Emily Jane Brontë (July 30, 1818 – December 19, 1848) was an English novelist and poet, best remembered for her only novel, Wuthering Heights, now considered a classic of English literature.
Emily was the third eldest of the four surviving Brontë siblings, between the youngest Anne and her brother Branwell. She wrote under the pen name Ellis Bell.
Emily Brontë remains a mysterious figure and a challenge to biographers because information about her is sparse, due to her solitary and reclusive nature. She does not seem to have made any friends outside her family. Her sister Charlotte remains the primary source of information about her, although as Emily’s elder sister, writing publicly about her shortly after her death, Charlotte is not a neutral witness. According to Lucasta Miller, in her analysis of Brontë biographies, “Charlotte took on the role of Emily’s first mythographer.” In the Preface to the Second Edition of Wuthering Heights, in 1850, Charlotte wrote:
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’s unsociability and extremely shy nature has subsequently been reported many times. According to Norma Crandall, her “warm, human aspect” was “usually revealed only in her love of nature and of animals”. In a similar description, Literary news (1883) states: “[Emily] loved the solemn moors, she loved all wild, free creatures and things”, and critics attest that her love of the moors is manifest in Wuthering Heights. Over the years, Emily’s love of nature has been the subject of many anecdotes. A newspaper dated December 31, 1899, gives the folksy account that “with bird and beast [Emily] had the most intimate relations, and from her walks she often came with fledgling or young rabbit in hand, talking softly to it, quite sure, too, that it understood”. The following anecdote is also related:
Once she was bitten by a dog that she saw running by in great distress, and to which she offered water. The dog was mad. She said no word to any one, but herself burned the lacerated flesh to the bone with the red hot poker, and no one knew of it until the red scar was accidentally discovered some weeks after, and sympathetic questioning brought out this story.
In Queens of Literature of the Victorian Era (1886), Eva Hope summarizes Emily’s character as “a peculiar mixture of timidity and Spartan-like courage”, and goes on to say, “She was painfully shy, but physically she was brave to a surprising degree. She loved few persons, but those few with a passion of self-sacrificing tenderness and devotion. To other people’s failings she was understanding and forgiving, but over herself she kept a continual and most austere watch, never allowing herself to deviate for one instant from what she considered her duty.”