Charlotte Brontë (1816 - 1855) MP

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Birthplace: Thornton, near Bradford, Yorkshire, UK
Death: Died in Haworth, Yorkshire, UK
Cause of death: Tuberculosis and complications of typhoid
Occupation: Novelist and Poet
Managed by: Yigal Burstein / יגאל בורשטיין
Last Updated:

About Charlotte Brontë

Brontë family (From Wikipedia)

The Brontës were a 19th century literary family associated with Haworth in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England. The sisters, Charlotte (born 21 April 1816), Emily (born 30 July 1818), and Anne (born 17 January 1820), are well known as a trio of sibling poets and novelists. They originally published their poems and novels under masculine pseudonyms, following the custom of the times practised by female writers. Their stories immediately attracted attention, although not always the best, for their passion and originality. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte, was the first to know success, while Agnes Grey, then The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne, and Wuthering Heights by Emily were later to be accepted as great works of literature.

The three sisters and their brother, Branwell, were very close and they developed their childhood imaginations through the collaborative writing of increasingly complex stories. The confrontation with the deaths, first of their mother, then of the two older sisters, marked them profoundly and influenced their writing.

Their fame was due much to their own tragic destinies as well as their precociousness. Since their early deaths, and then the death of their father in 1861, they were subject to a following that did not cease to grow. Their home, the parsonage at Haworth in Yorkshire, now the Brontë Parsonage Museum has become a place of pilgrimage for hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

The children

Patrick and Maria Brontë had six offspring:

Maria, the first of the Brontë children, was born in Clough House, High Town on 23 April 1814, died at the age of eleven in Haworth on 6 May 1825. She suffered hunger, cold, and privation at Cowan Bridge School, as well as the tyranny of the older pupils and the mantras of the teachers on being damned to eternity and the flames of Hell (fire and brimstone). She returned with an advanced case of tuberculosis. Charlotte, especially, describes her as very lively, very sensitive, and particularly advanced in her reading and in her leisure .

Elizabeth (1815–1825), the second child, joined her sister Maria at Cowan Bridge where she suffered the same fate. Elizabeth was less vivacious than her brother and her sisters, and apparently less advanced for her age. However, her premature death could not foretell what her future would have been, had she been able to cultivate the intellectual and studious passions of her family. She died on 15 June 1825 within two weeks of returning home to her father.

Charlotte, born in Thornton near Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire on 21 April 1816, was a poet and novelist and is the author of Jane Eyre, her most well known work, and three other novels. She died on 31 March 1855 just before reaching the age of 39.

Patrick Branwell was born in Thornton on 26 June 1817. Known as Branwell, he was a painter, writer and casual worker. He became addicted to alcohol and laudanum and died at Haworth on 24 September 1848 at the age of 31.

Emily Jane, born in Thornton, 30 July 1818, was a poet and novelist. She died in Haworth on 19 December 1848 at the age of 30. Wuthering Heights was her only novel.

Anne, born in Thornton on 17 January 1820, was a poet and novelist who died at the age of 29. She wrote a largely autobiographical novel entitled Agnes Grey. Her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) was far more ambitious. She died on 28 May 1849 in Scarborough, North Riding of Yorkshire.

Cowan Bridge School

In 1824, the four girls entered Cowan Bridge School, which educated the children of less fortunate members of the clergy, and which had been recommended to Mr Brontë. The following year, Maria and Elizabeth fell gravely ill and were removed from the school, but died shortly afterwards within a few weeks of each other on 6 May and 15 June 1825. Charlotte and Emily were also withdrawn and returned to Haworth. The loss of their sisters was a trauma that showed in Charlotte's writing. In Jane Eyre, Cowan Bridge becomes Lowood, the pathetic figure of Maria is represented by the character of the young Helen Burns, the cruelty of the mistress Miss Andrews by that of Miss Scatcherd, and the tyranny of the headmaster, the Rev. Carus Wilson, by that of Mr Brocklehurst.

Tuberculosis, which afflicted Maria and Elizabeth in 1825, was the eventual cause of death of the surviving Brontës: Branwell in September 1848, Emily in December 1848, Anne eight months later in May 1849, and finally Charlotte in 1855.

Fame

1847, a bountiful year

Charlotte's Jane Eyre, Emily's Wuthering Heights, and Anne's Agnes Grey, appeared in 1847 after many tribulations, again for reasons of finding a publisher. The packets containing the manuscripts often returned to the parsonage and Charlotte simply added a new address and did this at least a dozen times during the year. The first one was finally published by Smith, Elder & Co in London, of which the 23-year-old owner George Smith had been specialised until then in publishing scientific revues aided by his perspicatious reader, William Smith Williams and remained faithful to the family. Those of Emily and Anne were confided to Thomas Cautley Newby who intended to compile a three-decker, more economical for sale and for loan in the circulating libraries the two first volumes to include Wuthering Heights and the third one Agnes Grey. Both the novels attracted critical acclaim, occasionally harsh about Wuthering Heights, praised for the originality of the subject and its narrative style, but viewed with suspect because of its outrageous violence and immorality - surely, the critics wrote, a work of a man with a depraved mind - fairly neutral about Agnes Grey, more flattering in spite of certain commentators denouncing it as an affront to morals and good mores, for Jane Eyre which soon became what would be called today a bestseller.

