The Famous Bell Brothers of Haworth

November 2010


In August 1847, three novels by Acton, Currer, and Ellis Bell were submitted to London publisher Thomas Cautley Newby. Newby agreed to publish two of the novels, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, for a fee of £50 each. Currer, whose novel was rejected, furiously wrote another novel, Jane Eyre, which was accepted for publication by Smith, Elder, and Company.


The greedy Newby began circulating the rumor that the three Bell brothers were one and the same, bringing Currer reprimands from his publisher for breach of faith. Currer decided that the three brothers must show themselves at Smith-Elder to clear up the matter. Ellis did not care to travel, so Currer and Acton traveled to London and revealed their separateness. The Smith-Elder firm was both pleased and surprised to meet the separate authors Charlotte and Anne Brontė, and celebrated by treating them to dinner and an opera.


Anne, Charlotte, and Emily Brontė grew up at lonely and gloomy Haworth parsonage, where their father served as curate. The sisters experienced great loss as young children when their mother died of cancer and two older sisters died from disease contracted at school.


Despite their devastating losses, the Brontė sisters thrived at Haworth, letting their imaginations fill in the gaps of their isolated lives. Emily felt so strongly connected to the sweeping moors around the parsonage that she suffered physically when she was away. After working less than a year as a teacher in West Yorkshire, Emily returned home and took on all the household chores and the care of her father. She was content and stalwart, her very strength growing from the powerful and untamed moors surrounding her. Emily’s passion for her beloved landscape is openly evident in the storyline of her novel Wuthering Heights.


Anne, the youngest of the family, had further success with a second novel, the socially radical Tenant of Wildfell Hall, published in June 1848. Anne’s joy was short lived, however. In September, the only Brontė son, Branwell, died after years of alcohol abuse. Soon after, Emily suffered an infection from a dog bite and her health rapidly declined. The sudden death of her two siblings devastated Anne and her own health began to deteriorate. Anne clung on until May 1849, dying at Scarborough, where she had sought the healthful benefits of the fresh sea air.


Charlotte, the most educated and talented of the three, continued teaching and writing, and completed two more novels, Villette and Shirley. After suffering many years loving a married man, Charlotte finally broke free, found true love and married at age 38. She died before celebrating her first wedding anniversary, possibly from malnutrition and dehydration after becoming pregnant.