10 Interesting Facts about the Brontë Sisters

It would be easy enough to compile interesting facts about the Brontë sisters each in her own right, but here we’ll look at the three together, since their lives were so intertwined. CharlotteEmily, and Anne Brontë, acknowledged literary geniuses, were close in age and with few exceptions, preferred one another’s company above anyone else’s.

The three Brontë sisters all cherished literary ambitions from an early age, and despite lives that were cut short by illness, secured a prominent place in the English literary canon.

The children of Maria Branwell Brontë and Reverend Patrick Brontë, the sisters were born in the West Yorkshire village of Thornton, England. They subsequently moved to Haworth, where they grew up along with their brother Branwell. Their mother died while the children were still very young, and their aunt Branwell moved in to help take care of them.


The young sisters were sent away to school with dire consequences

In 1824, Charlotte and her sisters Maria (their departed mother’s namesake), Elizabeth, and Emily were sent away from the Parsonage where they lived with their father and an aunt, to a school for daughters of the clergy in Cowan’s Bridge. Maria and Elizabeth fell ill while there and died of tuberculosis; Charlotte and Emily returned home.

It’s widely accepted that Charlotte modeled the Lowood school setting at the beginning of Jane Eyre on her experiences. She blamed the deaths of her sisters on the poor conditions at the school.

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Charlotte Brontë’s Quotes on Her Writing Life
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The Brontë siblings created imaginary worlds together

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne received little formal education after the Cowan’s Bridge school disaster. They, along with their brother Branwell, grew up creating an imaginary world called Angria. They put on plays, told stories, and created journals and magazines about the make-believe realm.

Anne and Emily, who remained closest to one another throughout their brief lives, also created Gondal, another fictional world comprised of four kingdoms. Of all the siblings, Emily had the most reticent and reclusive nature, so it’s not surprising that she took great comfort in creating and retreating to imaginary worlds.

 

At least two of the three sisters worked as governesses

Anne left home briefly to attend a boarding school while in her teens, and at age nineteen, began working as a governess. Her first novel, Agnes Grey, a young governess, is based on her experiences in this line of work, something she did for several years. The heroine’s story highlights the unrelenting hours, low pay, and accumulated humiliations that defined one of the only professions open to women.

Charlotte had returned to school in her teens, after which she worked as a teacher and then as a governess. Her most famous heroine, Jane Eyre, followed the same path. Emily’s occupation was at one point described as “future occupation, governess,” though it’s unclear that she worked at it for long, if at all. Leaving home for any length of time seemed to literally make her sick.

The sisters loathed the occupation of governess and didn’t relish the prospect of becoming teachers, either. All they had ever wanted was to write, as Charlotte put it, “We had very early cherished the dream of one day becoming authors.”

 

Charlotte and Emily studied briefly in Brussels

In 1842, Charlotte and Emily left the parsonage for Brussels, Belgium for the Pensionnat Héger. They studied French, German, and literature, thinking that it might prepare them to be teachers or start their own school in the future. While there, Charlotte fell in love with the married head of school, Constantin Héger. She became obsessed with him, in fact, in a rather unhealthy way.

Charlotte’s experiences were used in the thinly disguised first novel, The Professor, which was published only after her death. Her novel Villette was also inspired by this period of her life.

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Branwell Bronte self-portrait
Self portrait by Branwell Brontë
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They struggled with their drug- and alcoholic-addicted brother

Though the sisters cared deeply about their brother Branwell, he was a constant thorn in their side. Alcoholic and possibly addicted to opium, he was a failed poet and had trouble holding down positions. Anne based the antagonist in her novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in part on Branwell and his demons.

Branwell was a disappointment to everyone around him, but even more, to himself. He fancied himself an artist and a poet, but his efforts fame to naught. Undoubtedly that sense of perpetual failure drove him to drink and drugs. 


The sisters published an unsuccessful book of poems

In the mid-1840s, Charlotte discovered a stash of Emily’s poems and recognized the genius in them. She spearheaded the task of finding a home for a collected book of poems by herself and her two sisters. They took noms de plume Currer, Ellis, and Acton (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne respectively, and shared the faux surname Bell.

The book, dryly titled Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell’s Poems, finally found a publisher willing to take it on. As was customary, the authors were required to front the money for its printing. It was published in 1846 to few (though positive) reviews and humiliating sales totaling two copies.

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Emily Bronte

No Coward Soul is Mine: 5 Poems by Emily Brontë
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Anne and Emily found a publisher before Charlotte did

After the bruising experience of publishing of the poetry book, the sisters resolved to send out manuscripts of their respective novels, also under their pseudonyms — Charlotte’s The Professor, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and Anne’s Agnes Grey.

At the time — still in the 1840s — manuscripts were written by hand, so they could be submitted to only one publisher at a time. Charlotte’s novel was rejected by at least a half a dozen London publishers, each disappointment was a crushing blow.

Emily and Anne’s novels were both accepted by the same publisher, but not Charlotte’s. Meanwhile, though, she’d been working on Jane Eyre, and when another publisher rejected The Professor but asked to see a longer, more developed work, she had it at the ready. Jane Eyre was quickly sent to press and was an immediate sensation. Learn more about the Brontë sisters’ path to publication.

 

The three “Bells” were suspected of being the same person

Though Charlotte was the last to find a publisher, her novel, Jane Eyre, was the first to be published. Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey came out several months later. There was a persistent rumor that the authors of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre were one and the same:

“It was said that this was an earlier and ruder attempt of the same pen which had produced ‘Jane Eyre,’” Charlotte wrote, “Unjust and grievous error! We laughed at it at first, but I deeply lament it now.” Newspaper coverage of the books seemed to reinforce the notion that Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell were the same person.

Charlotte and Anne were forced to travel to London to prove to Charlotte’s publisher that they were not the same person (Emily refused to join them) when Anne’s publisher sold The Tenant of Wildfell Hall to an American publisher under the false understanding that it was by the same author as the hugely successful Jane Eyre. Soon, the reading public accepted that the Bells were indeed three separate people; gradually, the sisters’ true identities came to light.

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Quotes from Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
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Charlotte was the only Brontë sibling that married

In 1839, Charlotte Brontë had declined a marriage proposal, writing: “I am not the serious, grave, cool-hearted individual you suppose; you would think me romantic and eccentric.” Anne may have at some point had a suitor that came to naught, but Emily barely wished to leave the parsonage.

Charlotte ultimately married Arthur Bell Nicholls, a curate in 1854. With her siblings all dead the marriage may have allayed the loneliness she must have felt living alone with her father in the parsonage. Her father bitterly opposed the marriage, though he gradually accepted it.

The marriage started happily but was tragically cut short. In 1855, Charlotte died at the age of thirty-eight, just a month shy of her thirty-ninth birthday, of complications due to pregnancy.

 

All the Brontës died tragically young

Branwell Brontë died at age thirty-one in September 1848, the official cause of death listed as “chronic bronchitis-marasmus,” a form of tuberculosis (then called consumption). His condition was surely aggravated by alcoholism and addiction to laudanum and opium.

Emily, who caught a chill at his funeral, died of tuberculosis barely three months later, at age thirty. Anne died in May of 1849, also of tuberculosis, age twenty-nine. And as mentioned above, Charlotte died several years later, nearly thirty-nine. Their father, Patrick Brontë, outlived all six of his children.

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