Emily Brontë Biography

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Wuthering Heights Author/Context

Emily Brontë was born on July 30, 1818 in Yorkshire. The family moved to a parsonage near the moors in Haworth, Yorkshire, two years later. Emily was the fifth of six children born into this literary family. Two of her older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, got sick while away at school and died in 1824. Emily's mother had died three years after giving birth to Emily. As an escape from these hardships, the remainder of the family--father Patrick, and siblings Charlotte, Anne, and Branwell, wrote their own stories and delved into the land of fantasy. They were all educated and encouraged to read and write by their father, who was born into a poor Irish family and worked his way up in the Anglican Church. Patrick Brontë's family in Ireland was illiterate; therefore, he prized learning and the power it had to change lives. Only a poor minister, he knew his daughters would likely have to work as teachers or governesses, and their education would be indispensable.

Emily was the most reserved and least social of the Brontë children. Intensely private, she was infuriated when Charlotte read her poetry notebook and suggested she publish it. She normally did not show her writings to anyone. She liked to tell stories, though, and she and her little sister Anne invented Gondal, an imaginary kingdom. Emily never tired of creating stories about the land of Gondal and its inhabitants.

Though she studied away from home several times, Emily hated being away from Haworth, and she disliked the loss of privacy and writing time. She preferred to be at home, and she helped around the house, caring for father, and doing the finances and housework. In 1824, she and her sister Anne tried to start a school in their home, but there was no interest.

Emily Brontë's first publication came in 1846, when her poems were published along with Anne's and Charlotte's. They chose androgynous pseudonyms: Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, corresponding to Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. There was no reaction, but they decided to try writing novels. In 1847, a publisher accepted books by two of the sisters. Charlotte's Jane Eyre was already published, and receiving rave reviews. The dishonest publisher suggested that Currer Bell wrote Wuthering Heights too, in the hopes of increasing sales.

Critics found Wuthering Heights to be intense and original. But they were also troubled by what they saw as moral ambiguity. They did not think the villains of the story were adequately punished. After the publication of Wuthering Heights in 1847, Emily wrote little. She wanted nothing do with publishing and fame, and was not even interested in making a trip to London to affirm that it was she and not Charlotte who wrote Wuthering Heights.

Brontë was influenced by other writers, but also forged her own path. She explored the dark areas of the soul with her unique vision. Critic Richard Benvenuto writes of her:

"Like Brontë's poetry, Wuthering Heights anticipates twentieth-century literature--in its complex point of view, its violence, its use of dramatic scene instead of authorial comment or summary, its moral impartiality. It transcends time as few other Victorian novels do, yet it has points of connection with them and with the literary traditions of the nineteenth century" (86).

The pseudonym from Wuthering Heights was not removed until after Emily's death in 1848. Branwell had died months before Emily, and Anne died the following year. The only child remaining, Charlotte, published a new version of Wuthering Heights in 1850, correcting the mistakes the first publisher had ignored.

Bibliography

Benvenuto, Richard. Emily Brontë. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982.

Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. New York: Bantam Books, 1986.

Davies, Stevie. Emily Brontë. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

Peterson, Linda H., ed. Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1992.

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