||21 April 1816
Thornton, Yorkshire, England
||31 March 1855
Haworth, Yorkshire, England
||Lord Charles Albert
||governess, novelist, poet
Charlotte Brontë ( /ˈbrɒnti/; 21 April 1816 – 31 March 1855) was an English novelist and poet, the eldest of the three Brontë sisters who survived into adulthood, whose novels are English literature standards. She wrote Jane Eyre under the pen name Currer Bell.
Charlotte was born in Thornton, Yorkshire in 1816, the third of six children, to Maria (née Branwell) and her husband Patrick Brontë (formerly surnamed Brunty or Prunty), an Irish Anglican clergyman. In 1820, the family moved a few miles to Haworth, where Patrick had been appointed Perpetual Curate. Mrs. Brontë died of cancer on 15 September 1821, leaving five daughters and a son to be taken care of by her aunt Elizabeth Branwell.
Early life and education
In August 1824, Charlotte was sent with three of her sisters, Emily, Maria, and Elizabeth, to the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire (which she would describe as Lowood School in Jane Eyre). Its poor conditions, Charlotte maintained, permanently affected her health and physical development and hastened the deaths of her two elder sisters, Maria (born 1814) and Elizabeth (born 1815), who died of tuberculosis in June 1825. Soon after their father removed them from the school.
At home in Haworth Parsonage—a small rectory close to the graveyard of a bleak, windswept village on the Yorkshire moors—Charlotte acted as "the motherly friend and guardian of her younger sisters". She and the other surviving children— Branwell, Emily, and Anne – began chronicling the lives and struggles of the inhabitants of their imaginary kingdoms. Charlotte and Branwell wrote Byronic stories about their country – Angria – and Emily and Anne wrote articles and poems about theirs – Gondal. The sagas were elaborate and convoluted (and still exist in partial manuscripts) and provided them with an obsessive interest during childhood and early adolescence, which prepared them for their literary vocations in adulthood.
Charlotte continued her education at Roe Head, Mirfield, from 1831 to 32, where she met her lifelong friends and correspondents, Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor. During this period, she wrote her novella The Green Dwarf (1833) under the name of Wellesley. Charlotte returned as a teacher from 1835 to 1838. In 1839, she took up the first of many positions as governess to various families in Yorkshire, a career she pursued until 1841.
Politically a Tory, she preached tolerance rather than revolution. She held high moral principles, and, despite her shyness in company, she was always prepared to argue her beliefs.
In 1842 she and Emily travelled to Brussels to enroll in a boarding school run by Constantin Heger (1809–96) and his wife Claire Zoé Parent Heger (1804–87). In return for board and tuition, Charlotte taught English and Emily taught music. Their time at the boarding school was cut short when Elizabeth Branwell, their aunt who joined the family after the death of their mother to look after the children, died of internal obstruction in October 1842. Charlotte returned alone to Brussels in January 1843 to take up a teaching post at the boarding school. Her second stay at the boarding school was not a happy one; she became lonely, homesick and deeply attached to Constantin Heger. She finally returned to Haworth in January 1844 and later used her time at the boarding school as the inspiration for some experiences in The Professor and Villette.
In May 1846, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne published a joint collection of poetry under the assumed names of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Although only two copies were sold, the sisters continued writing for publication and began their first novels. Charlotte used "Currer Bell" when she published her first two novels. Of this, Brontë later wrote:
Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because—without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called 'feminine' – we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality, and for their reward, a flattery, which is not true praise.
Indeed, her novels were deemed coarse by the critics. There was speculation about the identity of Currer Bell, and whether Bell was a man or a woman.
Charlotte's brother, Branwell, the only son of the family, died of chronic bronchitis and marasmus exacerbated by heavy drinking in September 1848, although Charlotte believed his death was due to tuberculosis. Branwell was also a suspected "opium eater", (i.e. a laudanum addict). Emily and Anne both died of pulmonary tuberculosis in December 1848 and May 1849.
