Information

Charlotte Bronte


Charlotte Bronte, the daughter of Patrick Bronte and Mary Bronte, was born on 21st April 1816. When Charlotte was a small child, her father became curate in the village of Haworth. Charlotte's mother died in 1821, leaving five daughters and a son, to be looked after by an aunt, Elizabeth Branwell.

In 1824 Charlotte, and three of her sisters, was sent to the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge. Conditions at the school were appalling and after two of her sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, died of consumption, Charlotte and Emily were brought home. For the next six years, the four surviving children, were left to look after themselves. They spent the time at Haworth telling and writing stories about fantasy worlds they had created.

Patrick Bronte decided in 1831 that Charlotte should continue her education and was sent to a Miss Wooler, who ran a school at Roe Head. This time she was treated well and while at the school made two life-long friends, Mary Taylor and Ellen Nussey.

When Charlotte was 19 she was offered a post as assistant teacher at Roe Head. After she returned home in 1839 she turned down a proposal of marriage from Ellen's brother, the Rev. Henry Nussey, and instead became a governess at Skipton. This was followed by posts as a governess to a family in Leeds and as a pupil-teacher in Brussels. While at the school Charlotte fell desperately in love with her teacher, Constantin Heger. He was married and showed no signs of returning her love.

Charlotte returned to England and began to write. She was unable to find a publisher for her first novel, The Professor, but she was more successful with Jane Eyre (1847), a novel based on her experiences at the Clergy Daughters' School. Published under the name, Currer Bell, the novel achieved immediate success.

Soon afterwards, her sisters also had novels published. Anne Bronte achieved success with Agnes Grey (1847) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) and Emily Bronte published Wuthering Heights just before her death from consumption in 1848. Over the next few months Charlotte's brother Branwell and sister, Anne, both died from this disease.

Charlotte continued to write and published Shirley in 1849. She also became friends with Elizabeth Gaskell, who was later to write her biography. Villette, a novel inspired by her unrequited love for Constantin Heger, was published in 1853.

Charlotte married her father's curate, Rev. Arthur Bell Nicholls in 1854. Charlotte Bronte immediately became pregnant and this created medical problems and she died on 31st March, 1855.


10 Surprising Facts About Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë was born in England to an Irish father and Cornish mother on April 21, 1816. Though much of her life was marked by tragedy, she wrote novels and poems that found great success in her lifetime and are still popular nearly 200 years later. But there’s a lot more to Brontë than Jane Eyre.


While researching my biography of her sister Anne, In Search Of Anne Brontë, I discovered a lot about Charlotte too, and she had a life as unique and intriguing as any of her heroines. Some of these facts are funny, some are sad, and some are frankly odd, but they all reveal a little more of a remarkable woman on this, her special bicentenary.

1. Charlotte Brontë was not born in Haworth

Charlotte and the Brontës will forever be associated with Haworth in West Yorkshire, and she did spend most of her life at the Parsonage there, now home to the wonderful Brontë Parsonage Museum. She was born, however, in the village of Thornton, Bradford around six miles away. Her father, the Reverend Patrick Brontë, was village priest there in 1816, and the family didn’t leave for his new post in Haworth until shortly after Anne Brontë’s birth in 1820.

2. Charlotte had five siblings

We all know the three Brontë sisters: Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë, without doubt the greatest writing family of all time. Many also know of their brother Branwell, a wasted talent who after a failed loved affair killed himself with a cocktail of alcohol and opium. Less well known is that Charlotte also had two elder sisters: Maria (named after her mother who died when Charlotte was five) and Elizabeth. Maria especially was said to be a precocious child, but these two oldest Brontë children died of tuberculosis within six weeks of each other in 1825. They had caught it at the hellish Cowan Bridge school they attended, and where Charlotte was also a scholar. The memories of the place would haunt her forever, until she revealed them in her depiction of Lowood within Jane Eyre.

3. Charlotte could see well in the dark, but not in the light

Charlotte was very short sighted, taking after her father who in later life had to have his cataracts cut away without an anaesthetic. She was so short sighted that she had to give up playing the piano, as she couldn’t read the sheet music in front of her. Nevertheless when she was a teacher, her pupils were amazed to find that she could seemingly read perfectly well in darkness, an ability that they thought was some kind of magic.

4. Brontë wasn’t her real surname

Charlotte’s father came from a poor farming family in County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland. By good fortune and hard work he earned a scholarship to Cambridge University, where he did all he could to hide his poor Irish roots. This meant that he dropped his actual surname of Brunty or Prunty, and instead adopted Brontë. A Latin scholar, he knew that this translated as thunder, and it was also the name of an Italian island owned by one of his heroes, Admiral Nelson.

5. Charlotte spoke with an Irish accent

If you assumed that the Brontës spoke in Yorkshire tones, you could be wrong. After the Cowan Bridge tragedy, the Brontë children were largely taught by their Aunt Elizabeth and their father. Unlike today, when children mix much more widely and hear other voices on television, their father’s was the predominant adult voice they heard for many years, and this affected the way they talked as well. When Charlotte was 15 she was sent to another school of a much better character, Roe Head. She made lifelong friends there in the shape of Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor, and Mary recalled how when she first met Charlotte, ‘she was very shy and nervous, and spoke with a strong Irish accent.’

6. Charlotte was obsessed with the Duke of Wellington

Just as young girls today may worship a pop star, Charlotte worshipped Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. When as a child she was given a toy soldier, there was little doubt what it was to be called: “I snatched one up and exclaimed: ‘This is the Duke of Wellington! This shall be the Duke!” Heroes named Wellesley appear frequently throughout her juvenile writing, and we can imagine her awe when in her thirties she finally met her hero. She reported to Ellen that he was ‘a real grand old man.’

7. Charlotte hated being a teacher - with a vengeance

After spending a year there as a pupil, Charlotte was invited back to Roe Head to act as a teacher. She soon found life as a teacher very different to life as a pupil. Her ‘Roe Head Journal’ of this time is a vicious, angry diary speaking of loathing for her pupils and for herself. She writes of ‘stupidity the atmosphere, school-books the employment, asses the society’ and ‘a dolt came up with a lesson. I thought I should have vomited.’ Emily, very briefly, and Anne were pupils at the school, but after their exits her loathing of teaching grew until her mental health collapsed and she imagined she had illnesses that no-one else could see. Eventually a doctor was called for, who said that she must return to Haworth or die.

8. Charlotte was advised to give up writing - because she was a woman

From an early age, Charlotte and her sisters loved writing, and she went to the very top to get an opinion on her work. Aged 16 she sent some of her work to the then poet laureate Robert Southey. He replied that whilst she had ‘the faculty of verse’, she should give up her dreams, because ‘literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life: & it ought not to be.’ Strangely enough, the young Charlotte seemed elated at this reply, writing ‘I must thank you for the kind, and wise advice you have condescended to give me. I trust I shall never more feel ambitious to see my name in print.’

9. Charlotte was less than a domestic goddess

Emily Brontë loved domestic duties, and was renowned throughout Haworth as the best bread maker in the village Charlotte was rather less of a domestic goddess. When her father was having eye surgery, Charlotte accompanied him to Manchester and lived with him there until his sight recovered. In her letters she confesses that she found shopping for and cooking meals difficult, and that on her first attempt to iron clothes she managed to burn them all.

10. Charlotte’s first novel was rejected by every publisher in England

Many people assume that Jane Eyre was Charlotte’s first novel. In fact that honour falls upon The Professor. The sisters planned to have three novels published together, but whilst Agnes Grey and Wuthering Heights were published in tandem, nobody would touch Charlotte’s novel. She had a list of publishers in England, and exhausted it completely in her efforts, but it would only finally be published posthumously. She more than made amends, however, with her second novel about a certain governess.

11. Charlotte was around four and a half feet tall

Charlotte is a giant of literature but she was very diminutive in stature. Her estimated height was around four foot seven, whereas Emily was almost a foot taller, and the tallest of all the Brontës. Her clothes held by the Brontë Parsonage Museum, including shoes, corsets, gloves and dresses, would fit a child today. She was very self conscious of her height and of her looks in general, leading her publisher and close friend George Smith to later remark that ‘she would have given all her genius and fame to be beautiful.’

12. Charlotte fell in love with her married teacher

At age 21 Charlotte, with Emily, left Yorkshire and travelled to Brussels, with the intention of learning languages that would help them set up their own school. She made good progress at the Pensionnat Héger school, but rapidly fell in love with the stern master Constantin Héger. He would be an inspiration for Rochester, but he had the same problem in that he was married. After returning to England, Charlotte wrote him a series of passionate letters. One such reads: ‘I know that you will lose patience with me when you read this letter. You will say that I am over-excited, that I have black thoughts etc. So be it Monsieur - I do not seek to justify myself, I submit to all kinds of reproaches - all I know is that I cannot - that I will not resign myself to the total loss of my master’s friendship. I would rather undergo the greatest bodily pains than have my heart constantly lacerated by searing regrets.’ He never replied, and in fact cut up the letters, but his wife for some reason pieced them together again, which is how they are now at the British Library.

13. Charlotte rejected her best friend’s brother, with terrible consequences

Despite her concerns about her appearance, Charlotte Brontë rejected at least three proposals of marriage that we know of. The first was from Ellen’s brother Henry Nussey. He later married Emily Prescott and became vicar of Hathersage in Derbyshire. He remained there for only two years however, before ill health made him give up his career as a priest. He was later committed to Arden House Lunatic Asylum, where he hanged himself in 1860.

14. Charlotte really did know a family called Eyre

Charlotte often visited Ellen at Hathersage, where she frequently stayed with her brother. In the middle of the Peak District it was later depicted as Morton in Jane Eyre. Inside the Hathersage church that Henry Nussey presided over is the large tomb of Robert Eyre, and a stained glass window to William Eyre, who was a leading light of Hathersage society at the time of Charlotte’s visits.

15. Charlotte’s dedication in Jane Eyre almost caused a scandal

One of Charlotte’s literary heroes was William Makepeace Thackeray, so she dedicated the first edition of Jane Eyre to him. Unfortunately, Charlotte didn’t know that Thackeray actually did have a mad wife that he kept confined within his home. Whilst a public secret it was well known to London society, who assumed that this new author ‘Currer Bell’ must know Thackeray, and have modelled Rochester on him. When they later met Thackeray characteristically laughed it off, although Charlotte was mortified when she found out the truth.

16. Charlotte kept her writing from her own father

Charlotte, like Anne and Emily, was a shy and secretive woman, and she kept the fact that she had written her novel even from her own father. At last, she decided to reveal the truth to him. She took the book into his study along with some reviews. When she said that she had written a book, he said that it would strain his eyes to read it. Charlotte then explained that it was published, not in manuscript form. Patrick then said she would lose money, because it couldn’t be a success. At this point she read some of the reviews to him, and he agreed to read it. He later called Anne and Emily to him and gave his verdict: ‘Girls, do you know Charlotte has been writing a book, and it is much better than likely?’

