Monday, May 11, 2015

The Brontë Sisters

The Brontë Sisters, by their brother Branwell

v     The Brontë Sisters were writers who lived in Haworth village in Yorkshire England.

v     There were three sisters who became famous as writers: Charlotte (1816-1855), Emily (1818-1848), and Anne (1820-1849). Two other's died young.

v     Their first book was a collection of poems, and they first wrote using male pen names: Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.

v     Their home, the parsonage at Haworth is now a museum, the Brontë Parsonage Museum. A parsonage is a home for priests and ministers.

Personal Family Life:

The head of the Brontë household was Patrick, an Anglican priest and writer who changed the family name from Brunty to Brontë. Partly it was to honour Admiral Horatio Nelson, who defeated Napoleon and was the Duke of Bronte, but it was also to make his name seem less Irish. Patrick was a loving father, but poor. He cared much about his children's education, buying them many books, and allowing them a great deal of freedom.

Maria, the matriarch, was a very kind and spirited young woman who gave birth to six children in nine years before dying of cancer. The children were Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Patrick Branwell, Emily, and Anne. After their mother's death, their Aunt Elizabeth came to the parsonage to care for them.

Patrick Brontë's greatest mistake was sending his children to Cowan Bridge School, a "charity" boarding school for poor children of the clergy. It had a good reputation, but was hellish for the children who were bullied by cruel teachers, students, and even priests. The children were malnourished, and the two eldest died after a year there from tuberculosis, Maria, age fourteen, and Elizabeth, age ten.

Charlotte was more fortunate. Her father found a better school for her, run by a Miss Margaret Wooler. Charlotte was an excellent student so she became freinds with Miss Wooler. When she graduated, Margaret gave her a job teaching, so her younger sisters could afford to attend. Unfortunately, both Emily and Anne soon became ill and had to return home.

Patrick Branwell was the artist of the family, applying to the Royal Academy of Art. But, for the girls, their only options were marriage, or teaching at a school or as a governess. After trying both jobs for awhile, the girls decided they would open their own school at the parsonage, but first they wanted to improve their education. So they all went to Brussels and enrolled at a school there. Within a few months, they were asked to teach their instead, and became teachers.

When their aunt died, the young women returned home for the funeral, and were all expected to return to Brussels. Only Charlotte came back, for she loved the director there, Mr. Heger, even though he was married. She stayed for an extra year before returning home. After, she wrote him a series of letters that he tore up, but which his wife found and sew back together. These "Heger Letters" are now in a museum.
Meanwhile, their brother Branwell became addicted to alcohol and other drugs and his health failed. Due to his reputation, the girls were never able to open a school. Instead, they turned to publishing stories. In 1847 the three women published Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Gray. The success they all enjoyed was shortlived because all four remaining children soon died of tuberculosis.

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