Friday, October 7, 2011

Charlotte Brontë

“I took the sow to Alfred Hubbard’s boar this forenoon.  Went to the Cancus this afternoon.  Very pleasant day.  Looked like rain this morning but cleared off pleasant.”

A postum idealized portrait by Duyckinick, 1873, based on a drawing by George Richmond
Charlotte was born in Thornton, Yorkshire in 1816, the third of six children, to Maria (née Branwell) and her husband Patrick Brontë (formerly surnamed Brunty or Prunty), an Irish Anglican clergyman. In 1820, the family moved a few miles to Haworth, where Patrick had been appointed Perpetual Curate. Mrs. Brontë died of cancer on 15 September 1821, leaving five daughters and a son to be taken care of by her aunt Elizabeth Branwell. 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). Its poor conditions, Charlotte maintained, permanently affected her health and physical development and hastened the deaths of her two elder sisters, Maria (born 1814) and Elizabeth (born 1815), who died of tuberculosis in June 1825. Soon after their father removed them from the school.
At home in Haworth Parsonage—a small rectory close to the graveyard of a bleak, windswept village on the Yorkshire moors—Charlotte acted as "the motherly friend and guardian of her younger sisters". She and the other surviving children— Branwell, Emily, and Anne – began chronicling the lives and struggles of the inhabitants of their imaginary kingdoms. Charlotte and Branwell wrote Byronic stories about their country – Angria – and Emily and Anne wrote articles and poems about theirs – Gondal. The sagas were elaborate and convoluted (and still exist in partial manuscripts) and provided them with an obsessive interest during childhood and early adolescence, which prepared them for their literary vocations in adulthood.
Charlotte continued her education at Roe Head, Mirfield, from 1831 to 32, where she met her lifelong friends and correspondents, Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor. During this period, she wrote her novella The Green Dwarf (1833) under the name of Wellesley. Charlotte returned as a teacher from 1835 to 1838. In 1839, she took up the first of many positions as governess to various families in Yorkshire, a career she pursued until 1841.
In May 1846, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne published a joint collection of poetry under the assumed names of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Although only two copies were sold, the sisters continued writing for publication and began their first novels. Charlotte used "Currer Bell" when she published her first two novels. Of this, Brontë later 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.
Indeed, her novels were deemed coarse by the critics. There was speculation about the identity of Currer Bell, and whether Bell was a man or a woman.
Charlotte's brother, Branwell, the only son of the family, died of chronic bronchitis and marasmus exacerbated by heavy drinking in September 1848, although Charlotte believed his death was due to tuberculosis. Branwell was also a suspected "opium eater", (i.e. a laudanum addict). Emily and Anne both died of pulmonary tuberculosis in December 1848 and May 1849, respectively.
Charlotte and her father were now left alone together. In view of the enormous success of Jane Eyre, she was persuaded by her publisher to visit London occasionally, where she revealed her true identity and began to move in a more exalted social circle, becoming friends with Harriet Martineau, Elizabeth Gaskell, William Makepeace Thackeray and G. H. Lewes. Her book had sparked a movement in regards to feminism in literature. The main character, Jane Eyre, in her novel Jane Eyre, was a parallel to herself, a woman who was strong. However, she never left Haworth for more than a few weeks at a time as she did not want to leave her ageing father's side.
In June 1854, Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father's curate and, in the opinion of many scholars, the model for several of her literary characters such as Jane Eyre's Rochester and St. John. She became pregnant soon after the marriage. Her health declined rapidly during this time, and according to Gaskell, her earliest biographer, she was attacked by "sensations of perpetual nausea and ever-recurring faintness." Charlotte died, along with her unborn child, on 31 March 1855, at the young age of 38.

Title page of the first edition of Jane Eyre
Leesah

No comments:

Post a Comment