Brontë, Charlotte

views updated May 23 2018

Charlotte Brontë

BORN: 1816, England

DIED: 1855, England


GENRE: Novels, poetry

Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846)
Jane Eyre, An Autobiography (1847)
Shirley (1849)
Villette (1853)
The Professor (1857)


Charlotte Brontë was one of three famous sisters (Anne and Emily Brontë being the other two) who each contributed significantly to the literary landscape of the nineteenth century. Charlotte Brontë's reputation rests mostly on her 1847 novel Jane Eyre, a book that was a

public sensation in its own day and has scarcely diminished in popularity since. The book's enduring attraction to critics and readers alike has much to do with the ways its headstrong narrator, the heroine Jane Eyre, both satisfies and challenges the social and literary conventions of the Victorian era. In one sense, the book is a period piece about the narrow spheres of British governesses; in another sense, it foreshadows a brand of feminism that would not take shape for another one hundred years.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Charlotte Brontë was born on April 21, 1816, in the village of Thornton, West Riding, Yorkshire. Her father, Patrick Brontë, was the son of a respectable Irish farmer in County Down, Ireland. Charlotte's mother, Maria Branwell Brontë, died when her daughter was only five years old. She had given birth to six children in seven years: Maria (1813), Elizabeth (1815), Charlotte (1816), Patrick Branwell (1817), Emily (1818), and Anne (1820). She died of cancer at the age of thirty-eight. Though the loss of their mother certainly made a difference in the lives of all the Brontë children, the younger ones—Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne—seem not to have been seriously affected by her death. An otherwise remarkably observant child, Charlotte remembered little of her mother; when, as an adult, she read letters that her mother had written to her father during their courtship, she wrote to a friend on February 16, 1850, “I wish she had lived and that I had known her.”

Tragedy for the Brontë Sisters at Cowan Bridge School In 1824, when she was eight years old, Charlotte and her sister Emily joined their older sisters at the newly opened Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge in the parish of Tunstall. Living conditions at the school were harsh and difficult. Charlotte's later depiction of the bleak “Lowood School” in Jane Eyre was based on Cowan Bridge.

Charlotte found the rigors of boarding school life trying in the extreme. Food was badly prepared under unsanitary conditions and, as a consequence, outbreaks of typhus forced the withdrawal of many students, some of whom died. Maria developed tuberculosis while at Cowan Bridge and was harshly treated during her incapacitating illness, an incident Charlotte drew upon in portraying her character Helen Burns's martyrdom at the hands of Miss Scatcherd in Jane Eyre. Patrick Brontë was not informed of his eldest daughter's condition until February 1825, two months after Maria began to show symptoms; when he saw her, he immediately withdrew her from the school and she died at home in early May. Elizabeth, in the meantime, had also fallen ill. When the entire school was temporarily removed on doctor's orders to a healthier site by the sea, Elizabeth was escorted back to Haworth where she died two weeks after Charlotte and Emily were brought home by their father on June 1.

Isolation in Yorkshire a Spur to the Imagination Following the tragic experience at Cowan Bridge, Patrick Brontë tutored his four remaining children at home and provided them with music and art instruction from competent teachers. The relative isolation of the Brontë children in their Yorkshire home caused them to develop very strong attachments to each other. The weather in Yorkshire was often inhospitable, and the children, with no other playmates to divert them, relied on their imaginations to invent their own make-believe world called Gondal, about which they created many poems and stories. In 1829, Charlotte began writing poetry. Producing sixty-five poems and a satirical play about poetry writing in 1829–1830, the fourteen-year-old self-consciously attempted to define herself as a poet. The various poetic forms that Brontë experimented with during this time reflect her self-designed apprenticeship through imitation of earlier poets. For example, her many descriptions of natural landscapes are indebted to the eighteenth-century topographical poetry that had been developed by “nature poets” such as James Thomson and William Wordsworth.

Attempts at Poetry Interrupted by Schooling at Roe Head This spate of poetic production was interrupted in January 1831, when Brontë left Haworth for a second time, traveling twenty miles to become a student

at Roe Head School in Mirfield, near Dewsbury. Roe Head was a small school that usually enrolled only about seven boarding students at a time, all girls around the same age, and therefore was able to attend closely to the needs and abilities of individuals. Though she was homesick at first, in time she won the respect and affection of her peers and came to feel quite at home in her new school environment.

