Friday, January 15, 2016

Let's talk about: Emily Bronte


(portrait by Branwell Bronte)

Emily Bronte was born on July 30, 1818 in Thornton. She was the fifth child of the six Bronte children. Emily was three years old when their mother died. 
When Emily was six she joined her sisters at the Clergy Daughter's School at Cowan Bridge for a very short time. She was removed after the epidemic that swept the school and killed her sisters. 
She was home schooled for a time with her remaining three siblings by their father and aunt Elizabeth Branwell.
 The children began to write fiction together and a lot of poetry. When she was thirteen she and Anne began their stories of Gondal. 

At seventeen years old Emily went to Roe Head Girls' School. She only stayed for a few months however because Emily was always taken with extreme homesickness when she was away. She returned home and Anne went to take her place. 

When she was twenty she became a teacher at Law School in Halifax but she did not do well with the stress of the long work days and being away from home again. She returned home about seven months later. After that she stayed home doing most of the cooking and cleaning and teaching Sunday School. She taught herself out of books, learning German and the piano. 
However in 1842, Charlotte convinced her to attend the Heger Pensionnat school in Brussels, Belgium run by Constantin Heger. Heger was impressed by Emily and said this about her: 

"She should have been a man- a great navigator. Her powerful reason would have deduced new spheres of discovery from the knowledge of the old; and her strong imperious will would never have been daunted by opposition or difficulty, never have given way but with life. She had a head for logic, and a capability of argument unusual in a man and rarer indeed in a woman.. impairing this gift was her stubborn tenacity of will which rendered her obtuse to all reasoning where her own wishes, or her own sense of right, was concerned."

They did so well at the school that Madame Heger asked them to stay another six months for Charlotte to teach English and Emily to teach music. But their aunt died and they returned to Haworth. 
They tried to open a school soon after their return home but it was not a success. 

Emily went through all of her poems writing them neatly into notebooks in 1844 and when Charlotte found them she insisted that they be published. Emily was furious that Charlotte had gone into her notebooks but finally gave in when Anne offered her poems as well. 
In 1846 their poems were published in one book called Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell
Emily's pseudonym for publication was Ellis Bell. 
(You'll notice they all went with the same last name of Bell and then they used male names starting with the same letter of their own name.)
Only two copies were sold. 
But they did not stop writing and soon began their respective novels. 

Emily's Wuthering Heights was first published in London in 1847. It was first published in one volume also containing novels by both of her sisters. 
Most readers thought that Wuthering Heights was written by a man. According to Juliet Gardiner, 
"The vivid sexual passion and power of its language and imagery impressed, bewildered, and appalled reviewers."
It was often condemned for its violence and passion. 

There is some speculation that she began another novel before her death but that it was lost or even that Charlotte burned it. 

There isn't as much information available on Emily. She had a very reclusive, introverted nature and kept to herself at school and in social situations. She didn't seem to have any friends outside of her family. Most of the information gathered about her has been from her written works and from her sister Charlotte who wrote this as a preface in the second edition of Wuthering Heights in 1850: 

"My sister's disposition was not naturally gregarious; circumstances favoured and fostered her tendency to seclusion; except to go to church or take a walk on the hills, she rarely crossed the threshold of home. Though her feeling for the people round was benevolent, intercourse with them she never sought; nor, with very few exceptions, ever experienced. And yet she knew them: knew their way, their language, their family histories; she could hear of them with interest, and talk of them with detail, minute, graphic, and accurate; but WITH them, she rarely exchanged a word."

She was most comfortable at home, with nature, with her family, and with animals. 

Norma Crandall said her "warm, human aspect" was " usually revealed only in her love of nature and animals". A newspaper in 1899 related this story of her:

"Once she was bitten by a dog that she saw running by in great distress, and to which she offered water. The dog was mad. She said no word to any one, but herself burned the lacerated flesh to the bone with the red hot poker, and no one knew of it until the red scar was accidentally discovered some weeks after, and sympathetic questioning brought out this story."

Emily caught a very bad cold soon after the funeral of their brother Branwell and soon was showing signs of tuberculosis that was probably contracted because of a weakened immune system. 

Charlotte wrote this: 
"She grows daily weaker. The physician's opinion was expressed too obscurely to be of use- he sent some medicine which she would not take. Moments so dark as these I have never known- I pray for God's support to us all."

With her last words she told Charlotte, "If you will send for a doctor, I will see him now."She was extremely restless.  But it was too late and she died that afternoon on the sofa. Emily had grown so thin in her sickness that her coffin was only sixteen inches wide and the carpenter said that he had never made a narrower one for an adult. 

"Her funeral procession was headed by the bereaved father, mourning his 'beloved daughter', and Keeper, Emily's faithful dog, walking first side by side."
-Juliet Barker

Keeper stayed at the family's feet during the service and then went to the door of her bedroom where he sat for many days howling. 

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