed., St. Martin’s Press, 2013. Provides a definitive history of the Brontë family. Barnard, Robert. Emily Brontë. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Barnard, chairman of the Brontë Society, provides an incisive overview of Brontë’s life and work. Includes bibliography, maps, illustrations (some in color), index, and chronology. Benvenuto, Richard. Emily Brontë. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Brief biography of the Brontë sister whose life remains relatively obscure. Although only three of her letters survive, Benvenuto stays within the documentary record to provide a convincing portrait of her life and personality. Berg, Maggie. “Wuthering Heights”: The Writing in the Margin. New York: Twayne, 1996. Provides a good introduction to Emily Brontë’s masterpiece. A chronology of her life and works is followed by a section devoted to the literary and social context of the novel and a reading emphasizing the importance of the novel’s “marginal spaces,” such as the diary that Catherine keeps in the blank spaces of books. Davies, Stevie. Emily Brontë: Heretic. London: Women’s Press, 1994. Feminist interpretation of Brontë’s life and work contradicts the legends of Brontë’s sexual innocence and unworldliness, showing how Wuthering Heights and the author’s poetry offer evidence of her sophistication and sexuality. Frank, Katherine. A Chainless Soul: A Life of Emily Brontë. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990. Biographical study demonstrates the complex relationships between Emily Brontë and her family members. Glen, Heather, ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Brontës. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Essays examining the lives and work of the three sisters include analysis of Wuthering Heights and Emily’s poetry, a feminist perspective on the sisters’ work, and a discussion of the Brontës and religion. Hughes, Glyn. Brontë. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. British novelist Hughes makes a valiant effort to turn the quietly tragic lives of the Brontë family into compelling biographical fiction. A careful, earnest, and competently written book. Liddell, Robert. Twin Spirits: The Novels of Emily and Anne Brontë. London: Peter Owen, 1990. Presents analysis of Wuthering Heights and includes a companion essay on Anne Brontë’s 1848 novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, showing that the latter is Anne’s answer to Emily’s novel. Miller, Lucasta. The Brontë Myth. London: Jonathan Cape, 2001. Biography of the Brontës emphasizes how previous biographers have shaped readers’ understanding of the three sisters’ lives and work. Corrects misinformation contained in nineteenth century biographies, which exaggerated the authors’ miserable childhoods, as well as in later books that interpreted their work from Freudian, feminist, and poststructural perspectives. Pykett, Lyn. Emily Brontë. Savage, Md.: Barnes & Noble, 1989. Feminist assessment of Brontë’s work suggests that Wuthering Heights is a distinctive novel because of the particular way it combines the female gothic genre and the realistic domestic novel that was becoming popular in Brontë’s lifetime. Rollyson, Carl, and Lisa Paddock. The Brontës A to Z: The Essential Reference to Their Lives and Work. New York: Facts On File, 2003. Covers every aspect of the three sisters’ lives and work in more than five hundred alphabetically arranged essays. Includes seventeen pages of plot summary and analysis for Wuthering Heights. Vine, Steve. Emily Brontë. New York: Twayne, 1998. Presents biographical information as well as critical analysis of Wuthering Heights and Brontë’s poetry. Intended as an introduction for general readers. Winnifrith, Tom, ed. Critical Essays on Emily Brontë. New York: G. K. Hall, 1997. Collection of two dozen essays by distinguished critics focuses on a range of topics, including Brontë’s religion, her reading and education, Wuthering Heights, and her poetry. In one essay, Virginia Woolf compares Wuthering Heights to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Winnifrith, Tom, and Edward Chitham. Charlotte and Emily Brontë: Literary Lives. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. Brief assessment of the impact the two sisters had on each other’s writing.

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