Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë (April 21, 1816 – March 31, 1855) had a writing life that was both romantic and tragic. Born in Thornton, a small West Yorkshire village in England, she was part of a clerical family that valued education for their daughters as well as their sons. She lived to tell the tale of how the three sisters took masculine pseudonyms to improve their chances of finding publishers, and the challenges and prejudices they faced in their pursuits.

Her brother and two literary sisters, Emily Brontë and Anne Brontë, died tragically young of illness when barely out of their twenties; she herself lived only to age 39, from complications dues to pregnancy. Her story is one of sheer genius meeting tireless determination. Some of her contemporaries said of Charlotte that she would have traded her genius for beauty. 

Contemporary Jane Eyre coverIt took a long time for Charlotte’s work to be appreciated. The manuscript for The Professor was making its rounds and been rejected everywhere, while her sisters Emily and Anne found homes for their novels. There was a glimmer of hope when one publisher responded that she should send her next work to them, so she wrote and sent the manuscript for Jane Eyre, which was published just six weeks after its acceptance (in the autumn of 1847), and was an immediate bestseller.

Jane Eyre sparked a fair amount of controversy when first published; even more so when critics began to suspect that it was the work of a woman, as she had published it under her masculine pseudonym, Currer Bell. Responding to such criticism, she wrote:

“To value praise or stand in awe of blame we must respect the source whence the praise and blame proceed, and I do not respect an inconsistent critic. He says, ‘If Jane Eyre be the production of a woman, she must be a woman unsexed.’ In that case the book is an unredeemed error and should be unreservedly condemned. Jane Eyre is a woman’s biography, by a woman it is professedly written. If it is written as no woman would write, condemn it with spirit and decision — say it is bad, but do not eulogise and then detract.

I am reminded of The Economist. The literary critic of that paper praised the book if written by a man, and pronounced it ‘odious’ if the work of a woman. To such critics I would say, ‘To you I am neither man nor woman — I come before you as an author only. It is the sole standard by which you have a right to judge me — the sole ground on which I accept your judgement.'” (From a letter to her editor, W.S Williams, August 1849)

Going back to March 5, 1839, Charlotte Brontë had declined a marriage proposal, writing: “I am not the serious, grave, cool-hearted individual you suppose; you would think me romantic and eccentric.” She did ultimately marry Arthur Bell Nicholls in 1854.

Charlotte Brontë approached fiction writing in such an original way that it attracted many to her romantic yet deeply emotional tales and gained her lasting stature in the world of literature. She died in Haworth, England at the age of 38 of complications from pregnancy in 1855. Her unborn child did not survive, and her sisters Anne and Emily had predeceased her by several years.

More about Charlotte Brontë on this site

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Biographies about Charlotte Brontë and the Brontë Sisters

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Charlotte Brontë Quotes

charlotte bronte

“A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow.”

“I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward.”

“I’m just going to write because I cannot help it.”

“My work (a tale in one volume) being completed, I offered it to a publisher. He said it was original, faithful in nature, but he did not feel warranted in accepting it; such a work would not sell. I tried six publishers in succession; they all told me it was dedicient in “startling incident” and “thrilling excitement,” that it would never suit the circulating libraries, and as it was on those libraries the success of works of fiction mainly depended, they could not undertake to publish what would be overlooked there. Jane Eyre was rather objected to at first, on the same grounds, but finally found acceptance.” (From a letter to G.H Lewes, 1847)

“What will the critics of the monthly reviews and magazines be likely to see in Jane Eyre (if indeed they deign to read it), which will win from them even a stinted modicum of approbation? It has no learning, no research, it discusses no subject of public interest. A mere domestic novel will, I fear, seem trivial to men of large views and solid attachments.” (From a letter to her editor, W.S. Williams, October 1847)

“Is not the real experience of each individual very limited? And, if a writer dwells upon that solely or principally, is [she] not in danger of repeating [herself], and also becoming an egotist? Then, too, imagination is a strong, restless faculty, which claims to be heard and exercised: are we to be quite deaf to her cry, and insensate to her struggles?…” (From a letter to G.H Lewes, 1848)

“I am not the serious, grave, cool-hearted individual you suppose; you would think me romantic and eccentric.” (In a letter, declining a marriage proposal, 1839)

Charlotte Brontë photo“I can work indefatigably at the correction of a work before it leaves my hands, but when once I have looked on it as completed and submitted to the inspection of others, it becomes next to impossible to alter or amend. With the heavy suspicion on my mind that all may not be right, I yet feel forced to put up with the inevitably wrong.” (From a letter to her editor, W.S. Williams, 1849)

“Of course a second work has occupied my thoughts much. I think it would be premature in me to undertake a serial now — I am not yet qualified for the task: I have neither gained a sufficiently firm footing with the public nor do I possess sufficient confidence in myself.” (From a letter to her publisher, 1847) 

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