Emily Bronte

The public image of Emily Bronte has for the past 100 years been the "Profile Portrait" but this is almost certainly Anne Bronte; you can make your own judgement (see Profile Portrait - Emily or Anne). In addition, portraits of Anne, and variations of them, have been used as illustrations of Emily from 1897 to the present day (see Confusing images).

After excluding these, the only identified portrait of Emily Bronte is that seen in the Pillar Portrait, though there is also a tracing from the destroyed Gun-Group. 

LEFT: Confirmed portrait of Emily Bronte c1833 (reversed), in the Pillar Portrait, painted by her 17 year-old brother, Branwell; she would be about 15 years old.
CENTRE: Emily Bronte c1834 in a tracing (reversed) made from the Gun Group Portrait.
RIGHT: 'Emily' in the Photograph; if this is Emily & the photo was taken c1845 she would be 27 years old.

Descriptions of Emily.

Descriptions of Emily by people who actually knew or met her are few but physical and mental strength is a recurring theme. 1.

“Stronger than a man, simpler than a child, her nature stood alone."

Charlotte Bronte.

"She should have been a man—a great navigator..... She had a head for logic, and a capability of argument unusual in a man and rarer indeed in a woman...impairing this gift was her stubborn tenacity of will which rendered her obtuse to all reasoning where her own wishes, or her own sense of right, was concerned."

Constantin Héger.

"We always thought her to be the best looking, the cleverest, and the bravest-spirited of the three sisters.”

Martha Brown quoted in Mary Robinson's Emily Bronte.

"Emily was the tallest. She'd bigger bones and was stronger looking and more masculine, but very nice in her ways."

‘Old Haworth Folk Who Knew The Brontes’ The Cornhill Magazine, New Series, vol. xxix. July to December 1910 London, Smith, Elder, & Co. 


Probably the most important clue as to Emily's appearance can be found in a letter by Charlotte concerning the art critic, George Henry Lewes (1817-1878) whose:

"face almost moves me to tears—it is so wonderfully like Emily—her eyes, her features - the very nose, the somewhat prominent mouth, the forehead-even at moments the expression."

Charlotte met George Henry Lewes in 1850 when he was 33 years old. The 'Emily' in the photo is here compared with Lewes as a 23-year-old in 1840 and three undated photos c1865-78.

The Branwell Family of Penzance, Cornwall.

The 'Emily' in the photo bears no resemblance to Emily's father Patrick Bronte but does have features associated with her mother's side of the family.

Emily's grandmother and mother Maria whose family were the Branwell's from Penzance.

Photographs exist of Maria's first-cousins who lived in Penzance in the 1880s. This branch of the family lived at Penlee House, Penzance, now a museum for West Cornwall. The museum website has portraits and photographs of the Branwell family and a prominent chin and jaw are recurring features.

Photos of Edith and Marion Branwell.
Penlee House Museum


The Carne Family of Penzance, Cornwall.

Elizabeth Carne (1817-1873) of Penzance, Cornwall was a second cousin of the Bronte sisters on the maternal side of the family. She was a geologist, author and philanthropist. Her first publication came in 1860: 'Three Months' Rest at Pau in the Winter and Spring of 1859’ under the pseudonym of John Altrayd Wittitterly.3. Her father was the geologist Joseph Carne (1782-1858). Joseph's brother, John Carne (1789-1844) was also an author and travel writer.

Emily's Health in the 1840s

Reading the small amount of surviving evidence, Emily appears to have been in good health throughout the 1840s, until 1848. In 1841 she wrote that "We are all stout and hearty" and she was fit enough to made the long journey to Brussels with Charlotte in February 1842. She was well during most of their nine months in Belgium. They returned to England in November 1842, and in a letter to Ellen Nussey in May 1843, all at the Parsonage were "in good health" and "so was Anne according to the last accounts."

