Portrait of English author Charlotte Brontë by Evert A. Duyckinck, based on a drawing by George Richmond

Charlotte Brontë

Read about the English author, Charlotte Brontë, the eldest of the Brontë sisters and author of the classic novel Jane Eyre.

2016 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charlotte Brontë, the eldest of three sisters, each of whom produced novels which have remained popular and widely read ever since. Along with Emily’s only novel Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey by youngest sister Anne, Jane Eyre is considered to be a classic of 19th century literature and is one of the best loved novels of all time.

Charlotte was born on 21 April 1816 in the village of Thornton, West Riding in Yorkshire, the third child of Patrick Brontë, a clergyman, and his wife Maria. Her mother died when Charlotte was only five years old and Charlotte was to write many years later ‘I wish she had lived and I had known her’. She and her older sisters were sent to the Clergy Daughter’s School at Cowan Bridge, Lancashire but both of these sisters tragically died of tuberculosis at the ages of just ten and eleven. Charlotte blamed the poor conditions at the school for their deaths and this undoubtedly influenced her later description of Lowood School in Jane Eyre.

After completing her education, Charlotte worked first as a schoolteacher and then as a governess before travelling to Belgium with Emily to study foreign languages in preparation for opening their own school. This project did not work out, however, and the sisters turned to writing instead. They self-published a volume of poetry as Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, then submitted their novels for publication using the same masculine pseudonyms. Jane Eyre was accepted and published remarkably quickly – just six weeks after being submitted – and was an instant success.

Jane Eyre drew on Charlotte’s personal experiences, combining them with romance and Gothic elements to create an unforgettable work which revolutionised the English novel. Although it was an instant success with the public, its treatment of social class, gender relations and romance offended some critics. In Jane she created a strong-minded, independent narrator who speaks to the reader with a directness and honesty that was new and exciting, but shocking for some in Victorian Britain.

The writing careers of all three sisters were tragically short. Emily died of tuberculosis at the age of 30 and Anne suffered the same fate just a few months later, aged 29, just over a year after publication of their classic novels. Charlotte went on to publish two more novels in her lifetime, Shirley and Villette. She married Arthur Bell Nicholls in 1854, and soon became pregnant. However, there was to be no happy ending and both she and her unborn child died nine months later.

Despite their early deaths, the incredible literary legacy of all three sisters continues to move and inspire readers to this day, and this year visitors from all around the world will flock to the bleak Yorkshire moors to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charlotte’s birth.

  • Have you read Jane Eyre?
  • If you have, what did you like about it – or what did you not like? If you haven’t read it, would you like to after reading this article?
  • Have you read her sisters’ novels – Wuthering Heights by Emily, Agnes Grey or The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne?

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Exploring English: Language and Culture

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