The Five Most Surprising Facts about the Brontë Family

Join Bella Ellis—author of The Vanished Bride, the first book in the Brontë Sisters Mystery series—as she uncovers some fascinating facts about the famous literary sisters we thought we knew so well. Read through and comment on this post to enter for a chance to win a copy of The Vanished Bride.

I have always loved the novels of the Brontë sisters, and because I’d read and re-read all of them many times over the years, I really thought I knew pretty much all there is to know about the sisters, their families and their lives. Three spinster geniuses living and writing in the isolated village of Haworth on the edge of the Yorkshire moors, before their untimely deaths, right? Wrong.

As I began to research their lives for The Vanished Bride, reading their letters, contemporary accounts and getting to know the world they lived in, I was continuously surprised by the fascinating, sometimes shocking, facts I discovered.

    1. Charlotte Bronte and Constantin Héger. In 1842 Charlotte and Emily travelled to study in Brussels at the Pensionnat Héger, a school for young ladies run by Madam Zoë Héger and her husband, Constantin. The sisters’ intention was to further their education and language skills, improving their chances of securing employment. Quite soon after her arrival, it becomes clear that Monsieur Héger had a deep impact on impressionable Charlotte; particularly as he both appreciated and encouraged her brilliance and enquiring mind. It was the kind of attention she longed for. Unsurprisingly, Charlotte fell hopelessly in love with her married tutor. Two years after returning to Haworth she continued to write emotional, tortured letters to him, fraught with longing, ‘I am in a fever – I lose my appetite and my sleep – I pine away.’ Eventually a very patient Madame Héger insisted that her husband only corresponded with Charlotte once every six months. We only know about these beautiful letters of unrequited love because in 1913 the Héger family gave them to the British Library. Three out of the four surviving letters had been torn up and then carefully sewn back together and preserved. Did Madame Héger retrieve them from the wastebasket to collect them as evidence of her husband’s innocence in this once sided affair? In any event, she gave us a tantalising glimpse into the passionate heart and mind of Charlotte Brontë.
    2. Emily Brontë really did own a thunderbolt and lightning dress. We love to think of unconventional Emily, wild and free, roaming the moors around Haworth. Her novel Wuthering Heights and her wonderful poetry give us a portrait of a woman uniquely in tune with the beautiful, sometimes violent and capricious environment she lived in. Emily’s work is always so full of the noise of nature; wind, water, rain and yes, thunder and lightning, so it’s deliciously fitting that we know she caused a minor stir when she selected the material for this gown. The Brontë’s friend Ellen Nussey remembers Emily choosing, ‘..a white stuff patterned with lilac thunder and lightning, to the scarcely concealed horror of her more sober companions.’ For me, this is perfect Emily.
    3. The average life expectancy in Haworth at the time of the Brontës was only 25.8 years. In fact, despite the rural location of the village mortality rates were on a par with densely populated industrial city slums, and 42% of children died before the age of six. The reasons for this make grim reading. There were only 69 toilets for a population of 2500, and there was no drainage system. Sewerage ran freely down the steep streets, contributing to the frequent outbreaks of cholera and typhus. On top of this, the water supply, which ran down from the top of the moors was filtered through the graveyard, polluting the water with rotting corpse juice. When the graveyard was closed in 1883 it is estimated to have contained between forty and forty-two thousand bodies, some of the graves containing up to ten coffins each. If you look at photographs of the graveyard today you will see it full of mature trees. This is thanks to the report made in 1850 by Benjamin Herschel Babbage—something that Patrick Brontë had long been campaigning for. Mr. Babbage had many suggestions to improve sanitation in Haworth, but one of them was to plant trees in the graveyard to suck up the excess moisture created by the dead.
    4. For a devout Victorian parson, Patrick Brontë was a very liberal, tolerant man. This is perhaps shown most surprisingly and touchingly in his advice to Eliza Brown, the daughter of John Brown, the Sexton at Haworth in 1855. When Eliza found herself unmarried and pregnant, you might have expected Patrick to cast her out of his congregation. Instead, he writes her the most thoughtful and compassionate letter. ‘In regard to your proceedings, and those of your friend James, you both have acted very properly. You have done all this openly and wisely – which is ever the best way. As the times are hard, and likely to be so, during the winter you should be in no haste about marriage. You should not marry until you have a fair prospect of being able to live without debt and poverty.’ Wonderfully thoughtful, forgiving and wise advice. In 1859 Patrick was obliged to write to Eliza again, this time to inform the young mother, who worked away from home, of the death of her daughter. ‘She got worse and worse, til at last she seem’d to sleep away, til she closed her eyes, on time, and open’d them in eternity.’ He went on to reassure the grieving mother. ‘Every thing has been done for little Jane that could be done…so that there is nothing to regret, left behind (sic).’ Patrick outlived every one of his children; it’s clear he was a man who saw the value in love and compassion over hellfire and brimstone.
    5. Anne, perhaps the most subversive and revolutionary sister of them all, and the author of one of the first feminist novels. Anne Brontë is perhaps the least appreciated of the Brontës, and her novels Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are lesser-known and -read. She is often thought of as meek and mild, and perhaps not as interesting as her more obviously complicated sisters. However, Anne had a quiet inner steel that was all her own. Her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, shows her passion for equality for women, even if that meant resisting and flouting convention. Trapped in an abusive marriage with an alcoholic husband, the heroine, Helen, flees her marital home with her son, leaving her husband to live under an assumed identity—scandalous conduct in Victorian England. Part of Anne’s quiet courage comes from the horrors she witnessed in her own life, the destructive life of her addict brother Branwell, but also the women she saw trapped in cruel marriages. In 1840, Mrs. Collins, the wife of a local curate, came to the parsonage to ask Patrick for advice about her abusive husband. Amazingly for a Victorian parson, Patrick advised Mrs. Collins to take her children and leave her husband. When Mrs. Collins visited again a few years later she was able to tell the Brontës she had built a new life for herself and her children. Anne was almost certainly influenced by witnessing this; one can only imagine how it formed her own resolve to be happy and free.

