Authors Who Made History: Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë was an English novelist and poet, the eldest of the three Brontë sisters who survived into adulthood and whose novels have become classics of English literature. She first published her works under the pen name Currer Bell.

Charlotte Brontë worked as a teacher and governess before collaborating on a book of poetry with her two sisters, Emily and Anne, who were writers as well.

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Early Life

Born on April 21, 1816, in Thornton, Yorkshire, England, Writer Charlotte Brontë was said to be the most dominant and ambitious of the Brontës, she was raised in a strict Anglican home by her clergyman father and a religious aunt after her mother and two eldest siblings died. She and her sister Emily attended the Clergy Daughter’s School at Cowan Bridge, but were largely educated at home. Though she tried to earn a living as both a governess and a teacher, Brontë missed her sisters and eventually returned home.

First publication and Literary Achievements

In May 1846 Charlotte, Emily and Anne self-financed the publication of a joint collection of poems under their assumed names Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. The pseudonyms veiled the sisters’ gender while preserving their initials; thus Charlotte was Currer Bell. “Bell” was the middle name of Haworth’s curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls whom Charlotte later married, whilst “Currer” was the surname of Frances Mary Richardson Currer who had funded their school (and maybe their father). Of the decision to use noms de plume, Charlotte wrote:

“Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because — without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called “feminine” – we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality, and for their reward, a flattery, which is not true praise.”

Although only two copies of the collection of poems were sold, the sisters continued writing for publication and began their first novels, continuing to use their noms de plume when sending manuscripts to potential publishers.

Charlotte’s first manuscript, The Professor, did not secure a publisher, although she was heartened by an encouraging response from Smith, Elder & Co. of Cornhill, who expressed an interest in any longer works Currer Bell might wish to send. Charlotte responded by finishing and sending a second manuscript in August 1847. Six weeks later Jane Eyre: An Autobiography was published. It tells the story of a plain governess, Jane, who, after difficulties in her early life, falls in love with her employer, Mr Rochester. The book’s style was innovative, combining naturalism with gothic melodrama, and broke new ground in being written from an intensely evoked first-person female perspective. Charlotte believed art was most convincing when based on personal experience; in Jane Eyre she transformed the experience into a novel with universal appeal.

Though controversial in its criticism of society’s treatment of impoverished women, the book was an immediate hit. She followed the success with Shirley in 1848 and Villette in 1853.

Marriage

Before the publication of Villette Charlotte received a proposal of marriage from Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father’s curate, who had long been in love with her. She initially turned down his proposal and her father objected to the union at least partly because of Nicholls’s poor financial status. She finally accepted his proposal by January 1854. They gained the approval of her father by April and married in June.

Death and Legacy

Charlotte became pregnant soon after her wedding, but her health declined rapidly and, according to Gaskell, she was attacked by “sensations of perpetual nausea and ever-recurring faintness.” She died, with her unborn child, on 31 March 1855, aged 38, three weeks before her 39th birthday. Her death certificate gives the cause of death as phthisis, but many biographers suggest that she died from dehydration and undernourishment due to vomiting caused by severe morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum. There is also evidence that she died from typhus, which she may have caught from Tabitha Ackroyd, the Brontë household’s oldest servant, who died shortly before her. Charlotte was interred in the family vault in the Church of St Michael and All Angels at Haworth.

The Professor, the first novel Charlotte had written, was published posthumously in 1857. The fragment of a new novel she had been writing in her last years has been twice completed by recent authors, the more famous version being Emma Brown: A Novel from the Unfinished Manuscript by Charlotte Brontë by Clare Boylan in 2003. Most of her writings about the imaginary country Angria have also been published since her death.


Source: Wikipedia, Biography.com

Image Source: Wikipedia Portrait by George Richmond

Disclaimer: The information here has been compiled from Wikipedia and Biography.com.

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