Emily Bronte: Biography, Personality & Literary Works

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      Emily Bronte is best known for authoring the novel Wuthering Heights. She was the sister of Charlotte and Anne Bronte, also famous authors. Born in Thornton, Yorkshire, England, on July 30, 1818, Emily Jane Bronte lived a quiet life in Yorkshire with her clergyman father; brother, Branwell Bronte; and two sisters, Charlotte and Anne. The sisters enjoyed writing poetry and novels, which they published under pseudonyms. As "Ellis Bell," Emily wrote Wuthering Heights (1847) — her only published novel — which garnered wide critical and commerical acclaim. Emily Bronte died in Haworth, Yorkshire, England, on December 19, 1848—the same year that her brother, Branwell, passed away.

Born on July 30, 1818, in Thornton, Yorkshire, England, Emily Bronte is best remembered for her 1847 novel, Wuthering Heights. She was not the only creative talent in her family — her sisters Charlotte and Anne enjoyed some literary success as well. Her father had published several works during his lifetime, too.
Emily Bronte

Early Life

      Born on July 30, 1818, in Thornton, Yorkshire, England, Emily Bronte is best remembered for her 1847 novel, Wuthering
Heights. She was not the only creative talent in her family — her sisters Charlotte and Anne enjoyed some literary success as well. Her father had published several works during his lifetime, too.

      Emily was the fifth child of Reverend Patrick Bronte and his wife, Maria Bran well Bronte. The family moved to Haworth in April 1821. Only a few months later, Bronte's mother died of cancer; her death came nearly nine months after the birth of her sister, Anne. Her mother's sister, Elizabeth Branwell, came to live with the family to help care for the children.

      At the age of 6, Emily was sent to the Clergy Daughters School at Cowan Bridge with Charlotte and her two oldest sisters, Elizabeth and Maria. Both Elizabeth and Maria became seriously ill at school and returned home, where they died of tuberculosis in 1825. Bronte's father removed both Emily and Charlotte from the school as well.

      At home in Haworth, Bronte enjoyed her quiet life. She read extensively and began to make up stories with her siblings. The surviving Bronte children, which included brother Branwell, had strong imaginations. They created tales inspired by toy soldiers given to Branwell by their father. In 1835, the shy Emily tried leaving home for school. She went with Charlotte to Miss Wooler's school in Roe Head where Charlotte worked as a teacher. But she stayed only a few months before heading back to Haworth.

      Coming from a poor family, Bronte tried to find work. She became a teacher at the Law Hill School in September 1837, but she left her position the following March. Bronte and her sister Charlotte traveled to Brussels in 1842 to study but the death of their aunt Elizabeth forced them to return home.

Character and Personality of Emily Bronte

      Emily's Nature. Emily was of a very different nature, even as a child. She was a strange, mysterious and shadowy figure. She was never seen directly, but reflected, as it were, in a moorland pool. One has to guess what sort of woman she was from her one novel, her poems, from an allusion here and there and from scattered anecdotes. She was aloof, an intense, uncomfortable creature; and when one hears of her given over to unrestrained gaiety, as she sometimes was on walks over the moor it makes one uneasy. Charlotte had friends. Anne had friends, Emily had none. Her character was full of contradictions. She was harsh, dogmatic, self-willed, sullen, angry and intolerant; and she was pious, dutiful, hard-working, uncomplaining, tender to those she loved and patient.

      Her Appearance. Mary Robinson describes her at fifteen as "a tall, long-armed girl, full grown, elastic as to tread; with a slight figure that looked queenly in her best dresses, but loose and boyish when she slouched over the moors, whistling the dogs, and taking long strides over the rough earth. A tall, thin, loose-jointed girl—not ugly, but with irregular features and a pallid thick complexion. Her dark hair was naturally beautiful, and in later days looked well, loosely fastened with a tall comb at the back of her head; but in 1833 she wore it in an unbecoming tight curl and frizz. She had beautiful eyes of a hazel colour." Like her father, her brother and her sisters, she wore spectacles. She had an aquiline nose and a large, expressive, prominent mouth. She dressed regardless of fashion, with leg-of-mutton sleeves long after they "had ceased to be worn; in straight long skirts clinging to her lanky figure.

