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2019.11.16 The Secret of the Brontë Sisters’ Grandfather
The Brontë sisters are two of the most famous female English authors of the Victorian era. Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights are famous in Japan and worldwide, and have been adapted to film and television a number of times in the UK. The Brontë Sisters’ first novels were self-published, and it was supposedly their grandfather who supported them financially. Recent research has shown that he was in fact a smuggler, and that he left a large amount of the money made from these illicit activities to his granddaughters.

The sisters’ Grandfather, Thomas Branwell, has always been known as a successful merchant of the Cornwall region, but the truth is that he was secretly involved with dangerous smugglers. Sharon Wright made this discovery while researching Branwell’s daughter Maria for her book, The Mother of the Brontës: When Maria Met Patrick. She discovered documents from before the sisters were born that showed that he was involved with men wanted for murder and described as “the most notorious smugglers in that part of the kingdom.”

Wright says she was shocked to discover the dark side of the Brontë sisters’ grandfather. No one has ever made the connection between the Brontë sisters and their grandfather’s smuggling activities. It is now believed that it was money made from these illegal activities and left to the sisters that was used to publish such classics as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. The world never would have seen these literary treasures without Branwell’s involvement with murderous smugglers.

The documents Wright discovered detail a violent battle between customs officials and one of Branwell’s ships. Years later, the Brontë sisters were able to self-publish their novels and poetry despite the poor conditions of the Cornwall region at the time. Wright’s discovery gives a glimpse into the types of environments and historical conditions that can give birth to extraordinary literature.