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.
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.
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. 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.
More about Charlotte Brontë on this site
- Charlotte’s Preface to Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
- Based Upon the Book: An Interview with Charlotte Brontë
- Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell
- Du Maurier’s Rebecca: A Worthy ‘Eyre’ Apparent
- CB’s Quotes on the Writing Life
- The Brontë Sisters’ Path to Publication
- Jane Eyre (1847)
- Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (1846)
- Shirley (1849)
- Villette (1853)
- The Professor (1857; posthumous)
Biographies about Charlotte Brontë and the Brontë Sisters
- The Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell (full text on Project Gutenberg)
- Charlotte Brontë: A Writer’s Life by Rebecca Fraser
- Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life by Lyndall Gordon
- The Brontë Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne
by Catherine Reef
- The Brontës: Wild Genius on the Moors by Juliet Baker
- Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harmon
- Charlotte Brontë on Wikipedia
- Charlotte Brontë on Goodreads
- Charlotte Brontë’s page on Amazon
Read and listen
- Charlotte Brontë – eText Archive and Study Guide
- Audio Recordings of Charlotte Brontë Works on Librivox
- Charlotte Brontë on Project Gutenberg
- Charlotte Brontë page on Amazon.com
Articles, News, Etc.:
- The 100 Best Novels: No. 12 – Jane Eyre
- Museum to Open its Doors to Jane Eyre Exhibition
- The Fascinating, Handwritten Poems of Famous Authors
- February 21, 1855: Charlotte Brontë to Ellen Nussey
- Is Jane Eyre a Feminist Icon?
- January 13, 1849: Charlotte Brontë to William Smith Williams
- 12 Genuinely Great Books About May-December Romances
- Walking: The Brontë Trail
- Letter from Charlotte Brontë to her brother Branwell, 1 May 1843
- Charlotte Brontë: Mixing the Familiar and the Fantastic
- How to Turn Down a Marriage Proposal like Charlotte Brontë
- Excerpt from Shirley by Charlotte Brontë
- Anonymous Review of Jane Eyre
- Jane Eyre and the 19th-century Woman
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