Charlotte and her father were now left alone together. In view of the enormous success of Jane Eyre, she was persuaded by her publisher to visit London occasionally, where she revealed her true identity and began to move in a more exalted social circle, becoming friends with Harriet Martineau, Elizabeth Gaskell, William Makepeace Thackeray and G. H. Lewes. Her book had sparked a movement in regard to feminism in literature. The main character, Jane Eyre, in her novel Jane Eyre, was a parallel to herself, a woman who was strong. However, she never left Haworth for more than a few weeks at a time as she did not want to leave her ageing father's side. Thackeray’s daughter, the writer Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie recalled a visit to her father by Charlotte Brontë:
…two gentlemen come in, leading a tiny, delicate, serious, little lady, with fair straight hair, and steady eyes. She may be a little over thirty; she is dressed in a little barège
dress with a pattern of faint green moss. She enters in mittens, in silence, in seriousness; our hearts are beating with wild excitement. This then is the authoress, the unknown power whose books have set all London talking, reading, speculating; some people even say our father wrote the books – the wonderful books… The moment is so breathless that dinner comes as a relief to the solemnity of the occasion, and we all smile as my father stoops to offer his arm; for, genius though she may be, Miss Brontë can barely reach his elbow. My own personal impressions are that she is somewhat grave and stern, specially to forward little girls who wish to chatter… Every one waited for the brilliant conversation which never began at all. Miss Brontë retired to the sofa in the study, and murmured a low word now and then to our kind governess… the conversation grew dimmer and more dim, the ladies sat round still expectant, my father was too much perturbed by the gloom and the silence to be able to cope with it at all… after Miss Brontë had left, I was surprised to see my father opening the front door with his hat on. He put his fingers to his lips, walked out into the darkness, and shut the door quietly behind him… long afterwards… Mrs. Procter asked me if I knew what had happened… It was one of the dullest evenings [Mrs Procter] had ever spent in her life… the ladies who had all come expecting so much delightful conversation, and the gloom and the constraint, and how finally, overwhelmed by the situation, my father had quietly left the room, left the house, and gone off to his club.
Illness and subsequent death
In June 1854, Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father's curate and, in the opinion of many scholars, the model for several of her literary characters such as Jane Eyre's Rochester and St. John. She became pregnant soon after the marriage. Her health declined rapidly during this time, and according to Gaskell, her earliest biographer, she was attacked by "sensations of perpetual nausea and ever-recurring faintness." Charlotte died, along with her unborn child, on 31 March 1855, at the young age of 38. Her death certificate gives the cause of death as phthisis (tuberculosis), but many biographers suggest she may have died from dehydration and malnourishment, caused by excessive vomiting from severe morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum.There is also evidence to suggest that Charlotte died from typhus she may have caught from Tabitha Ackroyd, the Bronte household's oldest servant, who died shortly before her. Charlotte was interred in the family vault in The Church of St. Michael and All Angels, Haworth, West Yorkshire, England.
The Life of Charlotte Brontë, the posthumous biography of Charlotte Brontë by Gaskell, was the first of many biographies about Charlotte to be published. Though frank in places, Gaskell suppressed details of Charlotte's love for Heger, a married man, as being too much of an affront to contemporary morals and as a possible source of distress to Charlotte's still-living friends, father and husband. Gaskell also provided doubtful and inaccurate information about Patrick Brontë, claiming, for example, that he did not allow his children to eat meat. This is refuted by one of Emily Brontë's diary papers, in which she describes the preparation of meat and potatoes for dinner at the parsonage, as Juliet Barker points out in her recent biography, The Brontës.
Posthumously, her first-written novel was published in 1857, the fragment she worked on in her last years in 1860 (twice completed by recent authors, the more famous version being Emma Brown: A Novel from the Unfinished Manuscript by Charlotte Brontë by Clare Boylan, 2003), and much Angria material over the ensuing decades.
Branwell Brontë, Painting of the 3 Brontë Sisters, l to r Anne, Emily and Charlotte Brontë. Branwell painted himself out of the painting of his three sisters.
Charlotte Brontë, photograph, 1854
Portrait by J. H. Thompson at the Bronte Parsonage Museum.
