To celebrate my 30 years on this planet this week, I’ve been compiling a few blogs featuring 30 things for my readers to think about and have fun with. I had a lot of fun putting this list of 30 Brontë facts together. Reader, whoever you are, wherever you are, and whatever level of Brontë enthusiasm you’re currently at, I hope you enjoy these facts about everyone’s favourite literary family, the Brontës.
Number One – Although many people think there were four Brontë siblings, there were actually six children born to Maria and Patrick Brontë: Maria (1814-1825), Elizabeth (1815-1825), Charlotte (1816-1855), Patrick Branwell (1817-1848), Emily Jane (1818-1848), and Anne (1820-1849).
Number Two – Maria Branwell hailed from Penzance in Cornwall, whereas Patrick Brontë (originally Prunty or Brunty) was a native of Ireland who moved to England in 1802 to study at Cambridge University. This is where he adopted the name Brontë.
Number Three – Maria and Patrick married at St. Oswald’s Church in Guisely, West Yorkshire on 29th December 1812. The church is still in use today, and is a Grade I listed building.
Number Four – The family settled in the village of Haworth, West Yorkshire in 1820 when Patrick became the curate of St. Michael and All Angels’ Church. Their former home is now the Brontë Parsonage Museum and attracts thousands of visitors all year round.
Number Five – When Maria Branwell died in 1821, her sister Elizabeth Branwell went to Haworth to help with the children, staying there until her own death in 1842.
Number Six – Elizabeth Branwell had a profound effect upon her nieces and nephew; she provided the sisters with enough money to start a school, however, this failed to attract any pupils, and she also paid for Charlotte and Emily’s trip to Brussels, where they were staying at the Pensionnat Héger when they learned of her death. They returned to Haworth shortly afterwards but Charlotte made the decision to return to Brussels alone for another year.
Number Seven – Branwell was particularly affected by Aunt Branwell’s death in 1842, writing to a friend that, “I have now lost the guide and director of all the happy days connected with my childhood” just a few days afterwards.
Number Eight – Whilst at the Pensionnat Héger, Charlotte fell deeply in love with Constantin Héger, a married teacher and owner of the school. Some of the letters Charlotte wrote to him are now in the British Library..
Number Nine – Although the Brontë sisters are mainly remembered for their adult novels, they, along with Branwell, began writing as children, creating the worlds of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal.
Number Ten – The children’s literary games began in 1826 when Patrick presented Branwell with a gift of twelve toy soldiers, which were claimed and named by the siblings, leading to the creation of the Young Men’s Play.
Number Eleven – Anne and Emily broke away to form their own world of Gondal in 1831, unfortunately very little survives of their saga other than a few poems and a handful of references and incomplete character lists in their diary papers.
Number Twelve – Charlotte and Branwell continued to write both collaboratively and independently using characters from Glass Town, leading to the development of their saga, and the creation of Angria in 1834.
Number Thirteen – Branwell wrote both poetry and prose, however, his writings are still not especially well read although they greatly outnumber the surviving works of Emily and Anne combined.
Number Fourteen – Branwell was the first Brontë to see his work in print; his poem “Heaven and Earth” was published in The Halifax Guardian on 5th June 1841 using the pseudonym Northangerland, a favourite character of his from the Glass Town/Angrian saga. Branwell would go on to publish 18 poems and a prose piece in various newspapers.
Number Fifteen – The sisters published Poems using the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell in 1846 but only two copies were sold. The sisters famously used these pseudonyms once again when their debut novels (Jane Eyre, Agnes Grey, and Wuthering Heights) were published to critical acclaim and public adoration.
Number Sixteen – Charlotte’s preferred and most used nom de plume however is Lord Charles Wellesley/Charles Townshend, a character and narrator who originated in her Glass Town stories. It is possible that Charles is the old friend to whom William Crimsworth is writing at the beginning of Charlotte’s novel The Professor as in her Angrian writings Charles Townshend and Sir William Percy are good friends and joint narrators of one of Charlotte’s final Angrian texts, Henry Hastings (1839).
