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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Brontë sisters

Writers who exercise a special fascination not only through their work but from the unusual circumstances of their lives. Charlotte (1816–55), Emily (1818–48) and Anne (1820–49) were daughters of Patrick Brontë, the Irish-born rector of *Haworth in Yorkshire. Their mother died in 1821 and Charlotte and Emily were sent to join two older sisters at a dismal school for the daughters of clergy at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire (the school on which Charlotte based Lowood in *Jane Eyre). Charlotte and Emily were removed after the two older girls sickened and died.

Thereafter the children lived at home and developed their own imaginative world, set in the kingdoms of Angria and Gondal, which they chronicled in minute script in a series of tiny books. At this time the most artistic of the children seemed to be their brother Branwell (1817–48), but he later dissipated his talent in drink and opium.

As young adults, the girls took unsatisfactory jobs as teachers and governesses. In 1846 they decided to publish a joint volume of their poems at their own expense, choosing pseudonyms which reflected the initial letters of their names but gave no hint of their sex (Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell). They sold just two copies. They had also been writing novels, and each now found a publisher. Charlotte was the first in print with *Jane Eyre (Oct. 1847); two months later came Emily's *Wuthering Heights and Anne's Agnes Grey, to be followed in June 1848 by Anne's Tenant of Wildfell Hall. By the summer of 1848 public interest had forced the sisters to reveal their identities.

Their fame was rapidly followed by a series of tragedies. Branwell died in September of that same year, 1848. Emily fell ill immediately after his funeral and died in December, to be followed by Anne in May 1849. Charlotte published more novels (Shirley 1849, Villette 1853) while continuing to live with her father at Haworth. In 1854 she married his curate, Arthur Nicholls, and died the following year during her first pregnancy.

Charlotte and Anne were the most appreciated of the three in the 19C, but in modern times it is the wilder passion of Emily, both in her poetry and in Wuthering Heights, which has been increasingly admired.

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