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Emily, and Anne were withdrawn and brought home.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
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
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
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