Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Story of a Woman Writer: Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte, Painted by Evert A. Duyckinick, based on a 
drawing by George Richmond
- University of Texas: Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ever since its first publication in 1847, readers have loved Charlotte Bronte's novel of Victorian young womanhood, self-realization, triumph over adversity, and romance-with-a-dash of intrigue: Jane Eyre. I teach this novel every year to my tenth grade class, and it tends to be one of those students remember longest, even for kids for whom reading a 500-page novel doesn't come easily. I even had an 11th grader choose to do her research paper this year on Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre, such was the impact the story made on her the year before.

So who was this mysterious little woman behind what is now considered one of the greatest Victorian novels? I always enjoy learning the "story behind the story," so I thought you might too!

Charlotte Bronte was born in 1816, the third of what would be six children. Her younger siblings Patrick, Emily, and Anne soon followed. After their mother died, the older girls were sent by their ailing clergyman father to a school similar to the horrifying Lowood described in Jane Eyre. After the two oldest sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, died of tuberculosis at school, Emily and Charlotte were thankfully brought home.

Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Bronte. National Portrait Gallery, {{PD-1923}}

Now with their sibling circle reduced to Charlotte, Emily, little Anne, and their brother Patrick, a season began that would eventually lead to literary fame for three of the four: they developed imaginary worlds called Angria and Gondal, wherein countless stories were acted out courtesy of Patrick's toy soldiers. It was these imaginative dramas that sparked the idea of novel-writing for the three girls, whom we now know as famous novelists Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Bronte.

It wasn’t easy to be a woman writer in early Victorian England, however. In fact, the Bronte sisters published their first successful novels—Emily’s Wuthering Heights, Anne’s Agnes Grey, and Charlotte’s Jane Eyre—under the gender-neutral pen names Ellis, Acton, and Currer Bell, to avoid the prejudice female authors faced.

Jane Eyre original title page; transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.;
University of Leeds Library, Public Domain

Jane Eyre was an instant success, though controversy also abounded, both as to the identity (and gender) of the author and because of the novel’s “radical” themes. While it might not seem at all radical to us today, Jane’s insistence on standing up for herself against ill-treatment and stance for the human equality of women rubbed some readers the wrong way, as did her biting satire of hypocritical Christians such as the Rev. Brocklehurst.

Charlotte responded to the latter criticism in her preface to the second edition, where she wrote,

“Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns…narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ.”

And indeed, Jane Eyre herself has a strong faith in God, though her temper, impulsive spirit, and craving for human love keep her delightfully relateable and human, in contrast to some more “proper” heroines of the day. And no doubt that is why she has been beloved for so many generations.

Just as Jane refused St. John Rivers and waited for the love of her Mr. Rochester, Charlotte Bronte refused several suitors throughout her young womanhood. At last, at age thirty-eight, Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls, despite the objections of her brother, Patrick. We can only assume she truly loved him. Tragically, Charlotte died less than a year later, due to complications in early pregnancy. But the story she left the world of one young woman’s love, hope, and perseverance continues to touch lives and inspire hearts today.

Kiersti Giron holds a life-long passion for history and historical fiction. She loves to write stories that show the intersection of past and present, explore relationships that bridge cultural divides, and probe the healing Jesus can bring out of brokenness. Kiersti has been published in several magazines and won the 2013 ACFW Genesis Award - Historical for her manuscript Beneath a Turquoise Sky. A high school teacher and member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Kiersti loves learning and growing with other writers penning God's story into theirs, as well as blogging at www.kierstigiron.com. She lives in California with her wonderful husband, Anthony.


  1. Great post about Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre. I enjoyed reading the history and the impact these women made.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing, Marilyn!

  2. I might be the only person who hasn't read Jane Eyre. Maybe I should remedy that. Thanks for the post.

    1. I hadn't read it all the way through till I had to teach it, Connie! :) I hadn't liked it too much when I read the beginning when I was younger, but it is worth persevering to the end. :) I hope you enjoy the story!

  3. Thanks for introducing me to the story behind the story ... I didn't know Charlotte Bronte's book came from personal experience. Fascinating. Jane Eyre has had a place in my heart ever since my daughter (who is now a professional musician) played the lead role in the musical.

    1. Wow, I didn't know there was a musical of Jane Eyre! Fascinating (I'm a musical theater fan too.) Thanks so much for sharing, Stephanie!

  4. Kiersti, Thank you for your interesting post. I didn't know the background of the Bronte sisters.

    1. I hadn't either till the past few years. Always neat to learn the story behind the story, isn't it? Thanks so much for sharing, Marilyn!