December 19th, 1848 – The Death of Emily Brontë

BronteEmily Jane Brontë 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’s Wuthering Heights was first published in London in 1847, appearing as the first two volumes of a three-volume set that included Anne Brontë‘s Agnes Grey. The authors were printed as being Ellis and Acton Bell; Emily’s real name did not appear until 1850, when it was printed on the title page of an edited commercial edition. The novel’s innovative structure somewhat puzzled critics.

Wuthering Heights’s violence and passion led the Victorian public and many early reviewers to think that it had been written by a man. According to Juliet Gardiner, “the vivid sexual passion and power of its language and imagery impressed, bewildered and appalled reviewers.” Even though it received mixed reviews when it first came out, and was often condemned for its portrayal of amoral passion, the book subsequently became an English literary classic.

Wuthering Heights

Cathy (Charlotte Riley) and Heathcliff (Tom Hardy) in the 2009 television adaptation of “Wuthering Heights”

Although a letter from her publisher indicates that Emily had begun to write a second novel, the manuscript has never been found. Perhaps Emily, or a member of her family, eventually destroyed the manuscript, if it existed, when she was prevented by illness from completing it. It has also been suggested that, though less likely, the letter could have been intended for Anne Brontë, who was already writing The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, her second novel. In any case, no manuscript of a second novel by Emily has survived.

Brontë-sisters-520x245

The Brontë Sisters

Emily believed that her health, like her sisters’, had been weakened by the harsh local climate and by unsanitary conditions at home, the source of water being contaminated by runoff from the church’s graveyard. She caught a severe cold during the funeral of her brother Branwell in September 1848 which led to tuberculosis (It should be noted by the modern reader, though many of her contemporaries believed otherwise, “consumption”,or tuberculosis does not originate from “catching a cold”. Tuberculosis is a communicable disease through mucus and saliva and anyone living in a house with another member would be likely to contract it, or certainly risked exposure It is also a disease that can remain asymptotic, so it is even possible that all of the children could have contracted it at the same time.) Though her condition worsened steadily, she rejected medical help and all proffered remedies, saying that she would have “no poisoning doctor” near her. On the morning of December 19th 1848, Charlotte, fearing for her sister, wrote thus:

She grows daily weaker. The physician’s opinion was expressed too obscurely to be of use – he sent some medicine which she would not take. Moments so dark as these I have never known – I pray for God’s support to us all.

At noon, Emily was worse; she could only whisper in gasps. With her last audible words she said to Charlotte, “If you will send for a doctor, I will see him now” but it was too late. She died that same day at about two in the afternoon while sitting on the sofa at Haworth Parsonage. It was less than three months since Branwell’s death, which led a housemaid to declare that “Miss Emily died of a broken heart for love of her brother”. Emily had grown so thin that her coffin measured only 16 inches wide. The carpenter said he had never made a narrower one for an adult. She was interred in the Church of St Michael and All Angels family capsule, Haworth, West Yorkshire, England. Emily Brontë never knew the extent of fame she achieved with her one and only novel, Wuthering Heights, as she died a year after its publication, aged 30.


 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar