Friday, March 17, 2017

A Strange Life Of Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte is mostly famous for her Jane Eyre, a somewhat feminist novel (the plot of which is widely known so there is no need to go into detail), though from what I read she appears the least radical of the three sisters (and the only one who ever got married). Yet probably not everyone is aware that the novel in question is highly autobiographical which may explain some of its peculiarities.

Charlotte was one of the six children of an Irish clergyman whose real name was Brunty and who came from a lower class background and worked himself up, marrying a daughter of a well-off tradesman. She thus belonged to a lower middle class background and though she had a good education, the family were poor and lived in apparently unsanitary conditions.

Charlotte was sent to school for the children of the clergy together with her three sisters where the eldest two quickly died from tuberculosis. The school and its experiences became the basis for the famous Lowood institution with its horrors (it has later undergone a name change and became a prestigious private school for girls).

It's noteworthy that all the six Bronte children died quite young from the same disease, though in Charlotte's case there are speculations that it also could be typhus or pregnancy-related problems. Charlotte was also a small thing, about 1.45m tall which makes her practically a midget by modern standards. The reason for this, undoubtedly, was poor nutrition: the lack of vitamin A and all that, (again described in Jane Eyre) which would also explain why the sisters succumbed so easily to common colds which eventually led to the dreaded lung disease.

Charlotte later worked as a school teacher and a governess and though some sources claim she liked her work others say she was resentful of her only brother who was apparently pampered by her father and allowed to get a better education while she had to work for her keep. The brother in question, Branwell had artistic leanings (but not in the way you thought:) as he habitually abused drugs and alcohol and started an affair with the wife of his employer who was fifteen years his senior. He died soon after being dismissed from his teaching position, due to the combined reasons of chronic alcoholism, drug usage and lung problems.

Branwell appears to have been a piece of work (and looked like John Lennon in his later years according to his self-portrait). Though Wikipedia is silent on this topic, it could very well be that the nasty brother in Jane Eyre was partly inspired by him (the episode with the book thrown happened when Charlotte was working as a governess - she must have had charming pupils).

Though Jane Eyre laments women being restricted to the world of embroidery, stocking-knitting and pudding-making,  it wasn't entirely true in Charlotte's own case as she was allowed to travel to Brussels and to enroll at school to learn French where she promptly fell in love with her tutor. Unfortunately, he was already married - does it ring  a bell? The rest of Jane's description fits her to a t - she was plain, poor, not very fashionable and shy. She lost all her siblings and her aunt who took care of them after her mother's death.

Yet, despite all this and her ripe old age of 38 (attention, men, the famous wall probably doesn't really exist) she still managed to inspire enough passion in her father's curate Arthur Bell Nicholls (he was several years her junior,too), which infuriated her father who considered him "not good enough" for his "famous daughter".

Yet, the young couple soon overcame his objections and got married. This fact upset her best girlfriend so much that later she accused the unhappy Arthur of causing his wife's death (the friend in question was determined to die a spinster in which she succeeded and as we know, misery loves company, plus she was probably resentful of the fact that Charlotte had refused her own brother's proposal on the account of him being boring - St. John anyone?), and indeed, their wedding bliss was but of a short duration. Charlotte died 8 months later, carrying Arthur's child. She was nearly 39 years old.

Thus ends the story of Charlotte Bronte and it probably explains some of her idiosyncrasies.

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