- The Spell
- The Secret
- Lily Hart
- The Foundling
- The Green Dwarf
- My Angria and the Angrians
- Albion and Marina
The Green Dwarf, A Tale of the Perfect Tense was written in 1833 under the pseudonym Lord Charles Albert Florian Wellesley. It shows the influence of Walter Scott, and Brontë's modifications to her earlier gothic style have led Christine Alexander to comment that, in the work, "it is clear that Brontë was becoming tired of the gothic mode per se".
- Tales of Angria, written 1838–1839
- A collection of childhood and young adult writings including the short novels
- Mina Laury
- Stancliffe's Hotel
- The Duke of Zamorna
- Henry Hastings
- Caroline Vernon
- Tales of the Islanders
- Jane Eyre, published 1847
- Shirley, published in 1849
- Villette, published in 1853
- The Professor, written before Jane Eyre, submitted at first along with Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, then separately, and rejected in either form by many publishing houses, published posthumously in 1857
- Emma, unfinished; Charlotte Brontë wrote only 20 pages of the manuscript, published posthumously in 1860. In recent decades, at least two continuations of this fragment have appeared:
- Emma, by "Charlotte Brontë and Another Lady", published 1980; although this has been attributed to Elizabeth Goudge, the actual author was Constance Savery.
- Emma Brown, by Clare Boylan, published 2003
- ^ American Heritage and Collins dictionaries
- ^ Columbia Encyclopedia
- ^ "Charlotte Brontë: A Brief Biography. Victorian Web. <http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/bronte/cbronte/brontbio.html>
- ^ a b Fraser, Rebecca (2008). Charlotte Brontë: A Writer's Life (2 ed.). 45 Wall Street, Suite 1021 New York, NY 10005: Pegasus Books LLC. pp. 261. ISBN 978-1-933648-88-0.
- ^ "Michele Roberts on Charlotte Bronte, the gourmet". New Statesman. UK. 5 May 2003. http://www.newstatesman.com/200305050048. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
- ^ "Charlotte Brontë". Brontë.org.uk. http://www.bronte.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=106&Itemid=116. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
- ^ "Biographical Notice of Ellis And Acton Bell", from the preface to the 1910 edition of Wuthering Heights.
- ^ Fraser, Rebecca. Charlotte Bronte: A Writer's Life. New York: Pegasus, 2008, p. 24.
- ^ Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie. Chapters from Some Memoirs. cited in Sutherland, James (ed.) The Oxford Book of Literary Ancedotes. OUP, 1975. ISBN 0198121393.
- ^ Real life plot twists of famous authors, CNN, 25 September 2007, http://www.cnn.com/2007/LIVING/worklife/09/25/mf.plot.twists/
- ^ Lane (1853), pp. 178–83
- ^ Christine Alexander, "That Kingdom of Gloo": Charlotte Brontë, the Annuals and the Gothic, Nineteenth Century Literature, 47 (1993), pp. 430–432.
- ^ The Independent, 13 September 2003, review by Charlotte Cory of Emma Brown
- ^ Constance Savery, Life and Works; see for example Publishers of Savery's Adult Novels.
- The Letters of Charlotte Brontë, 3 volumes edited by Margaret Smith
- The Life of Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell
- Charlotte Brontë, Winifred Gérin
- Charlotte Brontë: a passionate life, Lyndal Gordon
- The Literary Protégées of the Lake Poets, Dennis Low (Chapter 1 contains a revisionist contextualisation of Robert Southey's infamous letter to Charlotte Brontë)
- Charlotte Brontë: Unquiet Soul, Margot Peters
- In the Footsteps of the Brontës, Ellis Chadwick
- Charlotte Brontë, Rebecca Fraser
- The Brontës, Juliet Barker
- Charlotte Brontë and her Dearest Nell, Barbara Whitehead
- The Brontë Myth, Lucasta Miller
- A Life in Letters, selected by Juliet Barker
- Charlotte Brontë and her Family, Rebecca Fraser
- The Oxford Reader's Companion to the Brontës, Christine Alexander & Margaret Smith
- A Brontë Family Chronology, Edward Chitham
- The Crimes of Charlotte Bronte, James Tilly, 1999
- I Love Charlotte Bronte, Michelle Daly 2009