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First born child of Patrick and Maria Brontë, sister of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë.
Born Hartshead, Yorkshire, ? 1814 (baptised 23rd April).
Died Haworth, Yorkshire, 6th May 1825.
Maria Brontë, the first born child of the family, was named after her mother and according to her father, writing when she was nine years old, she had 'a powerful intellectual mind.'
When Mrs. Brontë died in 1821, Maria was seven years old, and Anne, the youngest of the six children, was only twenty months. Mrs. Brontë's unmarried elder sister, Aunt Elizabeth Branwell, came up from Penzance to help Mr. Brontë look after his children, and she stayed at the Parsonage for the rest of her life, 21 years. But in those first few years after the death of their mother, it was not to the adult Aunt Branwell that the younger children turned for a surrogate mother, but to their eldest sister Maria. 'Their games were founded upon what Maria read to them from the newspapers,' the family servant, Sarah Garrs remembered, and years after Maria's death, the only boy in the family, Branwell, was still writing morbid poems about his dead sister. But it is Charlotte who has immortalised Maria, in the pious and stoical character of Helen Burns in Jane Eyre (1847). Writing to William Smith Williams, her publisher's reader, some twenty-four years after Maria's death, Charlotte said of her sister, 'Her prematurely developed and remarkable intellect, as well as the mildness, wisdom and fortitude of her character ... left an indelible impression.'
In 1823, Maria and the second daughter, Elizabeth, were sent to the fashionable girls` boarding school, Crofton Hall at Wakefield. However, the fees were high, and it was not going to be possible on only Mr. Brontë`s stipend, to provide the same education for all five girls. An opportunity presented itself with the opening, in 1823, of the Clergy Daughters` School at Cowan Bridge, some forty miles north of Haworth. The school was recommended by some of the most eminent Yorkshire clergy and, as it was subsidised by subscription, the fees were only £14 a year, half the price of Crofton Hall. Maria and Elizabeth arrived at Cowan Bridge on the 21st July 1824. Charlotte joined them six weeks later, and Emily followed in the autumn.
By modern standards the school's regime was harsh, but no more so than other boarding schools of the period. However, as subsequent investigations showed, food was ill prepared in unhygienic conditions, and many of the pupils became ill. In February 1825, Maria was diagnosed with tuberculosis and returned home. Soon afterwards, Elizabeth too was diagnosed with the same condition, returning home on the 31st May. A few days later Charlotte and Emily were brought home while still in good health, and they never returned to Cowan Bridge. Maria Brontë died at home on the 6th of May 1825, and Elizabeth also died some six weeks later.
Patrick Brontë used to say that he 'could converse with Maria on any of the leading topics of the day as freely, and with as much pleasure, as with any adult.' Even Miss Andrews, the unbending teacher at Cowan Bridge, admitted that Maria was 'a girl of fine imagination and extra-ordinary talents.' Maria Brontë's premature death was a loss to more than just her family.
|© Митрофанова Екатерина Борисовна, 2009 ||