Along with her sisters, Emily Bronte was nothing short of a literary genius. Despite struggling against sexual discrimination, with her gender denying her the fame and fortune a male writer of equal talents would undoubtedly have enjoyed, she nevertheless succeeded in producing a stellar body of work, including poems and essays. But above all, she is known today for her best-loved work, her sole novel, Wuthering Heights. In contrast to the deep passion felt by that novel’s lead characters, Heathcliff and Catherine, plenty of Bronte scholars now believe that Emily never felt such stirrings, with many concluding that the great author was, in fact, asexual.
Emily Jane Bronte was the third-eldest of the four surviving Bronte siblings. She was born and raised in the county of Yorkshire, in northern England. Her father, an Irish church curate, encouraged his children’s literary ambitions. Along with her two sisters and sole brother, Emily read voraciously, and it was this home education that allowed her to gain employment as a teacher when she turned 20. However, the tough life of a country teacher was not for her and she soon quit. Emily then travelled to Belgium to learn French and perfect her German. She was so proficient that she could have stayed on the continent longer, but her aunt’s sudden death prompted her to return to Yorkshire.
Back home, Emily became more reclusive and secretive than ever. She reluctantly agreed to submit her poems for publication and then, in 1847, her great novel was published, albeit under the alias ‘Ellis Bell’. Interestingly, many readers and reviewers believed that, due to its passions and sexual tensions, the book could only have been written by a man. The truth is, Emily herself knew little of love, romance or lust. She was famously reclusive, preferring solitary walks in nature or the company of animals to that of humans.
Emily died in 1848, at the age of just 30. She never got to see Wuthering Heights become a hit. By all accounts, she died a virgin. But, while it’s highly likely the writer was asexual, that doesn’t mean she was aromantic. Indeed, several more recent biographers have argued that, while Emily may have had no interest in the physical act of love, she herself yearned for a romance like that experienced by her character Catherine. Tragically, she died too soon for her wish to come true.