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Old 07-06-2014, 05:38 AM   #1
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The Deaths of the Brontes

Please move this if it's in the wrong part of the forum.

I've often been curious about why the Brontes died so young and in such close succession. The accepted theory seems to be tuberculosis, but I've also read 'conspiracy theories' that they were poisoned by Arthur Nicholls Bell who married Charlotte. She seems to be the only one who had an easily understood (by modern medicine) cause of death: extreme morning sickness.

Before reading these theories, I've wondered if their deaths were related to their environment, the private school they attended, or some genetic illness. Although the 'average' lifespan was much shorter then, this average usually includes child mortality, which distorts the statistics, so it wouldn't have been the norm for all the members of a single family to 'drop like flies'.

Curious to hear whether anyone knows of other theories or findings.
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Old 07-07-2014, 11:20 AM   #2
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I think part of why we live longer now is better sanitation and such as well. So I could see that being a contributing factor in why the Bronte's died young. I mean water is cleaner, we eat more vitamin filled foods and pests like the mosquito are better controlled now than they were then. Bramwell (their brother) I understand was a wastrel and drunk so if he died young it's no wonder. Plus a lot of their literary efforts were probably directed towards trying to help Bramwell sort himself out and it wouldn't surprise me if they suffered privations while trying to pull him out of his downward spiral, privations that contributed to their own early deaths.
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Old 07-07-2014, 12:02 PM   #3
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Somewhere I read that the water source for Haworth Parsonage ran through the graveyard, and that contributed to their early deaths.
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Old 07-07-2014, 12:22 PM   #4
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There's absolutely no reason to invoke conspiracy theories here. Dying in your 30s was not at all unusual in the early 19th century, and although it's tragic that all three sisters, and their brother, should die between the ages of 29 and 39, it's certainly not unusual.
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Old 07-07-2014, 10:33 PM   #5
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I found this article and looked up the book on Amazon:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/387204.stm

Having done more research into the way TB spreads: droplet infection, like a cold; it's quite possible that one of the sisters (Emily died first, after Bramwell who it's thought died from alcoholism and drug abuse) developed TB then infected a sister who was nursing her. Charlotte died several years after the others, apparently from weakness and extreme morning sickness while pregnant with Nicholl's child.

The UK doesn't have mosquitoes, it's too cold here. But the water supply did run through the graveyard, I think I saw that on here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyTeDZZBphI
(If you don't want to watch the whole thing, start at around 13 mins.)

After Charlotte died, Nicholls stayed with Patrick, the father, till his death then went back to Ireland to marry his sweetheart. Nicholls lived to be 88.

Could be entirely innocent, but far too many interesting coincidences not to set the imagination working. I'll probably buy the Kindle version of Tully's book despite the mixed reviews.
(No, I'm in no way affiliated, I've just always found this family particular interesting and gossip-worthy, even today.)

Last edited by BookCat; 07-07-2014 at 10:37 PM.
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Old 07-08-2014, 03:00 AM   #6
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If you want to read the entire opposite opinion (yes, it's also fiction, but quite thoroughly researched) you can read
"The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte" by Syrie James.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Secret-Diari...ds=syrie+james
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Old 07-08-2014, 07:12 AM   #7
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It was murder I tell you, murder - all three.
  • Emily -- done in by Col Mustard in the library with a revolver
  • Anne -- done in by Prof Plum in the study with a candlestick
  • Charlotte -- done in by Mr Green in the ballroom with a wrench
There, mystery solved
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Old 07-14-2014, 12:07 PM   #8
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I've been dipping into Gaskell's biography over the weekend and found the letters of Charlotte Bronte, as quoted by Mrs Gaskell, very interesting. Despite her loneliness after Anne's death, she struck me as a possible case of Münchausen's by proxy. She seems to delight in telling others, via letters, of the care she's taking of Anne, or of how Emily is bearing up; thereby making herself the central figure in the tragedy and someone who would be viewed as wonderfully helpful and kind. Makes me wonder whether she induced her sisters' illnesses in order to get a type of attention she felt she lacked.
After Anne's death, her father becomes ill, as do Tabby and Martha, the servants. Again she takes care of them and is sure to mention this many times in her letters.

But tubemonkey is probably right. It was Miss Scarlett with the Rope in the Kitchen
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Old 07-14-2014, 02:27 PM   #9
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This sounds like it should be an episode on the Discovery ID Channel.
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Old 07-16-2014, 10:03 AM   #10
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If poisoning from the graveyard were an issue, I'm sure Patrick, the father, would have died much earlier on.

The eldest 2 daughters died of tuberculosis (sp?) years before. It is possible that Emily was infected then, but the infection didn't spread to her lungs until she was older.
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Old 07-16-2014, 10:46 AM   #11
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I wonder if the father just had an extraordinarily strong constitution, as he outlived his wife and all six children, and also survived primitive eye surgery without anesthetic (shudder).

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If poisoning from the graveyard were an issue, I'm sure Patrick, the father, would have died much earlier on.

The eldest 2 daughters died of tuberculosis (sp?) years before. It is possible that Emily was infected then, but the infection didn't spread to her lungs until she was older.
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Old 07-19-2014, 07:14 PM   #12
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Patrick's wife and Charlotte both died (apparently) from the complications of pregnancy and child-birth.

The death order was: Bramwell, Emily, Anne and several years later from what is now believed to be severe morning sickness (if not poisoning), Charlotte.
Bramwell, Emily and Anne all died within a few months of each other.

Two daughters died in childhood, which would have been very common then.

Last edited by BookCat; 07-19-2014 at 07:17 PM.
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Old 07-19-2014, 09:08 PM   #13
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The UK doesn't have mosquitoes, it's too cold here.
No mosquitoes at all?
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Old 07-20-2014, 03:10 AM   #14
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Two daughters died in childhood, which would have been very common then.
No.

As I've understood it, one of them died shortly after coming back home from a girls school which has been the model of the girls school described in Jane Eyre. It was definitely not the "common" death of a baby of that time.
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Old 07-20-2014, 05:11 AM   #15
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No mosquitoes at all?
None at all - the first time I visited Florida and saw window screens I didn't know what they were . We just don't have a problem with flying insects, other than things like midges near bodies of water.
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