17. Charlotte owned a piece of Napoleon’s coffin

Before Charlotte’s infatuation became too evident, she was well regarded by Constantin Héger and his wife. So much so that, knowing her love of all things relating to the Duke of Wellington, he gave Charlotte a fragment from the coffin of Napoleon Bonaparte that he had earlier bought. It’s now among the many treasures at the Brontë Parsonage Museum.

18. Charlotte had a non-marriage pact with her friend

Charlotte’s great friends Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor lived into old age, and yet neither married. Charlotte herself resisted all proposals until aged 38 she relented and agreed to marry Reverend Arthur Bell Nicholls, a man she had rejected a year earlier, leaving him ‘sobbing as women never sob’. Ellen was furious when she found out about Charlotte’s engagement, and their daily correspondence was halted for many months until they were reconciled in time for Ellen to act as a bridesmaid. It seems that they had formed a pact as young women to grow old as spinsters together. Why this should be, many people have speculated, but we won’t pry too deeply on Charlotte’s birthday.

19. The death of Charlotte’s sisters caused her to change her third novel

The third novel written by Charlotte, although the second published was Shirley. It’s a brilliant book, with many people she knew appearing in it under disguised names, including Mary and Martha Taylor, and her future husband Arthur. The main characters, Shirley Keeldar and Caroline Helstone are clearly based upon her sisters Emily and Anne. When Charlotte commenced the work her sisters seemed in fine health, but by the mid point both Emily and Anne had tragically died. This changed the course of the novel. It’s thought that the character of Caroline had been due to die in the book Charlotte had been unable to save Anne in real life, but in fiction she gave Caroline a miraculous recovery and a happy ending.

20. Charlotte was given away at her wedding by her former headmistress

Both Charlotte and her father had been furious when Arthur Bell Nicholls first proposed to her. Patrick thought she deserved better than a man who was his assistant curate, and he also worried who would look after him in his old age if his only remaining child left. Patrick and Arthur seemed to have been reconciled, however, but on the day of the wedding in June 1854 he declared that he felt too ill to leave the house. Charlotte was instead given away by Margaret Wooler, the woman who had been her headmistress and then employer at Roe Head school.

On this special day it’s time to crack open the bubbly, grab a slice of birthday cake, and open a much loved old book, as we say, ‘Happy birthday Charlotte Brontë’!


Charlotte Brontë

One of the most famous Victorian women writers, and a prolific poet, Charlotte Brontë is best known for her novels, including Jane Eyre (1847), her most popular. Like her contemporary Elizabeth Barrett Browning , Brontë experimented with the poetic forms that became the characteristic modes of the Victorian period&mdashthe long narrative poem and the dramatic monologue&mdashbut unlike Browning, Brontë gave up writing poetry after the success of Jane Eyre. Included in this novel are the two songs by which most people know her poetry today. Brontë&rsquos decision to abandon poetry for novel writing exemplifies the dramatic shift in literary tastes and the marketability of literary genres&mdashfrom poetry to prose fiction&mdashthat occurred in the 1830s and 1840s. Her experience as a poet thus reflects the dominant trends in early Victorian literary culture and demonstrates her centrality to the history of 19th-century literature.

Brontë was born on April 21, 1816 in the village of Thornton, West Riding, Yorkshire. Her father, Patrick Brontë, was the son of a respectable Irish farmer in County Down, Ireland. As the eldest son in a large family, Patrick normally would have found his life&rsquos work in managing the farm he was to inherit instead, he first became a school teacher and a tutor and, having attracted the attention of a local patron, acquired training in the classics and was admitted to St. John&rsquos College at Cambridge in 1802. He graduated in 1806 and was ordained as a priest in the Church of England in 1807. In addition to writing the sermons he regularly delivered, Patrick Brontë was also a minor poet, publishing his first book of verse, Cottage Poems, in 1811. His rise from modest beginnings can be attributed largely to his considerable talent, hard work, and steady ambition&mdashqualities his daughter Charlotte clearly inherited.

Charlotte&rsquos mother, Maria Branwell Brontë, died when her daughter was only five years old. Born to a prosperous tea merchant and grocer, Maria Branwell was raised in Penzance, Cornwall, married Patrick Brontë in 1812, bore six children in seven years&mdashMaria (1813), Elizabeth (1815), Charlotte (1816), Patrick Branwell (1817), Emily (1818), and Anne (1820)&mdashand died of cancer at the age of 38. Though the loss of their mother certainly made a difference in the lives of all the Brontë children, the younger ones&mdashCharlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne&mdashseem not to have been seriously affected by her death. A remarkably observant child with a good memory, Charlotte nevertheless remembered little of her mother when, as an adult, she read letters that her mother had written to her father during their courtship, she wrote to a friend on February 16, 1850, &ldquoI wish She had lived and that I had known her.&rdquo

During Maria Brontë&rsquos illness her sister, Elizabeth Branwell, came from Penzance to care for the family temporarily and, because Patrick Brontë&rsquos attempts to remarry after his wife&rsquos death were unsuccessful, she stayed until she died in 1842. &ldquoAunt Branwell&rdquo has often been characterized as a gloomy and rigid Methodist who cast a pall of moral reproval over the lives of the little Brontës, but Charlotte&rsquos close friend Ellen Nussey remembered her in an 1871 memoir as &ldquolively and intelligent&rdquo and capable of arguing &ldquowithout fear&rdquo in conversations with her brother-in-law. She seems to have had more influence over Anne, who was still an infant when her aunt arrived in Haworth, than over the older children, who had considerable freedom in choosing their activities. Often left to their own devices, they played on the wide expanse of moors that surrounded their parsonage home they also read voraciously and engaged in the imaginative play that was to develop quickly into literary inventiveness.

Charlotte&rsquos eldest sister, Maria, appears to have been especially influential in the creative development of her siblings. Unusually bright and mature for a nine-year-old, Maria became somewhat of a companion to her father after her mother&rsquos death, reading to him and her siblings from the pages of Blackwood&rsquos Magazine. She also directed little dramas through which the children early developed skill at speaking in the voices of imagined characters. Under the tutelage of her father and at the encouragement of Maria, Charlotte, like her younger brother and sisters, was attracted to the literary life at an early age.

In 1824, when she was eight years old, Charlotte and Emily joined their older sisters at the newly opened Clergy Daughters&rsquo School at Cowan Bridge in the parish of Tunstall. Although later made infamous by Charlotte&rsquos scathing depiction of &ldquoLowood School&rdquo in Jane Eyre, Cowan Bridge had, in fact, much to recommend it to Patrick Brontë&rsquos notice. Having five daughters and one son to educate on a small income, he clearly qualified as a &ldquonecessitous clergy&rdquo and, moreover, he would have found the mission of the school compatible with his expectations for his daughters. According to a December 1823 advertisement in the Leeds Intelligencer, the aim of the school was to provide a &ldquoplain and useful Education&rdquo that would allow young women &ldquoto maintain themselves in the different Stations of Life to which Providence may call them&rdquo and to offer &ldquoa more liberal Education for any who may be sent to be educated as Teachers and Governesses.&rdquo Patrick Brontë&rsquos decision to send his four eldest daughters to Cowan Bridge thus reflects his concern for their material as well as intellectual and spiritual welfare, a concern that he passed on to Charlotte, who of the three Brontë sisters that survived to adulthood came to feel most anxious about her need to establish herself in a fulfilling and yet economically viable career.

Charlotte Brontë&rsquos earliest experience with school life could not have made teaching seem an attractive career. As Juliet Barker notes in The Brontës (1994), the record of her abilities in the school register hardly suggests that her potential was noticed: &ldquoReads tolerably&mdashWrites indifferently&mdashCiphers [arithmetic] a little and works [sews] neatly. Knows nothing of Grammar, Geography, History or Accomplishments [such as music, drawing, French].&rdquo Since the assessment of every other student is essentially the same, the register tells little about Charlotte but certainly reveals that Cowan Bridge was unlikely to recognize individual talent, much less foster it. The evaluation concludes with a telling comment: &ldquoAltogether clever for her age but knows nothing systematically.&rdquo

Charlotte found the rigors of boarding school life harsh in the extreme. Food was badly prepared under unsanitary conditions and, as a consequence, outbreaks of &ldquolow fever,&rdquo or typhus, forced the withdrawal of many students, some of whom died. Maria developed consumption while at Cowan Bridge and was harshly treated during her incapacitating illness, an incident Charlotte drew upon in portraying Helen Burns&rsquos martyrdom at the hands of Miss Scatcherd in Jane Eyre. Patrick Brontë was not informed of his eldest daughter&rsquos condition until February 1825, two months after Maria began to show symptoms when he saw her, he immediately withdrew her from the school and she died at home in early May. Elizabeth, in the meantime, had also fallen ill. When the entire school was temporarily removed on doctor&rsquos orders to a healthier site by the sea, Elizabeth was escorted back to Haworth where she died two weeks after Charlotte and Emily were brought home by their father on June 1.

The loss of Elizabeth and Maria profoundly affected Charlotte&rsquos life and probably helped shape her personality as well. Suddenly becoming the eldest child in a motherless family forced her into a position of leadership and instilled in her a sometimes almost overwhelming sense of responsibility, one that conflicted with a streak of rebelliousness and personal ambition. From this point on, Charlotte took the lead in the children&rsquos activities, a position of sibling dominance that she maintained throughout their lives and literary careers.

Following the tragic experience at Cowan Bridge, Patrick Brontë tutored his four remaining children at home and provided them with music and art instruction from competent teachers. The children were responsive scholars who also read avidly on their own and continued their imaginative play under Charlotte&rsquos direction. They were allowed to choose freely from their father&rsquos library, which included requisite family reading such as John Bunyan &lsquos Pilgrim&rsquos Progress (1678&ndash1684), Hannah More &rsquos Moral Sketches (1784), John Milton &rsquos Paradise Lost (1667), Sir Walter Scott&rsquos The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), James Thomson &rsquos The Seasons (1726&ndash1730), and, of course, the Bible. The family regularly received Blackwood&rsquos Magazine, which heavily influenced Charlotte and Branwell&rsquos early writing, and, beginning in 1832, Fraser&rsquos Magazine For Town and Country, both lively and influential conservative periodicals with a heavy emphasis on literature. The Brontës also apparently had access to the library at Ponden House, a private residence nearby, and belonged to the Keighley Mechanics&rsquo Institute library as well as one or more of the local circulating libraries that carried popular contemporary novels and poetry.

The seminal event of the Brontës&rsquo literary apprenticeship occurred on June 5, 1826, when Mr. Brontë returned from a trip to Leeds with a present for Branwell&mdasha box of toy soldiers&mdashto which all four children immediately laid claim. Each child selected a soldier as his or her own and, naming them for their respective childhood heroes (Charlotte&rsquos was the Duke of Wellington), they began to construct plays and narratives around and through the voices of these characters. The earliest of such works were written in an almost microscopic hand in minuscule manuscripts so they would be compatible in size with their supposed authors&mdashthe toy soldiers.

