The Brontë Sisters

Art by Elin (tumblr)

No one would have expected the Brontë sisters to become famous.  Their father was an Anglican clergyman of such modest means that he was unable to afford school tuition and instead sent his children to charity schools.  The two eldest Brontë daughters caught tuberculosis at school and died before they reached 12 years of age.  Yet despite their family tragedies and their limited means, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë persevered and became three of the most influential English novelists in history.

All of the Brontë children enjoyed writing and they exchanged stories from a young age, but the family’s limited means forced them to prioritize paid work over their artistic pursuits.  All three sisters began earning a living as a teacher when they were 19 or 20, but Emily’s health was too precarious for the long work days required and after less than a year teaching, she moved home and took over the family’s housework.

In 1846, the three sisters published a collection of poems under the names Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell.  A year later, the sisters pseudonymously published their first novels: Jane Eyre (Charlotte), Wuthering Heights (Emily), and Agnes Grey (Anne).  All three books received attention, but only Jane Eyre was a bestseller.  Anne’s second novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was published in 1848 and quickly became a bestseller.  Charlotte published two more novels, Shirley in 1849 and Villette in 1853.

Just as they began to reach their professional goals, the family’s health began to fall apart.  Their brother Bramwell died of tuberculosis in September 1848 at age 31.  Three months later, Emily died from tuberculosis at age 30.  Five months later, Anne died of tuberculosis at age 29.

In 1854, thirty eight year old Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nichols, an associate of her father’s who had long been in love with her.  Charlotte became pregnant and her health rapidly declined. Less than a year after her wedding, she and her unborn child were dead.  Charlotte’s death was attributed to tuberculosis at the time, but some scholars have suggested she may have died from severe morning sickness.

“No sight so sad as that of a naughty child,” he began, “especially a naughty little girl. Do you know where the wicked go after death?”

“They go to hell,” was my ready and orthodox answer.

“And what is hell? Can you tell me that?”

“A pit full of fire.”

“And should you like to fall into that pit, and to be burning there for ever?”

“No, sir.”

“What must you do to avoid it?”

I deliberated a moment: my answer, when it did come was objectionable: “I must keep in good health and not die.”

—  Charlotte Brönte.

A funny video, if you haven’t seen it before. Bronte Sisters Action Figures


History Meme » The Brontë Sisters

Charlotte was born on 21 April 1816, Emily on 30 July 1818 and Anne on 17 January 1820 all in Thornton, Yorkshire. They had two sisters, both of whom died in childhood and a brother, Branwell. Their father, Patrick, was an Anglican clergyman who was appointed as the rector of the village of Haworth, on the Yorkshire moors. After the death of their mother in 1821, their Aunt Elizabeth came to look after the family.

All three sisters attended different schools at various times as well as being taught at home. The Brontë children were often left alone together in their isolated home and all began to write stories at an early age.

All three sisters were employed at various times as teachers and governesses. In 1842, Charlotte and Emily went to Brussels to improve their French, but had to return home early after the death of their aunt Elizabeth. Charlotte returned to Brussels an English teacher in 1843-1844. By 1845, the family were back together at Haworth. By this stage, Branwell was addicted to drink and drugs.

In May 1846, the sisters published at their own expense a volume of poetry. This was the first use of their pseudonyms Currer (Charlotte), Ellis (Emily) and Acton (Anne) Bell. They all went on to publish novels, with differing levels of success.

Anne’s ‘Agnes Grey’ and Charlotte’s 'Jane Eyre’ were published in 1847. 'Jane Eyre’ was one of the year’s best sellers. Anne’s second novel, 'The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ and Emily’s 'Wuthering Heights’ were both published in 1848. 'The Tenant’ sold well, but 'Wuthering Heights’ did not.

Branwell died of tuberculosis in September 1848. Emily died of the same disease on 19 December 1848 and Anne on 28 May 1849.

Left alone with her father, Charlotte continued to write. She was by now a well-known author and visited London a number of times. 'Shirley’ was published in 1849 and 'Villette’ in 1853. In 1854, Charlotte married her father’s curate, Arthur Nicholls. She died of tuberculosis on 31 March 1855. 

Charlotte Brontë’s tiny poem - 1829

- The Brontë sisters often wrote their works in a minuscule handwriting on whatever scraps of paper they could find. A magnifying glass is often required to read the texts. This early poem from a 13-year-old Charlotte was scrawled on a three-inch square paper. Scholars believe the miniature handwriting was a way for the sisters to hide their work from prying eyes and due to the expense of paper at that time. Others suggest it’s the scale that the sisters’ beloved toy soldiers would have written in, since the playthings were an integral part of their childhood fantasy world that inspired their earliest works. -


Great little manuscript from Charlotte Bronte

A few years ago this super charming manuscript written by one of the Bronte sisters was auctioned off. Before the talented sisters became known for their now classical novels, they made little handwritten magazines with stories for their own pleasure. Miraculously, this one from 1830 survived. It contains three short stories by Charlotte Bronte (d. 1855), who is best known as the author of Jane Eyre. The manuscript measures only 61x35 mm (half a credit card), but its nineteen pages contain a combined 4000 words. Now that’s a lot of scribbling! The tiny pages contain the seeds of big scenes her later novels would be famous for. One of the stories, for example, alludes to Jane Eyre through a scene where someone locks up his enemy in the attic, after which he starts to imagine how the prisoner sets the place on fire by burning the curtains. All in all this little art project shows that small books matter too - as do, admittedly, non-medieval manuscripts, the usual focus of this Tumblr.

Pic: Sotheby’s, where this “Young Men’s Magazine nr. 2” sold (in 2011) for $1.07 million, after a bidding frenzy (read it here). More information in this article.


Favorite Books:
by Charlotte Brontë

Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal — as we are!”