      Her Shyness and Reserve. She went to Brussels with Charlotte. She hated it. Friends, wishing to be nice to the two girls, asked them to spend Sundays and holidays at their houses, but they were so shy that to go was agony for them, and after a while their hosts came to the conclusion that it was kinder not to invite them. Emily had no patience with social small-talk, which of course is for the most part trivial; it is merely an expression of general amiability, and people take part in it because they have good manners. Emily was too shy to take part in it and was irritated by those who did. There was in her shyness both diffidence and arrogance. If she was so retiring, it is strange that she should have made herself so conspicuous in her dress. The very shy not uncommonly have in them a streak of exhibitionism, and it may occur to one that she wore those absurd leg-of-mutton sleeves to flaunt her contempt for the commonplace people in whose company she was tongue-tied.

      Intelligent, but Stubborn. At school, during the hours of recreation, the two sisters always walked together, Emily leaning heavily on her sister, and generally in silence. When they were spoken to, Charlotte answered. Emily rarely spoke to anyone. They were both of them several years older than the rest of the girls, and they disliked their noisiness, their high spirits and the sillinesses natural to their age. Monsieur Heger found Emily intelligent, but so stubborn that she would listen to no reason when it interfered with her wishes or beliefs. He found her egotistical, exacting and, with Charlotte, tyrannical. But he recognized that there was something unusual in her. She should have been a man, he said: "Her strong, imperious will would never have been daunted by opposition or difficulty; never have given way but with life."

      Emily's Life at Haworth. When Emily went back to Haworth after Miss Branwell's death, it was for good. She never left it again. It looks as though only there was she able to live the reveries which were the solace and the torment of her life.

      She got up in the morning before anyone else and did the roughest part of the day's work before Tabby, the maid, who was old and frail, came down. She did the household ironing and most of the cooking. She
made the bread, and the bread was good. While kneading the dough, she would glance at the book propped up before her. "Those who worked with her in the kitchen, young girls called into help in stress of business, remember how she would keep a scrap of paper, a pencil at her side, and how when the moment came that she could pause in her cooking or her ironing, she would not down some impatient thought and then resume her work. With these girls she was always friendly and hearty—pleasant, sometimes quite jovial like a boy! So genial and kind, a little masculine, but of strangers she was exceedingly timid, and if the butcher's boy or the baker's man came to the kitchen door she would be off like bird into the hall or the parlor till she heard their hobnails clumping down the path." The people of the village said that she "was more like a boy than a girl", and that her figure looked "loose and boyish when she slouched, over the moors, whistling to her dogs and taking long strides". She disliked men and, with one exception, was not even ordinarily polite to her father's curates; this was the Rev. William Weightman. He is described as young and fair, eloquent and witty; and there was about him "a certain girlishness of looks, manner and taste". He was known in the family as Miss Celia Amelia, Emily got on famously with him.

      Charlotte's Opinion of Emily. Charlotte wrote of her: "Disinterested and energetic she certainly is; but if she is not quite so tractable and open to conviction as I could wish, I must remember perfection is not the lot of humanity." Emily's temper was uncertain and her sisters appear to have been not a little afraid of her. From Charlotte's letters one gathers that she was puzzled and often irritated by Emily, and it is plain that she didn't know what to make of Wuthering Heights; she had no notion that her sister had produced a book of astonishing originality, and one compared with which her own were commonplace. She felt constrained to apologize for it When it was proposed to republish it, she undertook to edit it. "I am likewise compelling myself to read it over, for the first time of opening the book since my sister's death," she wrote. "Its power fills me with renewed admiration; but yet I am oppressed: the reader is scarcely permitted a taste of unalloyed pleasure, every beam of sunshine down through black bars of threatening cloud; every page is surcharged with a sort of moral electricity; and the writer was unconscious of it." And again: "If the. auditor of her work, when read in manuscript, shuddered under the guiding influence of natures so relentless and so implacable - of spirits so lost and fallen; if it was complained that the mere hearing of certain vivid and fearful scenes banished sleep by night, and disturbed mental peace by day, Ellis Bell would wonder what was meant, and suspect the complainant of affectation. Had she but lived, her mind would of itself have grown like a strong tree — loftier, straighter, wider-spreading — and its matured fruits would have attained a mellower ripeness and sunnier bloom; but on that mind time and experience alone could work; to the influence of other intellects it was not amenable." One is inclined to think that Charlotte never knew her sister.

