Emily Brontë (1818 - 1848)

Life and Works

Portrait by Branwell Brontë

Emily Brontë was the fourth of four daughters and a son. She was born on 30 July 1818 at 74 Market Street in Thornton, Bradford, Yorkshire

After Anne, her youngest sister, was born the family moved to Haworth. Her father was a clergyman who took a serious interest in educating them and sent them to different schools. In 1824, they entered the Clergy Daughter's School at Cowan Bridge, near Kirkby Lonsdale, and in 1835 Emily enrolled at Miss Wooler's school at Roe Head, Mirfield. She lived in Yorkshire except for a small stay in Brussels at a lodging school, the Pensionnat Heder, in 1842 and in Halifax as a teacher. However, she had to return home on several occasions because of her two sisters' death of tuberculosis and later her Aunt Branwell. She alone returned to Haworth and stayed there with her father only.

Portrait by her brother

The moors shaped her personality as well as her writings. The moors and nature are linked to her spiritual beliefs. She was a self-contained person who did not show off herself to people. It is well-known that when her sister Charlotte found a volume with Emily's poetry, she reacted angrily by accusing her of invading her privacy.

She started writing early in her life together with her sister Anne. They wrote the "Gondal" stories, which were a counterpart to the "Angrian" saga, written by Charlotte and Branwell by 1831. Both works were probably inspired by Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. She did not maintain a close relation with people outside her family, and she felt a special affection for Anne and the family's animals.

The scarce periods of her life when she was away from the Yorkshire moors made her a non-conformist and an unsociable person. She never made any effort to adapt herself to the continental habits wether in the way she dressed nor in behaviour. She did not get on with her school mates and did not care about it because she relished the way she was. She wanted to be natural, which means, as she said: "I wish to be as God made me". Her drive towards naturalness makes her an ideal representative of Romanticism, at least if we regard this movement from the point of view of its links with Nature. On the other hand, she seemed unable to break free of her early fantastic realms, i.e., Gondal, or the tendency towards a mysticism that is both religious and a symptom of her childhood preferences. All these facts point towards a tendency to escapism, more particularly towards an escape of individual identity. She is not interested in precision and detail in her mystical experiences, rather she focuses on the moods the experience produces, as can be perceived in her poems. She believed in a God that dwelled in nature; however, the idea of religious hierarchy did not mean anything to her.

Emily was a conscious poet who made use of her life experiences as well as of her knowledge of literature. It cannot be properly said that hers is a natural, naïve poetry. Rather she strives to make simple what is an elaborately crafted poetry.


Portrait by Branwell Brontë of his sisters,
Anne, Emily, and Charlotte (c. 1834)
View of Yorkshire moors manuscript


Under the pen name of Ellis Bell, she contributed some poems to the collective volume Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, written by herself, Charlotte and Anne and published in 1846. It contained twenty-one poems by Emily and by Anne and nineteen by Charlotte. Though it received two encouraging reviews, it only sold two copies. In the 1850 edition, Charlotte edited Emily's poems. She included seventeen previously unpublished poems from Emily's manuscripts and one poem not found in Emily's manuscript.

In a manner too well-known in the nineteenth century they decided to take names that had a masculine hue. Although women were avid readers and composed the bulk of the readership in the period, writings by women were regarded as inferior, weak or uninteresting. By choosing a name that might be thought of as masculine, women writers might be negating their gender identity but they secured the possibility of a literary career. The Brontë sisters' publisher was really annoyed when he received the visit of three ladies instead of the three young men that he was expecting. He realized that the poems of the three Brontës were as interesting as any other poetry he might have read or published of late. However, only two copies of the book were sold.

Curiously enough, Emily's poetry has been described as masculine. It seems that the poetic voice is not feminine enough to be considered as such. Her choice of topics, tone, symbols or motifs is closer to a supposedly male poet than to a woman, according to some critics such as Gilbert & Gubar . This masculine muse, or poetical identity, is closely related to the moors and the nature that surrounded Emily in her life.

In 1847 she published her famous novel Wuthering Heights, the story of the doomed lovers Heathcliff and Catherine set in eighteenth-century England.

The poems are most at home with basic and strong emotions: love, hate, suffering or fortitude taken at their most. They work by suggestion and reflect the close union between man and nature. Linguistically they mix the idiomatic and the rhetorical in a very personal manner. They are not poems of the present or of the past, but of the future, in fact of the coming death.

In "No Coward Soul Is Mine", the reader is presented with Emily at her best in all senses. Charlotte Brontë said these were the last lines Emily wrote, which is incorrect since they exist in a manuscript dated January 2, 1846. They are surprising lines for the daughter of a Vicar of the Church of England. There is no theology in them. The last lines show a pantheistic relation of man to universe.

Her poetic techniques work through the senses and by associations. She discards everything that is accessory and keeps to essentials. The reader may perceive passion above all, but as a matter of fact there is a poetic control over the whole poem that makes the poem function as an artistic artefact in which passion, or any other feeling, has the necessary strength to be meaningful.

She died of tuberculosis in Hawforth in 1848, the same illness that killed her sisters Maria and Elizabeth, as well as her brother Branwell. She was well aware that her death was imminent, as Charlotte writes in her "Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell", and she adds that Emily was not reluctant to leave them.




Santiago Rodríguez Guerrero Strachan (Universidad de Valladolid)