Charlotte Brontë&rsquos juvenile tales revolve around the imagined adventures of the Duke of Wellington&rsquos two sons, Charles and Arthur Wellesley, and the social elite of &ldquoGlass Town,&rdquo later transformed into the kingdom of &ldquoAngria.&rdquo Arthur, soon elevated to the &ldquoDuke of Zamorna,&rdquo is a recognizably Byronic hero who engages in romantic intrigues as well as in political treachery his younger brother Charles is a less powerful, often humorous figure, who spies and reports on the scandalous doings of his Angrian compatriots&mdashparticularly his brother and his many paramours. Both Wellesleys are authors, and it is significant that Brontë&rsquos attractive but morally reprehensible Duke of Zamorna develops into the poet of the family while Charles emerges as a storyteller and her favorite narrator.

These early tales not only reveal the themes that preoccupied Brontë as a young writer and which reemerge in her adult writing&mdashthemes of romantic passion and sexual politics, desire, betrayal, loyalty, and revenge&mdashbut also reflect her early awareness of an issue central to early Victorian literary culture: the concern that poetry writing was a self-indulgent and even morally questionable activity. Romantically alluring but destructively egotistical, Brontë&rsquos &ldquoself-concentered&rdquo poet-duke is one of the means by which she represents her own early ambivalence about being a poet. This ambivalence&mdashalso experienced by male Victorian poets such as Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning , and Matthew Arnold &mdashwas surely later intensified by social proscriptions against feminine subjectivity.

While the juvenile writings of the Brontës have been justly compared to fantasies, they were not merely uninformed imaginings. For example, early stories such as &ldquoA Romantic Tale,&rdquo dated April 15, 1829, reflect the young writers&rsquo familiarity with articles on British colonizing in Africa published by Blackwood&rsquos Magazine in 1826 as well as more expected sources such as the Bible (especially the Book of Revelations), standard educational texts such as J. Goldsmith&rsquos Grammar of General Geography (1825), the works of Bunyan, the Arabian Nights Entertainments, and Tales of the Genii (1820) by Sir Charles Morell (pseudonym of James Ridley).

Characters in the children&rsquos stories debate contemporary issues such as the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, indulge in political gossip about prominent figures such as the Duke of Wellington, and conduct military campaigns informed by the children&rsquos knowledge of actual military engagements such as the Peninsular War, 1808&ndash1814. The fictitious setting for the tales, supposedly on the coast of West Africa, owes much to the popular oriental cityscape paintings of John Martin, and the Angrians are based on contemporary engravings that Charlotte patiently copied from such books as Finden&rsquos Illustrations of the Life and Works of Lord Byron (1833&ndash1834) and popular annuals such as The Literary Souvenir.

By 1829 Branwell was &ldquoediting&rdquo Branwell&rsquos Blackwood&rsquos Magazine&mdashthe title changed, ironically, to Blackwood&rsquos Young Men&rsquos Magazine when Charlotte assumed editorship seven months later­&mdashand the two collaborators were producing tiny, hand-sewn volumes that imitate in striking detail Blackwood&rsquos Edinburgh Magazine, the original upon which they were based. Like their prototype, Charlotte and Branwell&rsquos magazines are gatherings of writings in various genres&mdashplays, stories, poems, imagined conversations, letters, sketches, anecdotes, essays&mdashand include the advertising, editorial notes, and information about publication and marketing that are typically found in such periodicals. Reproducing the material form of Blackwood&rsquos Magazine, Charlotte and Branwell also engaged in literary gossip and controversies like those they learned about through their reading, filling the pages of their narratives with literary reviews and vituperative personal exchanges between Glass Town literati.

It was during this early period of playful yet intense immersion in make-believe literary life that Charlotte Brontë first experimented with poetry. Producing 65 poems and a satirical play about poetry writing in 1829&ndash1830, the 14-year-old self-consciously attempted to define herself as a poet. Though most of these early poems have a Glass Town context, being embedded within her narratives and spoken or sung by fictitious characters, some are only loosely connected to the stories. Many are interesting in that they reveal Brontë&rsquos exposure to current literary debates such as those concerning &ldquoneglected genius,&rdquo the role of tradition and imitation versus originality and inspiration, and the public reception of poetry in a changing literary economy. The various poetic forms that Brontë experimented with during this time reflect her self-designed apprenticeship through imitation of earlier poets. For example, her many descriptions of natural landscapes are indebted to the 18th-century topographical poem that had been developed by &ldquonature poets&rdquo such as James Thomson and William Wordsworth . Also, the influence of the popular Thomas Moore can be seen in Brontë&rsquos many poems written as songs.

Brontë deliberately imitates Thomas Gray &rsquos &ldquoProgress of Poetry&rdquo (1754) in &ldquoThe Violet,&rdquo dated November 14, 1830, in which she traces the history of Western literature beginning with Homer and then beseeches admission to that &ldquobright band&rdquo of poets who have preceded her:

Hail army of immortals hail!

Oh Might I neath your banners march!

Though faint my lustre faint & pale

Scarce seen amid the glorious arch

Yet joy deep joy would fill my heart

Nature unveil thy awful face

To me a poets pow&rsquor impart

Thoug[h] humble be my destined place


Such an early poem of course reflects Brontë&rsquos poetic immaturity as well as her enthusiasm for her chosen métier. In other pieces Brontë shows the ability to view her own literary pretensions with humorous detachment. She concludes one lushly descriptive poem with the self-deflating observation that &ldquosuch a charming dogge[re]l / as this was never wrote / not even by the mighty / & high Sir Walter Scott.&rdquo

Although the early poems contain visionary, lyre-playing bards and other Romantic poet-figures, Brontë in her stories and plays repeatedly satirizes the romantic conception of the poet as a self-inspired original genius. She deploys parodic characters, such as Henry Rhymer in &ldquoThe Poetaster,&rdquo a story dated July 6&ndash12, 1830, to debunk her own romantic posturing and that of her siblings. &ldquoThe Poetaster&rdquo also humorously depicts the changing literary culture of England in the 1830s, a time when technological advances in printing allowed for the entry of many new writers into the literary marketplace. The &ldquonoble profession [of authorship] is dishonoured,&rdquo wails a Glass Town publisher who soon expects to see &ldquoevery child that walks along the streets, bearing its manuscripts in its hand, going to the printers for publication.&rdquo Making fun of her own and her siblings&rsquo precocious literary aspirations, Brontë shows a good-humored awareness of both the opportunities and the complexities involved in pursuing a literary career in her day.

This spate of poetic production was interrupted in January 1831, when Brontë left Haworth for a second time, traveling 20 miles to become a student at Roe Head School in Mirfield, near Dewsbury. Owned and run by Margaret Wooler, whom her father called a &ldquoclever, decent, and motherly woman,&rdquo Roe Head was a small school that usually enrolled only about seven boarding students at a time, all girls around the same age, and therefore was able to attend closely to the needs and abilities of individuals. Although Brontë was initially homesick and isolated from the other students because of her differences from them&mdashher outdated dress, slightly eccentric behavior occasioned by poor eyesight and timidity, and her ignorance of grammar and geography as well as her precocious knowledge of literature and the visual arts&mdashin time she won the respect and affection of her peers and came to feel quite at home in her new school environment.

At Roe Head, Brontë made two contrasting yet equally enduring friendships. One friend was Ellen Nussey, an entirely conventional and affectionately loyal girl with whom Brontë corresponded throughout her life. After the writer&rsquos death, Nussey jealously guarded her friend&rsquos reputation, in part by heavily editing her letters. Brontë&rsquos other friend, Mary Taylor, was as radical as Nussey was conservative. Boisterous, intelligently opinionated, and more intellectual than Nussey, Taylor apparently appealed to the bright, rebellious, and ambitious side of Brontë. Late in her life Taylor published The First Duty of Women (1870), in which she argued that the first priority for women should be to prepare to support themselves financially. She had acted upon this conviction in 1845 by immigrating to New Zealand, where she ran a successful business as a shopkeeper until she returned to England in 1860 to live out her life in comfortable economic independence. It is unfortunate that only one of the many letters that Brontë wrote to Taylor survives.

Although she was considerably behind most of the other girls when she entered the school, Brontë quickly moved to the top of the class and stayed there until she left 18 months later, carrying away several prizes and medals awarded for outstanding academic achievement. Often continuing her studies while the other girls were relaxing at the end of the day, Brontë apparently recognized that her education was a necessary investment in the future: she was not attending Miss Wooler&rsquos establishment merely to gain polish but rather to train herself for a career as a governess. Due to her dedication to her studies she wrote only three poems during her time at the school.

After her departure from Roe Head in May 1832, the rather uneventful round of life at Haworth, where she was in charge of her younger sisters&rsquo educations, eventually led Brontë back to the exciting world of Angria and the occupation of writing. From 1833 to 1834 she produced approximately 2,200 lines of poetry, most of it tightly embedded within the context of the passionate tales that she and Branwell were spinning around the political and romantic experiences of their beloved Angrians. Many of these poems are songs whose meaning and effect depend on a knowledge not only of the subject matter alluded to but also of the singer&rsquos character and the situation in which the lyric is sung. Other poems are lengthy narratives that develop the Angrian saga, deepening and sometimes complicating the plots developed in the accompanying prose narratives. These poems are formally more competent than the ones she produced prior to her stay at Roe Head, but they also show less willingness to experiment with poetic form and more absorption in the characters and content of the tales. The literary self-reflectiveness of her earlier writing gave way to an almost total absorption in the Angrian world of fantasy, with its emphasis on military conflict (largely Branwell&rsquos contribution) and romantic betrayal (Charlotte&rsquos main interest).

The few exceptions to Brontë&rsquos Angrian writings include a group of poems written in normal-sized script on lined paper, apparently from the same notebook, and preceded by instructions from her father: &ldquoAll that is written in this book, must be in a good, plain and legible hand. PB.&rdquo Several of these non-Angrian poems&mdash&ldquoRichard Coeur de Lion & Blondel,&rdquo &ldquoDeath of Darius Codomanus,&rdquo and &ldquoSaul&rdquo&mdashmay suggest that Brontë recognized the need to develop a public poetic mode to complement the private writing she and her siblings indulged in their literary fantasies. Thus, evidence of conflict in Brontë&rsquos poetry emerges in a way that connects literary differences&mdashin poetic modes, voices, subject matters, even penmanship&mdashwith a perceived division between the private life of communication with a coterie audience, her siblings, and a public life of responsibility to authority figures, such as her father and teachers (the poems on historical and Biblical figures are similar to school exercises she later wrote in Brussels). This division eventually led Brontë to abandon poetry for prose fiction, but not until she had gained significant poetic skill and struggled through much anxiety related to this perceived conflict between the lure of the private imagination and the call of public duty.