Literary Art of Emily Bronte

      An Extraordinary Book. Wuthering Heights is an extraordinary book. For the most part, novels betray their period, not only in the manner of writing, common to the time at which they were written, but also by their concurrence with the climate of opinion of their day, the moral outlook of their authors, the prejudices they accept or reject. Young David Copperfield might very well have written (though with less talent) the same sort of the novel as Jane Eyre and Arthur Pendennis might have written a novel something like Villette, though the influence of Laura would doubtless have led him to eschew the naked sexuality which gives Charlotte Bronte's book its poignancy. But Wuthering Heights is an exception. It is related in no way to the fiction of the time. It is a very bad novel. It is a very good one. It is ugly. It has beauty. It is a terrible, an agonizing, a powerful and a passionate book. Some have thought it impossible that a clergyman's daughter who led a retired humdrum life, and knew few people and nothing of the world, could have written it. This seems absurd. Wuthering Heights is wildly romantic. Now, romanticism eschews the patient observation of realism; it revels in the unbridled flight of the imagination and indulges, sometimes with gusto, sometimes with gloom, in horror, mystery passion and violence. Given Emily Bronte's character and fierce, repressed emotions, which what we know of her suggests, Wuthering Heights is just the sort of book one would have expected her to write. But; on the face of it, it is much more the sort of book that her scapegrace brother Branwell might have written, and a number of people have been able to persuade themselves that he had in whole or in part done so. However, there is no doubt at all that Emily, and Emily alone wrote Wuthering Heights.

      Pedantic Style. It must be admitted that it is badly written. The Bronte sisters did not write well. Like the governesses they were, they affected the turgid and pedantic style for which the word 'literatise' has been coined. The main part of the story is told by Mrs. Darn, a Yorkshire maid-of-all-work like, the Brontes' Tabby; a conversational style would have been suitable; Emily makes her express herself as no human being could. Here is a typical utterance: "I tried to smooth away all disquietude on the subject, by affirming, with frequent iteration, that that betrayal of trust, if it merited so harsh an appellation, should be the last." Emily Bronte seems to have been aware that she was putting into Mrs. Dean's mouth words that it was unlikely she should have known, and, to explain it, makes her say that in the course of her service, she has had the opportunity to read books, but, even at that, the pretentiousness of her discourse is appalling She does not read a letter, she peruses an epistle; she doesn't send a letter, but a missive. She does not leave a room, she quits a chamber, She calls her day's work her diurnal occupation. She commences rather than logins. People don't shout or yell, they vociferate; nor do they listen, they hearken, There is pathos in this parson's daughter striving so hard to write in a lady-like way, only to succeed in being genteel. Yet one would not wish Wuthering Heights have been written with grace: it would be none the better for being better written. Just as in one of those early flemish pictures of the burial has the anguished grimaces of the emaciated creatures concerned, their stiff, ungainly gestures, seems to add a greater horror, a matter-of-fact brutality, to the scene which makes it more poignant, more tragic, then when the same event is picture in beauty by Titian; so there is in this uncouth stylization of the language something which strangely heightens the violent passion of the story.

