Soon after their mother's death in 1821, Maria and her sisters grew up largely with one another, staying away from society. Maria read the newspaper and revealed her findings to her sisters,
According to Charlotte, she was rather serious and silent than otherwise, and Mrs. Gaskell described her as "delicate, unusually clever and thoughtful for her age, gentle, and untidy".
In spring 1825, a typhoid epidemic swept through the school, causing the departure of almost a sixth of the students, between February and June 1825. By the winter of 1824, Maria's health was already deteriorating due to consumption. On 14 February 1825, Maria was withdrawn from the school., She lived at Haworth for three months before dying at the age of 11.
Patrick attributed Maria's death to a divine aspect: "She exhibited during her illness many symptoms of a heart under Divine influence. Died of decline".
According to Elizabeth Gaskell, Maria inspired the pious character Helen Burns in Jane Eyre, and a teacher on whom Miss Scatcherd was modeled subjected Charlotte's "gentle patient dying sister [Maria]" to "worrying and cruelty".
One of these fellow-pupils of Charlotte and Maria Bronte's, among other statements even worse, gives me the following:--The dormitory in which Maria slept was a long room, holding a row of narrow little beds on each side, occupied by the pupils; and at the end of this dormitory there was a small bed-chamber opening out of it, appropriated to the use of Miss Scatcherd. Maria's bed stood nearest to the door of this room. One morning, after she had become so seriously unwell as to have had a blister applied to her side (the sore from which was not perfectly healed), when the getting-up bell was heard, poor Maria moaned out that she was so ill, so very ill, she wished she might stop in bed; and some of the girls urged her to do so, and said they would explain it all to Miss Temple, the superintendent. But Miss Scatcherd was close at hand, and her anger would have to be faced before Miss Temple's kind thoughtfulness could interfere; so the sick child began to dress, shivering with cold, as, without leaving her bed, she slowly put on her black worsted stockings over her thin white legs (my informant spoke as if she saw it yet, and her whole face flashed out undying indignation). Just then Miss Scatcherd issued from her room, and, without asking for a word of explanation from the sick and frightened girl, she took her by the arm, on the side to which the blister had been applied, and by one vigorous movement whirled her out into the middle of the floor, abusing her all the time for dirty and untidy habits. There she left her. My informant says, Maria hardly spoke, except to beg some of the more indignant girls to be calm; but, in slow, trembling movements, with many a pause, she went down stairs at last--and was punished for being late.
A very young Elisabeth Taylor as Helen Burns
- More info: Brett Harrison, 'The real "Miss Temple'' ' BST 85 (1975)
- CB remembered Miss [Ann] Evans with gratitude and regard and pictured her as "Miss Temple" in Jane Eyre. Like Miss Temple, Miss Evans left school to be married on 6 July 1826 at Tunstall Church (...) Miss Evans was succeeded as superintendent of the school by Miss -or Mrs.- Harben, a close friend of Carus Wilson. The courtesy title of "Mrs." was given her of the tragic circumstance of her bridegroom having died in church on her wedding day. Mrs. Harben remained at school until 1843.
- This was the charge, too, that lay at the heart of Elizabeth Gaskell's epistolary feud with Rev Carus Wilson 20 years later. In 1857, Gaskell's biography of her late friend Charlotte Brontë suggested that Lowood, the nightmare school described in the early chapters of Jane Eyre, was a direct transcription of Cowan Bridge, the establishment attended by the Brontë sisters in the 1820s. Gaskell had since visited the place and found it dirty, serving up sour milk in which dust, dirt and goodness knows what floated. It was this "want of cleanliness", implied Gaskell, which had been responsible for the deaths of the two eldest Brontë girls.
With a howl of indignation, the family of the school's founder, Rev Wilson, conducted a vicious letter campaign against Mrs Gaskell in which she was accused of being a fantasist. Battle lines were drawn, and a teary Mrs Gaskell marshalled her troops, including Charlotte Brontë's clerical widower, into responding on her behalf. -Guardian-UK-news-
Maria made the best of it in silence. Like all the members of her family she was endowed with unlimited power of resignation, and never did a complaint escape her lips; but she had an incurable disease. To add to her sufferings she was a prey to the malevolence of one of the teachers, who suspected her wrongly of affecting a mournful air to gain the compassion of her comrades. Maria died ten months after her arrival at Cowan Bridge and Elizabeth a few weeks later. Both sisters had succumbed to tuberculosis.
Charlotte and Emily returned to Haworth towards the end of 1825.
They, were two timid and studious little girls, happy only at home. Charlotte was the gayer and played and talked willingly when she felt at ease. Emily, almost never spoke, but she had so attentive and serious an air that it was difficult to forget her presence. They found at home their brother Branwell, already admired for a very precocious artistic sense, and Anne, who, in her gentleness and her gravity, must have reminded them of the sister Maria whom they had lost.
Years later Mary Taylor told:
Charlotte used to speak of her two elder sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, who died at Cowan Bridge. I used to believe them to have been wonders of talent and kindness. She told me, early one morning, that she had just been dreaming; she had been told that she was wanted in the drawing-room, and it was Maria and Elizabeth. I was eager for her to go on, and when she said there was no more, I said, 'but go on! Make it out! I know you can.' She said she would not; she wished she had not dreamed, for it did not go on nicely; they were changed; they had forgotten what they used to care for. They were very fashionably dressed, and began criticising the room, etc.