After her departure from Roe Head in May 1832, the rather uneventful round of life at Haworth, where she was in charge of her younger sisters” education, eventually led Brontë back to writing poetry. In December of 1836, she decided to try her hand at professional writing, with the hope of earning her living as a publishing poet. To this end she sought the advice of no less a figure than Robert Southey, then poet laureate of England, to whom she sent a selection of her poems. The discouraging response in his letter of March 12, 1837, has become infamous: “Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life: & it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it, even as an accomplishment & a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, & when you are you will be less eager for celebrity.” Such was the prevailing opinion at the time about women's artistic abilities and women's proper place in society. It was widely believed that a woman's only “proper duties” were to be a wife and mother. An unmarried woman might find respectable work as a teacher or governess, but a woman seeking a professional career of any sort was seen as unnatural.

Despite Southey's discouragement, between January 1837 and July 1838 Brontë wrote more than sixty poems and verse fragments, including drafts of what were eventually to be some of her best poetical works. However, they remained fragmentary and defective; it was not until 1845 that she was able to revise them into poems she was willing to publish.

Broadened Horizons at a Belgian School Charlotte and Emily Brontë left England in February 1842 to enroll as the oldest students in a Belgian school run by Madame Claire Zoë Heger and her husband, Constantin. English and Protestant in a school of Roman Catholic Belgians, the Brontës were isolated from their younger peers by differences in language, culture, age, and faith, not to mention Emily's austere reserve and Charlotte's social timidity. However, both young women made considerable academic progress in Brussels and were praised for their success.

Although she apparently composed little new poetry in Brussels, Brontë did continue to transcribe revised versions of earlier poems into a copybook she had brought with her from Haworth, an indication that she may have been contemplating publishing them in the future. The letters she wrote to Constantin Heger from Haworth in 1844 reveal Brontë's increasing anxiety about establishing herself in a fulfilling line of work. Always troubled by extreme nearsightedness, she experienced a temporary further weakening of her sight at this time, causing her to sink into depression.

Self-Published Poems with Pen Names Brontë suddenly recovered from this period of depression in the fall of 1845, when she stumbled upon a notebook of Emily's poems. She eagerly pressed her sister to publish her poems with a selection of her own verse, to which were added poems contributed by Anne. The sisters agreed to publish the poems under male pen names, probably in order to overcome the widespread prejudice against literature by women and the potential embarrassment their pursuit of a writing career might cause their family. Indeed, it was common practice for women writers (including such nineteenth-century favorites as Jane Austen, George Eliot, and George Sand) to publish either anonymously or under a male pen name. Charlotte Brontë energetically set about the task of finding a publisher for Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846), which the small London firm of Aylott & Jones agreed to print at the authors' expense, a common practice for unknown writers. Despite Charlotte Brontë's excitement over her sisters' verse, she wrote almost no poetry after 1845 and was already attempting to secure a contract for her first novel, The Professor (1857), before the Poems had even appeared in print.


Brontë's famous contemporaries include:

Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906): An American civil rights leader who played a prominent role in the abolitionist, temperance, and women's suffrage movements.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861): One of the most respected Victorian poets, she is best known for her Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850).

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809–1892): English poet laureate who relied heavily on natural imagery, revealing traces of Romanticism.

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–1863): English novelist and journalist who wrote one of the first glowing reviews of Jane Eyre.

Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888): Alcott gained lasting fame for her 1868 novel Little Women.

The Professor was rejected nine times before she received an encouraging reply from the firm of Smith, Elder, which declined to publish the book but asked to review any other novel she might be working on. Heartened by this request, Brontë finished Jane Eyre rapidly—in about two weeks—and had the satisfaction of seeing

the novel in print shortly thereafter. The book was immediately popular and “Currer Bell” quickly became known by the reading public.

After Jane Eyre, Marriage and Celebrity After the success of her novel, Brontë wrote no poetry except for three unfinished poems on the occasions of her sisters' deaths. Though greatly saddened by the deaths of her siblings, she continued to publish novels—Shirley in 1849, and Villette in 1853. Letting her identity become known, she achieved the literary celebrity that Southey had warned her to avoid and became acquainted with several important authors, including William Makepeace Thackeray. At the age of thirty-eight, Brontë married her father's curate, Arthur Bell Nichols, and died, possibly of either dehydration and malnutrition brought on by severe morning sickness (it was speculated that she was pregnant) or a serious infection of the digestive tract, on March 31, 1855. She is buried, along with the rest of her remarkable family (except for Anne, who died in the seaside town of Scarborough), in the Church of St. Michael and All Angels, immediately across from her parsonage home.

