Strong, clever, ambitious, she was the Brontë children's true leader

Charlotte was the third of the six Bronte children. She was just five years old when her mother died, and her mother's elder sister Elizabeth Branwell moved into the Parsonage to look after the children. Her two older sisters Maria and Elizabeth died from tuberculosis by the time she was eight, leaving Charlotte suddenly the eldest of a family of four, a position of responsibility that sat comfortably with her strong personality...


Charlotte was less than five feet tall and slightly built. She wore spectacles to correct her myopia, and thought herself plain. Politically a Tory, she was strong-minded, clever and ambitious. She held high moral principles, and, despite her shyness in company, was always prepared to argue her beliefs.

In 1824 she spent eight months at the Clergy Daughters' School, Cowan Bridge (the model for the Lowood Institution in Jane Eyre), then two years as a pupil (1831-32), and three years as a teacher (1835-38) at Roe Head School, Dewsbury, where she made her lifelong friends Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor.

Mr. Brontë had intended his daughters become governesses, and Charlotte held two situations, first, with the Sidgwick family of Stonegappe, Lothersdale, for three months in 1839, and second with the White family of Upperwood House, Rawdon, for six months of 1841. She hated the work, and suggested to Emily and Anne that the three of them open their own school in Haworth. Aunt Branwell offered financial backing, which paid for them to study for two years (1842-3) at the Pensionnat Heger in Brussels, so Charlotte could improve her French. However, the sisters never managed to find pupils for their school and the enterprise did not materialise.

It was at the Pensionnat Heger, though, that Charlotte fell hopelessly in love with her teacher Constantin Heger. Happily married, Heger did not reciprocate Charlotte’s affections, and she ended up back at home in Haworth, heartbroken.

Her dearest ambition was to be a writer. From a very young age she and her brother Branwell had collaborated in writing poetry and stories set in their imaginary world of Angria, and they were prolific, Charlotte claiming later that she had written more before the age of 13 than afterwards. In 1846 Charlotte persuaded her sisters to publish Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (the sisters' androgynous pseudonyms). This was a commercial disaster, selling only two copies, but by the end of 1847 the first novels of all three sisters had been published, and Charlotte's Jane Eyre was an immediate success. Following the publication of Shirley in 1849, the public knew her identity, and Charlotte became a celebrity in literary circles, something which the publication of Villette (1853) only enhanced.

In December 1852 Charlotte received a proposal of marriage from her father's curate Arthur Bell Nicholls. Mr. Nicholls had been with Mr. Brontë for eight years, and the proposal came as a surprise to Charlotte and her father. Partly because he thought his daughter too frail to survive a pregnancy, Mr. Brontë objected, and Charlotte declined. Mr. Nicholls was not to be put off, however, and after assiduous courtship the couple were married on June 29, 1854. The marriage was happy but short. Charlotte Brontë died in the early stages of pregnancy on March 31, 1855.

Her novel The Professor was published posthumously.



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