Like a tree in full bearing struck at the root
Charlotte Brontë on the death of her sister
Charlotte Brontë was the eldest of the Brontë sisters, three creative English siblings born in the nineteenth century whose most successful novels, all of which were published in the space of nine months, are now considered classics: Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. They are arguably the most famous of all literary families. In 1848, a year after the publication of her aforementioned magnum opus, Emily, the middle sister, died from tuberculosis; she was just thirty years old. A few days later, Charlotte wrote to her publisher.
Decb 25th 1848
My dear Sir,
I will write to you more at length when my heart can find a little rest—now I can only thank you very briefly for your letter, which seemed to me eloquent in its sincerity.
Emily is nowhere here now, her wasted mortal remains are taken out of the house. We have laid her cherished head under the church aisle beside my mother’s, my two sisters’—dead long ago—and my poor, hapless brother’s. But a small remnant of the race is left—so my poor father thinks.
Well, the loss is ours, not hers, and some sad comfort I take, as I hear the wind blow and feel the cutting keenness of the frost, in knowing that the elements bring her no more suffering; their severity cannot reach her grave; her fever is quieted, her restlessness soothed, her deep, hollow cough is hushed for ever; we do not hear it in the night nor listen for it in the morning; we have not the conflict of the strangely strong spirit and the fragile frame before us—relentless conflict—once seen, never to be forgotten. A dreary calm reigns round us, in the midst of which we seek resignation.
My father and my sister Anne are far from well. As for me, God has hitherto most graciously sustained me; so far I have felt adequate to bear my own burden and even to offer a little help to others. I am not ill; I can get through daily duties, and do something towards keeping hope and energy alive in our mourning household. My father says to me almost hourly, “Charlotte, you must bear up, I shall sink if you fail me”; these words, you can conceive, are a stimulus to nature. The sight, too, of my sister Anne’s very still but deep sorrow wakens in me such fear for her that I dare not falter. Somebody must cheer the rest.
So I will not now ask why Emily was torn from us in the fulness of our attachment, rooted up in the prime of her own days, in the promise of her powers; why her existence now lies like a field of green corn trodden down, like a tree in full bearing struck at the root. I will only say, sweet is rest after labour and calm after tempest, and repeat again and again that Emily knows that now.
The above letter can also be found in the book, Letters of Note: Grief. Details here.