*Author Photo by Adam Evans


About The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis:

Before they became legendary writers, Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë, and Anne Brontë were detectors in this charming historical mystery….

Yorkshire, 1845. A young wife and mother has gone missing from her home, leaving behind two small children and a large pool of blood. Just a few miles away, a humble parson’s daughters – the Brontë sisters – learn of the crime. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë are horrified and intrigued by the mysterious disappearance.

These three creative, energetic, and resourceful women quickly realize that they have all the skills required to make for excellent “lady detectors.” Not yet published novelists, they have well-honed imaginations and are expert readers. And, as Charlotte remarks, “detecting is reading between the lines – it’s seeing what is not there.”

As they investigate, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne are confronted with a society that believes a woman’s place is in the home, not scouring the countryside looking for clues. But nothing will stop the sisters from discovering what happened to the vanished bride, even as they find their own lives are in great peril…


Comment below for a chance to win a copy of The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis!

To enter, make sure you’re a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

The Vanished Bride Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at http://www.criminalelement.com/the-five-most-surprising-facts-about-the-bronte-family/ beginning at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) September 11, 2019. Sweepstakes ends at 4:59 p.m. ET September 25, 2019. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10010.

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Comments

  1. Jackie Mungle

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  2. SUSAN GANNON

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  3. SUSAN GANNON

    I would love to read and share thanks

  4. Renee Morgan

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  5. verona kruse

    What a neat info read.

  6. Traveling Cloak

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  7. Daniel Cuthbert

    Wow, the Bronte’s certainly had an incredibly interesting history and if fortunate in winning this title, the book sounds like it will be a great one!

  8. Anne

    Captivating and fascinating. Thanks.

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    Wow!! Thank you for this fabulous chance.

  10. Ruth

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  11. Anastasia

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  12. Linda Block

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  13. Anastasia

    I would love to solve this mystery 🙂
    (forgot to log in lol)

  14. Vivian Taylor

    Can’t wait to read this book!

  15. carloshmarlo

    I never would have picked the Brontes as “lady detectors” but, live and learn. Thanks for the chance to win a copy.

  16. Danielle Hammelef

    Life was rather grim back then. These facts did surprise me. I’m keeping my fingers crossed to win a copy.

  17. Padmini Rao

    I would love to win this book

  18. Darlene Slocum

    I certainly want to read this one.

  19. Linda McCutcheon

    I hope the author writes a non fiction book about the Bronte sisters. Reading the facts she found out about them was mesmerizing. I would love to read and review this novel about the sisters as sleuths.

  20. Jean Boe

    Would love to win this one.

  21. Portia Asher

    I need a good mystery.

  22. Michael Carter

    Yes! Yes!
    Please count me in for this sweepstakes.
    Thanks —

  23. Debi K

    I feel like I read a most interesting short story in your 5 most surprising facts about the Bronte family. It would be great fun to see how these personalities transform into detectives.

  24. Barb Dudich

    Interesting Bronte facts!

