Brontë Sisters

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Editor: Anne Commire
Date: 2002
Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Biography
Pages: 10
Content Level: (Level 4)

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Brontë Sisters

Brontë, Charlotte (1816–1855). Victorian author of Jane Eyre and elder sister to writers Emily and Anne Brontë. Name variations: Charlotte Brontë Nichols; Mrs. Arthur Nichols; (pseudonym) Currer Bell. Born Charlotte Brontë at Thornton in Yorkshire on April 21, 1816; died at Haworth in Yorkshire on March 31, 1855; daughter of Maria Branwell Brontë and Reverend


Bront Sisters Brontë Sisters

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Patrick Brontë (a cleric-author); married Arthur B. Nichols on June 29, 1854, at age 38.

By age eight, had lost her mother and two older sisters to childbirth complications and consumption, respectively; briefly attended Cowan Bridge School, which formed the basis for the austere and unhealthy Lowood of Jane Eyre; saw publication of Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (male pseudonyms used by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë, 1846); published Jane Eyre, the novel that brought her immediate success (1847); by age 33, saw two younger sisters and only brother die within months of each other; married late in life and died after nine months of her marriage from illness associated with pregnancy and, most likely, consumption.

Writings:

Poems of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (1846); Jane Eyre (1847); Shirley, A Tale (1849); Villette (1853); The Professor, A Tale (1857); Legends of Angria (1933); The Twelve Adventurers and Other Stories (1925); Five Novelettes (1971).


Emily Bronte Emily Bronte Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Brontë, Emily (1818–1848). Victorian author of Wuthering Heights and middle sister to writers Charlotte and Anne Brontë. Name variations: (pseudonym) Ellis Bell. Born Emily Jane Brontë at Thornton, near Bradford, Yorkshire, on July 30, 1818; died of consumption at Haworth, on December 19, 1848; daughter of Maria Branwell Brontë and Reverend Patrick Brontë (a cleric-author).

With younger sister, Anne, developed a rich imaginative world called Gondal, that formed the basis for early poems, which were discovered by elder sister, Charlotte, and published (1846) in Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell; published Wuthering Heights (1847), sparking great controversy and speculation about author's identity, which she resolutely guarded until her death; contracted consumption (1848), one month after her brother Branwell died of the same disease and less than six months before Anne succumbed as well.

Writings:

Poems of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (1846); Wuthering Heights (1847).

Brontë, Anne (1820–1849). Victorian author of Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall; youngest of the Brontë sisters. Name variations: (pseudonym) Acton Bell. Born Anne Brontë at Thornton, near Bradford, Yorkshire, in January 1820; died of consumption in Scarborough on May 28, 1849; youngest child of Maria Branwell Brontë and Reverend Patrick Brontë (a cleric-author).

Mother died within months of her birth; with elder sister, Emily, developed a world called Gondal; with sisters Charlotte and Emily, published Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (1846); published Agnes Grey based on a brief experience as governess to the Ingham family (1847); worked for four years with the Robinson family, where she witnessed her brother's attempts to seduce Mrs. Robinson; wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall as a warning against the type of existence that claimed her brother's life; contracted consumption after the deaths of her brother and elder sister Emily; journeyed to the seaside with Charlotte in hopes of a cure; damp air hastened her demise; was buried in Scarborough within six months of Emily's death.

Writings:

Poems of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (1846); Agnes Grey (1847); The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848).

"You are the three suns," Ellen Nussey's incisive observation to the Brontë sisters upon the unusual appearance of a parhelion in the sky (which looks like three suns), is an apt commentary on their uniqueness. Indeed, how unlikely a phenomenon they were—three females and daughters of a poor cleric whose imaginative genius found expression during a time when, as a rule, women received only a domestic education. Moreover, a professional woman of letters was both laughable and scorned, hence, the need for the Brontës to adopt their respective sexually ambiguous pseudonyms: Currer Bell (Charlotte), Ellis Bell (Emily), and Acton Bell (Anne). Anomalies of the repressive Victorian era and frequent targets of disdain, the Brontës managed to create novels that have survived the major test of time. In fact, the large bulk of critical and biographical studies on the Brontë sisters testifies to their remarkable contribution and place of primacy in the annals of British literature.

