Emily Brontë, English novelist and poet who produces but one novel, Wuthering Heights (1847), is born on July 30, 1818 in Thornton, West Riding of Yorkshire, England. She is perhaps the greatest of the three Brontë sisters, but the record of her life is extremely meager, for she is silent and reserved and leaves no correspondence of interest, and her single novel darkens rather than solves the mystery of her spiritual existence.
Her father, Patrick Brontë (1777–1861), an Irishman, holds a number of curacies. Hartshead, Yorkshire, is the birthplace of his elder daughters, Maria and Elizabeth, who died young. Nearby Thornton is the birthplace of Emily and her siblings Charlotte, Patrick Branwell, and Anne. In 1820 Patrick Brontë becomes rector of Haworth, remaining there for the rest of his life.
After the death of their mother in 1821, the children are left very much to themselves in the bleak moorland rectory. The children are educated, during their early life, at home, except for a single year that Charlotte and Emily spend at the Cowan Bridge School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire. In 1835, when Charlotte secures a teaching position at Miss Wooler’s school at Roe Head, Emily accompanies her as a pupil but suffers from homesickness and remains only three months. In 1838 Emily spends six exhausting months as a teacher at Law Hill School, near Halifax, and then resigns.
In an effort to keep the family together at home, Charlotte plans to keep a school for girls at Haworth. In February 1842 she and Emily go to Brussels to learn foreign languages and school management at the Héger Pensionnat. Although Emily pines for home and for the wild moorlands, it seems that in Brussels she is better appreciated than Charlotte. Her passionate nature is more easily understood than Charlotte’s decorous temperament. In October, however, when her aunt dies, Emily returns permanently to Haworth.
In 1845 Charlotte comes across some poems by Emily, and this leads to the discovery that all three sisters have written verse. A year later they publish jointly a volume of verse, Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, the initials of these pseudonyms being those of the sisters. It contains 21 of Emily’s poems, and a consensus of later criticism has accepted the fact that Emily’s verse alone reveals true poetic genius. The venture costs the sisters about £50 in all, and only two copies are sold.
By midsummer of 1847 Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey have been accepted for joint publication by J. Cautley Newby of London, but publication of the three volumes is delayed until the appearance of their sister Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, which is immediately and hugely successful. Wuthering Heights, when published in December 1847, does not fare well. Critics are hostile, calling it too savage, too animal-like, and clumsy in construction. Only later does it come to be considered one of the finest novels in the English language.
Soon after the publication of her novel, Emily’s health begins to fail rapidly. She had been ill for some time, but now her breathing becomes difficult and she suffers great pain. She dies of tuberculosis on December 19, 1848 in Haworth. She is buried at St. Michael and All Angels’ Church in Haworth.