Brontë

Brontë

[bron-tee]
Brontë, family of English novelists, including Charlotte Brontë, 1816-55, English novelist, Emily Jane Brontë, 1818-48, English novelist and poet, and Anne Brontë, 1820-49, English novelist.

Lives and Works

The Brontë sisters were daughters of Patrick Brontë (1777-1861), an Anglican clergyman of Irish birth, educated at Cambridge. In 1820 Patrick Brontë became incumbent of Haworth, West Riding of Yorkshire. The next year his wife died, and her sister, Elizabeth Branwell, came to the parsonage to care for the six Brontë children, five girls and one boy, Branwell. Maria and Elizabeth, the two oldest girls, were sent to the Cowan Bridge school for the daughters of poor clergymen. In spite of the harsh conditions there, Charlotte and Emily were also sent in 1824, but were brought home after Maria and Elizabeth contracted tuberculosis and died.

At home for the next five years, the children were left much to themselves, and they began to write about an imaginary world they had created. This escapist writing, transcribed in tiny script on small pieces of paper, continued into adulthood and is a remarkable key to the development of genius in Charlotte and Emily. In 1831, Charlotte was sent to Miss Wooler's school at Roe Head. She became a teacher there in 1835, but in 1838 she returned to Haworth. At home she found the family finances in wretched condition. Branwell—talented as a writer and painter, on whom his sisters' hopes for money and success rested—had lost three jobs and was declining into alcoholism and opium addiction.

To increase their income Charlotte and her sisters laid ill-considered plans to establish a school. In order to study languages Emily and Charlotte spent 1842 at the Pensionnat Héger in Brussels, but returned home at the death of their aunt, who had willed them her small fortune. Both girls were offered positions at the pensionnat, but only Charlotte returned in 1843. She went home the following year, because, it is thought, she was in love with M. Héger and had aroused the jealousy of Mme Héger. Mr. Brontë's failing eyesight and the rapid degeneration of Branwell made this an unhappy period at home.

When Charlotte discovered Emily's poetry in 1845, Anne revealed hers, and the next year the collected poems of the three sisters, published at their own expense, appeared under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. In 1847 Emily's novel Wuthering Heights and Anne's Agnes Grey were published as a set. Although the novel The Professor by Charlotte was rejected, her Jane Eyre (1847) was accepted and published with great success. The identity of the sisters as authors was at first unknown even to their publishers. It was not until after the publication of Charlotte's Shirley in 1849 that the truth was made public.

By the publication date tragedy had all but destroyed the Brontë family. In Sept., 1848, Branwell died; Emily caught cold at his funeral and, refusing all medical aid, died of tuberculosis the following December. Anne, whose Tenant of Wildfell Hall appeared in 1848, also died of tuberculosis in May, 1849. Now that the people who had occupied most of her life were gone, Charlotte began to make trips to London where she was lionized. Her Villette appeared in 1853. In 1854 she married her father's curate, Arthur Bell Nichols, with whom she seems to have been happy. She died, however, of pregnancy toxemia complicated by the Brontë susceptibility to tuberculosis, after only a year of marriage. The Professor was published posthumously in 1857.

An Appraisal

Of the three prodigiously gifted Brontë sisters Anne has been judged the least talented. Nonetheless, her novels have been widely praised for their realism, integrity, and moral force. Agnes Grey is the unadorned story of a governess's life and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall tells of a young girl's marriage to a rake.

Charlotte Brontë was the most professional of the sisters, consciously trying to achieve financial success from the family's literary efforts. Her novel Jane Eyre, the story of a governess and her passionate love for her Byronic employer, Mr. Rochester, is ranked among the great English novels. Strong, violently emotional, somewhat melodramatic, Jane Eyre brilliantly articulates the theme found in all Charlotte's work—the need of women for both love and independence.

The undisputed genius of the family was Emily Brontë. An unyielding and enigmatic personality, she produced only one novel and a few poems, yet she is ranked among the giants of English literature. Her masterpiece, Wuthering Heights, is the wild, passionate story of the intense, almost demonic, love between Catherine Earnshaw and the Gypsy foundling Heathcliff. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent; its characters are less people than forces. Indeed, the novel would be extraordinarily difficult to read were it not for the power of Emily Brontë's vision and the beauty and energy of her prose. In addition, some of her powerful lyrics are counted with the best of English poetry.