Charlotte Brontë's reputation has eclipsed that of her younger sisters, owing to her prodigious literary production. There is ample reason, however, for considering the lives and contributions of the three authors together, for their unusual childhood is largely responsible for their later creative genius. Tragic circumstances led the Brontë children to form a remarkably intimate society, one that was governed by their intellectual precociousness.


Charlotte Bronte Charlotte Bronte Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Reared by an austere and intellectual cleric-father amid the bleak and secluded Yorkshire moors, the Brontë children created their own rich imaginary world. They developed their budding literary skills in the post-Eve era, which was dominated by the 19th-century view of woman as "Mary." In the Middle Ages, Woman had been cast as the evil and morally reprehensible descendant of her mother, Eve. In the Victorian

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era, however, she was placed on a pedestal of virtue. This revised view proved equally confining, for it banned women from the public sphere, that is, from the masculine realm of intellect and commerce. Those of the female sex, and in particular the women of the middle class, were sentenced to the domestic sphere where "the fair sex" was expected to cultivate "feminine" skills and moral virtues only. All of the Brontë sisters resigned themselves to this social precept, but each struggled with its limits, using her imagination in an attempt to transcend its boundaries. While Anne ultimately embraced a staunchly religious view in her life and work, and Emily withdrew into a private imaginative world, Charlotte's creative and passionate nature remained locked in perpetual combat with the moral strictures that governed the famous Victorian "cult of womanhood."

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne were three of six children born to the Reverend Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell Brontë in the short space of six years. Patrick Brontë was a Methodist minister who had transcended his Northern Irish peasant origins. The eldest of ten children, he made his way to Cambridge at the age of 25 after stints as a blacksmith's assistant and as a schoolmaster. Possessed of an independent, even eccentric, character, Patrick Brontë freely expressed his evangelical ideas in strongly worded prose and much admired light verse. He claimed to have derived "indescribable pleasure" in writing "from morning till noon, and from noon till night." His literary passions and commitment to education profoundly influenced his children.

At 30, Maria Branwell met and married Patrick Brontë, then 31. Well-read and intelligent, she shared his Methodist faith and political views. Before their marriage she wrote an essay on "The Advantages of Poverty in Religious Concerns." She tempered her husband's stern intellectualism with what Rebecca Fraser describes as a "rare passion and freedom from inhibition." Unfortunately, none of her surviving daughters would benefit from her influence.

After bearing six children in quick succession, Maria Brontë suffered complications after the birth of her last, Anne, in January 1820. Within weeks of the difficult birth, the family moved to Haworth, where Patrick Brontë was to become curate. The stress of the move may well have led to Mrs. Brontë's fatal illness, now recognized as an infection of the blood. For seven months, her husband attempted to nurse her back to health. She died in September 1821 when her children were all under eight years old. Charlotte (then five), Emily (three), and Anne (twenty months) would remember nothing of their mother.

Patrick Brontë had asked Maria's eldest sister, the 40-year-old, unmarried Elizabeth Branwell, to aid him in caring for the children. She was unequipped, however, to provide emotional or intellectual support. Instead, the Brontë's eldest child, seven-year-old Maria (immortalized as Helen Burns in Charlotte's Jane Eyre), effectively replaced her mother and namesake.

While Maria served as the family's emotional center, Patrick Brontë firmly guided their intellectual development. His passion for poetry and debate meant that the parsonage was full of books and journals, and his Evangelical faith in the truth was instilled in his children. He expected them to speak their minds. The result was an astounding precocity in all, especially Maria, who was reported to have helped correct the proofs on her father's poems before she had turned 11. She clearly inspired awe in her younger sisters.

In 1824, Maria (age ten) and another sister Elizabeth (nine) were sent to Cowan Bridge school; Charlotte and Emily soon followed. InPage 63  |  Top of Article this repressive and unhealthy institution (the model for Lowood and several major characters in Jane Eyre), both Maria and Elizabeth contracted tuberculosis, dying within a two-month period in the summer of 1825. Their loss had lasting effects on the remaining four children, who retreated more deeply into a secret society of their own, headed now by Charlotte.

The family's short tragic history, combined with their isolation from the largely illiterate peasant populace of Hawood, intensified their sense of being "stranger[s] in a strange land," as their father claimed in a letter to a friend. Inspired by their devoted readings of Blackwood's Magazine and other political journals, as well as their immersion in Romantic poetry and the apocalyptic paintings of John Martin, the children shaped their own world of the imagination, Glass Town.