The decision that Brontë should return to Roe Head as a teacher in July 1835 certainly contributed to this anxiety since there was little opportunity to &ldquoplay out&rdquo the Angrian tales at Miss Wooler&rsquos school. As her journal testifies, Brontë grew increasingly resentful of what she saw as her &ldquowretched bondage&rdquo to the teaching profession, with its long hours, lack of privacy, and tedious duties. She was able to write only in snatches and during vacations, so it is not surprising that her rate of production at this period fell well below that of her partner, Branwell, who installed himself in a Halifax studio with the intent of earning his living as a portrait painter and who found considerable time for both writing and socializing.

Brontë&rsquos poems after her return to Roe Head reflect her longing for home and for Angria as well as her anxious need to reconcile her desire to write with the necessity of continuing to teach to earn a living. The most famous of these poems, sometimes anthologized as &ldquoRetrospection,&rdquo begins poignantly:

We wove a web in childhood

We dug a spring in infancy

We sowed in youth a mustard seed

We are now grown up to riper age

Are they withered in the sod &hellip

The poem continues for 177 more lines, developing into vividly realized scenes featuring the Duke of Zamorna. The poem then breaks into a retrospective prose narrative that is rudely interrupted by &ldquoa voice that dissipated all the charm&rdquo as a student &ldquothrust her little rough black head into [her teacher&rsquos] face&rdquo to demand, &ldquoMiss Brontë what are you thinking about?&rdquo&mdasha striking example of the incompatibility of Brontë&rsquos inner, imaginative life with her actual experience while at Roe Head.

Gradually, Brontë was able to resume a pace of writing comparable to that of her earlier productive times, but even when she was writing prolifically there is evidence of distraction and dissatisfaction. The stories of 1836, for example, show that she was often unable to settle on a subject or identify new topics to write about, and many poems from this period end abruptly or trail off rather than draw to a close. Poems such as &ldquoBut Once Again &hellip ,&rdquo dated January 19, 1836, explicitly articulate Brontë&rsquos concern about the conflict between the demands of her teaching career and her desire for romantic, social, and intellectual stimulation, which she associated with the imaginary world of Angria and, especially, with her poet-duke, who emerges as an enthralling poetic muse in the poem:

&hellip he has been a mental King

That ruled my thoughts right regally

And he has given me a steady spring

&hellip I&rsquove heard his accents sweet & stern

Speak words of kindled wrath to me

When dead as dust in funeral urn

Sank every note of melody

And I was forced to wake again

The silent song the slumbering strain.

For him the consecrated ground

My pilgrim steps have trod

&hellip grovelling in the dust I fall

Where Adrian&rsquos shrine lamps dazzling glow &hellip


In December of 1836 Brontë decided to try her hand at professional writing, with the hope of earning her living as a publishing poet. To this end she sought the advice of no less a figure than Robert Southey, then poet laureate of England, to whom she sent a selection of her poems. The discouraging response in his letter of March 12, 1837 has become infamous:

Literature cannot be the business of a woman&rsquos life: & it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it, even as an accomplishment & a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, & when you are you will be less eager for celebrity.


Brontë&rsquos reply to Southey and the fact that she preserved his letter in a wrapper inscribed &ldquoSouthey&rsquos Advice | To be kept forever&rdquo seem to suggest that she took it to heart, but her prodigious literary output during this period, particularly of poetry, tells a different story. Between January 1837 and July 1838, Brontë wrote more than 60 poems and verse fragments, including drafts of what were eventually to be some of her best poetical works. However, they remained fragmentary and defective it was not until 1845 that she was able to revise them into poems she was willing to publish.

Brontë left Roe Head for good in December 1838 and spent the next four years attempting to reconcile her need to earn a living with her desire to remain at Haworth and write. She accepted two positions as a governess, working for the Sidgwick family in nearby Lothersdale from May to July in 1839 and for the Whites at Upperwood House in Rawdon from March to December 1841. Both experiences ended badly, largely because she could not accommodate herself to her situation. On March 3, 1841 she confided to Nussey:

&hellip no one but myself can tell how hard a governess&rsquos work is to me&mdashfor no one but myself is aware how utterly averse my whole mind and nature are to the employment. Do not think that I fail to blame myself for this, or that I leave any means unemployed to conquer this feeling. Some of my greatest difficulties lie in things that would appear to you comparatively trivial. &hellip I am a fool. Heaven knows I cannot help it!


In the summer of 1841 Brontë began negotiations for a loan from Aunt Branwell to establish a school that she and her sisters might operate. In December she declined Miss Wooler&rsquos generous proposal that she replace her as director of Roe Head, turning down a fine opportunity to take charge of an established school with a good reputation. This remarkably bad business decision is explained by her having become committed in the meantime to a new and more exciting plan suggested to her by Mary Taylor: that she and Emily attend school on the Continent in order to improve their command of French and Italian, and acquire &ldquoa dash of German&rdquo so to attract students to the school they would open upon their return. Inspired by Taylor&rsquos descriptions of Europe and emboldened by the Taylors&rsquo presence in Brussels, where she intended to study, on September 29, 1841 Brontë wrote a letter to Aunt Branwell in a manner characteristic of her self-confident mood:

I feel an absolute conviction that, if this advantage were allowed us, it would be the making of us for life. Papa will perhaps think it a wild and ambitious scheme but who ever rose in the world without ambition? When he left Ireland to go to Cambridge University, he was as ambitious as I am now. I want us all to go on. I know we have talents, and I want them to be turned to account.

Charlotte and Emily Brontë left England in February 1842 to enroll as the oldest students in a school run by Madame Claire Zoë Heger and her husband, Constantin. English and Protestant in a school of Roman Catholic Belgians, the Brontës were isolated from their younger peers by differences in language, culture, age, and faith, not to mention Emily&rsquos austere reserve and Charlotte&rsquos social timidity. Although both young women made considerable academic progress in Brussels and were praised for their success, neither ever felt entirely comfortable there, and when they went back to Haworth for Aunt Branwell&rsquos funeral in November 1842, Emily chose not to return to Brussels.

For Charlotte Brontë, though, there was an attraction at the Pensionnnat Heger beyond the opportunity for academic achievement or rather, such achievement was inextricably involved for her with the attractive presence of Constantin Heger. He was an excellent teacher of literature, who, unlike Southey, encouraged Brontë&rsquos literary talent, giving her close, individual attention and challenging her to clarify her thinking about writing as well as to refine her writing skills. In the essays she wrote under Heger&rsquos direction, Brontë returned to the literary issues raised in her earliest poems with a new sense of urgency. To her Romantic insistence on the spontaneity of poetic &ldquogenius, [which] produces without work,&rdquo Heger wrote extensive marginal notes, arguing for the neoclassical values of control, learning, and imitation. He did not simply dismiss Romantic ideas about genius and poetic creativity as Brontë had often done when she was younger rather, he took such arguments seriously and patiently explained the need for mechanical expertise and careful craftsmanship in her writing.

Although she apparently composed little new poetry in Brussels, Brontë did continue to transcribe revised versions of earlier poems into a copybook she had brought with her from Haworth, an indication that she may have been contemplating publishing them in the future. Encouraged in her literary efforts as she had never been before, Brontë&rsquos regard for Heger quickly developed into a grateful infatuation with the man whom she addressed in a July 24, 1844 letter as &ldquomy literature master &hellip the only master that I have ever had.&rdquo Understandably, Madame Heger soon tried to put some distance between her husband and his interesting English pupil. Hurt and angry, Brontë withdrew from the Belgian school in January 1844 and returned to England nursing her wounded pride and unrequited affections.

The letters she wrote to Heger from Haworth in 1844 painfully display her feelings for &ldquoMonsieur,&rdquo while at the same time they reveal Brontë&rsquos increasing anxiety about establishing herself in a fulfilling line of work. Always troubled by extreme nearsightedness, she experienced a temporary further weakening of her sight at this time, writing Heger, a bit histrionically, that since too much writing would result in blindness &ldquoa literary career is closed to me--only that of teaching is open to me.&rdquo In November the Brontë sisters abandoned their plan for opening a school in Haworth since not one prospective applicant had responded to their advertisements. The eldest Brontë&rsquos prospects&mdashromantic, professional, and literary&mdashseemed dim indeed, and she sank into a state of hopeless lethargy.

Brontë suddenly recovered from this period of enervating depression in the fall of 1845, when she stumbled upon a notebook of Emily&rsquos poems. As she remarked in her &ldquoBiographical Notice&rdquo to the 1850 edition of Wuthering Heights, she recognized that these were &ldquonot common effusions, nor at all like the poetry women generally write.&rdquo She eagerly pressed her sister to publish her poems with a selection of her own verse, to which were added poems contributed by Anne. The sisters agreed to publish the poems pseudonymously (perhaps at Emily and Anne&rsquos insistence), and Charlotte Brontë energetically set about the task of finding a publisher for Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846), which the small London firm of Aylott & Jones agreed to print at the authors&rsquo expense, a common practice for unknown writers.

Charlotte Brontë cheerfully took sole responsibility for corresponding with their publisher and for seeing the Poems through the press as she later recorded in the &ldquoBiographical Notice,&rdquo &ldquothe mere effort to succeed had given a wonderful zest to existence it must be pursued.&rdquo Her enthusiasm for the business end of authorship, as well for its creative aspect, demonstrates her determination to succeed as a professional author in the literary economy of early Victorian England&mdasha quality that she shared with successful contemporaries such as her future biographer, Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell. It is a quality that also explains why she wrote almost no poetry after 1845 and why she was already attempting to secure a contract for her first novel, The Professor (1857), before the Poems had even appeared in print.

Unlike her sisters&rsquo contributions, nearly all of Charlotte Brontë&rsquos poems in the 1846 volume are reworkings of much earlier compositions, mostly from the prolific period of 1837&ndash1838, which she revised expressly for publication in this volume. In preparing her poems Brontë not only deleted all references to their original narrative contexts, as her sisters did for their &ldquoGondal poems&rdquo she additionally changed them to suit her new readership, invoking popular motifs (such as the sailor&rsquos return in &ldquoThe Wife&rsquos Will&rdquo) and expressing sentiments that were culturally resonate in 1846. For example, &ldquoPilate&rsquos Wife&rsquos Dream&rdquo&mdashoriginally a monologue spoken by the Duchess of Zamorna in a quite different fictitious situation&mdashconcludes with lines that anticipate the final affirmation of faith expressed in Tennyson&rsquos In Memoriam (1850):

I feel a firmer trust--a higher hope

Rise in my soul--it dawns with dawning day

Ere night descends, I shall more surely know

What guide to follow, in what path to go

I wait in hope--I wait in solemn fear,

The oracle of God--the sole--true God--to hear.

The poems that Brontë chose to present to the public in 1846 were not composed spontaneously and &ldquowithout work&rdquo but deliberately altered to suit their new environment and purpose&mdasha sure sign that Brontë had begun to modify her romantic notions about literary genius and accommodate herself to the demands of professional authorship.

Because Charlotte Brontë&rsquos poems are longer than those of her sisters, she contributed only 19 to their 21 each, so that each writer is given approximately the same amount of space in the book. Each poem is clearly attributed to either &ldquoCurrer,&rdquo &ldquoEllis,&rdquo or &ldquoActon,&rdquo and the contributions by the three are presented alternately, so that no one poet dominates any portion of the volume. The effect invites comparison between the three writers and makes Emily&rsquos superiority as a poet noticeable.

