The Lord nicknamed James and John “Boanerges“, a word of Hebrew origin meaning “Sons of Thunder.” (Mark 3:17) In the early years of the 19th century there was an Irishman by the name of Patrick Brunty, (1777-1861) who decided to change the spelling of his name to Brontë, the Greek word for thunder. After graduating at Cambridge, he was ordained in 1806. In 1812 he met and married 29 year old Maria Branwell (1783-1821) from Penzance, Cornwell. In 1820 Brontë moved to Haworth, in Yorkshire, where he became Rector until his death in 1861. Sadly his wife died at 38 of uterine cancer in August 1821, and he was left to bring up his six children, Maria (1814-1825), Elizabeth (1815-1825), Charlotte (1816-1855), Patrick Branwell (1817-1848), Emily (1818-1848), and Anne (1820-1849), assisted by Aunt Elizabeth Branwell. In 1825 the two eldest children, Maria and Elizabeth died of tuberculosis.
Some years ago, when we drove up the very steep hill towards Haworth Church and Rectory, we were impressed by the dreary and isolated aspect of the Yorkshire moors, in which the Brontë children grew up, having no other companionship than with each other, father, and Aunt Elizabeth. Patrick was an artist, but sadly addicted to alcohol and opium, which brought him into debt. His sisters worked for brief periods as governesses and teachers to pay off their brother’s debts, but their chief strengths lay in reading and writing.
As a legacy to the literary world we have Jane Eyre, The Professor, Shirley, and Villette by Charlotte, Wuthering Heights by Emily, &Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne. In addition, all three contributed to a volume of poetry. Like George MacDonald (1824-1905), another literary giant of the same era, the children were brought up under the sound of rigid Calvinism. And like MacDonald, the “daughters of thunder” wrote novels and poetry showing their disdain for such teaching, and yet at the same time demonstrating how difficult it was to throw off the Calvinistic view of a God who was set for damnation, fire and brimstone for quite the majority of His creatures. In the three following brief accounts, we present a few quotations from Charlotte’s and Anne’s writings to show how they divested themselves of a teaching they believed to be morally unworthy, to hold to that which is far wider in its scope.
Footnote: Patrick Brunty, whilst attending Cambridge University, began to think his name too Irish, so he changed it to Bronte in honour of Horatio Nelson, whom Patrick admired, and who held the title of Duke of Bronte.