In 1826, Patrick Brontë brought his nine-year-old son Branwell twelve wooden soldiers. These were snatched up by his daughters as well and became characters in a separate reality that endured uninterrupted for five years. The group created an entire history, geography, and life for the twelve soldiers and their descendants in the African colony of Glass Town. Charlotte and Branwell wrote daily about their characters' thoughts and actions, producing tiny magazines meant to have been written by the toy soldiers themselves. Their work reflected a keen awareness of contemporary politics and significant historical figures. By the time she was 14, Charlotte had produced 22 volumes. By imitating Blackwood's Magazine, Romantic poetry and novels, she developed what Fraser described as an "extraordinary proficiency in the written word." While Emily and Anne participated in this imaginative universe, they appear to have left all writing of its sagas to their elder siblings, preferring to tramp for hours on the moors behind the parsonage. The youngest girls would later hone their own literary skills in creating yet another world: Gondal.

In 1831 at the age of 15, Charlotte began a year of study at Roe Head, which provided governess training for young women who would eventually need to support themselves. The school was managed by the unmarried Wooler sisters, one of whom was the prototype for the kind and pious Miss Temple of Jane Eyre. While she found herself placed in a lower grade than her peers—a result of a lack of formal schooling only—Charlotte went on to distinguish herself by her sophisticated grasp of literature and politics. According to Fraser, Charlotte closely resembled

the character of her creation Jane Eyre—ever-observant, quiet, withdrawn, small and frail. In contemporary language, one might characterize Charlotte as a depressive with anorexic tendencies, although her poor eating habits may have resulted largely from a strict religious upbringing that stressed the mortification of the flesh. Her reclusive nature, moreover, must be viewed in light of the Brontës' secluded environment, coupled with the unusually harsh and bleak circumstances of their life.

You are the three suns.

—Ellen Nussey to the Brontë sisters

Charlotte rose to the occasion at Roe Head, as she often did throughout her life, and performed admirably despite the dis-ease she felt away from her sisters and home. Notably, however, Charlotte formed two close, lifelong friendships with girls as different from each other as they were from their unique friend. Mary Taylor , outgoing, independent and an early feminist, sustained a correspondence with Charlotte even after her unconventional move to New Zealand. A more extensive letter-writing relationship—inPage 64  |  Top of Article addition to periodic visits due to the proximity of their homes—existed between Charlotte and Ellen Nussey, the quintessentially proper Victorian woman. (Shortly after their marriage, Arthur Nichols compelled Charlotte to extract Ellen's promise to destroy all of Charlotte's letters. Fortunately for history, Ellen balked at the coerced promise.) Mary Taylor and Ellen Nussey represent the polar opposites of Charlotte's character: in her fiction and early life, Charlotte was more like Mary Taylor, passionate and strong-willed; with time, she grew to be as pious and conventional as Ellen. Charlotte spent most of her life making sacrifices and caring for her family.

By 1832, she had completed her schooling and returned to her beloved siblings, eager to rejoin their shared imaginative world, but resigned to the necessity of making a living with limited prospects. For three years, Charlotte was content to write romances featuring Byronic heroes with her brother, in addition to producing her own plays and novelettes. Branwell supplied much of the narrative in their shared work, according to Fraser, while Charlotte "elaborated on the characters and relations between them." Perhaps the psychological novelist used her extensive juvenilia as a whetstone to sharpen the mature character studies of later years.

As the only son, Branwell was held in high regard by his sisters and his father. By age 11, he was convinced—in Romantic fashion—that he was destined to be a great poet. But he turned his attention to painting after viewing exhibits of works by the portrait painter William Robinson and the sculptor J.B. Leyland in 1834. His Romanticism led him to choose an artistic career but also to turn to drink and, eventually, opium. His self-indulgence later caused his sisters irreparable harm.

