Bronte, the name of three gifted ladies who were the daughters of the Rev. Patrick Bronte, a clergyman of Irish extraction, who held in succession several Yorkshire livings, settling finally, in 1820, at Haworth, a bleak moorland parish, where his family grew up.
1. Charlotte, the third child, was born in 1816, and having lost her mother at the age of four and her elder sister five years later, she had at the outset of her life to take charge of her brother and two younger sisters, Emily and Anne, neglected as they were by their invalid and eccentric father. Cut off from society, the young people grew up amidst the harsh surroundings of their north country home in a strange fashion. They all of them possessed strong imaginations, and from their infancy began to weave fictitious narratives and commit them to paper. In 1831 Charlotte enjoyed a year's schooling at Roe Head, returning thither as teacher in 1835. After a brief experience of the life of a governess, she resolved to start a school, and from 1842 to 1844 went to Brussels with her sister Emily to learn French. On her return she found to her distress that her brother Patrick had sunk into a hopeless drunkard, and he died in 1848. Meanwhile the three sisters had developed a taste for poetry, and in 1846 contrived to publish a small volume under the pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, but their efforts attracted little or no attention. Nevertheless they set to work, each separately, on the composition of a prose romance, the result being The Professor by Charlotte, Wuthering Heights by Emily, and Agnes Grey by Anne. Strangely enough, the two last found a publisher, but the first was rejected. Nothing daunted, Charlotte persevered, and in 1847 gave to the world Jane Eyre, through the firm of Smith and Elder. The success was immediate, for though critics hesitated, the public at once appreciated the realistic vigour and rugged, unconventional force of the unknown author, whose name was concealed until the publication of Shirley in 1849, by which time her two sisters and her brother were in their graves. Charlotte Bronte now became famous, but her early training and weak health made her shrink from society. In the retirement of her father's vicarage she slowly proceeded with what was destined to be her last work, Villette, which came out in 1853. The next year she married her father's curate, Mr. Nicholls, but in less than ten months the fatal seeds of consumption that had cut off all her sisters worked their ravages on her enfeebled frame, and she died on March 31st, 1855. The Professor was published after her death. As might have been expected, there is a morbid element in all that Charlotte Bronte wrote, and the bitterness of a strong, proud, sensitive, and disappointed nature gives her stories a flavour that is often highly unpleasant. At times she is so ignorant or careless of the proprieties as to become coarse, and occasionally she is open to the charge of melodramatic sensationalism. Still, she expresses with rare literary skill just those phases of female character that are least on the surface; her plots are drawn with no little dramatic ingenuity; and her descriptions of the scenes with which she was familiar can hardly be surpassed for brilliancy and truth. Jane Eyre will always rank as the best of her productions, though Shirley is more wholesome and more humorous, and Villette gives a deeper insight into the writer's own mind.
2. Emily was rather a poet than a novelist. Unrestrained imagination is the chief characteristic of her one very remarkable book, Wuthering Heights, but the premature close of her career prevented the full development of her faculties.
3. Anne must be regarded as in every way inferior to her elder sisters. Her only novel scarcely rises above the level of the ephemeral stories of the period, and gives little indication of true genius.