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Friday, September 16, 2011

English novelist, noted for writing narratives of contemporary women in conflict


Charlotte Brontë (21 April 1816 – 31 March 1855) was an English novelist and poet, the eldest of the three Brontë sisters who survived into adulthood, whose novels are English literature standards. She wrote Jane Eyre under the pen name Currer Bell.

Charlotte was born in Thornton, Yorkshire in 1816, the third of six children, to Maria (née Branwell) and her husband Patrick Brontë (formerly surnamed Brunty or Prunty), an Irish Anglican clergyman. In 1820, the family moved a few miles to Haworth, where Patrick had been appointed Perpetual Curate. Mrs. Brontë died of cancer on 15 September 1821, leaving five daughters and a son to be taken care of by her aunt Elizabeth Branwell. In August 1824, Charlotte was sent with three of her sisters, Emily, Maria, and Elizabeth, to the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire (which she would describe as Lowood School in Jane Eyre). Its poor conditions, Charlotte maintained, permanently affected her health and physical development and hastened the deaths of her two elder sisters, Maria (born 1814) and Elizabeth (born 1815), who died of tuberculosis in June 1825. Soon after their father removed them from the school.

At home in Haworth Parsonage—a small rectory close to the graveyard of a bleak, windswept village on the Yorkshire moors—Charlotte acted as "the motherly friend and guardian of her younger sisters". She and the other surviving children— Branwell, Emily, and Anne – began chronicling the lives and struggles of the inhabitants of their imaginary kingdoms. Charlotte and Branwell wrote Byronic stories about their country – Angria – and Emily and Anne wrote articles and poems about theirs – Gondal. The sagas were elaborate and convoluted (and still exist in partial manuscripts) and provided them with an obsessive interest during childhood and early adolescence, which prepared them for their literary vocations in adulthood.

Charlotte continued her education at Roe Head, Mirfield, from 1831 to 32, where she met her lifelong friends and correspondents, Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor. During this period, she wrote her novella The Green Dwarf (1833) under the name of Wellesley. Charlotte returned as a teacher from 1835 to 1838. In 1839, she took up the first of many positions as governess to various families in Yorkshire, a career she pursued until 1841.
 
Politically a Tory, she preached tolerance rather than revolution. She held high moral principles, and, despite her shyness in company, she was always prepared to argue her beliefs.Indeed, her novels were deemed coarse by the critics.There was speculation about the identity of Currer Bell, and whether Bell was a man or a woman.

Charlotte's brother, Branwell, the only son of the family, died of chronic bronchitis and marasmus exacerbated by heavy drinking in September 1848, although Charlotte believed his death was due to tuberculosis. Branwell was also a suspected "opium eater". Emily and Anne both died of pulmonary tuberculosis in December 1848 and May 1849, respectively.

Charlotte and her father were now left alone together. In view of the enormous success of Jane Eyre, she was persuaded by her publisher to visit London occasionally, where she revealed her true identity and began to move in a more exalted social circle, becoming friends with Harriet Martineau, Elizabeth Gaskell, William Makepeace Thackeray and G. H. Lewes. Her book had sparked a movement in regards to feminism in literature. The main character, Jane Eyre, in her novel Jane Eyre, was a parallel to herself, a woman who was strong. However, she never left Haworth for more than a few weeks at a time as she did not want to leave her ageing father's side.

The Life of Charlotte Brontë, the posthumous biography of Charlotte Brontë by Gaskell, was the first of many biographies about Charlotte to be published. Though frank in places, Gaskell suppressed details of Charlotte's love for Heger, a married man, as being too much of an affront to contemporary morals and as a possible source of distress to Charlotte's still-living friends, father and husband. Gaskell also provided doubtful and inaccurate information about Patrick Brontë, claiming, for example, that he did not allow his children to eat meat. This is refuted by one of Emily Brontë's diary papers, in which she describes the preparation of meat and potatoes for dinner at the parsonage, as Juliet Barker points out in her recent biography, The Brontës.
 
Posthumously, her first-written novel was published in 1857, the fragment she worked on in her last years in 1860 (twice completed by recent authors, the more famous version being Emma Brown: A Novel from the Unfinished Manuscript by Charlotte Brontë by Clare Boylan, 2003), and much Angria material over the ensuing decades.

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