To assist in sending him to the Royal Academy, Charlotte decided to become a governess, one of the few occupations available to women of the time. In 1835, she returned to Roe Head as a teacher with Emily in tow as a student, a partial payment for her teaching services. But within three months, Emily, homesick for her cherished Gondal and the Yorkshire moors, had returned home and exchanged places with Anne. No more content than Emily but older and characteristically stoical, Charlotte suffered the monotony of life at Roe Head. She took no delight in her pupils and longed for the romantic possibilities associated with "Angria," the world that had evolved from "Glass Town." A three-year stint at Roe Head was followed by a period of physical and mental recovery at Haworth before Charlotte assumed the duties of a nursery governess in 1839. Similarly dissatisfied with this experience, Charlotte was back in Haworth within the year.

By the age of 23, Charlotte had already rejected two marriage proposals, one of which came from friend Ellen Nussey's brother. Charlotte apparently preferred the romantic heroes of her imagination to droll flesh and blood Victorian men. She remained occupied with her writing and boldly sought a professional opinion of her poetry, first from the well-known poet Robert Southey, and later, from Hartley Coleridge, son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Sara Fricker Coleridge. Southey, apparently shocked by the anti-Victorian notion of a professional "woman" writer, almost an "un-woman," took the party line and essentially told her to leave writing to the men. She might write for herself, he advised, but her primary occupation should be domestic pursuits. Coleridge, though more encouraging, was of little help as he referred her to a "ladies" magazine.

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Taylor, Mary (1817–1893)

English traveler and friend of Charlotte Brontë. Born in York-shire in 1817; died in 1893.

A rebel from childhood, Mary Taylor's "outspoken, independent spirit set her against her Yorkshire kinfolk," writes Susan Willens. Taylor journeyed to New Zealand to seek her fortune and temporarily found it as a shopkeeper. Eventually, she would travel, lecture, and write on behalf of women.

Mary Taylor vehemently protested a society that kept middle-class women from earning a living because it was not "nice," imprisoning them as household drudges who played the piano, attended church, and waited for their husbands to make the decisions. Her anger informs her novel Miss Miles: A Tale of Yorkshire Life Sixty Years Ago. Willens notes that instead of girl-meets-boy, the novel is more about girl-seeks-profession. It is about four women, each helping the others to achieve their dreams. Notes Willens: "Mary Taylor's one novel makes eyeopening and affecting reading a century after she finished it."

SOURCES:

Willens, Susan P. "The Hope Due to Endeavor," in Belles Lettres. Summer 1992, p. 35.

Anne was the only Brontë sister to have been content as a governess. After a brief, unhappy stay with the Ingham family, which later provided the material for her novel, Agnes Grey, she moved, in 1835, to Thorp Green where shePage 65  |  Top of Article served for four years as governess to the Robinson family. Branwell joined her there as a tutor after a series of failures: unsuccessful as a portrait painter, he had taken work as a clerk in a railway until his debauched existence prevented him from doing his job.

Unlike Anne, Charlotte was convinced of her unsuitability for working and living in the homes of others by another short-term position as governess. With the financial assistance of their Aunt Elizabeth Branwell, the Brontë sisters fixed on the idea of developing their own school, for which purpose Charlotte and Emily enrolled at the Pensionnat de Demoiselles, run by the Heger family in Brussels. This experience had a profound impact on Charlotte's life, since here she met the exacting but charismatic Monsieur Heger, for whom she developed an unrequited passion. Both the characters of Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre and M. Paul Emmanuel of Villette are thought to have been based on her hopelessly romantic attachment to M. Heger.

During their stay, both Charlotte and Emily further developed their literary skills. Heger introduced Charlotte to the French Romantics and, thus, to the possibilities of prose, while the reclusive and taciturn Emily secretly composed poems based on the Gondal world in what few moments of solitude she could find. In her studies, Emily surpassed Charlotte, according to Heger. He told Elizabeth Gaskell (1810–1865):

Emily had a head for logic, and a capability of argument, unusual in a man, and rare indeed in a woman…. She should have been a man—a great navigator. Her powerful reason would have deduced new spheres of discovery from the knowledge of the old; and her strong imperious will would never have been daunted by opposition or difficulty; never to have given way but with life.

