The Bronte Family—An Epic Documentary


Charlotte Bronte

Years ago, I read Jane Eyre (with dictionary close at hand) and enjoyed it quite a lot. I had heard of the author, Charlotte Bronte, and was dimly aware that she had sisters who were authors as well, but knew next to nothing about the family.

Then I stumbled upon this 2003 BBC-produced documentary of the Bronte family and was completely enthralled. The two-hour production is broken up into twelve ten-minute videos below. The acting, writing, filming and production values are superb, and the Bronte family is brought to life in a way that drew me into their story and had me rooting for them.

Watching these videos humbled and inspired me. I found myself imagining what it would be like to live in the 1840s and I kept coming back to the fact that disease and death seemed to be lurking around every corner. Get a cough and you’re as good as dead. All six of the Bronte children except for Charlotte died of consumption, the terminal stage of tuberculosis. A hundred years later, my own mother was sent to a preventorium at nine years old to prevent a spot on her lung from developing into tuberculosis. It wasn’t long after that that TB was virtually eradicated from the civilized world. The Bronte family’s struggle for survival puts our own challenges in perspective. Yes, our fears, hardships and griefs are every bit as real as theirs, but at least the vast majority of us don’t have to worry about dying by the age of thirty. Living longer allows us to learn more, grow more and become all that we are capable of being. And if we happen to write a novel in longhand that becomes a literary sensation, so much the better!

BONUS: Click here to see a hilarious ninety-second “commercial” for the Bronte Sisters action figures!


Portrait of Patrick Bronte, circa 1860

Tragically, Patrick, the family’s patriarch, outlived his wife, who died of cancer, and all six of his children.

Patrick Brontë (17 March 1777 – 7 June 1861), the father, was born in County Down, in Ireland, of a very poor family of farm workers. He was the Anglican curate of the parish of Haworth, and during his time he had also been a poet, writer, and polemic.

His wife Maria Brontë, née Branwell, (15 April 1783 – 15 September 1821), originated from Penzance, Cornwall, and came from a comfortably well off middle class family. She died at the age of thirty-eight.

Elizabeth Branwell (2 December 1776 – 29 October 1842) arrived from Penzance in 1821, after the death of Maria, her younger sister, to help Patrick look after the children, and was known as ‘Aunt Branwell.’

Patrick and Maria Brontë had six offspring: the first child, Maria, was born in Clough House, High Town on 23 April 1814, died at the age of eleven in Haworth on 6 May 1825, and the second child, Elizabeth, also born in Clough House, on 8 February 1815, died a month later on 15 June, aged ten.

Charlotte, born in Thornton near Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire on 21 April 1816, was a poet and novelist and is the author of Jane Eyre, her most well-known work, and three other novels. She died on 31 March 1855 just before reaching the age of 39,

Patrick Branwell was born in Thornton on 26 June 1817. Known as Branwell, he was a painter, writer and casual worker. He became addicted to alcohol and laudanum and died at Haworth on 24 September 1848 at the age of 31.

Emily Jane, born in Thornton, 30 July 1818, was a poet and novelist. She died in Haworth, 19 December 1848 at the age of 31. Her work Wuthering Heights was her only novel.

Anne, born in Thornton on 17 January 1820, was a poet and novelist who wrote a largely autobiographical novel entitled Agnes Grey. Her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, was far more ambitious. She died at the age of 29 on 28 May 1849 in Scarborough, North Riding of Yorkshire.













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