      Clumsy Construction. Wuthering Heights is clumsily constructed. That is not surprising, for Emily Bronte had never written a novel before, and she had a complicated story to tell, dealing with two generations. This is a difficult thing to do because the author has give some sort of unity to two sets of characters and two sets of events; and he must be careful not to allow the interest of one to overshadow the interest of the others. This Emily did not succeed in doing. After the death of Catherine Earnshaw, there is, until you come to the last finely imaginative pages, some loss of power. The younger Catherine is an unsatisfactory character, and Emily Bronte seems not have known what to make of her; obviously she could not give her the passionate independence of the older Catherine, nor the foolish weakness of her father. She is a spoilt, silly, wilful and ill-mannered creature; and you cannot greatly pity her sufferings. The steps which led to her falling in love with young Hareton are not made clear. He is a shadowy figure, and you know no more of him than that he was sullen and handsome. The author of such a story has also to compress the passage of years into a period of time that can be accepted by the reader with a comprehensive glance, as one seizes in a single view the whole of a vast fresco. One cannot suppose that Emily Bronte deliberately thought out how to get a unity Of impression into a straggling story, but she must have asked herself how to make it coherent; and it may have occurred to her that she could best do this by making one character narrate the long succession of events to another. It is a convenient way of telling a story, and she did not invent it. Its disadvantage is that it is impossible to maintain anything like a conversational manner when the narrator has to tell a number of tilings, descriptions of scenery for instance, which no sane person would think of doing. And of course if you have a narrator (Mrs. Dean) you must have a listener (Lockwood). It is possible that an experienced novelist might have found a better way of telling the story of Wuthering Heights, but it cannot be believed that if Emily Bronte used it, it was because she was working on a foundation of someone else's invention.

      Her Style—Part of her Shyness and Reticence. But more than that, the method she adopted might have been expected of her, when you consider her extreme her morbid shyness and her reticence. What were the alternatives? One was to write the novel from the standpoint of omniscience, as, for instance, Middle march and Madame Bovary were written. It would have shocked her harsh, uncompromising virtue to tell the outrageous story as a creation of her own; and if she had, moreover, she could hardy have avoided giving some account; of Heathcliff during the few years, he spent away from Wuthering Heights — years in which he managed to acquire an education and make quite a lot of money. She couldn't do this, because she simply didn't know how he had done it. The fact the reader is asked to accept is hard to believe, and she was content to state it and leave it at that. Another alternative was to have the story narrated to her, Emily Bronte, by Mrs. Dean, say, and tell it then in the first person; but that, too, would have brought her into a contact with the reader too-close for her quivering sensitivity. By having the story in its beginning told by Lockwood, and unfolded to Lockwood by Mrs. Dean, she hid herself behind, as it were, a double mask. Mr. Bronte told Mrs. Gaskell a story which in this connection has significance. When his children were young, he, desiring to find out something of their natures, which their timidity concealed from him, made each in turn put on an old mask, under cover of which they could answer more freely the questions he put to them. When he asked Charlotte what was the best book in the world, she answered, "The Bible"; but when he asked Emily what he had best do with her troublesome brother Branwell, she said: "Reason with him; and when he won't listen to reason, whip him."

      The Novel, a Reflection of Emily's Innermost Instincts. And why did Emily need to hide herself when she wrote this powerful, passionate and terrible book? Because she disclosed in it her innermost instincts. She looked deep into the well of loneliness in her heart, and saw there unavoidable secrets of which, notwithstanding, her impulse as a writer drove her to unburden herself. It is said that her imagination was kindled by the weird stories her father used to tell of the Ireland of his youth, and by the tales of Hoffmann which she learned to read when she went to school in Belgium, and which she continued to read, we are told, back at the parsonage, seated on a hearthrug by the fire with her arm around Keeper's neck. One is willing to believe that she found in the stories of mystery, violence and horror of the German romantic writers something that appealed to her own fierce nature; but she found Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw in the hidden depths of her own soul. She was herself Heathcliff, she was herself Catherine Earnshaw. Is it strange that she should have put herself into the two chief characters of her book? Not at all. We are none of us all of a piece; more than in person dwells within us, often in uncanny companionship with his fellows; and the peculiarity of the writer of fiction is that he has the power to objectify the diverse persons of which he is compounded in individual characters: his misfortune is that he cannot bring to life characters, however necessary to his story they may be, in which there is no part of himself. That is why the younger Catherine in Wuthering Heights is unsatisfactory.