Works in Literary Context

The Rise of the Novel Although Charlotte Brontë started her career as a poet, it is as a novelist that she is best remembered. Like her contemporary Elizabeth Barrett Browning, she experimented with the poetic forms that became the characteristic modes of the Victorian period—the long narrative poem and the dramatic monologue. Unlike Browning, Brontë gave up writing poetry at the beginning of her professional career, when she became identified in the public mind as the author of the popular novel Jane Eyre (1847). Brontë's decision to abandon poetry for novel writing illustrates the dramatic shift in literary tastes and the marketability of literary genres—from poetry to prose—that occurred in the 1830s and 1840s.

Brontë's remarkable success with Jane Eyre was in part attributable to the shift in literary tastes of the period. While the English literary landscape of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had been dominated by poets, the nineteenth century reading public demanded works with which they could more readily identify. Jane Eyre was such a work: a story of an ordinary person who experiences extraordinary things. However, if one agrees with Virginia Woolf's claim that Charlotte Brontë's novels are read “for her poetry,” one might argue that Brontë never did entirely abandon her career as a poet. Adapting her creative impulses to the demands of the market, Brontë incorporated poetic features into the more viable form of the novel, and so became a successful literary professional in Victorian England.

Gothic Influence in a Bildungsroman Format Like her sister's novel Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre is heavily influenced by the Gothic horror novels that rose to popularity at the turn of the nineteenth century. The dark setting, the mysterious Mr. Rochester, and the strange goings-on in the attic of his home all play on the conventions of horror. At the same time, the novel follows the structure of a Bildungsroman, or novel of maturation, as the plot follows Jane's journey from youth into womanhood.


In Jane Eyre, the title character is saved thanks to love—she eventually leaves a life of drudgery and finds herself happily married to her previous employer, Edward Rochester. Though this kind of romance is difficult to find in the real world, its presence in literature has been a constant through the ages. Here are some other works where love and romance save the day.

Cinderella (1697), a fairy tale by Charles Perrault. Though there are many versions of the Cinderella fable, Perrault's was the first to introduce the glass slipper and the fairy godmother's pumpkin; thanks to these props, a forlorn chambermaid wins the hand of a handsome prince.

A Room with a View (1908), a novel by E.M. Forster. In this Edwardian novel, a young Englishwoman traveling in Italy falls in love with a man who seems “beneath her.” She ignores the advice of her chaperon and happily elopes anyway.

The Sound of Music (1965), a film directed by Robert Wise. Via her musical abilities and endless cheer, a governess manages to win the hearts of the captain for whom she works and his children in this hit movie based on a musical.

First-Person Narration The plot of Jane Eyre follows the progress of a poor orphan from humiliating dependence to happiness and wealth as an heiress and the wife of her former employer. Victorian readers were disturbed by the novel's suggestion that women need not always be passive or submissive, and by its treatment of love, which, by contemporary standards, seemed coarse and offensive. The importance of romantic love is an ancient theme in literature, but in Jane Eyre it was presented with a frankness and intensity new to English fiction. That intensity is made possible by Bronte's decision to tell the story in the first person, from Jane's point of view. Jane Eyre dominates her world; every action is filtered through the medium of her sensibility, every character lives only as an actor in the drama of her life. In one of the most famous lines in English literature, Brontë further intensifies the reader's experience of the novel's events by having her first-person narrator address the reader directly as she states the resolution of all her

struggles to come to terms with her relationship with Mr. Rochester: “Reader, I married him.”

Works in Critical Context

While Jane Eyre was popularly received, the initial critical reception of the novel varied. Several commentators admired the power and freshness of Brontë's prose; others, however, termed the novel superficial and vulgar. Perhaps the best-known early review, by Elizabeth Rigby, flatly condemned Jane Eyre as “an anti-Christian composition.” Still other critics questioned the authorship of the novel. Some doubted that a woman was capable of writing such a work, while a critic in the North American Review contended that a man and a woman were its coauthors. In another early assessment, George Eliot expressed her admiration for the novel but complained that Brontë's characters spoke like “the heroes and heroines of police reports.”

