Charlotte Brontë

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Charlotte Brontë bigraphy, stories - English novelist, poet and governess

Charlotte Brontë : biography

21 April 1816 – 31 March 1855

Charlotte Brontë ( 21 April 1816 – 31 March 1855) was an English novelist and poet, the eldest of the three Brontë sisters who survived into adulthood, whose novels are English literature standards. She wrote Jane Eyre under the pen name Currer Bell.

Heger letters

On 29 July 1913 The Times printed four letters Charlotte had written to Constantin Heger after leaving Brussels in 1844. Written in French except for one postscript in English, the letters broke Charlotte’s image as an angelic martyr to Christian and female duties that had been constructed by many biographers, beginning with Gaskell. The letters, part of a larger and somewhat one-sided correspondence in which Heger frequently appears not to have replied, reveal she had been in love with a married man, although they are complex and have been interpreted in numerous ways, including as an example of literary self-dramatisation and an expression of gratitude from a former pupil.

In society

In view of her novels’ success, particularly Jane Eyre, Charlotte was persuaded by her publisher to visit London occasionally, where she revealed her true identity and began to move in more exalted social circles, becoming friends with Harriet Martineau and Elizabeth Gaskell, and acquainted with William Makepeace Thackeray and G. H. Lewes. She never left Haworth for more than a few weeks at a time as she did not want to leave her ageing father. Thackeray’s daughter, writer Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie recalled a visit to her father by Charlotte:

Charlotte’s friendship with Elizabeth Gaskell, whilst not necessarily close, was significant in that Gaskell wrote Charlotte’s biography after her death in 1855.

Death

Charlotte became pregnant soon after the marriage but her health declined rapidly and according to Gaskell, she was attacked by "sensations of perpetual nausea and ever-recurring faintness."

Charlotte died with her unborn child on 31 March 1855, aged 38. Her death certificate gives the cause of death as phthisis, but many biographers suggest she may have died from dehydration and malnourishment, caused by excessive vomiting from severe morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum. There is evidence to suggest that Charlotte 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. 

Charlotte’s first-written novel, The Professor, was published posthumously in 1857. The fragment of a new novel she had been working on 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. Much Angria material has appeared in published form since the author’s death.

Brussels

In 1842 Charlotte and Emily travelled to Brussels to enrol at the boarding school run by Constantin Heger (1809–96) and his wife Claire Zoé Parent Heger (1804–87). In return for board and tuition, Charlotte taught English and Emily taught music. Their time at the school was cut short when Elizabeth Branwell, their aunt who joined the family to look after the children after the death of their mother, died of internal obstruction in October 1842. Charlotte returned alone to Brussels in January 1843 to take up a teaching post at the school. Her second stay was not happy; homesick and deeply attached to Constantin Heger. She returned to Haworth in January 1844 and used the time spent in Brussels as the inspiration for some experiences in The Professor and Villette.

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’ poor financial status. Elizabeth Gaskell, who believed marriage provided ‘clear and defined duties’ that were beneficial for a woman, encouraged Charlotte to consider the positive aspects of such a union, and tried to use her contacts to engineer an improvement in Nicholls’ financial situation. Charlotte meanwhile was increasingly attracted to the intense attachment displayed by Nicholls, and by January 1854 had accepted his proposal. They gained the approval of her father by April, and married in June. They took their honeymoon in Ireland.