By Cindy Regnier
'Jane Eyre' is the novel that rivals Jane Austen’s 'Pride and Prejudice' on the list of 'Cindy’s-all-time-favorite-books. If you’ve never read it, I hope you do someday. Each time I read it (yes, there have been multiple occasions,) I am always intrigued by its author, Charlotte Bronte.
There are many conflicting reports about Charlotte, probably because she lived long enough ago and in enough obscurity that no one really knows many truths about her life. I have managed to garner a few facts we can believe to be true. Let’s look back a couple centuries and see what Charlotte’s life entailed.
She was born in Thornton England on April 21, 1816, the third of six children, to an Irish clergyman and his wife, Patrick and Maria Bronte. Patrick was appointed curate in the village of Haworth in 1820, the location where Charlotte would spend much of her growing up years.
When Charlotte was only 5, her mother passed away from what was probably cancer. The oldest daughter, Elizabeth, became the caretaker of the 5 younger children when Patrick’s attempts to marry again failed. Elizabeth, Maria, Charlotte and Emily were sent to a school for clergy daughters in Lancashire when Charlotte was 8, but this school operated under poor conditions. Elizabeth and Maria both died there from tuberculosis. It is thought that Charlotte modeled Lowood School in 'Jane Eyre' from this experience.
Charlotte and Emily returned home to be tutored by their father where Charlotte wrote her first known poem at the age of 13. The three remaining sisters and their brother “published” a homemade magazine they called Branwell’s Blackwood’s Magazine. In addition to the poetry they all contributed, Charlotte and Branwell wrote stories about their jointly imagined country, Angria, while Emily and Anne wrote articles and poems about their imaginings of the city of Gondal.
At 15 Charlotte was sent away to school again, this time to Roe Head School in Mirfield. She did well there, but was so homesick she returned home a year and a half later. At 19, she returned to Roe Head, this time as a teacher. As her desire to write professionally increased she sought the advice of Robert Southey, poet laureate of England. His response to her was not encouraging. “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life: & it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it, even as an accomplishment & a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, & when you are you will be less eager for celebrity.” Wow. What a rejection letter.
Not enjoying her life as a teacher and going nowhere with her poems, Charlotte then opted to leave Roe Head and work as a private governess. This did not go well for her either, so Charlotte and her sisters made plans to start their own school. It is said that she actually declined an offer to become the director of Roe Head in favor of her own school, but this turned out to be a mistake. Not one student applied to the Bronte sister’s school and the enterprise was ended before it began.
Charlotte and Emily returned to school once more, this time in Brussels. While it is only supposition, it appears that Charlotte may have fallen in love with the husband of the school’s director who gave her much attention and helped her with her writing. This scenario is oddly similar to the experiences of the young teacher in her novel, 'Villette.'
Feeling as if nothing could go right for her, Charlotte withdrew from the school and returned home. It was around this time that Charlotte stumbled upon a notebook of Emily’s poems and urged her sister to publish them, along with some of her own verses. Anne joined in their efforts and together the three sisters self-published a poetry collection under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell.
Despite Charlotte's best efforts, the poetry book sold only two copies. It did, however, pave the way for Charlotte to seek publication for her novel, “The Professor.” It was rejected many times, but one publisher asked to see more of her work in a longer novel. Consequently, Charlotte quickly finished a novel she had been laboring over titled 'Jane Eyre' and submitted it to them. It was published six weeks later under the name of Currer Bell and became an instant hit.
Charlotte would eventually marry at the age of 38, but then died nine months later along with her unborn child, either from tuberculosis as was stated at the time, or as is now thought, from dehydration brought about by her severe morning sickness due to her pregnancy. She died a few weeks short of her 39th birthday.
So what do you think about the life of Charlotte Bronte? Did she live an unfortunate and unhappy life or was she successful to nearly celebrity status for her day? Perhaps a little of both? As I said before, I love 'Jane Eyre.' I’ll also go so far as to say 'Villette' should have never been written. Despite my best attempts, I couldn’t make it more than halfway through. That’s my opinion, though. What’s yours?
Scribbling in notebooks has been a habit of Cindy Regnier since she was old enough to hold a pencil. She writes stories of historical Kansas, especially the Flint Hills area where she spent much of her childhood. Her experiences with the Flint Hills setting, her natural love for history, farming and animals, along with her interest in genealogical research give her the background and passion to write heart-fluttering historical romance.