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The Life of Charlotte Brontė by  Sally Mc Elrea-Smith 

 

Born on April 21st, 1816 at Thorton in Bradford Yorkshire, Charlotte Brontė was the third child of Reverend Patrick Brontė and Maria Brandwell. Unfortunately in 1821, Charlotte Brontė’s mother died. Three years later, Reverend Brontė sent Charlotte along with her two older sisters Maria and Elizabeth to study at the Clergy’s Daughter’s School in Cowan Bridge. However, due to cold and poor conditions, such as mal nutrition and not adequate clothing, she was brought back and instructed by her father and aunt Elizabeth Branwell. The school in Cowan Bridge is discussed in one of her works, Jane Eyre. In her novel, Brontė describes a school with poor condition, which one could think is a reflection of her life and experience. She says, “our clothing was insufficient to protect us from the severe cold; we had no boots, the snow got into our shoes, and melted there; our ungloved hands became numbed and covered with chilblains, as were our feet” (Brontė 71). A few years after their father removed them from the school in Cowan Bridge, more precisely in 1825, Charlotte’s sisters Maria and Elizabeth died from Tuberculosis. However, it is known that Charlotte attributed her sisters deaths to the poor conditions at the Clergy’s Daughter’s School (2011). In her novel Jane Eyre, there is also a death at Lowood School. An individual very close to Jane, her best friend Helen, dies. One could also interpret this as a comparison to the author, Charlotte Brontė’s life. Due to her father’s declining health, she saw the need to receive a proper education in order to be economically independent and was therefore admitted to Roe Head School. This time however she found school difficult due to the Irish accent, her uneven education and her extreme homesickness. It was known that her instructor, Mrs. Wooler always encouraged her and helped her overcome all these obstacles.  Fortunately despite all of these hindrances, she obtained multiple and outstanding scholarships. Then, in 1832, she was offered a position as a teacher. Some may find this surprising, she declined the offer and decided to move back home to teach her sisters and Sunday school classes. At this time, she also began writing short fiction stories.  As in many other times of her life, she needed a change and opted to return to Mrs. Wooler’s school to become a governess. Her sister Emily Brontė followed her and became one of her pupils. Soon after her arrival, Emily Brontė became homesick and left the school. Their sister Ann Brontė then took her place and became a student at Roe Head School. Brontė taught for a few years and “in 1838, Charlotte left Roe Head School. In 1839 she accepted a position as governess in the Sidgewick family, but left after three months and returned to Haworth. In 1841 she became governess in the White family, but left, once again, after nine months” (Cody). The main character in her novel Jane Eyre also follows the path of instability and the desire to move around. Jane Eyre first moves out of her home known as Gateshead, to go to school at Lowood. At this school her friend Helen dies and she then takes the position as a teacher. This aspect can also be compared to Brontė life as both of her sisters die at the Clergy’s Daughter’s School and she gets offered to teach.  Jane Eyre then left this new position and moved to Thornfield Hall where she met Rochester. She continues to move throughout the book as Charlotte Brontė does in her life. After Charlotte Brontė’s job as a governess, she along with her sister Emily traveled to Brussels. Here, Charlotte taught English and Emily taught Music. In return for working and educating the pupils, they received free board and tuition. However, this was soon brought to a halt when they received the devastating news that their Aunt Elizabeth died. Both sisters then moved back home to be with their family in this hard time. A few years later, in 1843, Charlotte Brontė returned alone to teach at the boarding school in Brussels. This time however, her experience was much different. She began feeling deep emotions, such as depression and loneliness, and became deeply attached to Constantine Heger. Due to these difficult moments, she moved back home in January of 1844. This time, she used these emotions as inspiration in her writing. In 1854, Brontė married Arthur Bell Nichols who was at the time, her father’s curate. Charlotte Brontė’s inspiration can be seen though the characters she chose in her novel Jane Eyre. Some may compare her relationship with her husband as Jane’s with Rochester in Jane Eyre. Charlotte Brontė’s health soon took a turn after she got married and was pregrnant. According to Elizabeth Gaskell, she became ill rapidly and was attacked by “sensations of perpetual nausea and ever-recurring faitness” (Gaskell 10). Unfortunately on March 21st, 1855, Charlotte Brontė died along with her unborn child. Her death certificate states she died due to tuberculosis. However, for many scholars, Brontė’s death is seen as controversial. Some even believe she died due to malnutrition and dehydration. Charlotte Brontė’s  brilliant literary works continue to be studied by students and scholars in the 21st century.

 

 

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Work Cited

Brontė, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. London, England : Penguin Classics, 1847.

“Charlotte Brontė.” Haworth Village. 2011. http://www.haworth-village.org.uk/brontes/charlotte /charlotte.asp          

 

Cody, David. n.d. “A Brief Biography.” The Victorian Web. http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/bronte/cbronte/brontbio.html

 

Gaskell, Elizabeth. The Life of Charlotte Brontė.  London: Smith Elder & co., 1857.

 

 

©Martine Pelletier