      Emily, herself Heathcliff and Catherine. Emily put the whole of herself into Heathcliff. She gave him, her violent rage, her sexuality, vehement but frustrated, her passion of unsatisfied love, her jealousy, her hatred and contempt of human beings, her cruelty, her sadism. The reader will remember the incident when, with so little reason, she beat with her naked fist the face of the dog she loved as perhaps she loved no human being. There is another curious circumstance related by Ellen Nussey. "She enjoyed leading Charlotte where she would not dare to go of her own free will. Charlotte had a mortal dread of unknown animals, and it was Emily's pleasure to lead her into close vicinity, and then tell her of how and what she had done, laughing at her horror with great amusement". Emily loved Catherine Earnshaw with Heathcliff s masculine, animal love; he laughed, as she had laughed at Charlotte's fears, when, as Heathcliff, she kicked and trampled on Earnshaw and dashed his head against the stone flags; and when, as Heathcliff, she hit the younger Catherine in the face and heaped humiliations upon her, she laughed. It gave her a thrill of release when she bullied, reviled and browbeat the persons of her invention, because in real life she suffered such bitter mortification in the company of her fellow-creatures; and as Catherine, doubling the roles, as it were, though she knew him for the beast he was, she loved him with her body and soul, she exulted in her power over him, and since there is in the sadist something of the masochist too, she was fascinated by his violence, hisbrutality and his untamed nature. She felt they were kin, as indeed they were, they were both Emily Bronte. "Nelly, I am Heathcliff" Catherine cried. "He always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being".

      Wuthering Heights — a Strange Love Story. Wuthering Heights is a love story, perhaps the strangest that was ever written, and no the least strange part of it is that the lovers remain chaste. Catherine was passionately in love with Heathcliff, as passionately in love with him as Heathcliff was with her. For Edgar Linton, Catherine felt only a kindly, and often exasperated, tolerance. One wonders why those two people who were consumed with love did not, whatever the poverty that might have faced them, run away together. One wonders why they didn't become real lovers. It may be that Emily's upbringing caused her to look down upon adultery as an unforgivable sin, or it may be that the idea of sexual intercourse between the sexes filled her with disgust.

      Emily's Wish-fulfillment. The genesis of a novel is a very curious affair. In a novelist's first novel, and Emily, so far as we know, wrote but one, it is not unlikely that there will be something of wish-fulfillment and something of imagined autobiography. It is conceivable that Wuthering Heights is the product of pure fantasy. Who can tell what erotic reveries Emily had during the long watches of her sleepless nights, or when she lay all the summer day among the flowering heather? Everybody must have noticed how strong the family likeness is between Charlotte's Rochester and Emily's Heathcliff. Heathcliff might be a by-blow, the bastard, a younger son in the Rochester family might have had by an Irish biddy met in Liverpool. Both men are swarthy, violent, hard-featured, fierce, passionate and mysterious. They differ only as differed the natures of the two sisters who constructed them. But Rochester is the dream of the woman of normal instincts who hankers to give herself to the domineering, ruthless male; Emily gave Heathcliff her own masculinity, her violence and her savage temper. But the primary model on which the sisters created these two uncouth, difficult men was, their father, the Rev. Patrick Bronte.

      Emily Bronte's Poems. One only has to read Emily Bronte's poems to guess what the emotional experience was that led her to seek release from cruel pain by writing Wuthering Heights. She wrote a good deal of verse. It is uneven; some of it is commonplace, some of it moving, some of it lovely. She seems to have been most at home with the meters of the hymns which she sang on a Sunday in the parish church at Haworth, but the commonplace meters she used do not veil the intense emotion beneath. Many of the poems belong to the Gondal Chronicles, that long history of an imaginary island with which she and Anne amused themselves when they were children, and which Emily continued to write when she was a grown woman it may be that she found this a convenient way to deliver her tortured heart of emotions which with her natural secretiveness, she could not have home to set out novel another way. Other poems seem to be the direct expression of feeling. In 1845, three years before her death; she wrote a poem called The Prisoner. So far is known, she had never read the works of any of the mystics yet in these verses so describe the mystical experience that it is impossible to believe that they do not tell of what she knew from personal acquaintance. She uses almost the very words that the mystics use when they describe the anguish felt on the return from union with the infinite

"Oh dreadful is the check — intense the agony — When the ear begins to hear, the eye begins to see; When the pulse begins to throb, the brain to think again; The soul to feel the flesh, and the flesh to feel the chain." These lines surely reflect a felt, a deeply felt, experience.