Their Aunt Elizabeth Branwell's death called them back after only a year, and gave Emily an excuse not to return, preferring, instead, to tend to house and father. Although torn by duty and her family's needs, Charlotte was fixed on returning to Brussels and the company of Heger. While he obviously admired Charlotte's intellectual prowess and likely flirted with her infatuation, Heger was a Catholic and a family man who withdrew his interest in Charlotte as she grew more obsessed with him. Along with being separated from Emily and the familiar culture of Haworth and England, Charlotte felt increasingly ostracized from the Heger family. But the misery she experienced during the remainder of her time in Brussels did not abate when she returned home. Resigned to being a teacher, having earned a diploma from the Athenée Royale, Charlotte felt an equal obligation to care for her ailing father and rapidly declining brother Branwell. Moreover, her inclination was to live by her pen, and the probability of being a teacher was almost an anathema to her. But the most profound source of her grief during the post-Brussels period was Heger's stubborn rebuff of her consistent pleas for his attention. While Charlotte was too much a product of Victorian values to identify her feelings for him as sexual and potentially adulterous, her letters offer ample evidence of the true nature of her passion for a married man. Fraser notes that Charlotte's poetry of 1845 onward reflects her concern with illicit love and betrayal. Typically, therefore, the feelings and thoughts that could not be fulfilled in life found expression in her art.

Emily occupied herself by caring for their father, who was gradually losing his sight. She read the papers to him, carried the burden of the housework, and continued, in secret, to write about Gondal. Charlotte and Emily had revived the idea of opening a school, but no students materialized.

In 1845, both Anne and Branwell returned from Thorp Green. Anne's reasons for leaving might have involved her brother, whose unseemly behavior led to his dismissal. He would later claim that Mrs. Robinson had fallen in love with him and had been prepared to leave her husband. He had, at the very least, attempted to seduce her.

Together again at Haworth, the three sisters were writing in earnest. Each began a novel: Charlotte, The Professor; Anne, Agnes Grey; and Emily, Wuthering Heights. Intensely private, Emily hid her work from her sisters. In October 1846, however, she accidently left her poetry notebook on her desk. Charlotte discovered it and saw immediately that the poems should be published. After Emily's death, she wrote in her "Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell" that "something more than surprise seized me,—a deep conviction that these were not common effusions, nor at all like the poetry women generally write. I thought them condensed and terse, vigorous and genuine. To my ear, they had also a peculiar music—wild, melancholy, and elevating." Charlotte's intrusion into her private world incensed Emily, and it took days for Charlotte and Anne to persuade her that they should publish their poetry together. Adopting the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, the Brontë sisters found a publisher, after they agreed to bear the costs of publication. Poems by Currer,Page 66  |  Top of Article Ellis and Acton Bell appeared in May 1846. Although their volume received favorable reviews, they sold only two copies.

Encouraged by the reviews, the Brontës decided to try to publish their novels with the same firm. All three were rejected. Undaunted, Charlotte continued to search for a publisher and started work on Jane Eyre. Anne had begun The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, a cautionary tale based on Branwell's intemperate existence.

The three sisters kept their works secret from both their brother and their father. Patrick Brontë had been weakened by cataract surgery, while Branwell continued to be, as Charlotte disclosed to her friend Ellen, "one monstrous species of annoyance." He was threatened with imprisonment for unpaid debts and, one night, set his bed on fire. Emily saved him.

In July 1847, Newby, a small publishing company, accepted Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, but not The Professor. As before, however, Emily and Anne had to bear the publishing costs. Charlotte fared better than her sisters. She sent The Professor to the obscure Smith, Elder and Company. William Smith Williams rejected it but wrote so encouragingly that Charlotte sent him Jane Eyre, which he published in October 1847, before Emily and Anne's novels had appeared. Jane Eyre met with instantaneous success. At age 31, Charlotte was transformed into a cause celèbre, even though her identity remained ambiguous and her unconventional novel and heroine had inspired considerable controversy.

Capitalizing on the success of Jane Eyre, Newby finally published Agnes Grey and Wuthering Heights in December 1847. Anne's novel received little attention, but Emily's received strong, condemnatory reviews. While recognizing the power of Wuthering Heights, critics objected to its strange wildness. Charlotte and Anne appeared to share their view, believing that Emily had become what Muriel Spark and Derek Stanford have termed "death-enamoured."

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Anne's second novel appeared in July 1848. The unscrupulous Newby presented The Tenant of Wildfell Hall as the work of Currer, not Acton, Bell, fueling rumors that the Bells were interchangeable. Determined to disabuse their publishers of this error, Charlotte and Anne set out for London to reveal their true identities. When Emily learned, on their return, that they had revealed hers as well, she again caused an angry scene and forced Charlotte to retract her claim that the Bells were three sisters. As a result, the true author of Wuthering Heights was not revealed until after Emily's death.

