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Where to start with the Brontës

Want to dive into the enchanting worlds dreamt up by the Brontë sisters? Samantha Ellis, author of How to be a Heroine, shows us where to get started from Wuthering Heights and beyond.

Samantha Ellis

I caught the Brontë bug early. I loved the novels but I was also fascinated by the story of how they were written, by three clergyman’s daughters in a cramped house in a remote Yorkshire village. Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë were expected to be dutiful, self-sacrificing Victorian girls. They lost their mother young, and then their two older sisters died after being neglected at school. (Charlotte was at the school too, watching but unable to help, and when she wrote about it in Jane Eyre, she said she had to tone it down, because the truth was so shocking that no one would believe it.) Thrown on their resources, the sisters, and their brother Branwell, made up imaginary worlds called Angria and Gondal. They mapped their worlds, peopled them with exotic characters, and wrote tiny books made of odd scraps of paper, which they painstakingly sewed together.

For me, this explains why these three women who lived such cramped and thwarted lives, and who died so young (Emily at 30, Anne at 29, and Charlotte at 38), wrote such huge, capacious, anarchic books about passion, about injustice, about how to live. Even as adults they refused to give up their sense of wonder, they didn’t conform, they stayed strange. The Brontës’s lives and work prove that there are no limits to the imagination.

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