The arrangement of the poems also obscures a coherence between Charlotte Brontë&rsquos poems, many of which are connected through continuing narrative lines and/or through consistencies in character. For example, four of her poems&mdash&ldquoThe Wife&rsquos Will,&rdquo &ldquoThe Wood,&rdquo &ldquoRegret,&rdquo and &ldquoApostasy&rdquo&mdashtogether constitute a single story of an English wife who chooses to accompany her husband into political exile in France, where she affirms at the end of her life a loyalty to her native faith, the religion of romantic love:

&rsquoTis my religion thus to love,

My creed thus fixed to be

Not Death shall shake, nor Priestcraft break


Presented through extended monologues, this story effectively develops the character of the speaker through four dramatically realized situations in which she addresses an implied audience&mdashWilliam in the first three poems, a French-Catholic priest in the last. These poems thus resemble both the long narrative poem that was to become popular in Victorian England&mdashElizabeth Barrett Browning&rsquos Aurora Leigh (1857), for example&mdashbut also the dramatic monologue, perhaps the most distinctively Victorian poetic form, one refined by poets like Tennyson and the Brownings. Other Brontë monologues include &ldquoFrances,&rdquo &ldquoThe Missionary,&rdquo &ldquoPilate&rsquos Wife&rsquos Dream,&rdquo and &ldquoThe Teacher&rsquos Monologue.&rdquo

Some of Brontë&rsquos poems are clearly lyrical&mdashthe companion pieces &ldquoEvening Solace&rdquo and &ldquoWinter Stores,&rdquo for example&mdashbut most of the poems have a narrative component. Such narrative poems as &ldquoGilbert&rdquo and &ldquoMementoes,&rdquo include Gothic elements like those that made Jane Eyre so popular other poems, such as &ldquoThe Letter,&rdquo use precise imagery and details of setting to project a character&rsquos state of mind into his or her external environment, much as she did later in her novels and as Tennyson did in poems such as &ldquo Mariana .&rdquo Others are linked together through narrative compatibility: for instance, &ldquoPreference&rdquo seems to be an indignant woman&rsquos response to the aggressive declaration of love asserted by the male speaker of her preceding poem, &ldquoPassion&rdquo and &ldquoGilbert&rdquo seems to be exactly the kind of arrogant lover who seduced and betrayed &ldquoFrances,&rdquo whose troubled monologue precedes the story in which he is brought to retributive justice (though his victim is identified as &ldquoElinor&rdquo).

The sense of coherence in Charlotte Brontë&rsquos published poems derives in part, of course, from their common origin in the juvenile writings, which initiated the themes that appear so often in her novels but their unity is also due to formal similarities based on a new purpose in her writing: to develop characters that are psychologically interesting through monologues and narratives that reveal personality within the context of dramatic situation. This purpose links the poems that Brontë published in 1846 to the dominant poetic modes of the Victorian period&mdashthe long narrative poem and the dramatic monologue&mdashas well as to the literary form by which she ultimately became identified as an author in the public sphere: the novel.

Though Brontë made every effort to publicize Poems, paying for advertising and requesting that Aylott & Jones send review copies to fourteen periodicals, the volume sold poorly&mdashonly two copies in the first year&mdashand received only three reviews, which were, however, rather favorable. Originally priced at four shillings, the volume was republished by the publishers of Jane Eyre in 1848, and received more insightful critical attention after the publication of Gaskell&rsquos The Life of Charlotte Brontë in 1857. Though most critics have acknowledged the superiority of Emily Brontë&rsquos poems, a few reviews published in 1848 to 1849, when Jane Eyre was selling very well, favored Charlotte Brontë&rsquos for example, the anonymous reviewer for the November 10, 1849 Britannia praised her &ldquomastery in the art of word painting&rdquo and her &ldquofaculty of exhibiting in words the shadowy images of mental agony.&rdquo E.S. Dallas, in a July 1857 review in Blackwood&rsquos Magazine, remarked that her poetry is distinguished from that of her sisters&rsquo by her &ldquofaculty of forgetting herself, and talking of things and persons exterior to herself&rdquo&mdasha quality shared by novelists and poets who write in the narrative and dramatic monologue forms. Brontë, however, adamantly agreed with those who thought her sister&rsquos poetry superior, and in a September 26, 1850 letter to Gaskell she dismissed her own contributions to the 1846 volume as &ldquojuvenile productions the restless effervescence of a mind that would not be still.&rdquo

In 1847, before she had secured her public reputation as a novelist, Brontë sent presentation copies of Poems to several important literary figures&mdasha common strategy for unknown authors who wished to attract the attention of influential critics. She also persistently tried to publish her first novel, The Professor, which was rejected nine times before she received an encouraging reply from the firm of Smith, Elder, who declined to publish the book but asked to review any other novel she might be working on. Heartened by this request, Brontë finished Jane Eyre rapidly&mdashin about two weeks&mdashand had the satisfaction of seeing the novel in print shortly thereafter. The book was immediately popular and &ldquoCurrer Bell&rdquo quickly became known by the reading public as &ldquothe author of Jane Eyre.&rdquo

After the success of her novel, Brontë wrote no poetry except for three unfinished poems on the occasions of her sisters&rsquo deaths. Though greatly saddened by the tragically early deaths of Branwell (September 24, 1848), Emily (December 19, 1848), and Anne (May 28, 1849), she continued to publish novels&mdashShirley in 1849, Villette in 1853&mdashand enjoyed stimulating literary correspondences with several people, including George Henry Lewes and William Smith Williams, the perceptive and kindly reader for her publishing firm, Smith, Elder. Letting her identity become known, she achieved the literary celebrity that Southey had warned her to eschew and became acquainted with several important authors, including William Makepeace Thackeray , Harriett Martineau, and Gaskell. At the age of 38, Brontë married her father&rsquos curate, Arthur Bell Nichols and died, possibly of either hyperemesis gravidarum (severe vomiting caused by pregnancy) or a serious infection of the digestive tract, on March 31, 1855. She is buried, along with the rest of her remarkable family (except for Anne, who died in the seaside town of Scarborough), in the Church of St. Michael and All Angels, immediately across from her parsonage home.

Charlotte Brontë was not a successful poet in her own day, and today she is still rightfully known for her novels rather than for her poems. The inevitable comparisons between Emily&rsquos terse romantic lyrics and her sister&rsquos more discursive poetic style have produced a lower estimate of her poems than they probably deserve. &ldquoPilate&rsquos Wife&rsquos Dream,&rdquo for example, is arguably a much better poetic monologue than Elizabeth Barrett Browning&rsquos well-known &ldquoThe Runaway Slave at Pilgrim&rsquos Point.&rdquo Brontë is an important figure in the history of 19th-century poetry because her career illustrates the shift in literary tastes from poetry to prose fiction and because she employed, sometimes quite skillfully, the poetic modes that became characteristic of the Victorian period.

If one agrees with Virginia Woolf&rsquos claim in &ldquo&lsquoJane Eyre&rsquo and &lsquoWuthering Heights&rsquo&rdquo that Charlotte Brontë&rsquos novels are read &ldquofor her poetry,&rdquo one might argue that Brontë never did entirely abandon her career as a poet. Adapting her creative impulses to the demands of the market, Brontë incorporated poetic features into the more viable form of the novel, and so became a successful literary professional in Victorian England and a &ldquomajor author&rdquo in the accepted canon of British literature.


Time Travel with the History Chicks

BOOKS!

Obviously, you should head to your favorite literary consumption tool and get your hands on copies of Charlotte’s books: Jane Eyre, Shirley, Villette, and The Professor. You might take this reading thing a step further and read Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. You’ll hit a home run reading Poems by all three and we’ll get you started with a link to Poems on Project Gutenberg You’ll get personal extra credit points if you give a listen to the novel Charlotte was working on when she died, Emma (and maybe you’re the person to finish it properly) here it is on Librovox.

If you’re looking for biographies:

The heavy book Beckett talked about.

This is very good, by Juliet Barker

We both liked this one by Claire Harmon

Good early YA by Catherine Reed

How much of Charlotte is in Jane Eyre? By John Pfordresher

Not biographies but biography adjacent:

We both are fans of this one! By Deborah Lutz

How the sisters’ images have evolved over the years by Lucasta Miller

The stories that were written by young Brontës

Fiction with an appearance by Charlotte and Jane (and sounded so interesting Susan bought it the day she heard about it.)

You really have to listen to the episode to understand why this is here.

Brontë Parsonage Museum– the epicenter of all things Brontë would be the house that Charlotte grew up in, now a museum in West Yorkshire. The website is chock full of things to learn and see and you’ll go on a good virtual tour (although actually going is probably best. If you do, take some pics and share them on Instagram with #historychicksfieldtrip.)

Speaking of travel, this blogger traveled the path of Anne in London and writes about the adventure of locating the spot where the Chapter Coffee House once stood. Charlotte, Emily, and Patrick stayed there on their way to Brussels, and it’s where Anne and Charlotte stayed when they went to London to clear things up with George Smith.

How did a fairly sheltered, unmarried, Parson’s daughter create all that steam? She had been practicing for a long time, per this article in The Guardian

What about that “Pillar Painting” (or “Beam Me Up”) of Branwell’s? Here’s the story about it and the original from The Telegraph.

A restored version of Branwell’s painting

Where Charlotte herself explains the origins of Currer, Acton, and Ellis Bell (sadly, after Emily and Anne had passed away) from The Literary Ladies.

Perhaps we can speculate forever and never know the truth, but here’s some speculating about Emily having Asperger’s syndrome.

Ellen Nussey’s brother Henry, was the first man to propose to Charlotte…but was he the inspiration for St. John Rivers in Jane Eyre? This article from JPRStudies.org explores that.

The Clergy Daughter’s School in Cowan Bridge that all four sisters attended, but only two survived, was established by a Calvinist, and here is an article from Study.com on John Calvin and his beliefs.

MOVIES!

We both loved To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters. If you want to watch only one thing, although this presents itself as a drama, the history (and casting) is spot on AND it was filmed in Haworth. Here we’ll make it easy for you, it’s streaming on Amazon Prime.

There are so many versions of Jane Eyre, pick your own favorites but this was Susan’s (probably because it was her first, to be honest.)

Finally, Susan never did figure out the keyboard shortcut to make a diaeresis (not an umlaut) so, yes, she copy and pasted Brontë each time. Also, here’s an article explaining the difference from The New Yorker.

Using the codes with our sponsors makes you a supporter of the show and you get introduced to some fantastic products and services, thank you!


