On this month’s episode of “Spotlight On:…” I will be focusing on the life of Charlotte Brontë. I have already written a blog post on the life of Emily Brontë if you would like to check that out here. I’m definitely looking to write a post on Anne Brontë at some point soon.
As always, the blog post will be divided into 6 different parts.
1. A little bit about their life
2. Their works I have read
3. Their works I am yet to read
4. Great film/TV adaptations based on their works
6. An author biography recommendation
So without further ado…
A Little Bit About Their Life
Charlotte Brontë was born on 21st April 1816 in Thornton, Yorkshire. Her father, Patrick Brontë, was an Anglican clergyman. After serving in several small parishes, Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell Brontë moved to Haworth with their six children. Soon after moving, Maria Branwell Brontë and the two eldest children died (Maria and Elizabeth), leaving the father to care for the remaining three girls (Charlotte, Emily and Anne) and a son (Branwell Brontë). Their upbringing was helped by their aunt, Elizabeth Branwell, who left her home in Cornwall to move in with her nieces and nephews.
In 1824, Charlotte and Emily attended Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire. Charlotte hated the school, most notably in her novel Jane Eyre where Cowan Bridge bears a stark resemblance to Lowood Manor. Charlotte and Emily left the school after one year and returned home where the Brontë children learned and played, telling stories and inventing imaginary worlds for each other.
In 1831, Charlotte was sent to Miss Wooler’s school in Huddersfield, where she stayed for a year and made a long-lasting friendship with Ellen Nussey. Her correspondence with Ellen continued throughout all her life and has provided most of what we know about Charlotte today. In 1832, she returned home to teach her sisters but then returned to Miss Wooler’s shool to teach in 1835. Charlotte wanted to help her family improve their situation and with Branwell starting a career as an artist, it was necessary for Charlotte to work to provide for them all. Though Charlotte did not enjoy the work. As a result, Charlotte fell into ill health and in the summer of 1838 she terminated her position there.
In 1839, Charlotte declined a proposal from the Reverend Henry Nussey, her friend’s brother, and some months later one from another young clergyman. Charlotte’s ambition to work and the need to pay off her brother’s debts meant that she spent some months as a governess with the Whites at Upperwood House. Though Branwell was talented, he was unstabled, weak-willed and intemperate. He became addicted to alcohol and opium.
Charlotte, Emily and Anne planned to open a school together and in 1842, Charlotte and Emily went to Brussels as students to improve their French and language skills. Both Charlotte and Emily were very talented pupils and brought them to the notice of Constantin Héger. After a brief trip home for hte death of her aunt, Charlotte returned to Brussels as a teacher. She stayed there for 1843 but was very lonely an depressed. The nature of Charlotte’s attachment to Héger meant that his wife was often very jealous of Charlotte. Their relationship is well-talked about – she was devoted to him but Héger tried to repress her emtotions. Charlotte stopped writing to him and applied herself, in siilence, to controlling her feelings. It is Charlotte’s years in Belgium that were said to give her the most material for her writing.
In 1844, Charlotte attempted to start the school, but no pupils were enrolled.
It was in 1845 that Charlotte came across some poetry that Emily had written, leading to the publication of Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (1846) (a collection of poetry by Charlotte, Emily and Anne). The book was published at their own expenses and the pseudonyms were assumed to preserve secrecy and avoid the special treatment they believed reviewers accorded to women. It received only a few reviews and only two copies were sold. Nevertheless, a way had opened to them, and they were already trying to place the three novels they had written. Charlotte failed to place The Professor: A Tale but had, however, nearly finished Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. When Smith, Elder and Company, declining The Professor, declared themselves willing to consider a three-volume novel with more action and excitement in it, she completed and submitted it at once. Jane Eyre was accepted, published less than eight weeks later (on October 16, 1847), and had an immediate success, far greater than that of the books that her sisters published the same year.
Despite her success, the next few months that followed were tragic. Branwell died in September 1848, Emily in December, and Anne in May in 1849. Charlotte wrote Shirley and it was published in October. In the following years Charlotte went three times to London as the guest of her publisher; there she met the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray. She stayed in 1851 with the writer Harriet Martineau and also visited her future biographer, Elizabeth Gaskell, in Manchester and entertained her at Haworth. Villette was published in January 1853. Meanwhile, in 1851, she had declined a third offer of marriage, that time from James Taylor, a member of Smith, Elder and Company.
Her father’s curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls (1817–1906), an Irishman, was her fourth suitor. It took some months to win her father’s consent, but they were married on June 29, 1854, in Haworth church. They spent their honeymoon in Ireland and then returned to Haworth, where her husband had pledged himself to continue as curate to her father. He did not share his wife’s intellectual life, but she was happy to be loved for herself and to take up her duties as his wife. She began another book, Emma, of which some pages remain. Her pregnancy, however, was accompanied by exhausting sickness, and she died in 1855.
Their Works I Have Read and Their Works I Am Yet to Read
I have only read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë but am definitely interested in reading more of her works, namely Shirley, Villette and The Professor.
Great Film/TV Adaptations
There is a 2011 version of Jane Eyre starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender which I really enjoyed. I also recently watched a National Theatre adaptation of Jane Eyre which I will be posting a review of soon!
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
“It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”
“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you!”
An Author Biography Recommendation
Thanks for reading!
Love, Zoë xx