  25. Shirley Evans

    The Vanished Bride looks so good! Thanks for the chance.

  26. Janis Rich

    I am amazed at all that I didn’t know and would love to read this.

  27. Jackie Basnight

    Love the Bronte sisters. So yes, definitely interested in reading this book. Thanks.

  28. Shirley Hughey

    Can’t get that graveyard water out of my mind.

  29. Patricia Biewald

    To live in that era!

  30. John Q. Wilson

    I’m glad to have my incorrect beliefs about there father corrected. Love the term “detectors.” I would love to win a copy, but will be reading it whether or not I win. Hope the series is very successful!

  31. Karen Parisot

    The Brontes were a family ahead of their time. They were fortunate to have such an open-minded and progressive father living as they did in the 19th century. Bella Ellis’s, “The Vanished Bride,” sounds like it would make for some great reading.

  32. Katharine Albon

    I’ve always loved the Brontes’ novels. I’m excited by the premise of this series!

  33. Ruth F

    Madame Heger was a very kind and compassionate woman.

  34. Arianna McLaughlin

    I’m a big fan of the Brontes ! Would love to read this 😍

    @arianna.reads

  35. Ally Deloach

    I find all the facts so fascinating and now I wanna read all the books in this series and especially this one

  36. Rebecca Brothers

    Whoa… I knew sanitation was bad but hadn’t realized the full extent of the horror.

    Anyway, would love to win this one.

  37. Jay Dela Cruz

    Looks like Bella Ellis really did her homework doing research in writing the book. Great read I’m sure.

  38. Mona Garg

    Sounds great — thanks for the chance🙂

  39. Karl Stenger

    I would love to read the book.

  40. will

    would love to read!

  41. Janet McCord

    What fun! The Brontes seem to lend themselves to mystery.

  42. Kelli Rolvaag

    This sounds intriguing! Would love to win and read.

  43. Tricia Mazujian

    I love history and mysteries – a winning combination.

  44. Vivian Gross

    Want to read this.

  45. Joyce Benzing

    Would love to share this book with my sister, a huge Bronte fan.

  46. Jill Porco

    Great premise for a story. No doubt that having a compassionate father like Patrick Bronte helped make the sisters who they were and we are all the better for it! Would love to win this title.

  47. Cindy Berry

    I would love to win!

  48. GINNY TATA-PHILLIPS

    Yay! Would love to read this!!!

  49. Jeannine

    Love the idea that they were also “detectors.” Looks like a great read. I know I would enjoy this book. Thanls for a chance to win a copy.

  50. Sheryl Basco

    I was surprised at the age expectancy back in this time period. To do all of this at such a young age really makes you wonder about todays technology and how young people dont have to “think” about things.

  51. Lana Maskus

    I have read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, but know little about the Bronte sisters’ lives so The Vanished Bride sounds fascinating.

  52. Stella McKissack

    I would love to read this!

  53. Joye I

    I am always looking for new authors to read. This book sounds like one I would enjoy reading.

  54. Kelly I

    I would love to read this book!

  55. Yohanna

    I definitely learned some new things today with the five surprising facts. Some of it was slightly disgusting and disturbing, but interesting to discover how people lived back then. Thank you for the opportunity.

  56. Faith Creech

    Thank you so very much for the chance to win this book. I would love to read it! Sounds so good!

  57. JoAnne Reuter

    What a joy it would be to win this book!

  58. Ashley Nicole Moorhouse

    Would love to win!

  59. Christine Smiga

    Wow, so much interesting information! Thanks for the giveaway too.

  60. Karen Terry

    I like the title

  61. Beverly Hilderbrand

    Some very interesting facts, some I knew and some I didn’t! This new book sounds like a good read and it would be nice to win! Otherwise, I will wait until the price comes to the point where I can afford. Happy reading!

  62. Douglass Abramson

    Sounds like an interesting read.

  63. Michal Swain

    Looking forward to reading it!!

  64. Paul Gada

    Hello

  65. Tiffany

    I’ve been waiting for this one

  66. Linda Farabaugh

    What an interesting book. Love to read about the Bronte sisters.

  67. lasvegasnv

    different

  68. Laurie Sandretto

    Thank you for the article.

  69. Susan T.

    I’ve heard this is great!

  70. Rose Jones

    This will make a great gift (after I read it, of course) for one of my daughters who happens to be a great Bronte Sisters fan.

  71. Denise Van Plew

    Wonderful article on Emily

  72. Laura Alexander

    Very interesting. Would love to win this book so I could read more!! Thanks for this opportunity and good luck to everyone!!