Contents

The Brontë family can be traced to the Irish clan Ó Pronntaigh, which literally means "descendant of Pronntach". They were a family of hereditary scribes and literary men in Fermanagh. The version Ó Proinntigh, which was first given by Patrick Woulfe in his Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall (Surnames of the Gael and the Foreigner) [1] and reproduced without question by MacLysaght inter alia, cannot be accepted as correct, as there were a number of well-known scribes with this name writing in Irish in the 17th and 18th centuries and all of them used the spelling Ó Pronntaigh. The name is derived from the word pronntach or bronntach, [2] which is related to the word bronnadh, meaning "giving" or "bestowal" (pronn is given as an Ulster version of bronn in O'Reilly's Irish English Dictionary.) [3] The author of Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall, suggested that it was derived from proinnteach (the refectory of a monastery). [1] Ó Pronntaigh was earlier anglicised as Prunty and sometimes Brunty.

At some point, the father of the sisters, Patrick Brontë (born Brunty), decided on the alternative spelling with the diaeresis over the terminal e to indicate that the name has two syllables. It is not known for certain what motivated him to do so, and multiple theories exist to account for the change. He may have wished to hide his humble origins. [4] As a man of letters, he would have been familiar with classical Greek and may have chosen the name after the Greek βροντή ("thunder"). One view, put forward by the biographer C. K. Shorter in 1896, is that he adapted his name to associate himself with Admiral Horatio Nelson, who was also Duke of Bronté. [5] Evidence for this may be found in his desire to associate himself with the Duke of Wellington in his form of dress.

Patrick Brontë Edit

Patrick Brontë (17 March 1777 – 7 June 1861), the Brontë sisters' father, was born in Loughbrickland, County Down, Ireland, of a family of farm workers of moderate means. [4] His birth name was Patrick Prunty or Brunty. His mother, Alice McClory, was of the Roman Catholic faith, whilst his father Hugh was a Protestant, and Patrick was brought up in his father's faith. [6]

He was a bright young man and, after being taught by the Rev. Thomas Tighe, he won a scholarship to St John's College, Cambridge, where he studied divinity and ancient and modern history. [7] Attending Cambridge may have made him think his name was too Irish, and he changed its spelling to Brontë, perhaps in honour of Horatio Nelson, whom Patrick admired. However, a more likely reason may have been that his brother, William, was 'on the run' from the authorities for his involvement with the radical United Irishmen, and he wanted to distance himself from the name Prunty. Having obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree, he was ordained on 10 August 1806. [8] He is the author of Cottage Poems (1811), The Rural Minstrel (1814), numerous pamphlets and newspaper articles, and various rural poems.

In 1812, he met and married 29-year-old Maria Branwell [9] and by 1820 they had moved into the parsonage at Haworth where he took up the post of Perpetual Curate (Haworth was an ancient chapelry in the large parish of Bradford, so he could not be rector or vicar.) They had six children. [10] On the death of his wife in 1821, his sister in law, Elizabeth Branwell, came from Penzance, Cornwall to help him bring up the children. Open, intelligent, generous, and personally taking care of their education, he bought all the books and toys the children asked for and accorded them great freedom and unconditional love, but nevertheless embittered their lives due to his eccentric habits and peculiar theories of education. [ clarification needed ]

After several unlucky attempts to seek a new spouse, Patrick came to terms with widowerhood at the age of 47, and spent his time visiting the sick and the poor, giving sermons and administering communion, [11] leaving the three sisters Emily, Charlotte, Anne, and their brother Branwell alone with their aunt and a maid, Tabitha Aykroyd (Tabby), who tirelessly recounted local legends in her Yorkshire dialect while preparing the meals. [12] He survived his entire family, and six years after Charlotte's death he died in 1861 at the age of 84. [4] At the end he was helped by his son-in-law, the Rev. Arthur Bell Nicholls.

Maria, née Branwell Edit

Patrick's wife Maria Brontë, née Branwell, (15 April 1783 – 15 September 1821), originated in Penzance, Cornwall, and came from a comfortably well off, middle-class family. Her father had a flourishing tea and grocery store and had accumulated considerable wealth. [13] Maria died at the age of 38 of uterine cancer. [14] She married the same day as her younger sister Charlotte in the church at Guiseley after her fiancé had celebrated the union of two other couples. [15] She was a literate and pious woman, known for her lively spirit, joyfulness, and tenderness, and it was she who designed the samplers that are on display in the museum [ clarification needed ] and had them embroidered by her children. She left memories with her husband and with Charlotte, the oldest surviving sibling, of a very vivacious woman at the parsonage. The younger ones, particularly Emily and Anne, admitted to retaining only vague images of their mother, especially of her suffering on her sickbed.

Elizabeth Branwell Edit

Elizabeth Branwell (2 December 1776 – 29 October 1842) arrived from Penzance in 1821, aged 45, after the death of Maria, her younger sister, to help Patrick look after the children, and was known as 'Aunt Branwell'. Elizabeth Branwell, who raised the children after the death of their mother, was a Methodist. It seems, nevertheless, that her denomination did not exert any influence on the children. It was Aunt Branwell who taught the children arithmetic, the alphabet, how to sew, [16] embroidery and cross-stitching appropriate for ladies. Aunt Branwell also gave them books and subscribed to Fraser's Magazine, less interesting than Blackwood's, but, nevertheless, providing plenty of material for discussion. [17] She was a generous person who dedicated her life to her nieces and nephew, neither marrying nor returning to visit her relations in Cornwall. She died of bowel obstruction in October 1842, after a brief agony, comforted by her beloved nephew Branwell. In her last will, Aunt Branwell left to her three nieces the considerable sum of £900 (about £95,700 in 2017 currency), which allowed them to resign their low-paid jobs as governesses and teachers.

Children Edit

Maria (1814–1825), the eldest, was born in Clough House, High Town, on 23 April 1814. She suffered from hunger, cold, and privation at Cowan Bridge School. Charlotte described her as very lively, very sensitive, and particularly advanced in her reading. She returned from school with an advanced case of tuberculosis and died at Haworth at the age of 11 on 6 May 1825.

Elizabeth (1815–1825), the second child, joined her sister Maria at Cowan Bridge where she suffered the same fate. Elizabeth was less vivacious than her brother and her sisters and apparently less advanced for her age. She died on 15 June 1825 at the age of 10, within two weeks of returning home to her father. [18]

Charlotte (1816–1855), born in Market Street Thornton, near Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire, on 21 April 1816, was a poet and novelist and is the author of Jane Eyre, her best known work, and three other novels. She died on 31 March 1855 just before reaching the age of 39.

Patrick Branwell (1817–1848) was born in Market Street Thornton on 26 June 1817. Known as Branwell, he was a painter, writer and casual worker. He became addicted to alcohol and laudanum and died at Haworth on 24 September 1848 at the age of 31.

Emily Jane (1818–1848), born in Market Street Thornton, 30 July 1818, was a poet and novelist. She died in Haworth on 19 December 1848 at the age of 30. Wuthering Heights was her only novel.

Anne (1820–1849), born in Market Street Thornton on 17 January 1820, was a poet and novelist. She wrote a largely autobiographical novel entitled Agnes Grey, but her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), was far more ambitious. She died on 28 May 1849 in Scarborough at the age of 29.

Cowan Bridge School Edit

In 1824, the four eldest girls (excluding Anne) entered the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge, [19] which educated the children of less prosperous members of the clergy, which had been recommended to Mr Brontë. The following year, Maria and Elizabeth fell gravely ill and were removed from the school, but died shortly afterwards within a few weeks of each other on 6 May and 15 June 1825. [20] Charlotte and Emily were also withdrawn from the school and returned to Haworth. The loss of their sisters was a trauma that showed in Charlotte's writing. In Jane Eyre, Cowan Bridge becomes Lowood, Maria is represented by the character of the young Helen Burns, the cruelty of the mistress Miss Andrews by that of Miss Scatcherd, and the tyranny of the headmaster, the Rev. Carus Wilson, by that of Mr Brocklehurst.

Tuberculosis, which afflicted Maria and Elizabeth in 1825, was the eventual cause of death of three of the surviving Brontës: Branwell in September 1848, Emily in December 1848, and finally, Anne five months later in May 1849.

Patrick Brontë faced a challenge in arranging for the education of the girls of his family, which was barely middle class. They had no significant connections and he could not afford the fees for them to attend an established school for young ladies. One solution was the schools where the fees were reduced to a minimum – so called "charity schools" – with a mission to assist families such as those of the lower clergy. One cannot accuse Mr. Brontë of not having done everything possible to find a solution that he thought would be best for his daughters. As Barker comments, he had read in the Leeds Intelligencer of 6 November 1823 the reports of cases in the Court of Commons in Bowes, and he later read other cases decided on 24 November 1824 near Richmond, two towns in the county of Yorkshire, where pupils had been discovered gnawed by rats and suffering from malnutrition to the extent that some of them had lost their sight. [21] There was nothing to suggest that the Reverend Carus Wilson's Clergy Daughters' School would not provide a good education and good care for his daughters. The school was not expensive, and its patrons (supporters who allowed the school to use their names) were all respected people. Among these was the daughter of Hannah More, a religious author and philanthropist who took a particular interest in education and was a close friend of the poet William Cowper, like her a proponent of a correct education for young girls. The pupils included the offspring of different prelates and even certain acquaintances of Patrick Brontë including William Wilberforce, young women whose fathers had also been educated at St John's College, Cambridge. Thus Brontë believed Wilson's school to have a number of the necessary guarantees. [22]

John Bradley Edit

In 1829–30, Patrick Brontë engaged John Bradley, an artist from neighbouring Keighley, as drawing-master for the children. Bradley was an artist of some local repute, rather than a professional instructor, but he may well have fostered Branwell's enthusiasm for art and architecture. [23]

Miss Wooler's school Edit

In 1831, 14-year-old Charlotte was enrolled at the school of Miss Wooler in Roe Head, Mirfield. Patrick could have sent his daughter to a less costly school in Keighley nearer home but Miss Wooler and her sisters had a good reputation and he remembered the building which he passed when strolling around the parishes of Kirklees, Dewsbury, and Hartshead-cum-Clifton where he was vicar. Margaret Wooler showed fondness towards the sisters and she accompanied Charlotte to the altar at her marriage. [26] [27] Patrick's choice of school was excellent – Charlotte was happy there and studied well. She made many lifelong friends, in particular Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor who later went to New Zealand before returning to England. [28] Charlotte returned from Roe Head in June 1832, missing her friends, but happy to rejoin her family. [29]

Three years later, Miss Wooler offered her former pupil a position as her assistant. The family decided that Emily would accompany her to pursue studies that would otherwise have been unaffordable. Emily's fees were partly covered by Charlotte's salary. Emily was 17 and it was the first time she had left Haworth since leaving Cowan Bridge. On 29 July 1835, the sisters left for Roe Head. The same day, Branwell wrote a letter to the Royal Academy of Art in London, to present several of his drawings as part of his candidature as a probationary student. [30]

Charlotte taught, and wrote about her students without much sympathy. Emily did not settle and after three months she seemed to decline and had to be taken home to the parsonage. Anne took her place and stayed until Christmas 1837. [31]

