Emily Bronte (1818-1849), English author and one of the famed Bronte sisters wrote Wuthering Heights (1847);
Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living! You said I killed you—haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers. I believe—I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!
First published under Emily’s pseudonym Ellis Bell, the combination of its structure and elements of passion, mystery and doomed love as well as social commentary have made Wuthering Heights an enduring masterpiece. Set in 18th Century England when social and economic values were changing and land ownership did not always the man make, it is a world of patriarchal values juxtaposed with the natural elements. Bronte explores themes of revenge, religion, class and prejudice while plumbing the depths of the metaphysical and human psyche. Bronte’s own home in the bleak Yorkshire moors provides the setting for the at-times other-worldly passions of the Byronic Heathcliff and Catherine. Also having written much poetry, Emily Bronte’s works did not receive wide acclaim until after her death at the age of thirty. Wuthering Heights is still in print today and has inspired numerous television and feature film adaptations. As with most of the Bronte sister’s popular novels, people have tried to find biographical parallels in them. Emily has been characterised to mythic proportions as deeply spiritual, free-spirited and reclusive as well as intensely creative and passionate, an icon to tortured genius.
Emily Bronte was born on 30 July 1818 at 74 Market Street in Thornton, Bradford, Yorkshire, England. She was the fourth daughter of Maria Branwell (1783-1821), who died of cancer when Emily was just three years old, and Irish clergyman Patrick Bronte (1777-1861). After her youngest sister Anne (1820-1849) was born the Bronte’s moved to the village of Haworth where Patrick had been appointed rector. Emily had four older siblings; Maria (1814-1825), Elizabeth (1815-1825), Charlotte (1816-1855) and Patrick Branwell “Branwell” (1817-1848). Emily’s “Aunt [Elizabeth] Branwell” (1776-1842) had moved in to the Parsonage after her sister Maria’s death to help nursemaids Nancy and Sarah Gars raise the six young children.
In 1824, Emily, with her four sisters entered the Clergy Daughter’s School at Cowan Bridge, near Kirkby Lonsdale. When Maria and Elizabeth died there a year later of tuberculosis, she and Charlotte returned home to Haworth. Their father was a quiet man and often spent his spare time alone, so, the motherless children entertained themselves reading the works of William Shakespeare, Virgil, John Milton, and the Bible and played the piano, did needlepoint, and told each other stories. The four often ‘paired up’; Charlotte and Branwell started writing of their imaginary world ‘Angria’, Emily and Anne writing of its rival, ‘Gondal’. Penning their kingdoms’ histories and developing characters to populate them, the young Bronte girls found a creative outlet in writing stories and poetry. Emily was becoming an independent and opinionated young woman as her poem “The Old Stoic” reveals;
And if I pray, the only prayer
That moves my lips for me
Is, ‘Leave the heart that now I bear,
And give me liberty!’
In 1835 Emily enrolled at Miss Wooler's school at Roe Head, Mirfield where Charlotte was teaching, but she soon returned home when she became profoundly homesick and ill. After a few years as governess at Law Hill Hall in Halifax, West Yorkshire, Emily and her sisters Charlotte and Anne travelled to Brussels, Belgium in 1842. There at the Pensionnat Heger under teacher Constantin Heger they immersed themselves in the study of French, German and literature with the aim of starting their own school someday. When their Aunt Branwell died Emily alone returned to Haworth for her funeral and stayed on there, just her and her father. She helped around the home and continued writing and editing her poems. By 1845 her sisters had given up their dream of starting their own school and the three were together at Haworth again. It was Charlotte’s idea to publish the poems of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell in 1846. The following year Wuthering Heights was published to mixed reviews, although it was soon lauded as an original and innovative tragic romance. Tragedy loomed large in Emily’s life as well: her brother Branwell had become an alcoholic and addicted to opium and the family were constantly dealing with his depressions and at times mad ravings. He died in 1848 and while at his funeral Emily caught a cold and died soon after, on 19 December 1848. She now rests with her mother and father and sisters Charlotte, Maria, and Elizabeth and brother Branwell in the family vault at the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels in Haworth, West Yorkshire, England.
Yet, still, in evening’s quiet hour,
With never-failing thankfulness,
I welcome thee, Benignant Power;
Sure solacer of human cares,
And sweeter hope, when hope despairs!—“To Imagination”
Biography written by C. D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2007. All Rights Reserved.
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