On September 24, 1848, Branwell died suddenly of consumption. His addiction to alcohol and opium had masked the signs of this highly contagious disease. Emily, who had been closest to Branwell, contracted the disease immediately after his funeral but refused to accept treatment. Instead, she continued to perform her household routines, though visibly weakened and frail. On December 19, hours after she quietly admitted she would see a doctor if her sisters called one, she died on the dining-room sofa. Emily's body had been so wasted by the disease that her coffin was only 16 inches wide.

By the time of Emily's death, Anne was also ill. Unlike her sister, she submitted with religious calm to all medical treatments imposed by her doctors. In May, Charlotte decided to fulfill Anne's wish of seeing the sea. Mistakenly believing that the sea air would alleviate rather than augment Anne's suffering, Charlotte and Ellen took her to Scarborough. Anne died on May 28, 1849, within six weeks of Emily's death.

By 1849, only Charlotte and her aging father survived. Throughout her life, Charlotte remained a steadfast member of the English Church. Added to its prudish strictures was her father's Evangelical influence, which together made an already sensitive nature more impressionable, even morbid. Her novels, however, revealed a different spirit. In Jane Eyre, she railed against the fanaticism—the hell, fire and brimstone—of religion, while in Shirley and The Professor, she critiqued social hypocrisy and the limitations faced by women and the working class. In a letter to her publisher William Smith Williams in September 1848 resisting changes to her manuscript, she expressed the philosophy that guided her artistic vision: "Truth is better than Art…. Ignorant as I am, I dare to hold and maintain that doctrine." And so she took an emphatic and independent stand in her work, one she dared not take in her personal life.

Between 1849 and her marriage to Arthur Nichols in 1854, Charlotte made acquaintances with the likes of novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, publisher G.B. Lewes, and essayist Thomas Carlyle. Her novels won respect, and people were curious to meet the infamous Currer Bell. Charlotte, however, felt extremely uncomfortable in public, almost to the point of physical illness. Hypersensitive and given to migraines and psychosomatic disorders, she confined herself to nurturing comfortable relationships with a few admirers, including Elizabeth Gaskell, her future biographer, and Harriet Martineau , writer and social reformer. But the most meaningful relationship for Charlotte during this period was the one she developed with George Smith of the publishing house Smith, Williams. Both younger and more attractive than she, Smith became infatuated with Charlotte Brontë, the writer. He arranged visits with Charlotte at his home and on occasional trips elsewhere that were chaperoned by his doting mother. Most likely inadvertently, Smith encouragedPage 68  |  Top of Article romantic expectations in the ever-impressionable and solitary Charlotte Brontë.

Largely at his prodding, she reluctantly entered London artistic society from time to time but persisted in shunning any attention owing to her novels. She found more comfort in the company of her friend, Ellen Nussey, who was also still unmarried, and of kindly Mrs. Gaskell and her family. But Charlotte spent the preponderance of her time in Haworth with her father, where she wrote Villette, having published the less well-received Shirley in 1949. Ever mindful of her sisters, whose work she greatly admired, she also published new editions of Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey, and The Poems of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell in 1850. Charlotte's own literary acclaim, along with a new introduction she authored, lent credibility to the editions and resulted in renewed interest in the Brontës' work. Suspicion persisted, however, that Charlotte or Currer had also authored the work of the other "Bells," a misconception that Charlotte repeatedly discouraged.

In some ways, Charlotte never fully recovered from her sisters' deaths, as their mutual support and shared literary ambitions had blunted the cold edge of her lonely and introspective nature. While an occasional kind gesture from George Smith lifted her out of her morbid tendencies, she ultimately resigned herself to the fact of the one-sided attachment. Older and more self-possessed, Charlotte avoided the obsequiousness and bitterness associated with her earlier rejection by Heger. While she remained friends with the dashing Smith, she turned to the more realistic offer of marriage from her father's curate, Arthur Nichols. A 37-year-old woman who had earned a considerable sum by her pen, she, nevertheless, demurred when her father irately commanded Nichols to withdraw his proposal and himself from his duties at the parsonage. Patrick Brontë eventually relented, however, and with his blessing Charlotte married Nichols on June 29, 1854.

