Emily Brontë
Public DomainEmily Brontë - Credit: Branwell Brontë

Emily Jane Brontë was born on 30 July 1818 in Thornton, West Yorkshire to Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell. Emily was the fifth of six children, only four of whom survived to adulthood: Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne. In 1820, the family moved to Haworth, Yorkshire where Patrick Brontë took up the position of perpetual curate at the local parsonage. The following year, Emily's mother Maria died of cancer and her sister Elizabeth Branwell moved into the parsonage to look after the children. In 1824, Emily and her three sisters were enrolled into the Clergy Daughters' School in Cowan Bridge, Lancashire. The sisters were subjected to a brutal routine, terrible food and inadequate heating. They were removed from the school a year later.

Back home at the parsonage in Haworth, the Brontë children began to create imaginary worlds to amuse themselves. They wrote stories and poems about these fantasy lands and the people that inhabited them. Emily and her younger sister Anne worked together on poetry about the imagined land of Gondal. Unfortunately, little remains of these works.

Emily's education continued briefly at Miss Wooler's School in Roe Head, Mirfield but after only three months she returned to Haworth due to homesickness. In 1838, Emily started work as a governess at Miss Patchett's Ladies' Academy at Law Hill School near Halifax, but again left due to homesickness after a number of months.

In 1842, Emily travelled to Brussels with her sister Charlotte, where they both attended the Pensionnat Heger boarding school, run by Constantin Heger and his wife. Here they learnt French, German and Music, and in return for tuition and board Emily taught Music. In November of the same year Emily's aunt Elizabeth Branwell died, prompting the girls to return once more to Haworth. Charlotte later returned to Brussels for a further year but Emily elected to stay at the family home.

The Brontë Sisters
Public DomainThe Brontë Sisters - Credit: Branwell Brontë

It was not until 1845, when Charlotte Brontë inadvertently came across some of Emily's poems, that she thought about publication. Charlotte persuaded her to collaborate on a collection of poems with their younger sister Anne. As there was some stigma against female writers at the time, the sisters decided to write under the ambiguous names of Currer (Charlotte), Ellis (Emily) and Acton (Anne) Bell. Emily contributed 21 poems to the collection, which was published in 1846.  Around the same time, she began writing Wuthering Heights.

In 1847, Wuthering Heights was accepted by the publishers Thomas Cautley Newby as two parts of a three volume set; the third part was Agnes Grey, by Emily's sister Anne. The novel received mixed reviews, with some critics regarding it as too bleak. In 1850, the novel was edited by Charlotte Brontë and republished under Emily's real name.

Brontë Parsonage Museum
Public DomainBrontë Parsonage Museum - Credit: SpaceMonkey

But Emily did not live to see her name in print.  She had been suffering from poor health for some time, and in 1848 she caught a cold that developed into tuberculosis. She died on 19 December, at around two o'clock in the afternoon, aged 30.

Emily Brontë's only novel, is now widely regarded as a classic of English literature, and has inspired many works including television and radio adaptations, films and music.