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Emily Brontë | Biography

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Emily Jane Brontë, born July 30, 1818, spent most of her life in the English countryside of Yorkshire. Little is known of her brief and isolated life. Brontë lived at the Haworth Parsonage, where her father, Patrick Brontë, was a curate of the Evangelical strand of the Church of England. Evangelical Christianity had begun as a movement against spiritual superficiality believed to exist in the established Church. The Methodist Church had separated from the Church of England before the Brontë children were born, and like their father, the Brontës scorned Baptists and Methodists, who are mocked in Wuthering Heights.

The Yorkshire that Emily grew up in was an isolated, rural place. Her mother died when Emily was just three years old. Two of Emily's elder sisters also died during her childhood. Four Brontë siblings remained: Emily, Charlotte, Anne, and Branwell, all within a year or two of each other in age. The Brontë family life was most likely warmhearted and the children's studies, religious exploration, and theatrical leanings encouraged. Although a curate, Patrick Brontë was generally against religious indoctrination of children and adults, and the love of God was given more weight than the fear of hell. According to Charlotte Brontë, Emily, like her father, wholeheartedly believed in a merciful Godhead and a blissful life after death.

The children were schooled almost entirely at home and became each other's closest companions and playmates. One of their pastimes was inventing elaborate, highly detailed imaginary worlds, each with its own characters and storylines, which they turned into tiny, handwritten books. The pastime did not end with their childhoods, however: all four would become writers.

The Brontë family was not wealthy, and Emily, along with her siblings, had to find work. All of them attempted to become teachers or tutors, but Emily, who was by nature introspective, sensitive, and willful, particularly struggled with the grueling hours and harsh standard of behavior that was expected of teachers, eventually giving up on it. Nonetheless, the Brontë siblings all spurred each other to complete writing projects and seek publication. It was Branwell, the only son, who was expected to achieve literary fame, but he published a handful of poems and then sank into obscurity, becoming an alcoholic and opium addict.

In 1845 his three sisters joined forces to publish a book of poems. Women writers were uncommon, so the Brontë sisters posed as men to seek publication under the male pseudonyms Currier, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Emily Brontë had been discouraged in her writing career by her teacher, Robert Southey, who admitted she had poetic ability and a mind for logic, but believed that literature was not a suitable endeavor for a woman. Charlotte later wrote that "we did not like to declare ourselves women because—without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called 'feminine'—we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice."

The sisters' book of poems sold very few copies, but their luck changed when they began writing novels. Charlotte produced Jane Eyre, Emily penned Wuthering Heights, and Anne wrote Agnes Grey. All three novels were accepted for publication in 1847, again under the male pseudonyms of the Bells. Jane Eyre was an immediate success, and Agnes Grey also sold well. However, Wuthering Heights was neither a commercial nor a critical success. Its first reviewers recognized Emily Brontë's extraordinary talent but criticized the book for being shocking and repugnant, full of immoral and dislikable characters. One critic (who assumed the novel's author was male) wondered that the author did not kill himself before completing the novel, due to its violent, tortured content.

Wuthering Heights would be Emily Brontë's only novel. Her brother Branwell died of tuberculosis in September 1848 at age 31. Emily died of the same disease on December 19, 1848, at age 30. Tuberculosis would claim her twenty-nine-year-old sister Anne, who died in 1849, as well.

After Emily Brontë's death, her sister Charlotte wrote a biographical note and introduction for a new edition of Wuthering Heights in 1850, clarifying its authorship, as some critics and readers believed the book to be an earlier attempt by Charlotte.

Today, Wuthering Heights is considered a masterpiece. It is one of the primary works of Gothic fiction in English literature, with its combination of romance, horror, feverish passion, and death, and still has the power to shock readers. Heathcliff and Cathy are often cited among the greatest lovers in literature. The novel's power has prompted numerous adaptations for film and television.

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