Beloved author and creator of Wuthering Heights Emily Brontë will be 200 years old on the 30th July 2018. In anticipation of the upcoming anniversary we thought we would take a look at the shy but brilliant woman behind one of the greatest works in literature.


Emily Brontë (1818-1848), English novelist, painting by Patrick Branwell Bronte c. 1833


Emily Brontë was born on 30 July 1818 in the village of Thornton Market Street in Yorkshire to Maria Branwell and Irish father, Patrick Brontë. She was the younger sister of Charlotte Brontë and the fifth of six children (two of whom died in childhood). In 1820, shortly after the birth of Emily’s younger sister Anne, the family moved to Haworth – a small village in West Yorkshire.



Haworth Parsonage in the days of the Brontës (b/w photo), English Photographer, (19th century) / Private Collection / © Look and Learn / Elgar Collection

The Brontë children were home-schooled for most of their childhood, and often left alone together in their isolated home. Perhaps because of this isolation, all began to write stories at an early age. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne worked as teachers and governesses at various times. Their brother Branwell – who was also a writer – succumbed to alcohol and drug addiction and died in 1848.



The Brontë Family (engraving) (b&w photo), Patrick Branwell Brontë (1817-48) (after) / Private Collection

Emily Brontë remains a mysterious figure. Due to her shyness and unsociable nature there is not much information about her. She had few friends outside of her family. Her sister Anne was her closest confident, and it is said that they were inseparable. They both possessed vivid imaginations and shared their own fantasy world, one that was deeply rooted in nature and the moors that they were brought up on.

It was Charlotte however who became and remains her main biographer after Emily’s untimely death in 1848. She wrote about her sister in the preface of the second edition (1850) of Wuthering Heights :

“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 knew 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”



Portrait of the Brontë Sisters, c.1834 (oil on canvas), Patrick Branwell Brontë (1817-48) / National Portrait Gallery, London, UK / Bridgeman Images


Emily Brontë’s masterpiece Wuthering Heights seems completely at odds with her shy retiring character. Full of passion and unconventional romance, it caused quite a stir after it was first published in 1847. It did however reflect her rich imagination that she shared with her sister Anne, and her deep love for the Yorkshire moors. Perhaps her novel’s heroine Catherine Earnshaw was a manifestation of her true self – wild and free-spirited.

Her name did not appear in the first edition, and she died a year later at the tender age of 30 in 1848 – only a few months after her brother Branwell – so never knew of the extent of fame she achieved with her first and only novel.



Heathcliff Returns, 1993 (oil on canvas), Barry, Jonathan (Contemporary Artist) / Private Collection / Bridgeman Images

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