seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Emily Brontë, Novelist & Poet

emily-bronteEmily 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.


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Birth of Charlotte Brontë, Novelist & Poet

charlotte-brontëCharlotte Brontë, English novelist and poet, is born in Thornton, West Yorkshire, England on April 21, 1816, the third daughter of the Rev. Patrick Brontë, an Irish Anglican clergyman, and his wife Maria. In 1820 her family moves a few miles to the village of Haworth, where her father has been appointed perpetual curate of St. Michael and All Angels’ Church.

In 1824 the four eldest Brontë daughters are enrolled as pupils at the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge. The following year Maria and Elizabeth, the two eldest daughters, become ill, leave the school and ultimately die. Charlotte and sister Emily, understandably, are brought home. Charlotte ultimately uses the school as the basis for Lowood School in Jane Eyre.

In 1826 Patrick Brontë brings home a box of wooden soldiers for son Branwell. Charlotte, Emily, Branwell, and Ann, playing with the soldiers, conceive of and begin to write in great detail about an imaginary world which they call Angria.

In 1831 Charlotte becomes a pupil at the school at Roe Head in Mirfield, but she leaves school the following year to teach her sisters at home. She returns to Roe Head School in 1835 as a governess, leaving in 1838. The following year she accepts a position as governess in the Sidgewick family, but leaves after three months and returns to Haworth. In 1841 she becomes governess in the White family, but leaves, once again, after nine months.

Upon her return to Haworth the three sisters, led by Charlotte, decide to open their own school after the necessary preparations have been completed. In 1842 Charlotte and Emily go to Brussels to complete their studies. After a trip home to Haworth, Charlotte returns alone to Brussels, where she remains until 1844.

Upon her return home the sisters embark upon their project for founding a school, which proves to be an abject failure. Their advertisements do not elicit a single response from the public. The following year Charlotte discovers Emily’s poems and decides to publish a selection of the poems of all three sisters. The poems, written under the pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, are published in 1846. She also completes The Professor, which is rejected for publication. The following year, however, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and Ann’s Agnes Grey are all published, still under the Bell pseudonyms.

In 1848 Charlotte and Ann visit their publishers in London, and reveal the true identities of the “Bells.” In the same year Branwell Brontë, by now an alcoholic and a drug addict, dies, and Emily dies shortly thereafter. Ann dies the following year.

In 1849 Charlotte, visiting London, begins to move in literary circles, making the acquaintance, for example, of William Makepeace Thackeray. In 1850 she edits her sister’s various works, and meets Elizabeth Gaskell. In 1851 she visits The Great Exhibition in London, and attends a series of lectures given by Thackeray.

The Rev. Arthur Bell Nicholls, curate of Haworth since 1845, proposes marriage to Charlotte in 1852. Her father objects violently, and Charlotte, who, though she may have pitied him, is not in love with him and refuses the proposal. Nicholls leaves Haworth in the following year, the same in which Charlotte’s Villette is published. By 1854, however, her father’s opposition to the proposed marriage has weakened, and Charlotte and Nicholls become engaged. Nicholls returns as curate at Haworth and they are married, though it seems clear that Charlotte, though she admires him, still does not love him.

Charlotte becomes pregnant soon after her wedding, but her health declines rapidly. She dies at the age of 38, with her unborn child, on March 31, 1855, three weeks before her 39th birthday, at Haworth, West Yorkshire, England. Her death certificate gives the cause of death as tuberculosis, but biographers including Claire Harman suggest that she died from dehydration and malnourishment due to vomiting caused by severe morning sickness.

The Professor is published postumously in 1857, having been written in 1845-1846. In that same year, Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë is published.

(Pictured: An idealised posthumous portrait by Duyckinick, 1873, based on a drawing by George Richmond)