Charlotte Brontë (21 April 1816 – 31 March 1855) was an English novelist and poet, the eldest of the three Brontë sisters who survived into adulthood, whose novels are English literature standards. She wrote Jane Eyre under the pen name Currer Bell.
Early life and education
Charlotte was born in Thornton, Yorkshire in 1816, the third of six children, to Maria (née Branwell) and her husband Patrick Brontë (formerly surnamed Brunty or Prunty), an Irish Anglican clergyman. In 1820, the family moved a few miles to the village of Haworth, where Patrick had been appointed Perpetual Curate of St Michael and All Angels Church. Charlotte's mother died of cancer on 15 September 1821, leaving five daughters and a son to be taken care of by her sister Elizabeth Branwell.
In August 1824, Charlotte was sent with three of her sisters, Emily, Maria, and Elizabeth, to the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire (She used the school as the basis for Lowood School in Jane Eyre). The school's poor conditions, Charlotte maintained, permanently affected her health and physical development and hastened the deaths of her two elder sisters, Maria (born 1814) and Elizabeth (born 1815), who died of tuberculosis in June 1825. Soon after their deaths, her father removed Charlotte and Emily from the school.
At home in Haworth Parsonage Charlotte acted as "the motherly friend and guardian of her younger sisters". She and her surviving siblings — Branwell, Emily, and Anne – created their own literary fictional worlds, and began chronicling the lives and struggles of the inhabitants of these imaginary kingdoms. Charlotte and Branwell wrote Byronic stories about their imagined country, "Angria", and Emily and Anne wrote articles and poems about "Gondal". The sagas they created were elaborate and convoluted (and still exist in partial manuscripts) and provided them with an obsessive interest during childhood and early adolescence, which prepared them for their literary vocations in adulthood.
Charlotte continued her education at Roe Head in Mirfield, from 1831 to 1832, where she met her lifelong friends and correspondents, Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor. Shortly after she wrote the novella The Green Dwarf (1833) using the name Wellesley. Charlotte returned to Roe Head as a teacher from 1835 to 1838. In 1839, she took up the first of many positions as governess to families in Yorkshire, a career she pursued until 1841. Politically a Tory, she preached tolerance rather than revolution. She held high moral principles, and, despite her shyness in company, was always prepared to argue her beliefs.
In 1842 Charlotte and Emily travelled to Brussels to enrol in a boarding school run by Constantin Heger (1809–96) and his wife Claire Zoé Parent Heger (1804–87). In return for board and tuition, Charlotte taught English and Emily taught music. Their time at the boarding school was cut short when Elizabeth Branwell, their aunt who joined the family after the death of their mother to look after the children, died of internal obstruction in October 1842. Charlotte returned alone to Brussels in January 1843 to take up a teaching post at the school. Her second stay was not a happy one; she became lonely, homesick and deeply attached to Constantin Heger. She returned to Haworth in January 1844 and used her time at the boarding school as the inspiration for some experiences in The Professor and Villette.
In May 1846, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne self-financed the publication of a joint collection of poetry under the assumed names of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. These pseudonyms veiled the sisters' gender whilst preserving their real initials, thus Charlotte was "Currer Bell". "Bell" was the middle name of Haworth's curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls, whom Charlotte later married. On the decision to use noms de plume, Charlotte wrote:
Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because — without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called 'feminine' – we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality, and for their reward, a flattery, which is not true praise.
Although only two copies of the collection of poetry were sold, the sisters continued writing for publication and began their first novels, continuing to use their noms de plume when sending manuscripts to potential publishers.
Charlotte's first manuscript, The Professor, did not secure a publisher, although she was heartened by an encouraging response from Smith, Elder & Co of Cornhill, who expressed an interest in any longer works which "Currer Bell" might wish to send. Charlotte responded by finishing and sending a second manuscript in August 1847, and six weeks later Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, was published. Jane Eyre was a success, and initially received favourable reviews. There was speculation about the identity of Currer Bell, and whether Bell was a man or a woman. The speculation heightened on the subsequent publication of novels by Charlotte's sisters: Emily's Wuthering Heights by "Ellis Bell" and Anne's Agnes Grey by "Acton Bell". Accompanying the speculation was a change in the critical reaction to Charlotte's work; accusations began to be made that Charlotte's writing was "coarse", a judgement which was made more readily once it was suspected that "Currer Bell" was a woman. However sales of Jane Eyre continued to be strong, and may even have increased due to the novel's developing reputation as an 'improper' book.
Shirley and family bereavements
Following the success of Jane Eyre, in 1848 Charlotte began work on the manuscript of her second novel, Shirley. The manuscript was only partially completed when the Brontë household suffered a tragic turn of events, experiencing the deaths of three family members within eight months. In September 1848 Charlotte's only brother, Branwell, died of chronic bronchitis and marasmus exacerbated by heavy drinking, although Charlotte believed his death was due to tuberculosis. Branwell was a suspected "opium eater", a laudanum addict. Emily became seriously ill shortly after Branwell's funeral, and died of pulmonary tuberculosis in December 1848. Anne died of the same disease in May 1849. Charlotte was unable to write at this time.
After Anne's death Charlotte resumed writing as a way of dealing with her grief, and Shirley was published in October 1849. Shirley deals with the themes of industrial unrest and the role of women in society. Unlike Jane Eyre, which is written from the first-person perspective of the main character, Shirley is written in the third-person and lacks the emotional immediacy of Jane Eyre, and reviewers found it less shocking.
