Emily Jane Bronte, born July 30, 1818, in Thornton, Yorkshire, England, moved with her family to the village of Haworth in Yorkshire when she was two years old. She spent most of her life in that small, isolated community, and died on December 19, 1848, at the age of 30. Emily’s father, Patrick, a brilliant, eccentric Irishman, was the pastor at the parish church in Haworth. The Reverend Bronte, an avid reader and aspiring writer, never achieved the literary success of which he dreamed. But all six of his children inherited his love of reading, and four of them became published writers, with Emily and her older sister Charlotte each producing a critically acclaimed novel.
When Emily was just three, her mother, Maria Branwell Bronte, died, leaving the six Bronte children to the care of a maternal aunt, Elizabeth Branwell, a servant, Tabitha Ackroyd, and the Reverend Bronte. Aunt Branwell, a spinster, attempted to instill her own Calvinist principles in the Bronte children. Emily’s early years in Haworth were spent composing poems and stories with her imaginative sisters and brother and wandering alone on the starkly beautiful moors surrounding the family home.
Emily’s two oldest sisters, Elizabeth and Maria, died in a typhoid epidemic that spread through the Cowan Bridge School for Clergy Daughters. Charlotte and six-year-old Emily survived the epidemic and returned home, where Emily remained until she was seventeen. In the intervening years, besides absorbing the lessons of her natural environment, Emily educated herself primarily by listening to stories and poems recited by her father and Tabitha.
The Bronte family was not wealthy, and the children duly realized that they ought to consider means of supporting themselves in the future, lest the eventuality of their father’s death deprive them of both social status and financial security. In order to prepare herself for a teaching career, Emily left home at seventeen for boarding school. Four months later she returned to Haworth, seriously depressed and physically exhausted by her efforts to conform to the rigid, arbitrary rules imposed at school. Two years later Emily left home again to teach at Miss Patchett’s Finishing School in Law Hill, near the industrial town of Halifax. Again, after only six months, she returned home emotionally drained, faced with both her own depression and her brother Branwell’s impending breakdown.
At age twenty-three, Emily attended school in Brussels, Belgium, with Charlotte. The sisters planned to open their own school eventually and had borrowed money from Aunt Branwell to get the necessary higher education. But despite her success in French, German, music, and drawing, Emily left Brussels nine months later upon the death of Aunt Branwell, and never returned. She was left to care for her brother, who was still losing his sanity, and her father, who was losing his eyesight.
In 1844, after a valiant effort to open a school that attracted not even a single pupil, the Bronte sisters decided to earn their living by writing. Charlotte accidentally discovered some of Emily’s poems and was so impressed that she insisted Emily contribute them to a volume she was compiling. Though angered by Charlotte’s invasion of her privacy, Emily reluctantly agreed. Since women’s poetry was rarely published in those days, Charlotte, Emily, and their younger sister Anne contributed poems under male pseudonyms. The resulting volume-Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (1846)-was partly financed by money Aunt Branwell had left the sisters. It sold only two copies but received good critical reviews.
Emily’s Wuthering Heights seems to have been written in a burst of energy fired by financial need, emotional conflict over Branwell, and frustration at not being able to conform to any society outside of her own eccentric family. Published in 1847, Wuthering Heights sold fairly well, but many critics were outraged by the physical brutality it depicted. Emily Bronte died at Haworth on December 19, 1848, a year after Wuthering Heights was published, and just two months after Branwell’s death.