Although most critics have praised Brontë's narrative technique, some have argued that the story of Jane Eyre is unrealistic. Many commentators have lauded the novel's powerful language and have explored the work's unity, which they attribute to the use of the heroine as narrator as well as to Jane's process of spiritual growth.

Responses to Literature

  1. Some readers of Jane Eyre wonder about the first Mrs. Rochester and her somewhat cruel treatment by Mr. Rochester. Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) is a “prequel” to Jane Eyre that imagines the early life of Edward Rochester's first wife.
  2. Read a poem of Emily Brontë's and one of Charlotte's. Do you, like most critics, find Emily's poetics to be stronger? Why or why not?
  3. Look at Edward Rochester and then at Heathcliff from Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. Do the two men have any traits in common? Would men like Mr. Rochester and Heathcliff be popular in today's world?



Allott, Miriam, editor. The Brontes: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974.

Bayne, Peter. Two Great Englishwomen: Mrs. Browning and Charlotte Bronte. London: Clarke, 1881.

Crump, R.W. Charlotte and Emily Bronte, 1846–1915: A Reference Guide. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1982.

Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn. The Life of Charlotte Bronte, 2 volumes, third edition, revised. London: Smith, Elder, 1857.

Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979.

Nestor, Pauline. Female Friendships and Communities: Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Tillotson, Kathleen. Novels of the Eighteen–Forties. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954, pp. 257–313.

Wise, Thomas J., and John A. Symington, editors. The Brontes: Their Lives, Friendships and Correspondence, 4 volumes. Oxford: Blackwell, 1932.

Woolf, Virginia. “‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights,’” in The Common Reader, first series. London: Hogarth Press, 1925.

Brontë, Charlotte

views updated Jun 11 2018

Charlotte BrontË

Born: April 21, 1816
Thornton, Yorkshire, England
Died: March 31, 1855
Haworth, Yorkshire, England

English novelist

Charlotte Brontë was one of three English sisters who had books published in the mid-1800s. Her writing described, with a dramatic force that was entirely new to English fiction, the conflict between love and independence and the struggle of the individual to maintain his or her self-esteem.

Early life

Charlotte Brontë was born in Thornton in Yorkshire, England, on April 21, 1816, the third of Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell's six children. Her father was an Anglican minister who moved the family to Haworth, also in Yorkshire, in 1820 after finding work at a church there. Except for a brief and unhappy period when she attended a religious schoollater described in the opening chapters of Jane Eyre most of Charlotte's early education was provided at home by her father. After the early death of her mother, followed by the passing of her two older sisters, Brontë, now nine years old, lived in isolation with her father, aunt, sisters Anne and Emily, and brother Patrick Branwell.

With their father not communicating much with them, and having no real contact with the outside world, the children spent their time reading and creating their own imaginary worlds. They recorded the events occurring in these imaginary worlds in miniature writing on tiny sheets of paper. Anne and Emily made up a kingdom called Gondal, while Charlotte and Patrick created the realm of Angria, which was ruled by the Duke of Zamorna. Zamorna's romantic conquests make up the greater part of Charlotte's contributions. He was a character who ruled by strength of will and feeling and easily conquered womenthey recognized the evil in him but could not fight their attraction to him.

The conflict between this dream world and her everyday life caused Brontë great suffering. Although her life was outwardly calm, she lived out the struggles of her made-up characters in her head. At age fifteen she began to work as a schoolteacher. She and both of her sisters later worked watching over the children of wealthy families. While attending a language school in Brussels, Belgium, in 1843 and 1844, she seems to have fallen in love with a married professor at the school, but she never fully admitted the fact to herself.

Books published

After returning to Haworth in 1844, Charlotte Brontë became depressed. She was lonely and felt that she lacked the ability to do any creative work. She discovered that both of her sisters had been writing poetry, as she had. They decided to each write a novel and offer all of them together to publishers. Her sisters' novels were accepted for publication, but Charlotte's The Professor, based upon her Brussels experience, was rejected. (It was not published until after her death.) However, the publisher offered her friendly criticism and encouraged her to try again.

Charlotte Brontë's second novel, Jane Eyre, was published in 1847. It became the most successful book of the year. She hid at first behind the pseudonym (pen, or assumed, writing name) Currer Bell, but later she revealed that she was the author of the book. Of all Brontë's novels, Jane Eyre most clearly shows the traces of her earlier stories about the imaginary Angria in the character of Rochester, with his mysterious ways and shady past. However, the governess, Jane, who loves him, does not surrender to Rochester. Instead she struggles to maintain her dignity and a balance between the opposing forces of passion and her religious beliefs.

