Sunday, 1 May 2011

Charlotte Brontë

NAME Charlotte Brontë


BIRTH b 21 April 1816 at Thornton, Bradford, Yorkshire, England.

FAMILY BACKGROUND Charlotte was bought up by her father, Patrick, an eccentric Irish Clergyman, who was in the habit of carrying a loaded pistol in his pocket and an Aunt, who was her mother’s unmarried sister. Her Cornish Mother, Maria died in 1821 at the age of 37 of cancer. The Aunt who came down to look after them was a Calvinist Methodist. Although they appreciated her efforts, she apparently did not become a second mother to them.
Charlotte had four sisters including Emily (1818-1848) who wrote Wuthering Heights and Anne (1820-49) who wrote Agnes Grey . She acted as "the motherly friend and guardian of her younger sisters." Her one brother Patrick (1817-1848) (always known simply as Branwell, so that's how I will refer to him), was addicted to opium and alcohol and often used to frequent the Nelson Inn at Luddenden Foot, West Yorks. He was the black sheep of the family. Her two other sisters Maria and Elizabeth also died of consumption, both in 1825. Her father outlived all his children.

CHILDHOOD In 1826 Mr Brontë bought home a box of wooden soldiers for Branwell to play with. Charlotte (left) and her sisters joined in and together they used the soldiers to create an imaginary kingdom called Angria. Over the next ten years, she filled thousands of pages of miniature books imagining and chronicling the fantastic world of Angria.

EDUCATION In August 1824, Charlotte was sent with three of her sisters, Emily, Maria, and Elizabeth, to the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire (which she would describe as Lowood School in Jane Eyre). As borders there cruelty, poor hygiene and starvation made life horrific and hastened the deaths of their older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth who died of tuberculosis in June 1825. Soon afterwards Charlotte's father removed her and Emily from the school. I'm told the Clergy Daughters' School still exists, though it was moved to Casterton shortly after the scandal.
Afterwards their father undertook to educate them himself, although this education seems to have been largely self-administered by her. In 1831 14-year-old Charlotte became a pupil at Miss Wooler's school at Roe Head, Mirfield, West Yorkshire, but left the following year to teach her sisters at home.

CAREER RECORD Charlotte took up various positions as governesses & teachers to earn money to pay for an art education for their brother Branwell. Her CV reads thus:
1835-8 A teacher at her old school at Roe Head.
1839 A governess with Sidgwick family near Skipton
1841 A governess with a family at Rawdon
1842-43 Studied languages and school management at Brussels and taught at a boarding school, the Pensionnat Héger, in the hope of returning to Yorkshire to establish a school of their own.
1844 Using a small inheritance from her aunt Charlotte set up with Emily a school for girls in their home village of Haworth. Although they advertised they received no pupils, so the sisters turned to their poems and novels which they had been writing.
1846 It was the discovery of Emily's poetic talent by her family that led her, Charlotte and Anne, to publish a joint collection of their poetry in 1846. The following year, Charlotte's first novel, Jane Eyre was published.
1850s Charlotte cared for her aged father.

APPEARANCE Charlotte was a wee slip of a girl with brown hair, a square heavily featured face, bad complexion, fine eyes and spectacles. GH Lewis, (George Eliot's lover) described Charlotte as "a little plain, provincial, sickly looking old maid." She was very self-conscious about her teeth and never smiled with her mouth open. .

CHARACTER When at home, Charlotte was a saintly drudge, a long suffering victim of duty, but away a passionate, manipulative, dynamic, emotional rebellious lady who was criticised as being un-befitting a clergyman's daughter. By Gum they were a sensitive lot up there.

RELATIONSHIPS For years Charlotte thought she was too plain to marry and was consequently eloquent about the loneliness of a single woman. She fell in love several times herself including one Monsieur Héger, a choleric, small professor of logic whom she met whilst teaching in Belgium. When she returned to Haworth she continued to correspond with him, despite the fact he was married already, until he ceased the letters. Charlotte was heartbroken.
However, all was not lost. Charlotte actually received four proposals of marriage before, on 29th June 1854, she married her father's curate, the Reverend Arthur Nicholls after initial violent objections from her dad. Charlotte wore a white muslin wedding dress with delicate green embroidery and a lace trimmed bonnet. It was said she looked like a "snowdrop".
Arthur was faithful, pleasant ans indomitable and Charlotte at first merely admired but later grew to love her hubby. He did not share their intellectual interests but made her happy. They had nine months of an increasingly happy marriage as Charlotte found joy in domestic love. But in March 1855 Charlotte died.
The extroverted Charlotte had many friends including her future biographer, Mrs Gaskell.

MONEY AND FAME Charlotte was widely acclaimed straight away for Jane Eyre, William Makepiece Thackery was especially keen. Within a few years Brontë mania had started and people were flocking to Haworth. An American bought up part of Charlotte’s discarded sash window & carried it on his back to Keighley station.
The frenchified Brontë (with the accent over the "E") was Arthur Nicholls idea.

FOOD AND DRINK Charlotte and her sisters were keen on berries. When not, er, berrying themselves in writing they ate blackberries, gooseberries, elderberries and other moorish berries.

