Emily Bronte was born on July 30, 1818 at Thronton, Bradford Yokshire. She was the 5th child of 6 children. When Emily was just three years old, her mother dies and her Aunt come to live with the family to take care of the children. Not much is know about Emily, except she was a very secluded and shy girl. Some information is collected about her from the few exisitng diary entries
and letters, as well as her poems. Most of the information that is known about Emily is from her sister Charlotte’s biography as well as letters written to and from Charlotte to her friend.
Since there is not a lot of information known about Emily Bronte, people have speculated on how Wutheirng Heights came to be written by Emily. When Mr. Bronte returned from a trip on time, he brought Emily’s brother, Branwell, a box of wooden soldiers. The Bronte siblings began writing stories and plays about these soldiers, which some have said influenced Emily’s writing of Wuthering Heights
later on in her life (Vine 6). Harold Bloom believes that “early marriage and early death [which are seen in Wutheirng Heights] are thoroughly High Romantic, and emerge from the legacy of Shelley, dead at thwenty-nine, and of Byron, martyred to the cause of Greek independence at thiry-six” (Bloom 8). Maggie Bewrg suggests that the character of Heathcliff was influencecd by “Byron’s anti-heroes, although he outdoes the Byronic hero
in his romantic rebellion” (5). Because there is not much information on Emily, her influences for the book are just speculation.
We do know that Emily wrote poems and when her sister found them, she persuaded Emily to publish them in a volume that included some of Anne and Charlotte’s poems also. The book was published under the psuedonyms of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. The book only sells three copies. After Wuthering Heights was written, the sisters tried to find someone to publish it along with Anne’s novel Agnes Grey. They had trouble finding a publisher, and finally were able to convince Thomas Newby to publish it. He published Wuthering Heights as Volumes I & II, and Agnes Grey as Volume III. They had to pay money upfront for the publication, and contracted Newby to print 350 copies. However, Newby proved himslef to be a horrible published by only printing 250 copies and ignoring the proofing sheets submitted by Emily. This led to the first edition having many errors in the print. This first edition was published in December, 1847.
Wuthering Heights was first received by critics with hostile reviews. Five reviewers were found in Amily’s desk after her death and were reprinted in William Sale’s edition of Wuthering Heights. The first review was published in January 1848 by the Atlas. The Atlas review begins by calling Wuthering Heights a "strange, inartistic story…[that] is inexpressibly painful." The reviewer briefly touches on the mystery of the author of Wuthering Heights and whether it was written by a man or woman, and if the same person wrote Agnes Gray. He calls the questions of authorship "matters really of little account" but does assert his "private conviction" that the names of Currer, Acton, and Ellis Bell are "mere publishing names." The writer of the review asserts that there has never been a work of fiction that "presents such shocking pictures of the worst forms of humanity." The author believes that had there been a few "glimpses of sunshine" in the book, it would have "increased the reality of the picture and given strength rather than weakness to the whole." He describes every character in the book as "hateful or thoroughly contemptible" which makes the readers hate and despise them. He claims that even the women of the book "turn out badly." He ends his review by stating that the work of Ellis Bell is not a "great performance" like that of her sisters in Jane Eyre, but that it is "only a promise, but it is a colossal one."
Douglas Jerrod's Weekly Newspaper wrote a review that was also published in January 1848. Just like the review in the Atlas, this review starts off by calling Wuthering Heights a "strange sort of book" (Sale 301). He does assert that it is a book that is "impossible to begin and not finish it, and quite impossible to lay it aside afterwards and say nothing about it" but that as far as a moral in the book "it is difficult to say; and we refrain from assigning any, because to speak honestly, we have discovered none but mere glimpses of hidden morals or secondary meanings” (Sale 302) The reviewer predicts that the author of Wuthering Heights will be a "great dramatic artist" but that "his qualities are excessive; a far more promising fault, let it be remembered, than if they were deficient" (Sale 302). In concluding his review, the writers recommends the book for people to read since he feels they "never have read anything like it before" and he feels he "must leave it to our readers to decide what sort of book it is" (Sale 302).
Also in January 1848, the Examiner published a review of Wuthering Heights. Again, like the reviews in the Atlas and Jerrod's the book is described as "strange" as well as "wild, confused; disjointed, and improbable." He compares the characters to "savages ruder than those who lived before the days of Homer." Like the review in Jerrods, this writer cannot "perceive any obvious moral in the story." He believes ot to be the first work of the author and "hope that he will produce a second, giving himself more time in its composition than in the present case, developing his incidents more carefully, eschewing exaggeration and obscurity, and looking steadily at human life."
In January 1848, the Britannia, published a review that, once again, calls Wuthering Heights a "strangely original" book that depicts "humanity in this wild state." Like others, the reviewer believes the book is "unskillfully constructed" and "many passages in it display neither the grace of art nor the truth of natureHe compares the author to Salvatore Rosa "with his pen." The New Advent Enclycolpeadia describes Salvatore Rosa as an Italian painter whose pictures are "distinguished by gloom and mystery…[with a] general air of melancholy over almost all his works." (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13183c.htm). Unlike the review in the Atlas, this writer believes that the book is "illuminated by some gleams of sunshine towards the end which serve to cast a grateful light on the dreary path we have traveled." In concluding his review, he writes that is "difficult to pronounce any judgment on a work in which there is so much rude ability displayed, yet in which there is so much matter for blame." Because of this, the writer does not "pronounce an opinion on it, or to hazard a conjecture on the future career of the author."
After Emilys death from Tuberculosis on December 19, 1848, Charlotte takes up the task of revising Wuthering Heights to correct the many errors, as well as to include a Biographical Sketch on Emily Bronte and a Preface (Visick I). Charlotte’s Preface and the second edition of Wuthering Heights was published in 1850. It was said that Charlotte was the most “influential critic of Wutheirng Heights” and that she “defined the scope of all future criticisms” (Berg 11). She addresses the attacks made by reviewers that the book was too dark and gllomy by writing:
With regard to the rusticity of Wuthering Heights: I admit this charge, for I feel the quality. It is rustic all through. It is moorish, and wild, and knotty as a root of heath. It is rustic all through. Nor was it natural that it should be otherwise; the author being herself a native and nursling of the moors (Sale 320).
Like many other reviewers, Charlotte agrees that if Emily had lived longer, she would have produced many other great works. She writes:
Had she but lived, her mind would of itself have grown like a strong tree, loftier, straighter, wider-spreading, and its matured fruits woulod have attained a mellower ripeness and sunnier bloom; but on that mind time and experience alone could work to the influence of other intellects, it was not amenable (Sale 321).
After the second edition was published, there were many other reviews published about the book.
Berg, Maggie. Wuthering Heights: The Writings in the Margin. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996.
Bloom, Harold, Editor. The Brontes.New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
Sale, William M. and Richard J. Dunn (Editors). Wuthering Heights: Third Edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1990.
Vine, Steve. Emily Bronte. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1998.
Visick, Mary. The Genesis of Wuthering Heights. England: Ian Hodgkins & Co. LTD, 1980.