Emily Bronte was an English poet and novelist. She was born in 1818 and died at the age of 30 from tuberculosis after refusing to be helped by doctors or take any medication. At the time of her death she had published only one novel but had written and published many poems. Bronte’s life largely remains a mystery because of her reluctance to interact with society. Almost everything that is known about her was communicated by her sister Charlotte after her death. The following was written by Charlotte Bronte and was added to the preface for the second edition of Wuthering Heights.
“My sister’s disposition was not naturally gregarious; circumstances favoured and fostered her tendency to seclusion; except to go to church or take a walk on the hills, she rarely crossed the threshold of home. Though her feeling for the people round was benevolent, intercourse with them she never sought; nor, with very few exceptions, ever experienced. And yet she know them: knew their ways, their language, their family histories; she could hear of them with interest, and talk of them with detail, minute, graphic, and accurate; but WITH them, she rarely exchanged a word.”
Emily came from a family of writers and was one of six children, four of which lived beyond childhood. Emily, her older sister Charlotte, and her younger sister Anne were all writers. The Bronte sisters were very close and published a book of poems in 1846. There is an ongoing debate about which sister wrote the best novel between Charlotte for Jane Eyre and Emily for Wuthering Heights. The family also had one brother who was a painter (The portrait below was painted by him).
In the time period the Bronte sisters lived it was very difficult for a women to get published, or work outside the home at all for that matter. For this reason each of the three sisters took a pen name when they published their first book of poems together, Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. The sisters each maintained their own initials (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) and the pen name gave them the opportunity to have their work published.
Charlotte published a posthumous second edition of Wuthering Heights in which she fixed spelling and grammatical errors in the original text, but the biggest change she made was to make the character of Joseph more intelligible. Charlotte was worried that Joseph’s thick Yorkshire accent unintelligible to people in the South. Any modern person reading Wuthering Heights for the first time likely stops at the first instance of Joseph’s dialogue and wonders if they’ve stumbled onto some sort of riddle. The heavy dialect enriches the character and often, confuses the modern reader. To tell the truth the first time I read the novel more than ten years ago I went to route of skipping his dialogue all together, but I would not recommend that today.I have found that the best way to understand Joseph is to read his dialogue a loud by sounding it out.
Sadly, Emily Bronte died with Wuthering Heights as her only published novel. There is a letter from Emily’s editor indicating that she was working on a second novel before her death. No manuscript has ever been found and it is thought to have been destroyed unfinished. There is a possibility that this letter was in reference to Anne Bronte’s second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. It is left to readers imagination’s what Emily Bronte may have been able to write next but sadly we will never know.
Modern Day Update
After the publication of the Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer, which references the romance between Heathcliff and Cathy, sales of Wuthering Heights skyrocketed. Harper Collins fed into the frenzy by reissuing Wuthering Heights with a cover inspired by the Twilight books. There was quite a bit of back and forth as to the propriety of giving such an English classic the Twilight treatment, but it can’t be denied that it opened Wuthering Heights to readers who otherwise may have never discovered it. I will withhold my own opinion on the reference to a longer and more rant filled post about authors who misunderstand works that they reference. You can read more about this at The Telegraph
I hope you learned one thing about Emily Bronte that you didn’t know or was maybe inspired to go pick up Wuthering Heights yourself!