Charlotte Bronte was a famous English novelist and poet who left behind a rich legacy of written work which includes classical novels like ‘Jane Eyre’, ‘Shirley’ and ‘Villette’. She was the eldest among the Bronte sisters—Charlotte, Emily and Anne—all of whom were writers and poets of the highest standards. A dominant and ambitious woman from a young age, she was someone who refused to blindly follow the norms the society demanded of women during her time. She was a fiercely independent woman who introduced to the literary world a new kind of heroine who defied age-old societal expectations to emerge as a courageous and virtuous individual in her own right. She grew up reading the works of the Romantic authors like Sir Walter Scott, William Wordsworth and Lord Byron. The three Bronte sisters supported and encouraged each other in their endeavors and shared constructive criticisms of each other’s works. As the eldest of her surviving siblings the responsibility of providing for them financially fell on Charlotte who first worked as a teacher and then as a governess to earn a living. Later on the sisters collaborated and worked together to publish their writings for financial gains. The talented sisters’ writing career was however cut short by illnesses which claimed all the three well before their time.
- She was the third of six children born to Maria Branwell and Patrick Bronte. Her father was an Anglican clergyman who was appointed Perpetual curate of St. Michael and All Angels Church.Her mother died of cancer in 1821 leaving behind six children. An aunt, Elizabeth took care of the family after her mother’s death.She along with her sisters was sent to the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge. The poor conditions at the school made the girls sick and resulted in the deaths of two of her sisters. Her father removed his surviving daughters from the school.The surviving Bronte children were a close knit unit who created their own fictional literary world and together wrote stories, articles and poems. The whole Bronte clan had a deep interest in writing and literature.Career
- She wrote her first novella ‘The Green Dwarf’ in 1833 under the pen name Wellesley. She also began working as a teacher at Roe Head from 1835 to 1838.She found job as a governess in 1839. Over the next couple of years she would work in this position for several families in Yorkshire.Charlotte and Emily went to Brussels in 1842 to study under the institution of Constantin Heger and his wife Claire Zoe Heger. In return for their services, Charlotte taught English and Emily taught music at the school run by the Hegers.The sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne decided to pursue their writing careers and chose masculine sounding names as their pseudonyms—Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. They published a joint collection of poetry under these names in May 1846.Charlotte had begun work on a novel called ‘The Professor’. However she could not find a publisher; this novel was ultimately published years later, after her death.Her first published novel was ‘Jane Eyre’ which was released in 1847. It was published under her pen name Currer Bell. The novel focused on the story of a plain governess by the name of Jane who falls in love with her employer Mr. Rochester. The novel is credited to have revolutionized the art of fiction.‘Jane Eyre’ became a highly popular book and was a huge commercial success. It was also reviewed very favorably. The book combined elements of gothic melodrama with naturalism which was an innovation in literature of those times.The success of her debut novel motivated Charlotte to continue writing. She was working on her second novel ‘Shirley’ when multiple tragedies struck the Bronte household—three family members died within a period of eight months. Charlotte drowned herself in writing as a means of coping with her grief.‘Shirley’ was out in 1849. The novel was set in Yorkshire and covered the period of industrial depression. The book dealt with the themes of industrial unrest and the role of women in society. This work of literature could not however match up to the success of its predecessor.Even though she initially wrote under the male name of Currer Bell, her publisher insisted that she reveal her true identity following the success of her novels. After revealing herself to the world, she became friends with Harriet Martineau and Elizabeth Gaskell.The last novel published during her lifetime, ‘Villette’ was released in 1853. It told of the story of a woman, Lucy and her adventures and romance. The novel is noted for the tracing of the protagonist’s psychology and for exploring gender roles in society.Major Works
- ‘Jane Eyre’ is the novel that changed her fortunes and revolutionized the art of fiction. The novel combined elements of social criticism and accepted norms of morality. She explored issues like sexuality, feminism and classism—issues that were regarded much ahead of her time.Personal Life & Legacy
- Her father’s curate Arthur Bell Nicholls had been in love with Charlotte for a long time and had proposed marriage. Her father was initially opposed to the match but eventually agreed. The couple got married in 1854.She began to suffer from health problems when she became pregnant with her first child. Both the mother and her unborn child died on 31 March 1855.
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