Happy Birthday Emily Bronte

Happy 201st Birthday, Emily Brontë

Today, the 30th July 2019, marks the 201st birthday of Emily Brontë. This time last year great celebrations were under way in her beloved Haworth, and she was being remembered in her maternal homeland of Penzance too – I was lucky enough to be there and invited to a celebratory screening of ‘To Walk Invisible‘ shown in her honour.

Chloe Pirrie To Walk Invisible
Chloe Pirrie as Emily Bronte in To Walk Invisible

Emily is the author of one of the greatest novels, perhaps the greatest, the world has even seen, Wuthering Heights of course, and she has also left us a brilliant body of verse that places her among the finest poets of the nineteenth century. She can also seem quite an enigmatic character, as she left us all too few letters or diary entries. From those who really knew Emily however, it seems that she may have been rather different from the austere image many have of her today. Emily was very kind hearted, had a mischievous sense of humour, and an innate charm (when it wasn’t hidden by her powerful reserve). Let’s take a look at what her family, friends and those who actually knew Emily said about her:

Charlotte Brontë on Emily Brontë:

“I have never seen her parallel in anything. Stronger than a man, simpler than a child, her nature stood alone.”

“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.”

“In Emily’s nature the extremes of vigour and simplicity seemed to meet. Under an unsophisticated culture, inartificial tastes, and an unpretending outside, lay a secret power and fire that might have informed the brain and kindled the veins of a hero.”

Isabelle Adjani Emily Bronte
Isabelle Adjani as Emily Bronte in Les Soeurs Bronte

John Greenwood on Emily Brontë:

“Patrick had such unbounded confidence in his daughter Emily that he resolved to learn her to shoot too. They used to practice with pistols. Let her be ever so busy in her domestic duties, whether in the kitchen baking bread at which she had such a dainty hand, or at her studies, rapt in a world of her own creating – it mattered not; if he called upon her to take a lesson, she would put all down. His tender and affectionate “Now, my dear girl, let me see how well you can shoot today”, was irresistible to her filial nature and her most winning and musical voice would be heard to ring through the house in response.”

Patrick Brontë on Emily Brontë:

“Oh! She is a brave and noble girl. She is my right-hand. Nay the very apple of my eye!”

Miss Evans (Superintendent of Lowood) on Emily Brontë:

“A darling child… quite the pet nursling of the school.”

Martha Heaton (Maria Brontë’s nurse) on Emily Brontë:

“There never were such good children… they were good little creatures. Emily was the prettiest.”

Ida Lupino Emily Bronte
Ida Lupino as Emily Bronte in Devotion

Ellen Nussey on Emily Brontë:

“Emily had by this time [1833, when she was 15] acquired a lithesome, graceful figure. She was the tallest person in the house, except her father. Her hair, which was naturally as beautiful as Charlotte’s, was in the same unbecoming tight curl and frizz, and there was the same want of complexion. She had very beautiful eyes, kind, kindling, liquid eyes; but she did not often look at you: she was too reserved. She talked very little.”

“She and gentle Anne were often seen twined together as united statues of power and humility – they were to be seen with their arms lacing each other in their younger days whenever their occupation permitted their union.”

“A spell of mischief also lurked in her on occasions. When out on the moors she enjoyed leading Charlotte where she would not dare to go of her own free will. C. had a mortal dread of unknown animals and it was Emily’s pleasure to lead her into close vicinity and then to tell her of what she had done, laughing at her horror with great amusement.”

Let’s finish this birthday tribute with a closing appraisal by Ellen Nussey, as her thoughts turned once more to that remarkable woman she had known. She was perhaps Emily’s only real and lasting friend outside of her family, and she made it clear that when you were in Emily’s company, even if she was merely silent, you knew that you were in the company of something very powerful and special indeed. Emily was a unique genius, the likes of which we shall not be blessed with again, so let’s read Ellen’s words and raise a glass to say ‘Happy Birthday, Emily Brontë’:

“I have at this time before me the history of a mighty and passionate soul, whom every adventure that makes for the sorrow or gladness of man would seem to have passed by with averted head. It is of Emily Brontë I speak, than whom the first 50 years of this century produced no woman of greater or more incontestable genius.”

One thought on “Happy 201st Birthday, Emily Brontë”

  1. A wonderful tribute! She really seems to have been such a singular person, as all of the Brontë sister were. What an imagination she had, and such wonderful worlds she created for herself and Anne.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *