Charlotte Brontė Biography
BRONTĖ, Charlotte (1816-55). An English novelist, born at Thornton, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, April 21, 1816. Her father, Patrick Brontė, a clergyman of Irish descent (the name is said to have been originally Prunty), removed, with five young children and an invalid wife, from Thornton to Haworth, in the same county, in 1820. Anne, the sixth and last child, was born the same year. Soon after the arrival Mrs. Brontė died; so that Charlotte, trying hard in afterlife, could but dimly recall the remembrance of her mother. Her father, eccentric and solitary in his habits, was ill fitted to replace a mother's love; and though their mother's elder sister, Miss Branwell, and later the faithful servant Tabby, entered the household, the children were left much to themselves. When Charlotte was eight years old she was sent with three of her sisters to Cowan's Bridge School, between Leeds and Kendal, which, whether deservedly or not, had an unfortunate notoriety conferred upon it 25 years later in the pages of Jane Eyre. The two elder sisters-Maria and Elizabeth-falling dangerously ill and dying a few days after their removal thence, Charlotte and Emily were taken out of the school. In 1831 Charlotte was sent to Miss Wooler's school at Roehead, between Leeds and Huddersfield, where her remarkable talents were duly appreciated by her kind instructress, and a friendship was formed with some of her fellow pupils that lasted throughout life. A few years later she returned to Miss Wooler's school as teacher there, and she had, soon after this, some sorrowful experiences as governess in one of the two families where she found employment. It was with a view of better qualifying themselves for the task of teaching that Charlotte and Emily went to Brussels in 1842 and took up their abode in a pensionnat. When Charlotte returned home for good in 1844, a new shadow darkened the gloomy Yorkshire parsonage-her fathers sight was declining fast, and her only brother was becoming an inebriate.
It now seemed plain that school keeping could never be a resource, and the sisters-Charlotte, Emily, and Anne-turned their thoughts to literature. Their volume of poems was published in 1846, their names being veiled under those of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell; but it met with little or no attention. Charlotte's next venture was a prose tale, The Professor, and while it was passing slowly and heavily from publisher to publisher, Jane Eyre was making progress. Jane Eyre appeared in 1847 and took the public by storm. It was felt that a fresh hand, making new harmonies, was thrown over the old instrument. Henceforward Charlotte Brontė had a twofold life, as author and woman. Over the latter the clouds closed thicker and thicker. Mr. Brontė had indeed recovered his sight; but Emily, the sister Charlotte so intensely loved, died in 1848. Her only brother, Branwell, also died in the same year; Anne, the youngest of the family, following in 1849. Charlotte was left alone with her aged father, in a dreary home among the graves. Nevertheless her energy never flagged. Shirley, begun soon after the appearance of Jane Eyre, was published in 1849; and Villette, written under the frequent pressure of bad health and low spirits, came out in 1853. In the spring of 1854 Charlotte Brontė was married to her fathers curate, the Rev. A. Nicholls, who had long known and loved her. It is a relief to find that a little sunshine was permitted to the close of a hitherto clouded life. It was, however, but brief. She died March 31, 1855.
All the Brontės possessed ability akin to genius.-Branwell (1817-48), weakened by dissipation, left a few poems, among which are occasional lines showing the Brontė spirit.-Anne (1820-49) died too young to achieve fame, but there is nothing commonplace about her two novels, Agnes Grey and Wildfell Hall.-The portrait of Emily (1818-48) is drawn by her sister in Shirley. Having in mind, doubtless, her Wuthering Heights (1847) and her poems, Matthew Arnold declared that for passion, vehemence, and grief, Emily Brontė had had no equal since Byron. Charlotte was, perhaps, less vehement, but her novels come from an aching heart. And having seen more of the world, she possessed the greater insight into character. In execution the work of all the sisters is faulty; but Charlotte's is less so than that of the others.
The New International Encyclopaedia Vol IV. (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 10-11.