Charlotte Bronte is best known for her novel, Jane Eyre. Not many know that the sufferings depicted in this book are records of Charlotte’s own experiences.
Charlotte Bronte was born in 1816 at Hartshead, England, but moved shortly after her birth to Haworth, Yorkshire. Her father, Patrick, was a poor English clergyman and was eccentric and abusive. The parsonage was dreary and unpleasant, a low, oblong, stone building standing at the top of the straggling village on a steep hill without
shelter of a tree. The churchyard pressed won on it on both sides, and behind it was a long tract of wild moors.
On the direction of their father, the Bronte children were fed a vegetable diet and clothed in coarse clothes to make them hardy and to prevent their becoming proud. But they were far from hardy; on the contrary, they were small, feeble, and stunted in growth. Their mother died from cancer when they were all young, and while her sister, Elizabeth Branwell came to care for them, the children were left mostly to themselves.
Four of the girls were sent away to school, Charlotte among them. They were sent to the Clergy Daughter’s School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire. The food was poor and insufficient and they were treated with inhuman severity. The Lowood School in Jane Eyre was modeled after this school, and “Miss Scratchhard” in the novel was modeled after the manager of the school. A fever broke out at the school and the girls returned home, but two of the sisters died as a result of the treatment and the sickness contracted at the school.
When Charlotte was nineteen years old, she became a teacher. But because of her bad health, she had to give it up. She then took a position as a governess, but the people treated her poorly, so this, too, was given up. She decided then to establish a private school with her sisters Emily and Anne. Charlotte and Emily went to Brussels to prepare for this by studying under M. Hegier. At the end of six months time they were employed in the school they were attending, but at a small salary. They returned to England and attempted to gather pupils for their own private school, but found this very difficult, and gave up the task.
Next they turned to literary work. The Bronte sisters had written many stories and poems as children as the romped around the Yorkshire moors, so they were quite well prepared for this new endeavor. They issued a volume of poems, but it met with little success. Their next venture was in prose tales. The productions were, “The Professor”, by Charlotte; “Wuthering Heights”, by Emily, and “Agnes Grey”, by Anne. Each wrote under an assumed name. While those of Emily and Anne were accepted, Charlotte’s was rejected everywhere she submitted it and was not published until after her death.
In the face of all this failure and discouragement, Charlotte went on to write “Jane Eyre”. It met with immediate success. It was translated into most of the languages of Europe, and was put on stage in England and Germany under the title “The Orphan of Lowood”.
Charlotte’s writing became her passport into the highest of literary circles of London and all of Europe, meeting the most prominent writers of the time. But she was a rather shy woman and didn’t like the spotlight, so she returned to her home. She was still in poor health, as she had been most of her life, and died in March of 1855.