Emily had an unusual character, extremely unsocial and reserved, with few friends outside her family. She preferred the company of animals to people and rarely travelled, forever yearning for the freedom of Haworth and the moors. She had a will of iron – a well known story about her is that she was bitten by a (possibly) rabid dog which resulted in her walking calmly into the kitchen and cauterising the wound herself with a hot iron.
She had unconventional religious beliefs, rarely attending church services and, unlike the other children, never teaching in the Sunday School.
In appearance, she was lithesome and graceful, the tallest of the Brontë children (her coffin measured five feet seven inches – 1.7 meters) but ate sparingly and would starve herself when unhappy or unable to get her own way. As her literary works suggest, she was highly intelligent, teaching herself German while working in the kitchen (her favourite place outside of the moors) and playing the piano well enough to teach it in Brussels. Her stubbornness lasted to the end where she refused to see a doctor or rest while she was dying of tuberculosis.
In 1871, Ellen Nussey, a lifelong friend of the Brontës, wrote of her first impressions of the fifteen-year-old Emily in Reminiscences of Charlotte Brontë:
Emily Brontë had by this time acquired a lithesome, graceful figure. She was the tallest person in the house, except her father. Her hair, which was naturally as beautiful as Charlotte's, was in the same unbecoming tight curl and frizz, and there was the same want of complexion. She had very beautiful eyes – kind, kindling, liquid eyes; but she did not often look at you; she was too reserved. Their colour might be said to be dark grey, at other times dark blue, they varied so. She talked very little. She and Anne were like twins – inseparable companions, and in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption.
Charlotte famously said of her sister:
Stronger than a man, simpler than a child, her nature stood alone.