Today in 1816, Charlotte Bronte was born in Thornton, Yorkshire. Best known for her 1847 masterpiece Jane Eyre (one of my favorite novels), Bronte is one of the most celebrated Victorian writers of all time. Although Jane Eyre was written 167 years ago, its universal themes of suffering, morality, and love transcend all times and cultures, continuing to make it an essential classic for all generations.
In celebration of her 198th birthday, I wanted to share ten interesting facts you may not know about Charlotte Bronte.
1) Charlotte’s mother died of cancer when she was only five years old.
2) While you are probably aware of Charlotte’s two younger sisters who were also celebrated writers (Emily Bronte, author of Wuthering Heights and Anne Bronte, author of Agnes Grey), you may not know that she also had two older sisters who died of tuberculosis in 1825 due to the poor conditions or their boarding school. Charlotte was the only one of her sisters to live past the age of 31 (she died at age 38).
3) When she was a child, Charlotte made up stories about an imaginary kingdom called Angria with her brother Branwell. Manuscripts containing the stories still exist today. The two would often sabotage each other’s story lines- Branwell would kill off Charlotte’s characters and Charlotte would turn Branwell’s favorite characters into villains as revenge. Branwell died in 1848 at the age of 31.
4) Charlotte was not always a successful writer. In 1846, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte published a collaborative collection of poetry that only sold two copies. Her first novel The Professor was rejected by many publishers.
5) While Charlotte was living in Belgium, she fell in love with her teacher- Professor Constantin Heger- who was married. She wrote many letters to him expressing her feelings, which he tore up. Her unrequited love is depicted in Villette, her final novel before her death.
6) Jane Eyre was initially published until Charlotte’s nom-de-plum Currer Bell.
7) Bertha and the mansion in Jane Eyre were both modeled after a real house and a real “madwoman” in North Yorkshire where Charlotte worked as a governess.
8) Lowood School in Jane Eyre is based on the clergy daughter’s school Charlotte attended in Lancashire, Cowan’s Bridge.
9) Charlotte suffered from severe hypochondria- she even thought she was going blind like her father.
10) Charlotte was married to her father’s curate Aruthur Bell Nicholls in 1854, but actually turned down his initial proposal because her father was furious and would not allow the marriage. She was the only Bronte sister to marry and died eight months later while she was pregnant.
In a way, Charlotte’s tragic life served as a basis for her somewhat autobiographical writing which is probably why her stories continue to be so powerful today. Do you think it is necessary for an author to go through tragedy in order to depict it in his or her writing?