Number Seventeen – Over the years, Branwell had many occupations, initially setting himself up as a professional portrait painter in 1838 in Bradford. In 1840 he became a tutor to the Postlethwaite family in Broughton-in-Furness but was dismissed for unknown reasons within a year. From late 1840-42 he worked as a clerk at Sowerby Bridge, and then as Clerk-In-Charge at Luddenden, where he was sacked due to a discrepancy in the accounts. From 1843-45 Branwell worked for the Thorp family as a tutor to their only son but was sacked, possibly due to his affair with his employer’s wife, Lydia Robinson.
Number Eighteen – Anne also worked at Thorp Green for the Robinsons, acting as a governess to their daughters from 1840-45. Prior to this she worked for the Inghams of Blake Hall. Anne did not enjoy the work and her experiences are documented in her novel Agnes Grey (1847).
Number Nineteen – Charlotte also worked as a governess after her time teaching at Roe Head School (1835-38). In 1839 she worked for the Sidgwick family of Stonegappe, Lothersdale, and later for the White family of Upperwood House, Rawdon in 1841. Like Anne, Charlotte also did not enjoy governess work
Number Twenty – Anne’s pupils at Thorp Green were attached to her and even gifted her a pet spaniel whom she named Flossy.
Number Twenty One – Anne is the only family member not buried in St. Michael and All Angels’ Church, Haworth. Instead she is buried at St. Mary’s Church, Scarborough, close to where she died in 1849 aged just 29.
Number Twenty Two – Charlotte was the longest lived sibling, dying at the age of 38; Emily died aged 30, and Branwell was just 31. Maria and Elizabeth were just 11 and 10 years old respectively when they died.
Number Twenty Three – Charlotte was also the only sibling to marry. On June 9th, 1854 she married Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father’s curate. Following Charlotte’s death a few months later, Nicholls remained with Patrick until his father-in-law’s death, after which he returned to his native Ireland.
Number Twenty Four – Patrick Brontë outlived his entire family, dying on June 7th 1864 at the age of 84.
Number Twenty Five – The only verified portrait of all three surviving sisters together in existence is The Portrait Pillar, which was painted by Branwell in around 1833, and is housed in the National Portrait Gallery, London. In June 2018, it will return to the parsonage for several months. A partially obscured photograph of another portrait by Branwell, known as The Gun Group, also exists. Only a single piece of the original painting survives and is also in The National Portrait Gallery. It was originally thought to depict Emily, but many now believe it is actually Anne.
Number Twenty Six – Emily is the most mysterious surviving Brontë; she didn’t seem to have any friends or acquaintances outside of the parsonage, none of her correspondence survives and she published just a single novel in addition to her poems. However, some of her sketches and drawings have survived, and famously feature the Brontë family pets such as Grasper, Keeper, and Flossy. Indeed, one of the only certainties about Emily is that she was devoted to her animals, of which she had many over the years.
Number Twenty Seven – In contrast to this, the correspondence of other family members survives, the bulk of it being Charlotte’s. However, Branwell’s letters from the last few years of his life are particularly illuminating, shedding light on the tortured mind of a talented and once promising individual crippled by addictions, failure, and unrequited love. Maria Branwell’s playful letters to and about Patrick during their courtship are also worth a look, especially when she refers to him as “my saucy Pat”.
Number Twenty Eight – Patrick Brontë was also a published author of both poetry and prose. His publications include Winter Evening Thoughts (1810), Cottage Poems, (1811), The Rural Minstrel: A Miscellany of Descriptive Poems (1813), The Cottage In The Wood (1816), and The Maid Of Killarney (1818).
Number Twenty Nine – Arguably the most famous line published by any Brontë is “Reader, I married him” from Jane Eyre (1847). However, not only had Charlotte been using the term “reader” for many years in her juvenilia, but Branwell had also done so. One of my tasks this year is to find out which sibling used this first, and consequently, who was really responsible for one of the most famous lines in English literature.
Number Thirty – In addition to her juvenilia and adult works, Charlotte Brontë left an unfinished manuscript entitled Emma, and an unfinished novel now known as Ashworth (c.1840), an interesting transitional piece between her early fiction and later work. Set in England, it does retain features of the her Angrian work, which she had officially bid farewell to in “Farewell to Angria” (1839), and in many ways paves the way for her adult novels, especially The Professor (published 1857).
I hope you’ve enjoyed flicking through these Brontë facts. As usual, I’ve tried to squeeze as much juvenilia information into the piece without boring everybody too much, but I hope there’s a good variety that everyone can appreciate.
By Nicola F. a.k.a. The Brontë Babe.
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