LITERATURE After leaving school, Charlotte and her sisters read widely at home including Byron & Scott. They wrote magazines in imitation of Blackwoods Magazine. Charlotte used the pseudynomn "Currer Bell" when she published her first two novels.
Charlotte was the first to try to get something published, a small book of poems written by her, Emily & Anne under the names Currer, Ellis & Acton Bell (named thus so as not to reveal their gender). Only two copies were sold. The next year the three sisters each sent a novel to the publishers, Charlotte, The Professor, which only came out posthumously in 1857, Emily, Wuthering Heights and Anne, Agnes Grey, which were both accepted. The disappointed Charlotte quickly raced off Jane Eyre, which actually got published before her sister's novels.

In case you don't know, Jane Eyre is about an orphan girl who grew up to become a governess in a mysterious neighbourhood. The first half was written whilst Charlotte nursed her father through the aftermath of a dangerous eye operation in a hotel. The plucky, plain downtrodden Jane was partly based on Charlotte's own experiences and Rochester supposedly on Lord Byron. The Morton to which Jane fled from Thornfield Hall corresponds to the village of Hathersage in the Peak District. The deserted Wycollier Hall on Brontë Way was Jane Eyre's Ferndean Manor. Lowood School was based on Cowan Bridge School.
Other novels were:
1849 Shirley The heroine was based on Emily
1853 Villette, which was written as a result of Charlotte's heartbreak over Monsieur Héger.
Charlotte left several unfinished novels when she died including Emma, which was eventually finished and published in 1980 by "Charlotte Brontë and Another Lady.",

PETS After Branwell, then Emily, and then Anne died within months of each other, Emily's dog Keeper and Anne's dog Flossey provided Charlotte some solace in her grief.

HOBBIES AND SPORTS Charlotte and her sisters kept fit by walking over those desolate moors.

PHILOSOPHY & THEOLOGY The saintly, long-suffering Charlotte Brontë was an Anglican feminist and a passionate anti-Catholic who had been influenced by her Wesleyan family background with its belief that only complete adherence to God’s will brings salvation. These themes stand out in her Jane Eyre, where only after the brooding romantic Mr Rochester’s blindness, like St Paul, and his subsequent repentance to God can the book's heroine and Rochester be bought together.
Politically a Tory, Charlotte preached tolerance rather than revolution. Despite her shyness in company, she was always prepared to argue her beliefs.

SCANDAL The extent of Charlotte Brontë's feelings for Monsieur Héger were not fully realised until 1913, when her letters to him were published for the first time. These letters, referred to as the 'Héger Letters', had been ripped up at some stage by Héger, but his wife had retrieved the pieces from the wastepaper bin and had meticulously sewn them back together.

HEALTH AND PHYSICAL FITNESS The sickly Charlotte believed her time at the poorly run Cowan Bridge School, where two of her sisters both died of consumption permanently ruined her health.

HOMES Until 1820 Charlotte lived at a bleak, Georgian Vicarage in Market Street, Thornton, West Yorks. She moved to Haworth Rectory, in Church Street, Haworth (see left) where Charlotte and her sisters were bought up in isolation on the Yorkshire moors. The rectory is now a museum. Today over 200,000 tourists visit Haworth a year. Charlotte's father gave the first tour in the 1850s.

TRAVEL A favorite walk of the sisters lead for two miles west to the Brontë waterfall, by no means Niagara size, just a mere trickle. Charlotte came here to mourn the loss of her sisters.
In view of the enormous success of Jane Eyre, Charlotte was persuaded by her publisher to occasionally visit London, where she revealed her true identity and began to move in a more exalted social circle. However, she never left Haworth for more than a few weeks at a time as she did not like to leave her ageing father's side.
In 1851 Charlotte visited the Great Exhibition in London and attended lectures by Thackery. The same year she also journeyed to the Lake District and Scotland and Manchester

DEATH Charlotte found she was pregnant not long after her marriage, and it was felt she would have a difficult pregnancy due to previous ill-health. Despite this, her husband insisted on her accompanying him to visiting the Brontë waterfall in the rain. The ground underneath was extremely damp and Charlotte caught a chill, leading to pneumonia. She died on 31 March 1855 at Haworth House & are buried at St Michael’s Church there.

APPEARANCES IN MEDIA 1. Loads of TV and movie versions of Jane Eyre including one in 1943 where Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles starred as those famous fictional Brits, Jane Eyre & Rochester. In 1970 the lovely Susannah York played the supposedly plain Jane and George C "Patton" Scott, Rochester. There was also a 2006 BBC version, starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens, which you can see below.

2. Mrs Gaskill's Life of Charlotte (1857), is one of the classic biographies, and helped promote the Brontë legend.
3. Devotion a 1946 film about the Brontës where Branwell has an American accent and the Rev Nicholls a German/Austrian one.

ACHIEVEMENTS 1. In 1994 Jane Eyre was the 7th most borrowed classic from a library (I bet you didn't know that!) Jane was the first plain heroine in English literature.
2. The success of the Brontës helped the equality for women cause.

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