Emily Brontë’s Pseudonym, Ellis Bell 🪪

The world remembers Emily Brontë today for ‘Wuthering Heights,’ but it may come as a shock to many knowing that the author did publish her acclaimed novel under the false name ’Ellis Bell.’

Emily Brontë

(1818 - 1848), English Novelist and Poet

Emily Brontë went by the pseudonym ‘Ellis Bell’ for all her works – including ‘Wuthering Heights.’ But, it wasn’t until her passing a few years later that her sister, Charlotte – who was also under a pseudonym – revealed their real names. This article will talk about some factors that made Emily Brontë pick a pseudonym, as well as other related issues.

Factors Leading to Emily Brontë Adopting a Pseudonym 

Her Contentment With Private Life

Emily Brontë led a private life and didn’t care much about fame or publicity. Aside from being with her family members with whom she shared several loving moments, there wasn’t a better company she could be in than herself. Because of her highly reserved lifestyle, she was often labeled timid – and to a large extent, incompetent – by people who didn’t know her quite well. 

Her interest in having a quiet life was a factor in her decision to opt for the pseudonym ‘Ellis Bell.’ As much as Emily Brontë wanted to leave her mark in the creative writing industry, she was intentional in terms of her efforts to avoid getting into the spotlight. The world may remember Emily Brontë today as the generational talent who authored ‘Wuthering Heights,’ but back then, there were several conspiracies that promoted that she didn’t publish the book and that it was her brother, Barnwell Brontë, who was the real owner of the work.

A Search For a Fair Critical Reception

Another factor for Emily Brontë’s pseudonym was based on a search for a fair critical reception of her book by members of the public. This factor was made possible by the flawed society of the time, which didn’t acknowledge women’s input very much, as their works were often regarded as inferior and below standard.

This was a bigger issue blanketing society. To deal with that, the Brontë sisters – Emily, Charlotte, and Anne – all good writers looking to publish their works, decided to adopt a pseudonym to foster objective reviews of their works and prevent people from pulling a gender bias or sexist reaction to them. 

The Brontë Sisters and Their Masculine-Sounding Pseudonyms

As a norm in contemporary English society, there was widespread prejudice against women in literature. This prevented several talented female writers from publishing their works because when they did, they weren’t considered important. 

In 1846, after Charlotte convinced Emily to agree to publish her poems in an anthology that included both theirs and some of Anne’s, the sisters knew they had to come up with the perfect plan to get members of the public to view their work with an objective eye. 

That’s how the Brontë sisters came up with their pen names in which they authored their anthology in 1846. Emily became Ellis, Charlotte took the name Currer, and Anne settled for Acton – all masculine names preserving the first letter of their actual names and bearing the same surname, Bell. With the poems published later that year (1846), they became a flop in the market, selling three copies or less. However, in later years following their deaths and with their true identities revealed, the poems perform a lot better in the market. 

Wuthering Heights 

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë Digital Art
Wuthering Heights Digital Art

The following year, Emily had written her book and was ready to publish, with the whole process of publisher’s acceptance made easy because of the swift success of Charlotte’s book, ‘Jane Eyre.’ Due to that, Emily Brontë published her ‘Wuthering Heights’ as two of three volumes – with her sister Anne’s ‘Agnes Grey’ completing the third volume. 

The sisters retained their pseudonyms and managed to circumvent the prejudices around women authors, but even they could not see to it that their books became instant success like that of Charlotte Brontë.

Charlotte Reveals the Brontë Sisters’ Real Identities

Over the next two years span (1848 – 1849), Emily and Anne Brontë, unfortunately, passed away, possibly from tuberculosis, an infectious disease that had spread through the family. Emily died aged 30, and Anne aged 28. 

With Charlotte the only remaining sister in the group, and the one with true knowledge about who had the pseudonyms, it was left for her to reveal this secret. In 1850, she eventually did – and for Emily’s ‘Wuthering Heights,’ she re-edited and republished as a single novel, but this time, not under the name ‘Ellis Bell,’ but under the name Emily Brontë.

FAQs

Did Emily Brontë have a pseudonym?

Emily Brontë went by the pseudonym ‘Ellis Bell,’ a male given name, and went on to publish her poems and book in that appellation.

Patrick Barnwell Brontë or Emily Jane Brontë, who authored ‘Wuthering Heights’?

One conspiracy circulated by friends of Patrick, Emily’s brother, argued that ‘Wuthering Heights’ was not written by Emily but written by Patrick Brontë. However, this argument was baseless and wasn’t held into account. In later years, Charlotte Brontë published a disclosure and on it credited Emily as the real owner of the work. 

How huge was the success of Emily Brontë’s works?

Not so huge in terms of sales and reviews. Emily’s first collaborated work sold less than five copies, and her only book, ‘Wuthering Heights,’ sold less than ten copies post-publication. 

Victor Onuorah
About Victor Onuorah
Victor is as much a prolific writer as he is an avid reader. With a degree in Journalism, he goes around scouring literary storehouses and archives; picking up, dusting the dirt off, and leaving clean even the most crooked pieces of literature all with the skill of analysis.
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