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Charlotte Brontė
1816 - 1855
 

 


Charlotte Brontė was born in 1816, the third child of the Reverend Patrick Brontė and Maria Branwell Brontė. Patrick Brontė was an Anglican, Cambridge-educated clergyman of Irish birth. The couple had six children before Maria Brontė died of cancer in 1821. The Reverend Brontė subsequently treated his children Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Patrick Branwell, Emily, and Anne in a severe manner. He also had the five girls sent to school at Cowan Bridge. At the Clergy Daughter's school, conditions were poor. When fever broke out at the school, Maria and Elizabeth succumbed to the disease. Consequently, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne were withdrawn and brought home. The children's Aunt Bess, their dead mother's sister Elizabeth Branwell, became their new instructor.

Though the four children were deeply affected by the death of their two sisters, they filled their spare time with endeavors to fulfill their imaginations. This was perhaps necessary given that the environment that surrounded them was the dreary moor of Yorkshire, England. For example, when their father gave Patrick Branwell a box of toy soldiers, they used these miniatures as a source of inspiration to begin their respective writing adventures. Thus, the Brontė children began to write at an early age at least partly as a response to the fantasies of their youth.

Charlotte Brontė was sent away to the Roe Head School in 1831. Her father's health was in jeopardy, and he wanted his daughter to be capable of being economically independent. Mrs. Wooler headed the Roe Head School. There were seven to ten students at the school during the two years that Charlotte was at the school. The school was more like a small family than a boarding school.

At first, Charlotte Brontė was considered different from the other girls at the school in that she came the farthest distance to Roe Head. In actuality, this was only twenty miles away. Charlotte's size and dress were also distinct from those of the other girls. She stood a mere four feet, nine inches, and she was incredibly slight. She also had a crooked mouth and a large nose. She was so nearsighted that she had a habit of squinting. When given a book she bent over it almost to the point where her nose touched the page. Charlotte also dressed in a peculiar, almost quaint fashion. Her stature and dress had the effect of giving Charlotte an old-womanish appearance.

Charlotte's appearance, coupled with her Irish accent and uneven education, set her apart from the other girls, who were more demure and well-dressed. Charlotte was homesick. She would be seen with tears streaming down her face as she looked out windows on snowy days. Mrs. Wooler was a considerate teacher who helped Charlotte overcome her patchy education by encouraging her. Charlotte was, after all, soon perceived as very intelligent, for she knew many more poems than the other girls. Charlotte soon earned several awards for outstanding scholarship, and in 1832 she declined an offer to become a teacher at the school.

Instead, Charlotte chose to return home to instruct her sisters, over whom she had had educational advantages. In the morning she would teach them, and in the afternoons they would draw and spend time on the moor. After dinner they would sew and have tea, and Charlotte also used this time to write fantasies. Charlotte and her sisters were also Sunday school teachers. Otherwise, the three had little contact with the other members of their village of Haworth. They were principally creatures of solitude. Charlotte maintained correspondence with Ellen Nussey, whom she had met at the Roe Head school. (Over four hundred of Charlotte's letters have been preserved by her.)

In 1835, Charlotte returned to Mrs. Wooler's school as a teacher. Her sister Emily came with her as a pupil but soon had to return to Haworth due to homesickness. Charlotte stayed on and enjoyed the monotonous daily routine of teaching at the school. She began to have bouts of nervousness after teaching at the school. Charlotte also worked as a governess following her time at the Roe Head school, continued her correspondence, and rejected two marriage proposals from clergymen.

Next, Charlotte was off to Brussels. This was the most exciting trip of her life. She had enjoyed French correspondence, and now she was free to explore the culture. In Brussels, she also became infatuated with a married school headmaster. This love was not reciprocated. It was during this time that her brother failed to realize his potential as an artist and instead drank and took opium.

Charlotte's first nove, The Professor, was not met with great enthusiasm, but her second novel, Jane Eyre, was an instant success. This work earned her three hundred pounds.

Charlotte's life at this point contained much hope, for she was a burgeoning writer (though under a pseudonym). She was shattered, though, by the deaths of Patrick Branwell, Emily, and Anne in 1848. Famous editors and friends in London supported her, yet by 1851, she herself was suffering health ailments. She married Arthur Bell Nichols in 1854 and wrote one more novel, Villette. In 1855 she died of tuberculosis and pregnancy complications.

Charlotte Brontė was only thirty-nine years old when she died. Some biographers claim that, since she despised her husband, she actually starved herself to death during her final pregnancy. She had published some poem sets and three novels. The settings of the novels, such as Jane Eyre, contain elements that characterized her own life, such as the dreary moors of England. A sense of hopelessness pervaded her life and can be detected in her work. Charlotte's personal life was an unhappy one, and according to her contemporary biographer Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte never harbored any hope for the future. Gaskell said that Charlotte believed that God had appointed some people for sorrow and some people for happiness. This no doubt affected the tone and mood of her work.

 

 

 

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This web page was last updated on: 09 December, 2008