During 1848 and 1849, within eight months of each other, Brontë's remaining two sisters and brother died. Despite her grief she managed to finish a new novel, Shirley (1849). It was set in her native Yorkshire during the Luddite industrial riots of 1812, when textile workers whose jobs had been taken over by machines banded together to destroy the machines. Shirley used social issues as a ground for a study of the bold and active heroine and a friend who represents someone with more traditional feminine qualities. In her last completed novel, Villette (1853), Brontë again turned to the Brussels affair, treating it now more directly.

Despite her success as a writer, Charlotte Brontë continued to live a quiet life at home in Yorkshire. In 1854 she married Arthur Nicholls, a man who had once worked as an assistant to her father, but she died within a year of their marriage on March 31, 1855.

For More Information

Gaskell, Elizabeth. The Life of Charlotte Brontë. 2 vols. New York: D. Appleton, 1857.

Gordon, Lyndall. Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life. London: Vintage, 1995.

Moglen, Helene. Charlotte Brontë: The Self Conceived. New York: Norton, 1976.

Brontë, Charlotte

views updated Jun 11 2018

Charlotte Brontë

Excerpt from Shirley: A Tale

Originally published in 1849

"Misery generates hate: these sufferers hated the machines which they believed took their bread from them: they hated the buildings which contained those machines; they hated the manufacturers who owned those buildings."

A s the nineteenth century dawned, the Industrial Revolution, a period of growth and reliance on machinery to produce goods, was gaining momentum in England. Even in its infancy, the Industrial Revolution had begun to cause economic dislocation. Individuals who had woven or knitted cloth in their homes could not compete with the efficient new mechanized knitting machines (called frames) being installed in factories and textile mills.

At the same time, England was at war with France. The British government designed policies primarily to hurt France economically, not to benefit British citizens. As a result, many workers throughout England were unemployed. They were unable to buy food since unemployment insurance and welfare did not exist. Some of these former workers blamed the new knitting machines for their situation; they attacked factories, smashing the machines in retaliation. The workers were well organized—they sometimes issued warnings to owners whose mills were targeted—and determined to cut off what they saw as a threat to their livelihood.

These workers who destroyed the new machines became known as the Luddites, named after their leader (possibly a fictitious person) named "General" Nedd Ludd. In 1812, some Luddites attacked a factory owned by William Cartwright near the town of Huddersfield, England. With the help of a few soldiers, Cartwright defended the mill against 150 attackers. The incident was later described and incorporated into the novel Shirley: A Tale by Charlotte Brontë (1816–1854). An excerpt from this novel appears below.

Things to remember while reading the excerpt from Shirley: A Tale:

  • This excerpt is from a work of fiction, a novel. But in the early nineteenth century, contemporary fiction was the primary literary means of describing what was happening in everyday life. Historical novels sometimes can offer insights into the lives of normal people, as long as the reader does not regard each detail as literally true.
  • Novelists like Charlotte Brontë had more than one goal in mind when writing their books. In part, they wanted to convey a sense of what life was like. Novelists also often expressed their own opinions about events through the dialogue among their characters. Using a novel to learn about history requires the reader to be able to distinguish fact from fiction.

What happened next …

The British government passed drastic legislation barring the destruction of factory equipment and several so-called Luddites were executed while others were deported to Australia. But strikes, and attacks on factories, continued from time to time despite ongoing government efforts to stop them.

Eventually, factory workers turned to other nonviolent techniques to assert their rights and protect their livelihoods—notably unions that negotiated for the rights of workers and political parties. This process took many years, even as industrialization spread to other countries besides England and similar conflicts between workers and factory owners broke out elsewhere.

Did you know …

  • Charlotte Brontë, the author of this novel, was born in 1816, near the end of the period during which the Luddites were active.
  • The novel from which this except was taken is titled Shirley: A Tale; Charlotte Brontë published it in 1849 under the pen name Currer Bell.

For More Information

Brontë, Charlotte. Shirley: A Tale. Originally published in 1849.

Clews, Roy. The Valiant and the Damned. New York: Dutton, 1976.