  73. Mary Woods

    You never know what interesting things you can find out about a person when you take the time to really look.

  74. Lori P

    I learned of some if not all of these literary nuggets years ago, but really appreciate the opportunity to read about them again, all in one place. Can’t help but appreciate their output all the more, given their unique circumstances.

  75. LINDA COSBY

    I would like to read this.

  76. Shirley Bayers

    I love the Bronte sisters, I read their books when I was in high school. Want to win.

  77. Sherri Mayr

    Oh, my I don’t think I ever knew the Bronte sisters stories and the short intro above is very intriguing. I want to learn more about their lives and like to read this new book (series) to see how the author directs the sisters in a murder mystery.

  78. SUSAN REYNA

    Sound like a fun and interesting book!

  79. sue weatherbee

    This sounds really interesting. Looking forward to it!

  80. J. Beverly

    bronte sisters as investigators … not a surprising development! thank you …

  81. Diana Hardt

    It sounds like a really interesting book.

  82. Joanne Hicks

    What an interesting plot for a series that I am eager to read.

  83. Karen H

    Would love to read this book!

  84. Janice Milliken

    The Bronte’s continue to intrigue readers!

  85. Shelly Garnett

    This sounds very interesting

  86. Cindy McIntyre

    Love the Brontë!

  87. martin bodnar

    thanks for the chance to win!

  88. Ali Danko

    When reading the article, I cringed at the corpse juice contaminating the water supply… Definitely want to read this!!!

  89. Lydia Sadler

    Well, I am certainly intrigued by this little tidbit. Well done!

  90. Tina Chavez-Caddey

    I am excited to read this historical mystery!

  91. April W

    This looks intriguing.

  92. Anne Hardy

    These are very intriguing, and sometimes grim, facts; the Bronte sisters and Patrick are even more interesting than I’d thought

  93. Janet Gould

    Very interesting article. The book looks great.

  94. Phyllis McGuire

    I would love to win a copy!

  95. Janet L Johnson

    Janet

  96. Deb Fitzpatrick

    Can’t wait to read this book

  97. Beth Am

    Looks interesting!

  98. jennifer cecil

    Looks like a fun read.

  99. jodi scott

    Very interesting! Thanks for sharing

  100. Martha DeMarco

    Never knew or read much about the Bronte sisters,but this sounds like it would be a great read.Would love to win!

  101. Colleen D

    How fun to imagine the sisters setting out on an adventure to investigate and solve mysteries.

  102. Saundra K. Warren

    I’ll take it!!!!

  103. SUSAN GANNON

    I would be grateful for this book.

  104. Pat Hanlon

    Thanks for the chance to win ! Would love to read this book!!❤️

  105. cathleen penner

    love this type of novel-can’t wait to read it

  106. paul klumbach

    sounds like a blast to be had

  107. Toni A Laliberte

    This sounds like a great book! I love cozy mysteries. Thanks for the chance!

  108. Michelle Fidler

    The book sounds great. I’m sure I’d enjoy it.

  109. Mayrl thompson

    Would like to win.

  110. Rebecca Gatzlaff

    This book sounds interesting and I would love to read it.

  111. Jolien Raynor

    Would love to read. Gotta <3 Bronte Sisters.

  112. Lori Byrd

    Sounds like an awesome read. Thank you for the chance to win.

  113. Erika Acosta

    OMg this sounds wonderful!

  114. Susan Morris

    The three sisters as detectives, sounds like a great read! Thank you for the opportunity to win.

  115. JAMES LYNAM

    A WINNER FOR SURE. Hope I “WIN”

  116. Kimbrell Scheunert

    This sounds great, and I would love to win it!
    Thanks

  117. Christal M

    Sounds like a great read

  118. Marisa Young

    Wow, interesting article. I would like to read this book.

  119. Angela Brassfield

    Very interesting article! Would love to win this book. I look forward to reading it soon.

  120. Ellen Snyder

    Great article and definitely a book to add to our ever growing library.

  121. susan beamon

    I could use a nice mystery in my to be read pile.

  122. Terri Gabor

    Love a good mystery!

  123. Alyson Widen

    Thanks for showing how unconventional the Bronte women were and how they had to dance around the usual expectations and obligations of the Victorian ages. I enjoy reading backgrounds about authors and characters residing in their stories.

  124. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  125. Tiffany

    Wow! Cannot wait to read this one. Love Bronte.

  126. Kathy Church

    This sounds very interesting. Would love to read. Enjoyed article!

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