Monday, 21 April 2014


Charlotte Brontë was born on 21 April 1816, the third daughter of Reverend Patrick Brontë. At the age of four she moved with her family to Haworth in Yorkshire where her father had been appointed curate and where she lived for the rest of her life. Her mother died in 1821. She lived with her brother and sisters in wild and beautiful surroundings but with little contact with other people. They had to rely on each other for company  and as a result became a very close-knit group. They were taught partly by their father and partly at school, but they were mainly self-educated. They were deeply influenced by Romantic writers, especially Wordsworth, Byron and Shelley. Charlotte also read French novelists.

Their youthful fantasies soon found an outlet in writing. Charlotte and her brother Branwell started a cycle of stories about an imaginary kingdom of Angria, while Emily and Anne created the imaginary world of Gondal. The three sisters together published Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Charlotte and her sister Emily planned to start their own school at Haworth  to support the family.  To train for it Charlotte and Emily went to Brussels to study French and stayed at the Pension Heger. Charlotte fell deeply in love with Mr Heger  but her passion was not reciprocated.
The experience proved highly influential on her emotional life and is reflected in the themes of her novels, which mainly centre on a master / pupil relationship, and in her male characters, which are often a projection of Mr Heger's personality. Her first novel The Professor did not find a publisher and appeared only posthumously  in 1857, while Jane Eyre (1847) met with immediate success. 
Charlotte Brontë  was writing Shirley (1849) when Branwell, Emily and Anne died  of pulmonary tuberculosis in rapid succession between September 1848 and May 1949. She stayed on at the parsonage to look after her father and continued writing, retaining the pseudonym of Currer Bell though her identity was well-known to the literary world. She wrote  Villette in 1853 and in 1854 she married the Reverend Arthur Nicholls but died in 1855 of an illness associated with pregnancy. Her husband lived for another 50 years, dying in 1906. He started the Brontë  Museum  which is now permanently housed at the old vicarage in Haworth.

Elizabeth Gaskell's biography The Life of Charlotte Brontë was published in 1857. It was an important step for a leading female novelist to write a biography of another, and her approach was uncommon in that, rather than analysing her subject's achievements, she focused on private details of Charlotte's life, emphasising aspects which countered the accusations of "coarseness" which had been made against her writing. Though frank in places, Gaskell was selective about which details she revealed; she suppressed details of Charlotte's love for Heger, a married man, as being an affront to contemporary morals and source of distress to Charlotte's father, husband and friends. It has been argued that Elizabeth Gaskell's approach diverted attention from the "difficult" novels, not just Charlotte's, but all the sisters', and began a process of sanctification of their private lives.

Jane Eyre  tells the story of a young woman who, orphaned as a child, must become first a teacher and then a governess to survive. In her first post as a governess, Jane develops a romantic fondness for her employer, the craggy, rough-mannered Mr. Rochester  whose country estate holds mysterious and frightening secrets. They marry, but only after Mr Rochester's insane first wife (of whom Jane initially had no knowledge) dies in a dramatic house fire. 
Like Charles Dickens’s  David Copperfield, Jane Eyre is a classic Victorian bildungsroman, or "novel of development." Jane Eyre and David Copperfield are also both famous for using autobiographical material from the author’s life in a fictional context. In Jane Eyre, for example, Charlotte Brontë draws on her own experiences of teaching and nursing the terminally ill and of falling in love with her supervisor while at a school in Brussels.
The most successful of the various novels by the three Brontë sisters, Jane Eyre was an instant best-seller and has been continually in print since its first publication. Charlotte Brontë’s willingness to engage, not only the features typical of Gothic fiction and the difficulties facing unmarried middle-class women, but also the problems of empire and colony in 19th-century England, has created a hybrid text that remains relevant and interesting for 21st century readers. Readers can focus on anything from the details of interpersonal relationships and romances to the fear and suspense of the Gothic genre.

Click here to read a more detailed plot summary of the novel and here to analyse its main themes.
Here you can read the novel online.

Now let's watch some short videos from Jane Eyre, the 2011 British romantic drama film directed by Cary Fukunaga and starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender 
You can also enjoy the full audio book of the novel.

"I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will."
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

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