Liversidge, Douglas. The Luddites: Machine-Breakers of the Early Nineteenth Century. New York: Franklin Watts, 1972.

Sale, Kirkpatrick. Rebels against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution: Lessons for the Computer Age. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1995.

Thomis, Malcolm I. The Luddites: Machine-Breaking in Regency England. New York: Schocken Books, 1972.

Winnifrith, Tom. A New Life of Charlotte Brontë. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.

Charlotte Brontë

views updated May 14 2018

Charlotte Brontë

The English novelist Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) portrayed the struggle of the individual to maintain his integrity with a dramatic intensity entirely new to English fiction.

Charlotte Brontë was born in Thornton in the West Riding of Yorkshire on April 21, 1816, the daughter of an Anglican minister. Except for a brief unhappy spell at a charity school, later portrayed in the grim and gloomy Lowood of the opening chapters of Jane Eyre, most of her early education was guided at home by her father.

After the early death of her mother, followed by that of the two older sisters, Brontë lived in relative isolation with her father, aunt, sisters Anne and Emily, and brother Branwell. The children created fantasy worlds whose doings they recorded in miniature script on tiny sheets of paper. Anne and Emily devised the essentially realistic kingdom of Gondal, while she and Branwell created the realm of Angria, which was dominated by the Duke of Zamorna. Zamorna's lawless passions and amorous conquests make up the greater part of her contributions. Created in the image of Byronic satanism, he was proud, disillusioned, and masterful. He ruled by strength of will and feeling and easily conquered women, who recognized the evil in him but were drawn into helpless subjection by their own passion.

This dreamworld of unrestricted titanic emotions possessed Brontë with a terrible intensity, and the conflict between it and the realities of her life caused her great suffering. Thus, although her life was outwardly placid, she had inner experience of the struggles of will with circumstance and of desire with conscience that are the subject of her novels. Her conscience was an exceptionally powerful monitor. During a year at a school in Brussels (1843/1844) she seems to have fallen in love with the married headmaster but never fully acknowledged the fact to herself.

Brontë's first novel was The Professor, based upon her Brussels experience. It was not published during her lifetime, but encouraged by the friendly criticism of one publisher she published Jane Eyre in 1847. It became the literary success of the year. Hiding at first behind the pseudonym Currer Bell, she was brought to reveal herself by the embarrassment caused by inaccurate speculation about her true identity. Of all Brontë's novels, Jane Eyre most clearly shows the traces of her earlier Angrian fantasies in the masterful Rochester with his mysterious ways and lurid past. But the governess, Jane, who loves him, does not surrender helplessly; instead she struggles to maintain her integrity between the opposing demands of passion and inhumanly ascetic religion.

Within 8 months during 1848/1849, Brontë's remaining two sisters and brother died. Despite her grief she managed to finish a new novel, Shirley (1849). Set in her native Yorkshire during the Luddite industrial riots of 1812, it uses social issues as a ground for a psychological study in which the bold and active heroine is contrasted with a friend who typifies a conventionally passive and emotional female. In her last completed novel, Villette (1853), Brontë again turned to the Brussels affair, treating it now more directly and with greater art. But in this bleak book the clear-sighted balance the heroine achieves after living through extremes of cold detachment and emotion is not rewarded by a rich fulfillment.

Despite her literary success Brontë continued to live a retired life at home in Yorkshire. She married a former curate of her father in 1854, but died within a year on March 31, 1855.

Further Reading

Still standard is Elizabeth Gaskell, The Life of Charlotte Brontë (2 vols., 1857). Winifred Gérin, Charlotte Brontë (1967), is reliable and more complete. Robert B. Martin, The Accents of Persuasion: Charlotte Brontë's Novels (1966), is the only book-length critical study. □

Brontë, Charlotte

views updated May 23 2018

Brontë, Charlotte

views updated Jun 08 2018

Brontë, Charlotte (1816–55) English novelist and poet. Her personal life was unhappy and she persistently suffered from ill health. Born into genteel poverty, her mother, four sisters, and dissolute brother Branwell died early. Charlotte died in childbirth within a year of her marriage. Her four novels, The Professor (1846), Jane Eyre (1847), Shirley (1849), and Villette (1853) are works of remarkable passion and imagination. Like her sisters Emily Brontë and Anne Brontë, Charlotte's writings initially appeared under a male pseudonym (Currer Bell).

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Charlotte Bronte