The fifth child of Reverend Patrick Bronte and his wife, Maria, Emily Bronte was born on July 30th 1818, in Thornton, Yorkshire, England.
A celebrated novelist, Emily Bronte was not the only literary talent in her family. Her two sisters Charlotte and Anne were also acclaimed writers.
In April 1821, Emily’s mother died of cancer, shortly after the birth of Anne. Their aunt, Elizabeth Bramwell came to the Bronte’s new home in Haworth to 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. Sadly, only four years after the tragedy of losing her mother, Elizabeth and Maria became seriously ill, and both died of tuberculosis whilst at school.
After this, Emily and Charlotte were removed from school by their father, who feared they would also become ill. Educated quietly at home in Haworth, Emily became engrossed in a world of reading and began to make up stories with her sisters and her brother Branwell.
Coming from a poor family, it was vital that Emily found work as soon as she was old enough, and in September 1837, Emily became a teacher at the Law Hill School. she left her position the following March, though, and started to write more seriously.
Some of Emily’s earliest known works involve a fictional world called Gondal, which she created with her sister Anne. She wrote stories and poems about this imaginary place and its inhabitants. Emily also wrote other poems and stories as well.
It was only after her sister Charlotte discovered some of Emily’s poems and tried to publish them along with Anne’s work and her own, that their combined literary careers began in earnest.
Deciding to use male pen names for their first poetry collection, they called it simply Poems, by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. This first book was published in 1846 and only sold a few copies.
In December 1847, still using the name of Ellis Bell, Emily published her defining work, Wuthering Heights. At first readers didn’t really know what to make of the complexity of the storyline of Wuthering Heights. It was only after Bronte’s death that the book developed its reputation as a literary masterwork, and was republished under her own name.
Sadly, like her sisters before her, Emily died of tuberculosis, on December 19th 1848, nearly two months after her brother Branwell also succumbed to the disease. Her sister Anne fell ill, again with TB, and died the following May.
Though also tied together by tragedy, all three sisters left a legacy of literature behind them that will be celebrated forever.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.