By Bon Summers
Marie Bronte died of tuberculosis or cancer in 1821 at the age of 38. She left behind the most remarkable English/Irish writing family known to the world.
The Rev. Patrick Bronte sent four of his five daughters: Maria, Elizabeth, Emily, and Charlotte to the Clergy Daughter’s School at Cowan Bridge. Anne remained home. In 1825 Maria and Elizabeth died of tuberculosis at the school. It was stated they became ill from the dampness and terrible living conditions so Emily and Charlotte were sent home. Maria’s sister Elizabeth Branwell (1776-1842) was asked to live with them. She was 66.
Patrick Branwell Bronte: 1817-1848
In 1848, on 24 September the only son Patrick Branwell Bronte of this famous family died of several complications one which was tuberculosis, the others were drink, laudanum, or opium. One of his two works was “And the Weary are at Rest”. He died at the age of 31.
Emily Bronte: 1818-1848
Four months after her brother’s death on 19 December Emily Bronte died from complications aggravated from catching a cold at her brother’s funeral plus complications from tuberculosis. Emily resisted all help from doctors until just hours before her death. She was the first to be buried in a crypt under the stone floors of the Haworth Church. Wuthering Heights was published in 1848. She died at the age 30.
Anne Bronte: 1820-1849
Anne was the youngest of the three famous Bronte women and like the others had contacted tuberculosis. Her only wish was to die by the sea. A donkey pulled cart granted her this last wish and she was buried in St. Mary’s graveyard in Scarborough. She wrote two novels: Agnes Gray and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. She died at the age of 29.
Charlotte Bronte: 1816-1855
From 1849 to 1854 Charlotte Bronte, the remaining member of the Bronte family, still lived at the parsonage with her ailing blind father. Her father apparently kept to his own rooms, but Charlotte got out, went to London, met her publishers, met other authors such as Thackeray who she dedicated Jane Eyre to in the First Edition. She met the infamous Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell who followed her around and even invaded the patronage working with Rev. Bronte in publishing The Professor in 1857 and other work of Charlotte’s work not published.
On 29 June 1854 Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father’s curator, and within nine months she was dead. First of all her death certificate stated “phthisis’ (consumption), better known as tuberculosis, as the cause of death but Charlotte Bronte Nichols was also pregnant and she suffered from extreme nausea from this condition. In 1972, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, Philip Rhodes, stated that it is most likely she suffered and died of hyperemesis gravidarum which because of her pregnancy the salts and water are pulled from her system. The result is loss of weight when patient’s cannot eat or drink properly. Dr. Rhodes went on to say that in 1855, this condition of women was ‘poorly understood” and I quote him here.
Charlotte Bronte, the most famous of the Bronte sisters died 31 March 1855. The one who lived the longest and the sister who died first were buried side by side in a crypt located in the Haworth Church. But they live forever in English literary history. She died at 38, three weeks before her 39th birthday.
These women had taken on the establishment in publishing of female writers when they adopted the pseudonym of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. What a pleasure it would be, I would think, to just touch one of those original editions and glance into a book at this calibre of English Firsts. In 1848 the first book published by the 3 women, under the Bell name, came together as a book of poetry and prose and all three contributed. However Emily had been writing for years, as in her diary or journal Gondal Chronicles and in utter privacy created the love story of all time when Wuthering Heights was born.
We read their work, we make motion pictures of their stories, we study their lives, and we marvel at the brilliance of three English women of the same family, who have contributed so much to 19th Century literature. They did it by themselves with only a slight bit of formal education, self-taught, self-disciplined, and self-analysis, especially in Emily’s case. We can never know the conditions of their lives, as they lived in this remote village in the Yorkshire moors. We can never really know, but we can only know this for sure . . . had it not been for these women living in such an area of isolation we would never have the brilliant work produced by The Bronte Sisters. Rev. Patrick Bronte out lived his family dying at Haworth in 1861 at age 84. Arthur Bell Nicholls lived in the Bronte home and died in 1906 at 87.
Bon Summers, Ancient City Booksellers, St. Augustine, Florida, SA.
The article was published in Sheppard’s Confidential (Insights), and is presented here, with our thanks, by the author and Sheppard's Confidential.