Thursday, December 19, 2013

Emily Bronte died - 1848


English novelists Emily Brontë died on December 19, 1848 in Hworth, England. She was the fifth child of the Reverend Patrick Brontë, a stern Evangelical curate, and his wife Maria. When Emily was three years old, her mother died of cancer, and her Aunt Branwell, a strict Calvinist, moved in to help raise the six children (another daughter, Anne, was born soon after Emily). They lived in a parsonage in Haworth with the bleak moors of Yorkshire on one side and the parish graveyard on the other. When Emily was 6 years old she went to a boarding school run by charity, the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge, where her older sisters Maria, Elizabeth, and Charlotte were already enrolled. The school was in no sense a material improvement over her home environment: it was run with the intention of punishing the pupils' bodies that their souls might be saved. The students were kept hungry, cold, tired, and often ill: Maria in particular, who at her young age did her best to mother her sisters, was treated extremely harshly. In 1825 Maria and Elizabeth both died of tuberculosis, the disease that was later to claim Emily's own life, and that of her younger sister Anne. Following these new bereavements, the surviving sisters Charlotte and Emily were taken home, but they would never forget the terrors and the hardship of their lives at school. Charlotte made it the model for the charity school Lowood, which figures so prominently in her novel Jane Eyre.
Life at home was much better for Emily and her siblings: in their isolated childhood on the moors, they developed an extremely close relationship partly based on their mutual participation in a vibrant game of make-believe. They made tiny books containing stories, plays, histories, and poetry written by their imagined heroes and heroines. For Emily, it seems that the fantastic adventures she created in her imaginary worlds coexisted on almost an equal level of importance and reality with the lonely and mundane world of household chores and walks on the moor. One would be mistaken, however, to conclude that the poetic beauty of her fantasies were essentially different from that which Emily saw in the world around her. This becomes clear in her novel Wuthering Heights, in which her familiar Yorkshire surroundings become the setting for a tragedy whose passion and beauty is equal to anything that could be imagined elsewhere.
Emily Brontë very rarely spent any time away from home. In 1835, at the age of seventeen she went to school at Roe Head where Charlotte was teaching, but became so pale and thin that her sister was convinced she would die unless she returned home. She left home again to be a governess in 1837 (a failure) and to study in Belgium in 1842, but both times she found she was unable to bear being away from home and her beloved, wild countryside. She could not adapt to playing the role of a genteel Victorian lady, or deal with the intrusion of strangers into her life. Emily never made any close friends outside of her family circle.
In 1845 Charlotte came across some of Emily's poems and read them, which made Emily furious when she found out. However, the discovery led to the publication of a volume of Charlotte, Emily, and the youngest sister Anne's poetry under the names of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. They sold only two copies, but did not give up writing: Wuthering Heights was probably written in 1845-6, while Charlotte was working on The Professor and Jane Eyre, and Anne wrote Agnes Grey. Wuthering Heights (by Ellis Bell), was published in 1847, and attracted considerable critical attention: many people were shocked and horrified by the sheer violence of Emily's novel. Emily died on December 19th, 1848, at the age of 30.
 
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Literary Legends of the British Isles: The Lives and Burial Places of 50 Great Writers. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following links:

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