The English literature received some of its brightest jewels in the year 1847 – 1855 and ironically was deprived of the creators of these works soon after that. The Bronte sisters left their mark on the minds of people with a few works and one can’t help feeling the sorrow at the loss of such talents at so young an age. They made a remarkable change in English literature with their powerful prose.
Patrick Bronte, a clergyman, and his wife Maria had six children: Maria, Elizabeth, Charllotte (21 April 1816- 31 March 1855), Patrick Branwell, Emily Jane (30 July 1818- 19 December 1848) and Anne (17 January 1820 – 28 May 1849). The family moved to Howarth, in the wild land of Yorkshire, filled with moors when the children were very young. After their mother’s death, their father tried to re-marry but wasn’t successful and their maternal aunt came to live with them and brought with her strong Methodist beliefs. The children, however were left to themselves most of the time and were mostly taken care of by their eldest sister Maria.
The elder girls were sent to school, and Maria and Elizabeth died in quick succession after a short tenure at the school which was situated in quite an unhealthy place. Thus, at very young age, the Bronte children faced the deaths of their loved ones. The remaining four siblings developed even a stronger bond with one another and practically lived together for rest of their lives. The young Brontes were told the most famous folk and fictional tales by their father, full of romanticism and heroics; discussed current politics and read all the Methodist magazines that their aunt recieved. They mixed with the servants and roamed around in the wilderness of moors as they pleased; but they never made any friends in the village.
Blessed with keen intelligence, extraordinary feelings and want of some occupation, they started to escape in the world of fiction leaving their solitary surroundings behind. Charlotte and Branwell created the world of Angria, a fictional land, and for years through childhood to youth, kept writing about adventures of people of that land while Emily and Anne decided to dwell in the imaginary land of Gondal. The sisters once again went to school, but for a very brief period and for the first time Charlotte made two friends: Allen and Mary, and it is through her letters to these two friends that most of the details about their lives are available.
The Brontes had hired master to teach them at the parsonage, after coming back from school; and Branwell showed much promise in the field of painting, so much so that he was almost enrolled to the prestigious art academy in London for further study. Out of all four siblings, Branwell was the handsomest, had easy manner, friendly temper, a knack for amusing people by telling stories and promising talent in writing, painting and everything he took in his hands. The sisters were taught since their young age to make way for him. But none of these promises materialized. He lacked self-discipline and after taking to a number of occupations and leaving them, engaged in drinking and gambling, and finally succumbed to unrequited and imaginary love for a woman older than him and married to someone else. These circumstances left deep impression on all the sisters and he inspired characters in the work of all three sisters; very different than one another corresponding to disposition of each sister and her point of view for his behavior and life.
The sisters started looking for work and Charlotte took the position of a teacher at a school and Anne worked as governess. Emily loved home the best and remained there. With a view to start their own school, Charlotte decided to pursue some more education and together she and Emily went to Brussels and learn French, German and other such skills as required for opening a school. These years brought significant change in Charlotte’s life in form of her deep regard for her teacher M. Heger and she went back once more to Brussels to work in that school after their return to England due to the death of their aunt.
The dream of the school couldn’t be realized as they could not find any pupils. The sisters became wearier of life by lack of occupation, constant decline of their brother, their separation due to Anne’s continuing as a governess and the ill health of their father. Charlotte, most ambitious and with strongest wish for becoming a part of larger world of art and wanting to earn for themselves and the family, was affected most and tried most to improve their situation. Finally, she decided to publish their poems and a volume was printed that contained poetries by all three sisters with pen name of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Unfortunately, hardly 2 copies of this volume were sold.
The sisters started writing novels: Charlotte wrote “The Professor”, which was repeatedly rejected by publishers and finally wrote “Jane Eyre” which was accepted; Emily wrote “Wuthering Heights” and Anne wrote “Agnes Grey”. The novels were published over a gap of a few months and “Jane Eyre” was tremendously successful while other novels also got good response. But, when finally, fame and fortune seemed to come their way, tragedy struck them ominously.
Their only brother died in summer of 1848, followed by death of Emily in December 1848 and by Anne in the following winter. Three deaths within 9 months; all due to consumption and dissipation. Charlotte, who as a young girl was stricken most by deaths of Maria and Elizabeth was now left alone of all the six siblings to take care of herself and her father. She wrote two more books: ‘Shirley’ and ‘Villette’; but solitude was making her life dreary. The house kept reminding her of her lost brother and sisters; her father was never much of a company; and now in worse health than ever, required constant care. Finally, she married a curate of his father, and seemed to be happy, but she also died in 1855, within a year of her marriage.
The list of completed and published novels of the Bronte sisters is given in table below. Apart from this, a lot of books were published posthumously including their poems, letters, Angria and Gondal stories and unfinished works.
|Book||:||Author||:||Year of Publication|
|Jane Eyre||:||Charlotte Bronte||:||1847|
|Wuthering Heights||:||Emily Bronte||:||1847|
|Agnes Grey||:||Anne Bronte||:||1847|
|The Tenant of Wildfell Hall||:||Anne Bronte||:||1848|
|The Professor||:||Charlotte Bronte||:||1857|
Such was the fate of the Bronte sisters, to die at an age when the world had hardly known them; and with them died so many unwritten works that could have followed. Subjected to witness tragedies of death at young age, practically living near graveyard all their lives, surrounded by the wilderness of moors, and shut up inside a house in solitude and company of each other only, they chose to escape in the fictional worlds at very young age; just like other intelligent minds, who create the world that would suit them instead of becoming a part of one they don’t like. None of the sisters was apt to company or could mix with strangers even when they grew up. Though Charlotte and Anne both filled dreadful when left to themselves; they could never overcome their tendency of not mixing with outsiders.
The sisters were as different in nature as any three persons could be. Charlotte was ambitious, persuading, shrewd and observant of the world and her work relied heavily on the persons and incidents she observed around. She dreaded solitude and wanted to connect to the world of literature. Emily however, was not unhappy by their seclusion from the world. For her this world was but a shadow, she lived in her own world of spirit, wilderness of nature, her pets and her household duties. Though she had a feeling heart, she was quite incapable of showing affection in the worldly way, sometimes too rigid, intractable and amoral. Anne was mildest and most quiet of the three. She was also the one most affected by her aunt’s religious teachings and dreaded eternal damnation, especially for her brother.
Their personalities were reflected in their works and that’s why none of their work resembles one another’s. Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes grey are as different as Charlotte, Emily and Anne were. But it does have some similarities too, e.g., the presence of inspiration from old horror stories, superstitions and religion in all their works.
Such brilliant minds and such talents, lost to world, partly due to the unhappy and solitary lives they led. But this seems to be a fate of many a genius minds; may be it is true that what is required here, is required in the other world, too.