In view of the success of her novels, particularly Jane Eyre, Charlotte was persuaded by her publisher to visit London occasionally, where she revealed her true identity and began to move in a more exalted social circle, becoming friends with Harriet Martineau and Elizabeth Gaskell, and acquainted with William Makepeace Thackeray and G. H. Lewes. She never left Haworth for more than a few weeks at a time as she did not want to leave her ageing father's side. Thackeray’s daughter, the writer Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie recalled a visit to her father by Charlotte:
…two gentlemen come in, leading a tiny, delicate, serious, little lady, with fair straight hair, and steady eyes. She may be a little over thirty; she is dressed in a little barège dress with a pattern of faint green moss. She enters in mittens, in silence, in seriousness; our hearts are beating with wild excitement. This then is the authoress, the unknown power whose books have set all London talking, reading, speculating; some people even say our father wrote the books – the wonderful books… The moment is so breathless that dinner comes as a relief to the solemnity of the occasion, and we all smile as my father stoops to offer his arm; for, genius though she may be, Miss Brontë can barely reach his elbow. My own personal impressions are that she is somewhat grave and stern, specially to forward little girls who wish to chatter… Every one waited for the brilliant conversation which never began at all. Miss Brontë retired to the sofa in the study, and murmured a low word now and then to our kind governess… the conversation grew dimmer and more dim, the ladies sat round still expectant, my father was too much perturbed by the gloom and the silence to be able to cope with it at all… after Miss Brontë had left, I was surprised to see my father opening the front door with his hat on. He put his fingers to his lips, walked out into the darkness, and shut the door quietly behind him… long afterwards… Mrs. Procter asked me if I knew what had happened… It was one of the dullest evenings [Mrs Procter] had ever spent in her life… the ladies who had all come expecting so much delightful conversation, and the gloom and the constraint, and how finally, overwhelmed by the situation, my father had quietly left the room, left the house, and gone off to his club.
Friendship with Elizabeth Gaskell
Charlotte sent copies of Shirley to leading authors of the day, including Elizabeth Gaskell. Gaskell and Charlotte met in August 1850 and began a friendship which, whilst not necessarily close, was significant in that Gaskell wrote Charlotte's biography after her death in 1855. The Life of Charlotte Brontë, was published in 1857 and was unusual at the time in that, rather than analysing its subject's achievements, it concentrated on the private details of Charlotte's life, in particular placing emphasis on aspects which countered the accusations of 'coarseness' which had been levelled at Charlotte's writing. Though frank in places, Gaskell was selective about which details she revealed; for example, she suppressed details of Charlotte's love for Heger, a married man, as being too much of an affront to contemporary morals and as a source of distress to Charlotte's still-living friends, father and husband. Gaskell also provided doubtful and inaccurate information about Patrick Brontë, claiming, for example, that he did not allow his children to eat meat. This is refuted by one of Emily Brontë's diary papers, in which she describes the preparation of meat and potatoes for dinner at the parsonage, as Juliet Barker points out in her biography, The Brontës. It has been argued that the particular approach of Mrs Gaskell transferred the focus of attention away from the 'difficult' novels, not just of Charlotte but all the sisters, and began a process of sanctification of their private lives.
Charlotte's third published novel, and the last to be published during her lifetime, was Villette, which came out in 1853. Its main themes include isolation, how such a condition can be borne, and the internal conflict brought about by societal repression of individual desire. Its main character, Lucy Snowe, travels abroad to teach in a boarding school in the fictional town of Villette, where she encounters a culture and religion different to her own, and where she falls in love with a man ('Paul Emanuel') whom she cannot marry. Her experiences result in her having a breakdown, but eventually she achieves independence and fulfilment in running her own school. Villette marked Charlotte's return to writing from a first-person perspective (that of Lucy Snowe), a technique she had used successfully in Jane Eyre. Another similarity to Jane Eyre was Charlotte's use of aspects from her own life as inspiration for fictional events, in particular reworking her time spent at the pensionnat in Brussels into Lucy spending time teaching at the boarding school, and falling in love with Constantin Heger into Lucy falling in love with 'Paul Emanuel'. Villette was acknowledged by the critics of the day as a potent and sophisticated piece of writing, although it was criticised for its 'coarseness' and not suitably 'feminine' in its portrayal of Lucy's desires.
Illness and subsequent death
In June 1854, Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father's curate and possibly the model for Jane Eyre's St. John Rivers. She became pregnant soon after the marriage. Her health declined rapidly during this time, and according to Gaskell, she was attacked by "sensations of perpetual nausea and ever-recurring faintness." Charlotte died, with her unborn child, on 31 March 1855, at the age of 38. Her death certificate gives the cause of death as phthisis (tuberculosis), but many biographers[who?] suggest she may have died from dehydration and malnourishment, caused by excessive vomiting from severe morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum. There is evidence to suggest that Charlotte died from typhus she may have caught from Tabitha Ackroyd, the Brontë household's oldest servant, who died shortly before her. Charlotte was interred in the family vault in the Church of St Michael and All Angels at Haworth.
Posthumously, her first-written novel was published in 1857. The fragment she worked on in her last years in 1860 has been twice completed by recent authors, the more famous version being Emma Brown: A Novel from the Unfinished Manuscript by Charlotte Brontë by Clare Boylan in 2003. Much Angria material has appeared in published form since the author's death.
Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_Brontë