Brontë 200 - Emily 2018

Emily 2018

Emily 2018

Emily was the fifth of the six Brontë children. After the loss of her mother in 1821 and her two oldest sisters in 1825 she, Anne, Charlotte and Branwell, with only five years separating them, became a close and exclusive band. They neither went to school, nor made friends, in the village. Their playgrounds were the open moors at the back of the house, and their own imaginations...

 

Emily had less schooling than either of her sisters. She spent six months at the Clergy Daughters' School, Cowan Bridge, aged six; three months at Roe Head School, Dewsbury, aged 17, and nine months at the Pensionnat Heger, Brussels, aged 24 to 25. The rest of her education was at home from Aunt Branwell and her sister Charlotte. Drawing and music masters visited the Parsonage (Emily was an accomplished pianist), and her broader education came from her father, who encouraged all his children to read widely, and talked to them as he would to adults, on matters as diverse as public policy and literary criticism.

Mr Brontë had intended his second daughter Elizabeth should be a housekeeper, and the other four governesses, but the only paid employment Emily ever undertook was teaching at Law Hill School near Halifax in 1838. She lasted only six months. Emily was only ever happy at home; she enjoyed housekeeping and the company of the family's elderly servant Tabitha Aykroyd.

Like her sisters and brother Branwell Emily was a writer from the time she could read. She collaborated with Anne in writing poetry and stories for their imaginary world of Gondal. Only a few poems from the Gondal sagas survive, but we know their collaboration continued until the early 1840s - it is possible Emily never abandoned her imaginary world. She was the least willing to agree to Charlotte's publication of Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (1846), and even after the publication of Wuthering Heights (1847), she refused to accompany her sisters to London and reveal the true identity behind her nom de plume Ellis Bell.

Alone among the Brontë children Emily was tall – about 5 foot 6 inches – and strong. She was an animated member of the family circle, but had no friends beyond that. None of her correspondence survives, and the little information we do have sometimes appears contradictory. We know she liked 'military good order' in her life, and also that she blended reality and fantasy in equal measure. She adored the family pets, yet had a violent temper, and disciplined them harshly. She avoided everyone outside the family, yet the characterisations in her novel are acutely observed. Her poetry is profoundly religious, yet she turned her back on religious institutions. For Emily religious fulfilment was to be found in the union of the individual spirit with the eternal spirits in nature; it was probably that conviction that informed her refusal of family help and medical assistance during her painful death from consumption.

She died on December 19, 1848, on the sofa in the dining-room, unable any longer to ascend the stairs to her bedroom.

 

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