      Wuthering Heights: — A Great Book In Spite of its Faults. One can think of no other novel in which the pain, the ecstasy, the ruthlessness of love have been so powerfully set forth. Wuthering Heights has great faults, but they do not matter; they matter as little as the fallen tree-trunks, the strewn rocks, the snow drifts which impede, but do not stem, the alpine torrent in its tumultuous course down the mountain-side. You cannot liken Wuthering Heights to any other book. You can liken it only to one of those great pictures of El Greco in which in a somber, arid landscape, under clouds heavy with thunder, long, emaciated figures in contorted attitudes, spellbound by an unearthly emotion, hold their breath. A streak of lightning, flitting across the leaden sky, gives a mysterious terror to the scene.

      Emily Bronte's work on Wuthering Heights cannot be dated, and she may well have spent a long time on this intense, solidly imagined novel. It is distinguished from other novels of the period by its dramatic and poetic presentation, its abstention from all comment by the author, and its unusual structure. It recounts in the retrospective narrative of an onlooker, which in turn includes shorter narratives, the impact of the waif Heathcliff on the two families of Earnshaw and Linton in a remote Yorkshire district at the end of the 18th century. Embittered by abuse and by the marriage of Cathy Earnshaw — who shares his stormy nature and whom he loves — to the gentle and prosperous Edgar Linton, Heathcliff plans a revenge on both families, extending into the second generation. Cathy's death in childbirth fails to set him free from his love-hate relationship with her, and the obsessive haunting persists until his death; the marriage of the surviving heirs of Earnshaw and Linton restores peace.

      Sharing her sisters dry humor and Charlotte's violent imagination, Emily diverges from them in making no use of the events of her own life and showing no preoccupation with a spinster's state or a governess's position. Working, like them, within a confined scene and with a small group of characters, she constructs an action, based on profound and primitive energies of love and hate, which proceeds logically and economically, making no use of such coincidences as Charlotte relies on, requiring no rich romantic similes or rhetorical patterns, and confining the superb dialogue to what is immediately relevant to the subject. The somber power of the book and the elements of brutality in the characters affronted some 19th-century opinions. Its supposed masculine quality was adduced to support the claim, based on the memories of her brother Branwell's friends long after his death, that he was author or part author of it. While it is not possible to clear up all the minor puzzles, neither the external nor the internal evidence offered is substantial enough to weigh against Charlotte's plain statement that Emily was the author.

      Some of Emily's earliest known works involve a fictional world called Gondal, which she created with her sister Anne. She wrote both prose and poems about this imaginary place and its inhabitants. Emily also wrote other poems as well. Her sister Charlotte discovered some of Emily's poems and sought to publish them along with her own work and some by Anne. The three sisters used male pen names for their collection - Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Published in 1846, the book only sold a few copies and garnered little attention.

      Again publishing as Ellis Bell, Bronte published her defining work, Wuthering Heights, in December 1847. The complex novel explores two families—the Earnshaws and the Lintons—across two generations and their stately homes, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff, an orphan taken in by the Earnshaws, is the driving force behind the action in the book. He first motivated by his love for his Catherine Earnshaw, then by his desire for revenge against her for what he believed to be rejection.

Death and Legacy

      At first, reviewers did not know what to make of Wuthering Heights. It was only after Bronte's death that the book developed its reputation as a literary masterwork. She died of tuberculosis on December 19, 1848, nearly two months after her brother, Bran well, succumbed to the same disease. Her sister Anne also fell ill and died of tuberculosis the following May.

      Interest in Bronte's work and life remains strong today The parsonage where Bronte spent much of her life is now a museum. The Bronte Society operates the museum and works to preserve and honor the work of the Bronte sisters.

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