Bronte Sisters – Short Biography

 

The Bronte Sisters; Anne (1820-1849)

Charlotte (1816-1855) Emily (1818-1848)

They were born at Thornton & lived in Haworth W. Yorkshire.  Patrick Bronte their father was a Yorkshire clergyman with Irish origins, and brought his family to the parsonage at the top of the hill of Haworth village on the edge of the moor in 1820.  Mrs Bronte died the next year and the six children were cared for by her sister, Elizabeth Branwell.  This was the children’s home up to their short lived lives.  Charlotte and Emily were sent to Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire, but they returned within a year. The treatment at Cowan Bridge was considered harsh, and Charlotte later modelled Lowood School (Jane Eyre) after it.

For the next few years, the Bronte children were taught at home.   They invented games and told imaginary stories to each other.  Charlotte attended Miss Wooler’s school at Roe Head for one year in 1831, then returned home and taught her sisters. Charlotte returned to Roe Head as a teacher in 1835, but after suffering from depression and ill health, she resigned from her position. It was at Roe Head that Charlotte met her lifelong friend Ellen Nussey.  Her many letters to Nussey have served as the best documentation of her life.

The Bronte sisters worked in various schools during the next few years.  Anne worked briefly as a governess in 1839 and from 1841-1845.  Emily spent several months teaching at Miss Patchett’s school at Law Hill.  Charlotte and Emily had plans to open their own school at Haworth, and in 1842, they travelled to Brussels at their aunt’s expense to learn German and improve their French.  When their aunt died 8 months later, the sisters returned for the funeral.  Emily never returned to Brussels, but Charlotte returned as a pupil-teacher.  Her time in Belgium was not happy, in part because of her attraction to her married employer.  Charlotte returned to Haworth the next year. The dream of opening a school was never realised.

In the autumn of 1845, Charlotte discovered some poems written by Emily. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne soon realised they had all been secretly writing verse.  The next year, they published a book of poems at their own expense entitled Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.  The pseudonyms were chosen to match the first letter of their names.  They only sold two copies of the book, but each sister already had additional writing plans in the works.

Charlotte’s first attempt at the novel was entitled The Professor, but the story was rejected by publishers.  Her second attempt was published in October, 1847.  Jane Eyre: an autobiography, it was an immediate success.   Several months later Anne’s Agnes Grey and Emily’s Wuthering Heights were published together in three volumes.  The popularity of the Bronte novels allowed Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall to be published shortly thereafter.  The next year was one of tragedy for the Bronte sisters.  Their brother Branwell, an unstable man with a history of drunkenness and opium use died in September 1848.  Emily then fell ill and died of tuberculosis December 19, 1848.  Anne soon followed, contracting tuberculosis that same year and died  May 28, 1849  in Scarborough.  She was buried in St. Marty’s churchyard Scarborough, Yorkshire and was visited by Charlotte in 1852.

Charlotte was left alone with her father, but later married in Haworth Church, her father’s curate Arthur Bell Nicholls.  They enjoyed a brief happiness.  Charlotte fell ill during pregnancy and died March 31, 1855.  What a loss to literature that such gifted children should all die before their father.  They were geniuses; with a fantastic imagination, a robust melodramatic view of what a good story ought to be, and an understanding of the darker side of the human soul.

 

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