Charlotte Brontë

Considering the times of the episode of Cowan Bridge, where Maria and Elizabeth contract the tuberculosis from which they die several weeks after returning home, the school's system was probably no more and no less severe than that of any other comparable establishment. In many ways it could even be considered to have been somewhat milder. Nevertheless, Charlotte denounced it for its strictness, its lack of cleanliness, the rotten food, and the hunger that tormented her, the repeated vomitings and above all those of her sister, the forced taking of emetics, the blood-lettings, the negligence of the doctor who was none other than the director's brother-in-law, and the low fever epidemic (probably typhus), the barbaric severity of the punishments, and the wickedness of several members of the teaching staff, in particular that of Miss Andrews. Several dozen years earlier the Austen sisters Jane and Cassandra, had caught typhus during their school years, almost causing the death of Jane. Their education, like that of the Brontë sisters, was continued at home.

These conditions that modern norms of hygiene and well-being would qualify as dysfunctional, were considered normal at the time and furthermore, when Mrs Gaskell's book was published, a great polemic shook the kingdom and different protagonists got caught up in a relentless war. It is therefore appropriate to be grateful for the perspicacity of Mr Brontë and his courage to have taken the decision, a difficult one from the point of view of his family and his profession without offending the hierarchy, to remove his daughters from the school to which he had sent them in good faith. This withdrawal was certainly too late for the two oldest, but he could be forgiven for not having been aware of the state of their health.

Literary encounters

Following the success of Jane Eyre, Charlotte was pressured by George Smith, her publisher, to start travelling, above all to London (she also went with him to Edinburgh) where in spite of the extreme timidity that made her almost incapable of expressing herself other than in monosyllables, she was highly acclaimed and introduced to great writers of the era. She was thus able to get to know Harriet Martineau who later invited her to her house, The Knoll, in Ambleside in the Lake District where she was a neighbour of William Wordsworth.

She was very interested in Thackeray for whom she demonstrated a great admiration and whose portrait, given to her by George Smith, hung in the dining room at the parsonage. At one of these presentations to an audience of literary notables, after a short sketch Thackeray announced Charlotte's entrance with great pomp under the name of Jane Eyre. Furious and mortified, she took the great man aside, and arming herself with courage, harshly lectured him that neither her dignity as a woman nor her qualities as an author would permit him to make such amalgamations. Thackeray was a very tall man and Charlotte was a very small woman of hardly more than 4 feet 7 inches (1.4 m) - exactly 4 feet 9 inches (1.448 m) according to the dimensions taken by the carpenter who made her coffin. Certain witnesses report having seen their silhouettes through the windows of the room and that Charlotte with her head tilted back to look straight into the eyes of her interlocutor, looked like an angry hen.

During her trip to London in 1851 she visited the Great Exhibition and The Crystal Palace. In 1853 she published Shirley and in 1849 Villette.

Marriage and death

The Brontë sisters were highly amused by the behaviour of the vicars they met. Arthur Bell Nicholls (1818–1906) had been vicar of Haworth for seven and a half years when contrary to all expectations he proposed to Charlotte. Although impressed by his dignity and deep voice, she found him rigid, conventional, and rather narrow minded 'like all the vicars' - she wrote to Ellen Nussey. She declined his proposal and began a busy period during which Nichols, pursued by the anger of Patrick Brontë, left his functions for several months. However, little by little her feelings evolved and after slowly convincing her father, she finally married Nichols on 29 June 1854.

On return from their honeymoon in Ireland where she had been introduced to her parents-in-law, her life completely changed. She adopted her new duties as a wife that took up most of her time, she wrote to her friends telling them that Nicholls was a good and attentive husband, but that she nevertheless felt a kind of holy terror at her new situation. In a letter to Ellen Nussey (Nell), in 1854 she wrote Indeed-indeed-Nell-it is a solemn and strange and perilous thing for a woman to become a wife.

The following year she died aged 39. The cause of death given at the time was tuberculosis, but it may have been complicated with typhoid fever, the water at Haworth being so contaminated from the lack of any sanitation and the vast cemetery that surrounded the church and the parsonage, and her pregnancy that was in its early stage.

The first biography of Charlotte was written by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell at the request of Patrick Brontë, and published in 1857, helping to create the myth of a family of condemned genius, living in a painful and romantic solitude. After having stayed at Haworth several times and having accommodated Charlotte in Plymouth Grove, Manchester, and become her friend and confidant, Mrs Gaskell had certainly had the advantage of knowing the family well.

Novels

   * Jane Eyre : An Autobiography (1847).
   * Shirley (1849).
   * Villette (1853)
   * The Professor (1857)

Unfinished fragments

These are outlines or unedited roughcasts which with the exception of Emma have been recently published.

   * Ashford, written between 1840 and 1841, where certain characters from Angria are transported to Yorkshire and are included in a realistic plot.
   * Willie Ellin, started after Shirley and Villette, and on which Charlotte worked relatively little in May and July 1853, is a story in three poorly linked parts in which the plot at this stage remains rather vague.
   * The Moores is an outline for two short chapters with two characters, the bothers Robert Moore, a dominator, and John Henry Moore, an intellectual fanatic.
   * Emma, already published in 1840 with an introduction from Thackeray. This brilliant fragment would doubtlessly have become a novel of similar scope to her previous ones.
   * The Green Dwarf published in 2003. This story was probably inspired by The Black Dwarf by Walter Scott of whose novels Charlotte was a fan. The novel is a fictional history about a war that breaks out between Verdopolis (the capital of the confederation of Glass Town) and Senegal.
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Charlotte Brontë's Timeline

1816
April 21, 1816
Thornton, near Bradford, Yorkshire, UK
June 29, 1816
Thornton, East Riding of Yorkshire, UK
1855
March 31, 1855
Age 38
Haworth, Yorkshire, UK
April 4, 1855
Age 38
Keighley, Yorkshire, UK
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