Charlotte avoided boredom by following the development of Angria which she received in letters from her brother. During holidays at Haworth, she wrote long narratives while being reproached by her father who wanted her to become more involved in parish affairs. These were coming to a head over the imposition of the Church rates, a local tax levied on parishes where the majority of the population were dissenters. In the meantime, Miss Wooler moved to Heald's House, at Dewsbury Moor, where Charlotte complained about the humidity that made her unwell. Upon leaving the establishment in 1838 Miss Wooler presented her with a parting gift of The Vision of Don Roderick and Rokeby, a collection of poems by Walter Scott. [32]

The children became interested in writing from an early age, initially as a game. They all displayed a talent for narrative, but for the younger ones it became a pastime to develop them [ clarification needed ] . At the centre of the children's creativity were twelve wooden soldiers which Patrick Brontë gave to Branwell at the beginning of June 1826. [33] These toy soldiers instantly fired their imaginations and they spoke of them as the Young Men, and gave them names. However, it was not until December 1827 that their ideas took written form, [34] and the imaginary African kingdom of Glass Town came into existence, [35] followed by the Empire of Angria. Emily and Anne created Gondal, an island continent in the North Pacific, ruled by a woman, after the departure of Charlotte in 1831. [36] In the beginning, these stories were written in little books, the size of a matchbox (about 1.5 x 2.5 inches—3.8 x 6.4 cm) , [36] and cursorily bound with thread. The pages were filled with close, minute writing, often in capital letters without punctuation and embellished with illustrations, detailed maps, schemes, landscapes, and plans of buildings, created by the children according to their specialisations. The idea was that the books were of a size for the soldiers to read. The complexity of the stories matured as the children's imaginations developed, fed by reading the three weekly or monthly magazines to which their father had subscribed, [33] or the newspapers that were bought daily from John Greenwood's local news and stationery store.

Literary and artistic influence Edit

These fictional worlds were the product of fertile imagination fed by reading, discussion, and a passion for literature. Far from suffering from the negative influences that never left them and which were reflected in the works of their later, more mature years, the Brontë children absorbed them with open arms.

Press Edit

The periodicals that Patrick Brontë read were a mine of information for his children. The Leeds Intelligencer and Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, conservative and well written, but better than the Quarterly Review that defended the same political ideas whilst addressing a less refined readership (the reason Mr. Brontë did not read it), [37] were exploited in every detail. Blackwood's Magazine in particular, was not only the source of their knowledge of world affairs, but also provided material for the Brontës' early writing. For instance, an article in the June 1826 number of Blackwood’s, provides commentary on new discoveries from the exploration of central Africa. [38] The map included with the article highlights geographical features the Brontës reference in their tales: the Jibbel Kumera (the Mountains of the Moon), Ashantee, and the rivers Niger and Calabar. The author also advises the British to expand into Africa from Fernando Po, where, Christine Alexander notes, the Brontë children locate the Great Glass Town. [39] Their knowledge of geography was completed by Goldsmith's Grammar of General Geography, which the Brontës owned and heavily annotated. [40]

Lord Byron Edit

From 1833, Charlotte and Branwell's Angrian tales begin to feature Byronic heroes who have a strong sexual magnetism and passionate spirit, and demonstrate arrogance and even black-heartedness. Again, it is in an article in Blackwood's Magazine from August 1825 that they discover the poet for the first time he had died the previous year. From this moment, the name Byron became synonymous with all the prohibitions and audacities as if it had stirred up the very essence of the rise of those forbidden things. [41] Branwell's Charlotte Zamorna, one of the heroes of Verdopolis, tends towards increasingly ambiguous behaviour, [42] and the same influence and evolution recur with the Brontës, especially in the characters of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, and Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre, who display the traits of a Byronic hero. Numerous other works left their mark on the Brontës—the Thousand and One Nights for example, which inspired jinn in which they became themselves in the centre of their kingdoms, while adding a touch of exoticism. [ citation needed ]

John Martin Edit

The children's imagination was also influenced by three prints of engravings in mezzotint by John Martin around 1820. Charlotte and Branwell made copies of the prints Belshazzar's Feast, Déluge, and Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still upon Gibeon (1816), which hung on the walls of the parsonage. [43]

Martin's fantastic architecture is reflected in the Glass Town and Angrian writings, where he appears himself among Branwell's characters [44] and under the name of Edward de Lisle, the greatest painter and portraitist of Verdopolis, [45] the capital of Glass Town. One of Sir Edward de Lisle's major works, Les Quatre Genii en Conseil, is inspired by Martin's illustration for John Milton's Paradise Lost. [46] Together with Byron, John Martin seems to have been one of the artistic influences essential to the Brontës' universe. [43]

Anne's morals and realism Edit

The influence revealed by Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is much less clear. Anne's works are largely founded on her experience as a governess and on that of her brother's decline. Furthermore, they demonstrate her conviction, a legacy from her father, that books should provide moral education. [47] This sense of moral duty and the need to record it, are more evident in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. [48] The influence of the gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe, Horace Walpole, Gregory "Monk" Lewis and Charles Maturin is noticeable, [49] and that of Walter Scott too, if only because the heroine, abandoned and left alone, resists not only by her almost supernatural talents, but by her powerful temperament.

Jane Eyre, Agnes Grey, then The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Shirley, Villette and even The Professor present a linear structure concerning a character who advances through life after several trials and tribulations, to find a kind of happiness in love and virtue, recalling the works of religious inspiration of the 17th century such as John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress or his Grace abounding to the Chief of Sinners. [50] In a more profane manner, the hero or heroine follows a picaresque itinerary such as in Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616), Daniel Defoe (1660–1731), Henry Fielding (1707–1764) and Tobias Smollett (1721–1771). This lively tradition continued into the 19th century with the rags to riches genre to which almost all the great Victorian romancers have contributed. The protagonist is thrown by fate into poverty and after many difficulties achieves a golden happiness. Often an artifice is employed to effect the passage from one state to another such as an unexpected inheritance, a miraculous gift, grand reunions, etc. [N 2] and in a sense, it is the route followed by Charlotte's and Anne's protagonists, even if the riches they win are more those of the heart than of the wallet. Apart from its Gothic elements, Wuthering Heights moves like a Greek tragedy and possesses its music, [51] the cosmic dimensions of the epics of John Milton, and the power of the Shakespearian theatre. [52] One can hear the echoes of King Lear as well as the completely different characters of Romeo and Juliet. [53] The Brontës were also seduced by the writings of Walter Scott, and in 1834 Charlotte exclaimed, "For fiction, read Walter Scott and only him – all novels after his are without value." [54]

Governesses and Charlotte's idea Edit

Early teaching opportunities Edit

Through their father's influence and their own intellectual curiosity, they were able to benefit from an education that placed them among knowledgeable people, but Mr Brontë's emoluments were modest. The only options open to the girls were either marriage or a choice between the professions of school mistress or governess. The Brontë sisters found positions in families educating often rebellious young children, or employment as school teachers. The possibility of becoming a paid companion to a rich and solitary woman might have been a fall-back role but one which would have bored any of the sisters intolerably. Janet Todd's Mary Wollstonecraft, a revolutionary life mentions the predicament, [55] and none of the Brontë girls seems seriously to have considered a similar eventuality.

Only Emily never became a governess. Her sole professional experience would be an experiment in teaching during six months of intolerable exile in Miss Patchett's school at Law Hill (between Haworth and Halifax). [56] In contrast, Charlotte had teaching positions at Miss Margaret Wooler's school, and in Brussels with the Hegers. She became governess to the Sidgwicks, the Stonegappes, and the Lotherdales where she worked for several months in 1839, then with Mrs White, at Upperhouse House, Rawdon, from March to September 1841. [57] Anne became a governess and worked for Mrs Ingham, [58] at Blake Hall, Mirfield from April to December 1839, then for Mrs Robinson at Thorp Green Hall, Little Ouseburn, near York, where she also obtained employment for her brother in an attempt to stabilise him an attempt that proved futile. [59]

Working as governesses Edit

The family's finances did not flourish, and Aunt Branwell spent the money with caution. Emily had a visceral need of her home and the countryside that surrounded it, and to leave it would cause her to languish and wither. [N 3] [60] Charlotte and Anne, being more realistic, did not hesitate in finding work and from April 1839 to December 1841 the two sisters had several posts as governesses. Not staying long with each family, their employment would last for some months or a single season. However, Anne did stay with the Robinsons in Thorp Green where things went well, from May 1840 to June 1845.

In the meantime, Charlotte had an idea that would place all the advantages on her side. On advice from her father and friends, she thought that she and her sisters had the intellectual capacity to create a school for young girls in the parsonage where their Sunday School classes took place. It was agreed to offer the future pupils the opportunity of correctly learning modern languages and that preparation for this should be done abroad, which led to a further decision. Among the possibilities Paris and Lille were considered, [61] but were rejected due to aversion to the French. Indeed, the French revolution and the Napoleonic wars had not been forgotten by the Tory spirited and deeply conservative girls. [62] On the recommendation of a pastor based in Brussels, [63] who wanted to be of help, Belgium was chosen, where they could also study German, and music. Aunt Branwell provided the funds for the Brussels project.


Brontë was born on April 21, 1816, in Thornton, Yorkshire, England. Said to be the most dominant and ambitious of the Brontës, Charlotte was raised in a strict Anglican home by her clergyman father and a religious aunt after her mother and two eldest siblings died. She and her sister Emily attended the Clergy Daughter&aposs School at Cowan Bridge but were largely educated at home. Though she tried to earn a living as both a governess and a teacher, Brontë missed her sisters and eventually returned home.

A writer all her life, Brontë published her first novel, Jane Eyre, in 1847 under the manly pseudonym Currer Bell. Though controversial in its criticism of society&aposs treatment of impoverished women, the book was an immediate hit. She followed the success with Shirley in 1848 and Villette in 1853.


From Austen & Brontë to Woolf: literature’s forgotten female friendships

While many male writing duos have become the stuff of legend, female literary collaborations have largely been consigned to the shadows. Writing partners Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney debunk the myth that the English-speaking world's most celebrated female authors were isolated geniuses

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Published: July 30, 2019 at 10:33 am

In the collective memory, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge tramp the Lakeland Fells together, and F Scott Fitzgerald shares yet another drink with Ernest Hemingway in an all-night Parisian bar. But misleading myths of isolation have attached themselves to women who write. Jane Austen is cast as a modest spinster, Charlotte Brontё confined to her parsonage home, George Eliot presented as an aloof intellectual, and Virginia Woolf a melancholic bohemian.

Here, the authors of A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Bronte, Eliot and Woolf challenge these popular misconceptions and reveal the unexplored friendships of some great female authors…

Jane Austen and Anne Sharp

Jane was attracted to the keen intelligence, sharp wit and independence of spirit that shone from this woman who penned plays in between teaching lessons. The demands of full-time teaching may have prevented Anne from pursuing writing professionally, but she did flex her literary muscles by devising dramas for her pupils to perform. Jane herself acted in one such household theatrical, cast in the role of teacher, while Anne took on various male roles.

