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Ten Facts About Charlotte Brontë

Chalk pastel of Charlotte Brontë by George Richmond, 1850


Welcome back, Janeites! Without further ado, here are ten intriguing tidbits about literary genius, oldest Brontë sister, and author of Jane Eyre... the captivating Charlotte Brontë.

A curator adjusts one of Charlotte's dresses, shown at the 2022-23 exhibition.

1. While Charlotte Brontë's novels are hugely popular, the authoress was very petite.

Measuring in adulthood only 4'6", what Charlotte lacked in physical inches she certainly made up for with a strong personality and massive literary talent. From 2022-2023, never-before-seen items of Charlotte's tailored wardrobe– such as the dainty silk dress pictured above– were on display at the Brontë Parsonage Museum.

2. She may have burnt Emily's unfinished second novel.

There is evidence to suppose that at the time of her death in 1848, Emily Brontë was in possession of a second novel draft. While it has not– and likely will never– be confirmed it is highly likely that Charlotte burnt her sister's unfinished manuscript in an act of preservation. Fact or fiction, myth or reality, Charlotte cared deeply for both her sisters, Emily and Anne.

A portrait of Anne Brontë, supposedly by Charlotte Brontë

3. Charlotte was also a skilled artist.

Branwell was not the only artist of the family; Charlotte was skilled with the pen as well as with the pencil. Over one hundred of her drawings and paintings survive to the present day.

4. Like many of her heroines, Charlotte had her own taste of forbidden love.

In 1842, Charlotte and Emily traveled to Belgium to study, then teach at a boarding school.

While there, Charlotte fell deeply in love with her French tutor– also the married proprietor of the school– Constantin Héger. Many believe the circumstances of the attachment were the inspiration for Charlotte's 1853 novel, Villette.

5. She was not particularly fond of Jane Austen's writing.

In January of 1848, Charlotte wrote to literary critic G.H. Lewes on the topic of Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice.

Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. […] What did I find? An accurate daguerreotyped portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden […]; but no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air […]. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.

6. She turned down multiple marriage proposals.

At age 23, Charlotte turned down a marriage proposal from Henry Nussey, brother of her close friend and confidant, Ellen Nussey. However, Charlotte eventually settled down with her father's former curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls. (He only had to ask her twice.) They married in June 1854, however their happiness was short lived as Charlotte died on March 31, 1855.

7. Charlotte did not enjoy being a governess.

While she worked in the profession for much of her life, Charlotte despised teaching and cared little for children. In a letter to her friend, Ellen Nussey, dated June 1, 1839, she wrote:

As it is, I will only ask you to imagine the miseries of a reserved wretch like me, thrown at once into the midst of a large family [...] in this state of things having the charge given me of a set of pampered, spoilt, and turbulent children, whom I was expected constantly to amuse as well as instruct.

8. She was very nearsighted.

According to lore, Charlotte had notoriously poor vision, like her father, Rev. Brontë. In the light, that is! Her pupils were dazzled by her seemingly "magical" ability to read in the dark.

Chalk drawing of Elizabeth Gaskell by George Richmond, 1851

9. Charlotte was acquainted with Elizabeth Gaskell.

You may know Elizabeth Gaskell as the author of notable Victorian works such as North and South, Wives and Daughters, and Cranford, among others. Elizabeth wrote a biography of Charlotte's life, published two years after the latter's untimely death in 1855. It is largely due to Gaskell's writing that the incorrect picture of a prim, uninteresting Charlotte came to be widely believed. As with Jane Austen, so much of Charlotte Brontë's personality, vivacity, and spirit remained unseen or overlooked by generations of readers.

10. She was told to stop writing.

At twenty, Charlotte wrote to the then poet laureate of England, Robert Southey. While her letter and enclosed poem have been lost to history, Southey's notable reply has survived. He praised her work warmly, yet discouraging her from a continued pursuit, stating:

Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life: & it ought not to be.

At the time, Charlotte was thrilled to receive Southey's response. But for our sakes and for those of readers past and present all I can say is... what a relief she did not heed his advice!


 How many of these ten fascinating morsels did you know? Let us know in the comments!

Miss the final live event of Jane Austen and Co.'s series Austen & the Brontës? Never fear! Follow the link to view a recording of the fascinating discussion with Lizzie Dunford of Jane Austen’s House Museum and Ann Dinsdale of the Brontë Parsonage Museum. (As well as access all the previous programs!)


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