On this day in 1818, novelist Emily Bronte becomes the fifth-born of the six Bronte children, three of whom will grow up to write fiction.
The Bronte family lived in the remote village of Haworth on the bleak Yorkshire moors and were largely left to their own devices after the death of their mother when Emily was two. A shy, reclusive child, Emily suffered intensely from homesickness whenever she left the parsonage. She joined her three older sisters at a school for clergymen’s children when she was six, but the two oldest died, partly because of the school’s harsh and unhealthy conditions. She and Charlotte returned home. The girls, along with sister Anne and brother Branwell, read voraciously and created their own elaborate stories about mythical lands. Many of Emily’s poems were written about these imaginary realms.
Bronte was well educated at home and worked several short, unhappy stints as a governess and schoolteacher. In 1842, Emily and Charlotte went to Brussels to study school administration, hoping to open their own school in Haworth one day, which they never accomplished. In 1845, Charlotte came across some poems Emily had written and revealed that she too had secretly been writing verse. So had Anne, they learned. Charlotte published their joint work, Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, in 1846. Although the book sold only two copies, the sisters continued writing. Jane Eyre appeared in 1847, an instant success. Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey were printed later that year. Unfortunately, neither one caught on with the public. Emily died of tuberculosis a year after her novel was published. A second edition of Wuthering Heights, published in 1850, included a preface by Charlotte, explaining that the book was superior to her own Jane Eyre. Wuthering Heights is now considered a classic.