Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë (April 21, 1816 – March 31, 1855), the British novelist and poet, conducted a 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.

Bronte sisters

The Brontë sisters, in a painting by their brother, Branwell.
She wrote much about their paths to publication

It 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.

Contemporary Jane Eyre coverJane 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. In 1855, she died in Haworth, England at the age of 38 of complications from pregnancy. Her unborn child did not survive, and her sisters Anne and Emily had predeceased her by several years.

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Major Works

Biographies about Charlotte Brontë and the Brontë Sisters

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