Charlotte Brontë and Mary Taylor

The pair met in 1831 as adolescent boarders at Roe Head School in Yorkshire. They got off to a rocky start when Mary, a strikingly pretty girl, bluntly told Charlotte she was “very ugly”. This slight imparted a bruise on Charlotte that would never fully heal. But Mary’s forthright opinions would also influence Charlotte in more positive ways, which proved to be just as enduring. Mary, who hailed from a progressive family, helped the then socially-conservative Charlotte to look at the world in new ways. Charlotte, a traditional Tory who idolised the Duke of Wellington, found her eyes opened to the restricted position of Victorian women.

Ever the adventurer, Mary had other suggestions too. She persuaded Charlotte to join her in exchanging the Yorkshire moorlands for the Belgian capital of Brussels, where both ended up going to further their education. In Brussels, Charlotte would fall for her tutor, a married man named Constantin Heger. This life-changing experience of forbidden love inspired much of Charlotte’s future creative endeavour – and would also overshadow Mary’s influence on her friend’s work.

George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe

Correspondence between the pair began in 1869. It was warm and candid from the start, with the allegedly reserved Eliot confiding in Harriet about her debilitating periods of depression. Meanwhile, the ebullient Harriet (who was eight years Eliot’s senior) offered unsolicited advice on how the lauded British writer might further improve her novels.

Though scattered across museum and library archives, a wealth of information exists about this enthralling friendship. But their differences, which the women themselves took in their stride, has led their great bond to be written out of literary lore.

Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield

The two women were unlikely friends: Katherine hailed from the far-flung colonies, whereas Virginia’s family was firmly entrenched in the English intelligentsia Katherine had embraced her youthful desires with bohemian exuberance, whereas Virginia approached intimacy with timidity. Both women experienced chronic illness, had complex relationships with editor husbands, and felt ambivalent about their childlessness. But it was really their shared literary endeavours that fired their friendship.

After Katherine’s early death from tuberculosis at the age of 34, her literary influence on Virginia persisted from beyond the grave. When Virginia finished both Mrs Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927), she wondered what Katherine would have made of these novels. Eight years after Katherine’s death, in the summer of 1931, Virginia reported that the late author had uttered words of reconciliation to her in a dream. Before waking, Virginia reached for her rival’s palm one last time, responding to the hand of friendship that Katherine seemed to have extended from beyond the grave.


Charlotte Bronté

Charlotte Bronté
English Novelist
1816 – 1855 A.D.

Miss Bronté is best known by her novel Jane Eyre. Some of the sufferings depicted in the book are records of her own experiences. The life of Miss Bronté is of deep and pathetic interest.

Her father was a poor English clergyman, eccentric and unlovely. Charlotte was born at Harishead, near Leeds, but the family subsequently moved to Haworth. the parsonage was “bleak and uncomfortable, a low oblong stone building standing at the top of the straggling village on a steep hill, without the shelter of a tree, with the churchyard pressing down on it on both sides, and behind, a long tract of wild moors.”

By the father’s direction of the children were fed on vegetable diet and clothed in coarse clothes to make them hardy and prevent their becoming proud. They were far from hardy on the contrary, they were small, feeble, and stunted in growth. The mother died when they were all young, and the children were mostly left to themselves.

Four of the girls were sent away to school, Charlotte among them. The food was poor and insufficient and they were treated with inhuman severity. “Miss Scratchhard” in Jane Eyre is a reproduction of the manager of the school. A fever broke out and the girls returned home, but two of them died as a result of the treatment and the sickness contracted at the school.

When nineteen years of age, Charlotte became a teacher, but owing to poor health she was obliged to give it up. She next took a situation as a governess, but the people treated her harshly and this was abandoned.

She determined to establish a private school with her sisters Emily and Anne. Charlotte and Emily went to Brussels to fit themselves. At the end of six months they were employed in the school they were attending, but at a pitifully small salary.

On their return they attempted to gather pupils, but none came. They next tried literary work in fact, they had written much from childhood up. They issued a volume of poems but it met with little success. Their next venture was in prose tales. The productions were, The Professor, by Charlotte Wuthering heights by Emily and Agnes Grey, by Anne. Each wrote under an assumed name. While those of Emily and Anne were accepted, Charlotte’s was everywhere rejected and was not published until after her death.

In the face of all this failure and discouragement, Charlotte proceeded to write Jane Eyre. It met with immediate and immense success. Few works of an unknown author have been received with such sudden and general acclamation. It was translated into most of the languages of Europe, and was put on the stage in England and Germany under the title of The Orphan of Lowood. She next wrote Shirley, but it was much inferior to Jane Eyre. Her third novel was Villette, which is a picture of life as she saw it in Brussels. This proved exceedingly popular. It proceeded slowly to completion as the result of long interruptions from failing health.

Her works became a passport to the highest literary circles of London and the continent, and she met most of the prominent writers of the time. But she was of a retiring and sensitive disposition, largely the result of pain and she returned to her home.

Rev. Arthur Nicholls, who was her father’s curate, desired to marry her, but the father objected. She was now past thirty-four years of age, and Mr. Nicholls resigned. In the year following the father changed his mind and they were married.

For less than one year she knew the happiness of a true home life, though they lived in the bleak parsonage. But her health, like that of her sisters, had been poor for many years and she soon followed them. Early hardships had left a physical blight on each of them. Her death occurred March 31, 1855.

After her death her rejected tale, The Professor, was published. She had what Goethe calls the true secret of poetic genius.

Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence, and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World published by the King-Richardson Co. in 1903.


The secret history of Jane Eyre: Charlotte Brontë's private fantasy stories

B efore Charlotte Brontë unleashed Jane Eyre on the world, she was already – in secret – an accomplished fantasy writer. Her and her writer siblings’ collaborative worlds of Glass Town and Angria are as complex as Game of Thrones: fantastical, magical kingdoms, steeped in violence, politics, lust and betrayal. In private letters, Brontë called it her “world below”, a private escape where she could act out her desires and multiple identities.

Written in dozens of miniature books, these manuscripts – with curious, secretive titles such as A Peep into a Picture Book, The Spell, A Leaf from an Unopened Volume – are not only an astonishing example of craftsmanship, but contain extraordinary, uncensored content. The Brontës’ father had poor eyesight and could not read them, so Charlotte was able to write in confidence. Over the course of 10 years, she created characters and events that became inextricably bound with her own selfhood, some of whom we know and love in her later works.

Map of Verdopolis, or Glass Town part of an imaginary history created by the Brontë siblings – first by Charlotte and Branwell, and later developed by Emily and Ann. After 1834, Charlotte and Branwell concentrated on an evolution of the Glass Town Confederacy, called Angria. Photograph: The British Library Board, Ashley 2468, f.1v

The fiery, passionate dynamic between Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester has captivated readers and writers for nearly two centuries. Rochester’s dark, brooding sexuality matched with Jane’s strong mind and determined nature has crowned them one of the most powerful couples in English literature. But where did they come from? How did Charlotte, then a single woman living in Haworth, imagine such a passionate relationship?

The answer can be found almost two decades earlier when, in 1829, a 13-year-old Charlotte began building a wild, exotic kingdom in Two Romantic Tales. Set on the golden shores of West Africa, this volume transports readers through the haunted misty Mountains of the Moon – home of the gods – through to the sweeping, “burning air” of the Sahara desert, where the brutal Ashantee tribesman cry out for war. She creates metropolitan cities, with elegant streets and glittering skylines that “rise, soar … the buildings spring like magic”. She delights in the dense forests that nestle the estates and palaces of gentry and royalty: “Here the tufted olive, the fragrant myrtle, the stately palm-tree … the rich vine and the queenly rose mingled in sweet and odorous shadiness.” It is in one of these secluded palaces that we find an early Rochester: the dangerously dark Duke of Zamorna.

Illustration of Charlotte Brontë at home, writing with her ailing father in the background. Photograph: Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Zamorna is the king of Charlotte’s fantasy world. With the ever-maturing Charlotte’s pen, he is described as “passion and fire unquenchable, as impetuous sin and stormy pride, as a young duke – young demon!”

Zamorna grew out of the racy material that Charlotte loved reading: from the age of 10, she devoured accounts of military men, fixating especially on the rivalry between Wellington and Napoleon, the age’s two titans of war. She revelled in the sensual, exotic stories of Arabian Nights in Walter Scott’s sweeping battle landscapes with their heroic, warrior clansmen was fascinated by Byron’s scandalous life and works. Like her literary and historical idols, Zamorna is muscular, charismatic and radiating sexual mystique: he’s a prototype Rochester. He is driven by instinct, considers matrimony a loose commitment and struggles with his degenerate lifestyle and inner demons: a devil in need of redemption. Devil-like red is worn by all of Zamorna’s admirers, just as Rochester’s drawing room is draped in crimson, a symbol of his appetite for luxury and decadence.

It was only in 1839, at the very end of her fantasy writing, that Brontë discovered her ideal heroine. In tale after tale, Charlotte filled her kingdom with beautiful wives and mistresses decked in the finest clothes and jewels. Despite the glitz and glamour, however, they all lack any form of autonomy or personality. Even worse, in most cases, Charlotte killed off her leading ladies with a “broken heart” when their husband either neglected or abandoned them. Mary Percy, one of Charlotte’s leading ladies, is left to rot away in a secluded tower when her husband Zamorna spurns her and leaves for war.

However, when Charlotte turned 24, she changed her way of thinking about women: in Henry Hastings, Elizabeth Hastings was born. Elizabeth has a “wan complexion, expressive features and dark hair smoothly combed in two plain folds from her forehead”. She possesses strong morals and refuses to submit to passion without the prospect of marriage. Does this description remind you of “poor obscure plain and little” Jane? A girl who falls in love with a married man and, in order to keep her integrity, fights against her heart and soul to conform to what she feels is right? Elizabeth Hastings is Jane Eyre in a parallel universe.

Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane Eyre in the 1996 film adaptation. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/MIRAMAX

Both women are of course versions of Charlotte herself, who, according to the memoirs of her friends, thought herself “old and ugly”. Like Jane, Elizabeth is a mirror into Brontë’s soul, who, through her legacy of heroines, unleashed an inspirational new voice for womankind, proposing that women did not need to rely on the whims of men. When Elizabeth rejects her suitor’s offer of becoming his mistress she feels “a secret triumph” that she had been “left entirely to [her] own guidance”. Only a year later, Brontë revealed her thoughts on marriage to her dear friend Ellen Nussey: “I am tolerably well convinced that I shall never marry at all.”

At the end of 1839, Brontë said goodbye to her fantasy world in a manuscript called Farewell to Angria. More and more, she was finding that she preferred to escape to her imagined worlds over remaining in reality – and she feared that she was going mad. So she said goodbye to her characters, scenes and subjects. Brontë imagined her beautiful kingdom, in “every variety of shade and light which morning, noon and evening – the rising, the meridian & the setting sun – can bestow upon them”. She wrote of the pain she felt at wrenching herself from her “friends” and venturing into lands unknown: “I feel almost as if I stood on the threshold of a home and were bidding farewell to its inmates.”