Here’s a look into the personal and professional lives of the members of what has to be the most talented family in the history of English literature.
A Woman's Business
The first Brontë to take a stab at publishing was Charlotte, who in 1846 boldly sent a collection of her poems to Robert Southey — the poet laureate of England at the time. While Southey thought the work itself was excellent, he discouraged Charlotte from pursuing her literary ambitions any further, writing her. “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be.”
Undeterred and probably more than a little irritated, Charlotte took her best poems, and along with some written by sisters Emily and Anne, and sent them to London publisher Aylott and Jones, who agreed to publish the book under the title Poems. As Southey’s anti-woman bias was felt throughout the publishing industry, Aylott and Jones printed Poems under the Brontë -provided pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, fake male names for Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, respectively. The gambit didn’t quite work, however, as in its first print run, Poems sold precisely two copies.
The Right Pivot
And so, the Brontës quit with the poetry. But they didn’t stop writing — all three sisters switched to composing novels instead. They continued to submit and publish under their male names, partly to trick prejudiced publishers, and partly to avoid unwanted attention and publicity for their family, should those novels go on to become bestsellers.
Currer Bell, or rather Charlotte Brontë, wrote six novels in the 1840s and 1850s, and all of they were unlike anything else covered in English literature to that point. Namely, they were the rare books told from the point of view of a woman, and a young woman at that, grappling with her emotions and trying to balance passion with reason. Charlotte’s first book, Jane Eyre, published in 1847, which tells the story of the title character (and in first person) as she grows up from child to adult, and then falls in love with a complicated man.
In 1847, the same year that Charlotte Brontë published Jane Eyre, sister Emily Brontë produced Wuthering Heights, another classic English novel. It’s very Victorian, with elements of Romanticism and Gothic fiction, all gloom and doom competing with romance as the emotionally-driven and overwhelmed characters deal with their feelings while wandering around a giant old house set upon the Moors of rural England. Wuthering Heights caused a sensation in that it was one of the first and few novels of the 19th century that wasn’t set in and around London.
And Then There Was Anne
Anne Brontë only ever wrote two novels prior to her death at age 29, and like her siblings’ masterworks, it also arrived in stores in 1847. Anne based Agnes Grey on her period of employment as a governess, and, like the title character, she worked in a succession of houses occupied by rich and nasty children.
Although you may prefer our Word Cloud Editions of Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre, many of the Brontë sisters’ best and most influential works are also available in a special single-volume edition from Canterbury Classics. Get a taste of history and the best in literature with Selected Works of the Bronte Sisters, a leather-bound collection that includes one full novel from each Brontë: Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.