Bibliography

The early (1857) biography of Charlotte by Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell, although containing many inaccuracies and distortions, is still valuable, as are the books on the Brontës by C. K. Shorter. The poems of Emily have been edited by C. W. Hatfield (1941), the Brontë letters by M. Spark (1954), selected letters by J. Barker (1998). See the reconsideration of Mrs. Gaskell's Life by M. Lane (1953, repr. 1973); biographies of each of the Brontës by W. Gérin: Anne (1959), Charlotte (1967), Branwell (1961, repr. 1972), and Emily (1972); biographies of the family by L. and E. Hanson (4th ed. 1967), P. Bentley (1947, repr. 1973), and R. Fraser (1989); and the exhaustive family history by J. Barker (1995). See also F. E. Ratchford, The Brontës' Web of Childhood (1941, repr. 1964); Emily Brontë: Her Life and Work, Part 1 (biographical) by M. Spark, Part 2 (critical) by D. Stanford (1960); M. Peters, Charlotte Brontë: Style in the Novel, (1973); T. Winnifrith, The Brontës and Their Background, (1973); L. Gordon, Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life (1994); L. Miller, The Brontë Myth (2001).

The Brontë sisters Charlotte (21 April 1816 – 31 March 1855), Emily (30 July 1818 – 19 December 1848) and Anne (17 January 1820 – 28 May 1849), were English writers of the 1840s and 1850s. Their novels caused a sensation when they were first published and were subsequently accepted into the canon of great English literature.

Origin of name

The Brontë family can be traced to the Irish clan mac Aedh Ó Proinntigh, which literally means 'son of Aedh, grandson of Proinnteach'. Aedh is a male name derived from Aodh, meaning "fire". "Proinnteach" ("the bestower") originated as a byname for a generous person. Literally meaning "banquet hall", the word is composed of the Gaelic proinn ("banquet") (a cognate of the Latin prandium ["meal"]) and teach ("house", "hall").

Ó Proinntigh was earlier anglicised as Prunty and sometimes Brunty. At some point, the father of the sisters, Patrick Brontë (born Brunty), conceived of the alternate spelling with the dieresis over the terminal "e" to indicate that the name is of two syllables. It is not known for certain what motivated him to do so, and multiple theories exist to account for the change. He may have wished to hide his humble origins. As a man of letters, he would have been familiar with classical Greek and chosen the name after the cyclop Brontes (literally 'thunder').

Unrelated Bronte families are found in Sicily. The name indicates their origin from the town of Bronte. In 1799 King Ferdinand of Naples bestowed the honour of Duke of Bronte to Lord Nelson for fighting off the French Navy. Patrick may have taken the name in honour of Lord Nelson

Three sisters emerge

The sisters grew up in Haworth, near Keighley in West Yorkshire (the region has come to be known as Brontë Country), surviving their mother and two elder sisters into adulthood. In 1824 the four eldest Brontë daughters were enrolled as pupils at the Clergy Daughter's School at Cowan Bridge. The following year Maria and Elizabeth, the two eldest daughters, became ill, left the school and died; Charlotte and Emily were brought home.

They had written compulsively from early childhood and were first published, at their own expense, in 1846 as poets under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. The book attracted little attention, selling only two copies. The sisters returned to prose, producing a novel each in the following year. Charlotte's Jane Eyre, Emily's Wuthering Heights and Anne's Agnes Grey were released in 1847 after their long search to secure publishers.

The novels attracted great critical attention and steadily became best-sellers, but the sisters' careers were shortened by ill-health. Emily died the following year before she could complete another novel, and Anne published her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, in 1848, a year before her death. Upon publication Jane Eyre received the most critical and commercial success of all the Brontë works, continuing to this day. Charlotte's Shirley appeared in 1849 and was followed by Villette in 1853. Her first novel, The Professor, was published posthumously in 1857; her uncompleted fragment, Emma, was published in 1860; and some of her juvenile writings remained unpublished until the late twentieth century. Charlotte died at the age of 38 in 1855 after a short illness, possibly related to her pregnancy. She had married her father's curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls, less than a year earlier.

The first biography of Charlotte was written by her friend Elizabeth Gaskell and published in 1857. It helped create the myth of a doomed family living in romantic solitude.

Influence

Various twentieth-century choreographic works have been based on the lives and interrelationships of the Brontë sisters, notably among them Martha Graham's Deaths and Entrances (1943), titled after the Dylan Thomas poem, as well as Gillian Lynne's The Brontës (1995).

References

Further reading

  • Alexander, Christine and Sellars, J. (1995) The art of the Brontës, Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-43248-0
  • Barker, Juliet (1995) The Brontës, London : Phoenix Press, ISBN 1-84212-587-7

External links

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