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Charlotte Brontë

1816–1855

Charlotte Brontë was born on April 21, 1816, in Thornton, England. One of six children, she grew up in the nearby village of Haworth, where her father, the Rev. Patrick Brontë, became the curate of the local church in 1820. Her mother died of cancer the following year. In 1824, Charlotte and three of her four sisters were sent to the Clergy Daughters’ School in Lancashire, where her two older sisters died of tuberculosis. Soon after, Charlotte and her sister Emily returned to Haworth.

Back at Haworth, Patrick Brontë took over the tutelage of his four surviving children, giving them access to his well-stocked library. During this time, Charlotte, Emily, their sister Anne, and their brother Branwell produced a family magazine featuring their poems and stories. This period of Charlotte’s childhood, from 1829 to 1831, was her most prolific as a poet, and her work demonstrates her growing interest in literary history and her aspirations to be included in the canon.

In 1831, Charlotte enrolled as a student at Roe Head School, and she went on to serve as a governess there and elsewhere. She also briefly studied and taught in Brussels before returning to Haworth in 1844.

In 1846, the Brontë sisters self-published a collection of their poetry under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. However, Charlotte did not achieve literary recognition until the next year, when Jane Eyre (Smith, Elder & Co., 1847) was published, also under the pseudonym Currer Bell. Noted for its first-person female perspective, Jane Eyre was an immediate success. Charlotte went on to publish three more novels, including Villette (Smith, Elder & Co., 1853) and the posthumous The Professor (Smith, Elder & Co., 1857).

After her own literary success and that of Emily, with Wuthering Heights (Thomas Cautley Newby, 1847), and Anne, with Agnes Grey (Thomas Cautley Newby, 1847), speculation about the Bells’ identities increased. Charlotte revealed herself as Currer Bell in 1848 and began to move in London’s literary circles. However, Branwell died in September, 1848, and Emily and Anne both died of tuberculosis within the next year. After this, Charlotte spent most of her time in Haworth with her aging father, and in 1854 she married Arthur Bell Nicholls, who had taken over the parsonage in 1845. Charlotte died while pregnant, after an extended illness, on March 31, 1855.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
The Poems of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (Aylott and Jones, 1846)

Prose
Jane Eyre (Smith, Elder & Co., 1847)
Shirley (Smith, Elder & Co., 1849)
Villette (Smith, Elder & Co., 1853)
The Professor (Smith, Elder & Co., 1857)

By This Poet

5

On the Death of Anne Brontë

There's little joy in life for me,
      And little terror in the grave;
I've lived the parting hour to see
      Of one I would have died to save.
 
Calmly to watch the failing breath,
      Wishing each sigh might be the last;
Longing to see the shade of death
      O'er those belovèd features cast.
 
The cloud, the stillness that must part
      The darling of my life from me;
And then to thank God from my heart,
      To thank Him well and fervently;
 
Although I knew that we had lost
      The hope and glory of our life;
And now, benighted, tempest-tossed,
      Must bear alone the weary strife.

Evening Solace

The human heart has hidden treasures,
In secret kept, in silence sealed;—
The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures,
Whose charms were broken if revealed.
And days may pass in gay confusion,
And nights in rosy riot fly,
While, lost in Fame's or Wealth's illusion,
The memory of the Past may die.

But there are hours of lonely musing,
Such as in evening silence come,
When, soft as birds their pinions closing,
The heart's best feelings gather home.
Then in our souls there seems to languish
A tender grief that is not woe;
And thoughts that once wrung groans of anguish
Now cause but some mild tears to flow.

And feelings, once as strong as passions,
Float softly back—a faded dream;
Our own sharp griefs and wild sensations,
The tale of others' sufferings seem.
Oh! when the heart is freshly bleeding,
How longs it for that time to be,
When, through the mist of years receding,
Its woes but live in reverie!

And it can dwell on moonlight glimmer,
On evening shade and loneliness;
And, while the sky grows dim and dimmer,
Feel no untold and strange distress—
Only a deeper impulse given
By lonely hour and darkened room,
To solemn thoughts that soar to heaven
Seeking a life and world to come.

On the Death of Emily Jane Brontë

My darling thou wilt never know
The grinding agony of woe
That we have bourne for thee,
Thus may we consolation tear
E'en from the depth of our despair
And wasting misery.

The nightly anguish thou art spared
When all the crushing truth is bared
To the awakening mind,
When the galled heart is pierced with grief,
Till wildly it implores relief,
But small relief can find.

Nor know'st thou what it is to lie
Looking forth with streaming eye
On life's lone wilderness.
"Weary, weary, dark and drear,
How shall I the journey bear,
The burden and distress?"

Then since thou art spared such pain
We will not wish thee here again;
He that lives must mourn.
God help us through our misery
And give us rest and joy with thee
When we reach our bourne!