We covered Charlotte Brontë and her relationship with Ellen
Nussey back in March, but today it’s her little sister’s turn! Fellow English
author and possible fellow lesbian, Emily Brontë, was born on this day in 1818.
A group portrait of all three of the literary
Brontë sisters painted in 1834 by their brother Branwell is the only undisputed rendering of Emily (x).
Emily Jane Brontë was born on July 30, 1818 in the small
village of Thornton. She was the middle child out of the three famous Brontë
sisters – Charlotte being the oldest and Anne being the youngest – but she was
her parents’ fifth child out of six. Emily was a shy, sensitive girl who was
known for her love of animals and her penchant for bringing home stray dogs.
The deaths of her mother and two sisters Maria and Elizabeth and the abuse she faced
at the Clergy Daughters’ School would go on to affect Emily’s worldview and creative
efforts for the rest of her life.
At the age of 20, Emily left home and tried her hand at
teaching at Law Hill School in Halifax; however, the stress of the 17-hour work
day and homesickness became too much to bear and she returned home in April of
1839. This act of venturing out only to
return home to be a stay-at-home-daughter for her father would become a pattern
for Emily. Homesickness plagued her all her life and she seemed to only be
happy when she was among the “solemn moors” of her childhood. It was those very
same “solemn moors” that were the inspiration for Emily’s singular novel and
the now classic Wuthering Heights,
published in 1847 under the name Ellis Bell. The famous gothic romance would
only appear with Emily’s true name three years later in 1850, long after it had
captured the hearts of the British public.
Throughout her life, Emily was undeniably a recluse and
historians have worked hard for decades to try and find out as much about her
personal life as they can. While her sister Charlotte had an undeniably lesbian
relationship with a woman named Ellen Nussey, Emily’s sexuality has been harder to
discern. For years, she was painted as the eternally ignorant, virginal Brontë
sister, but with the 1983 publication of Emily
Brontë: Heretic by Stevie Davies a
new conversation was opened up about the possibility that Emily was simply
uninterested in relationships with men. In the book, Davies asserts her belief that Emily was in fact a lesbian and discusses her close relationship with a schoolmate named Louise de Bassompierre and her possible
connection to the famous lesbian aristocrat Anne Lister. Had sickness not overtaken Emily, the truth may have been clearer, but her premature death
at the age of 30 on December 19, 1848 would prevent the world from knowing any
more of her dreams, plans, or creative capabilities.