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Mayne, I. (1962). Emily Brontë and the Magna Mater. J. Anal. Psychol., 7(1):71-81.

(1962). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 7(1):71-81

Emily Brontë and the Magna Mater

Isobel Mayne


ON THE evidence of one great novel, Wuthering Heights, and about half a dozen of the finest poems in the English language, modern literary critics agree that Emily Jan Brontë was a creative genius. Emily, however, wrote other poems—some indifferent and some bad—that were never meant for publication. It is to these lesser literary exercises that one may profitably turn in order to learn a little about the forces that compelled her to write her great work.

My hypothesis is that Emily was governed primarily by the magna mater archetype, and my evidence is drawn from two complementary sources: (i) data pertaining to her life history, and (ii) material that describes a process of imaginative activity in which Emily engaged with her sister Anne.

Life History

Emily Jane Brontë was born in 1818 of Irish-Cornish parentage. She was the fifth of six children, and came with her family to live at Haworth, Yorkshire, before she was two years old; her father, the Reverend Patrick Brontë, had been appointed to the living of Haworth. The mother of the six children died when Emily was nearly three, and a maternal aunt came to look after the infants. The eldest child, Maria, a highly intelligent girl, mothered the younger ones, and later they were also cared for by a servant, to whom all the children gave a lifelong affection.

The six little Brontës, Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Branwell (the only boy), Emily, and Anne played together in a tiny room overlooking the graveyard. They were exceptionally quiet and “wanted spirit”, except for Emily, who had a quick temper. As an infant Emily delighted in “wild, unnatural, strange fancies, suggested in some degree by her father's weird Irish stories” (Robinson, 1883, pp. 26, 27).


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