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History Makers: The Brontës

Against a backdrop of incredible personal tragedy, three modest, Victorian women from Yorkshire would forever change the face of English literature. Mel Sherwood reveals the unfortunate and unlikely tale of the world’s greatest literary sisters…
GHOSTLY PRESENCE Showing uncanny prescience, Branwell, the Brontë sisters' ill-fated brother, painted himself out of his family portrait
GETTY X2

Charlotte Brontë steps into her father’s study. In her hand, she holds a book – a hardback volume bound in cloth, with the words ‘Jane Eyre’ stamped on the cover. “Papa, I’ve been writing a book,” she announces, rather understating the true matter of her achievement. In fact, her novel is completed, published, and is selling at almost record speed. “Have you my dear?” the unsuspecting Reverend Patrick Brontë replies, without looking up. As Charlotte continues, the clergyman slowly realises that his daughter has become a literary sensation, in secret, right under his nose. After some time, Patrick calls in Charlotte’s younger sisters, Emily and Anne: “Charlotte has been writing a book – and I think it is better than I expected.” It is good that he approves of Charlotte’s tale, because he’s about to learn that his other daughters have similar stories to tell…

The parsonage in Haworth, Yorkshire, where the Brontë siblings grew up
A self-portrait by Branwell, 1840
ALAMY X2, BRIDGEMAN IMAGES X3, GETTY X4
Patrick Brontë, circa 1860

This conversation, recounted by Patrick years later to Charlotte’s first biographer, occurred at the beginning of 1848. It was a tumultuous year for the Brontës, with glorious highs and tragic lows. But at this point, the Brontë women were happy, little knowing that they were on the brink of legendary – if short-lived – careers. They have since become famed the world over for their intense, dramatic and tragic novels, for which they had plenty of inspiration in their own lives…

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

When news broke a couple of years back that the body of Richard III had been discovered under a car park in Leicester, hope sprang afresh that the truth about this most divisive of kings would finally be put to rest. But while the find offered many clues, we have much fact yet to separate from fiction. Who was the real Richard? Was he a murderous usurper, or has his reputation been tarnished in a classic case of the victors writing history? We get to the heart of the matter from page 30.