BRONTE, Charlotte

(1816 - 1855)
 “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will”

Charlotte Bronte is one of the 19th century’s most significant authors, and her first novel, Jane Eyre, is a corner stone of English literature, yet her oeuvre is remarkably small.  Born 21st April 1816 in Thornton, West Yorkshire, Charlotte was the third of the six Bronte children.   Her mother died in 1821 and three years later she and three of her sisters, Maria, Elizabeth and Emily, were enrolled at the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge, where they suffered from the school’s harsh regime, cold and poor food.  Maria and Elizabeth died from consumption shortly after leaving and Charlotte undoubtedly based Lowood School in Jane Eyre on these childhood memories.  There were few occupations open to women during the 19th century, and Charlotte tried employment both as a school teacher and as a governess, but she didn’t enjoy either, although she used the experiences to good effect in her novels.  She had been writing poems and stories from a young age, and in 1846 she persuaded her sisters, Emily and Anne, to publish Poems under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell.  This was a commercial disaster, only two copies being sold, but she was not deterred and offered The Professor, her first attempt at a novel, to a number of publishing houses, all of which rejected it.  In August of 1846 she started to write a first person narrative about a governess and in October 1847 Jane Eyre was published by Smith, Elder.  It became an immediate success despite being considered, in some quarters, a little improper.  She began work on Shirley in 1848 but the deaths in quick succession of Branwell, Emily and Anne meant she did not have it ready for publication until October 1849.  Charlotte’s third novel, Villette,  (the most autobiographical of all of her novels) was the last to appear in her lifetime, being published in 1853. 

Charlotte married her father’s curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls, in June 1854 but less than a year later she was dead.  Her widower arranged for the publication of the previously rejected The Professor with Smith, Elder in June 1857.

Charlotte’s output is limited to only four novels and nineteen poems, all written in just eight years, yet she is unquestionably one of the major authors in the canon of 19th century English literature.


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 Charlotte BRONTE

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