Within nine months, pregnancy complications and a long-term consumptive condition resulted in Charlotte's death on March 31, 1855, at age 38. She spent her last painful months as she had spent most of her life—at the parsonage in Haworth. Her writing practically ceased altogether in the months following her marriage, and even her longstanding correspondence with Ellen Nussey had diminished to near extinction. The fiercely passionate and independent heroine of Charlotte Brontë's autobiographical novels finally gave way to the conventionally submissive married woman. But the fact remains that Charlotte Brontë had come into the world poor, plain, and obscure, and left it a literary giant.

While Charlotte found early accolades and popularity with Jane Eyre, her star has waxed and waned according to the critical mode and views of the day. Emily's work was criticized and overlooked at first, primarily as a result of moral objections. Over time, however, the artistry of her poetry and singular novel Wuthering Heights earned her substantial critical respect. In fact, critic Penny Boumelha quotes F.R. Leavis as having proclaimed "that 'there is only one Bronte'—and that one is Emily." Anne, often overshadowed by the more readily acknowledged genius of her sisters, made her own distinctive mark in her religious poetry and moralistic novels. French biographer Ernest Dimnet characterized it this way: Anne "had what is called a mystical soul, and wrote poems full of deep religious sentiment."

The women's movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which revived both interest in and the work of women writers, has also served the Brontës well. Feminist criticism has provided new territory in which to explore each of the sister's unique artistry. While Charlotte lived long enough to write four full-length novels, in addition to her poetry and extensive juvenilia, Emily and Anne, unfortunately, died young, denied the encouragement and time necessary to fulfill their ample artistic potential.

SOURCES:

Benvenuto, Richard. Emily Brontë. Boston, MA: Twayne, 1982.

Blom, Margaret Howard. Charlotte Brontë. Boston, MA: Twayne, 1977.

Boumelha, Penny. Charlotte Brontë. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.

Chitham, Edward. A Life of Emily Brontë. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987.

Dimnet, Ernest. The Brontë Sisters. Trans. by Louise Morgan Sill. NY: Harcourt, Brace, 1928.

Fraser, Rebecca. The Brontës: Charlotte Brontë and Her Family. NY: Fawcett Columbine, 1988.

Gaskell, Elizabeth. The Life of Charlotte Brontë. London: Penguin, 1975.

Gérin, Winifred. Emily Brontë. NY: Oxford University Press, 1971.

Spark, Muriel, and Derek Stanford. Emily Brontë: Her Life and Work. NY: Coward-McCann, 1966.

Tillotson, Kathleen. Novels of the 1840s. London: Oxford University Press, 1954.

SUGGESTED READING:

Barker, Janet. The Brontës. St. Martin's, 1995.

RELATED MEDIA:

There were three silent movies of Jane Eyre: starring Irving Cummings and Ethel Grand, 1913; starring Alan Hale and Louise Vale, 1915; starring Mabel Ballin and Norman Trevor, 1921.

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Jane Eyre, starring Virginia Bruce and Colin Clive, screenplay by Adele Comandini, directed by Christy Cabanne, 1934.

Jane Eyre, starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine , produced by 20th Century-Fox, directed by Robert Stevenson, screenplay co-authored by Aldous Huxley, 1944.

Jane Eyre, starring Patrick Macnee and Joan Elan, 1957 (made for television).

Jane Eyre, starring George C. Scott and Susannah York, produced by Omnibus-Saggittarius, directed by Delbert Mann, 1971 (made for British television).

Jane Eyre, starring Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds, A&E cable television, 1997.

Wuthering Heights, starring Merle Oberon , Laurence Olivier and David Niven, produced by Samuel Goldwyn, directed by William Wyler, set design by Julia Heron, 1939. (Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Director.)

Wuthering Heights (Abismos de Pasion), starring Irasema Dilian, Jorge Mistral, Lilia Prado, directed by Louis Buñuel, 1954.

Wuthering Heights, starring Anna Calder-Marshall, Timothy Dalton, and Harry Andrews, produced by AIP, directed by Robert Fuest, 1970.

Kate Waites Lamm, Associate Professor, and Suzanne Ferriss, Assistant Professor, in the Liberal Arts department of Nova University, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2591301445