Again, in July 1845, "all are well at home" and she had spent two days with Anne, visiting York and Keighley. They must have been fitter than many of us today as they walked back the four miles, much of it uphill, from Keighley to Haworth. She sounds to be mentally and physically active, happy and quite optimistic:

"I am quite contented for myself – not as idle as formerly, altogether as hearty and having learnt to make the most of the present and hope for the future with less fidgetiness that I cannot do all I wish – seldom or ever troubled with nothing to do, and merely desiring that every body could be as comfortable as myself and as undesponding and then we should have a very tolerable world of it...I must hurry off now to my taming and ironing I have plenty of work on hands and writing and am altogether full of business."

When Emily fell ill in 1848, Charlotte wrote to Dr Epps stating that Emily had “hitherto enjoyed pretty good health.” She continues...  "she has never looked strong" which could be taken as meaning that she was frail, but there's enough evidence to show that she wasn't. This may be a reference to Emily's pale complexion, described by various people as “sallow” or “pallid.”

Martha Brown stated that the sisters "were all well when Mr. Branwell was buried; but Miss Emily broke down the next week."

Emily is thought to have had prominent upper teeth; this image shows detail from the photograph.3a.

Charlotte Bronte's Portrait of an Unknown Woman.

This portrait of an unknown woman is thought to be the Bronte Sisters' Aunt Elizabeth Branwell, but she had a markedly retrousse nose.4.
It is an oval miniature watercolour by Charlotte, created in the same period as her oval miniature watercolour of her sister Anne.
Here it is shown reversed for comparison with the photo. 
For further information see Art of the Brontes, p.231.

Note the distinctive earlobe & earring.


1. "Emily Brontë [aged about 15 years-old] had by this time acquired a lithesome, graceful figure. She was the tallest person in the house, except her father. Her hair, which was naturally as beautiful as Charlotte's, was in the same unbecoming tight curl and frizz, and there was the same want of complexion. She had very beautiful eyes – kind, kindling, liquid eyes; but she did not often look at you; she was too reserved. Their colour might be said to be dark grey, at other times dark blue, they varied so. She talked very little. She and Anne were like twins – inseparable companions, and in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption. Anne—dear, gentle Anne—was quite different in appearance from the others." Reminiscences of Charlotte Brontë. Ellen Nussey. Scribner's Monthly, an illustrated magazine for the people Volume 2 Issue 1 (May 1871) Click here for the ebook (external website).

"She should have been a man—a great navigator. Her powerful reason would have deduced new spheres of discovery from the knowledge of the old; and her strong imperious will would never have been daunted by opposition or difficulty, never have given way but with life. She had a head for logic, and a capability of argument unusual in a man and rarer indeed in a woman...impairing this gift was her stubborn tenacity of will which rendered her obtuse to all reasoning where her own wishes, or her own sense of right, was concerned." Constantin Héger, 1842, referring to Emily Brontë, as quoted in The Oxford History of the Novel in English (2011), Volume 3, p. 208

2. Biographical notice of Ellis and Acton Bell. Charlotte Brontë, 1850.

3. John Stewart lived in Pau, France and visited Haworth Parsonage in 1856 and 1857. He knew Charlotte's publisher,  George Smith but there is no known connection with Elizabeth Carne.

3a. "Emily was wont to sit bolt upright in the corner of the pew, as motionless as a statue. Her compressed mouth and drooping eyelids and indeed her whole demeanour appeared to indicate strong innate power. A large protruding tooth added to her peculiar aspect." 
Extract from a newspaper article "
Bradford Observer 17 April 1894 published in "Strange world of the Brontës" page 34.

"Questioned as to whether she could recall Emily Bronte, she remembered her only in this light; she could not think of her individually but associated her with Anne, the two sisters, she declared, being always together. One of them, she could not say which, had very prominent "front teeth." I suggested this would probably be Anne judging by the protrusion of the upper lip in Anne's portrait, but she could not confirm my supposition. She added that she remembered Emily and Anne as being distinctly taller than Charlotte, which, of course, is no new information."
Evening Transcript 9 June 1915; Interview with Mrs Wadsworth, aged 80 years, one of Charlotte Bronte's Sunday School scholars.

4. Aunt Branwell had a retrousse nose.