Charlotte Brontë Additional Biography


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Charlotte Brontë was the third of six children born within seven years to the Reverend Patrick Brontë and his wife Maria Branwell Brontë. Patrick Brontë was perpetual curate of Haworth, a bleak manufacturing town in Yorkshire, England. In 1821, when Charlotte was five years old, her mother died of cancer. Three years later, the four elder girls were sent to the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge—the school that appears as Lowood in Jane Eyre. In the summer of 1825, the eldest two daughters, Maria and Elizabeth, died of tuberculosis. Charlotte and Emily were removed from the school and brought home. There were no educated middle-class families in Haworth to supply friends and companions for the Brontë children; they lived with a noncommunicative aunt, an elderly servant, and a father much preoccupied by his intellectual interests and his own griefs.

In their home and with only one another for company, the children had material for both educational and imaginative development. Patrick Brontë expected his children to read and to carry on adult conversations about politics. He subscribed to Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, where his children had access to political and economic essays, art criticism, and literary reviews. They had annuals with engravings of fine art; they taught themselves to draw by copying the pictures in minute detail. They were free to do reading that would not have been permitted by any school of the time—by the age of thirteen, Charlotte Brontë was fully acquainted not only with John Milton and Sir Walter Scott but also with Robert Southey, William Cowper, and (most important) Lord Byron.

In 1826, Branwell was given a set of wooden toy soldiers, and the four children used these as characters in creative play. The individual soldiers gradually took on personal characteristics and acquired countries to rule. The countries needed cities, governments, ruling families, political intrigues, legends, and citizens with private lives, all of which the children happily invented. In 1829, when Charlotte Brontë was thirteen, she and the others began to write down materials from these fantasies, producing a collection of juvenilia that extended ultimately to hundreds of items: magazines, histories, maps, essays, tales, dramas, poems, newspapers, wills, speeches, scrapbooks. This enormous creative production in adolescence gave concrete form to motifs that were later transformed into situations, characters, and concerns of Charlotte Brontë’s mature work. It was also a workshop for literary technique;...

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(19th-Century Biographies)

Early Life

Patrick Brontë was a powerful force in his family’s personal and creative life. He was born in Ireland in 1777 and overcame poverty to attend Cambridge University in England. The self-disciplined, hard-working young man became a minister in the Church of England and married Maria Branwell in 1812. They had six children in seven years: Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Patrick Branwell, Emily Jane, and Anne. In 1820 Patrick moved his family to Haworth, England, where he was appointed minister for life. Maria died of cancer in 1821 at age thirty-eight, leaving Patrick with six small children.

Even after they became adults, the Brontë sisters seldom ventured far from Haworth, the center of their creative lives. The Brontë home was cold and damp, and the town suffered from the effects of open sewers and industrial pollution. Cholera and tuberculosis were common, and the average life expectancy in Haworth was only twenty-six years. It was a rough provincial town, and the family, while respected and well liked, had little social contact with townsfolk. The Brontë children turned to each other for companionship and entertainment. Although early Brontë scholarship portrayed Patrick as a tyrannical father, later research presented him more favorably. Defying the patriarchal values of his day, he educated his daughters and encouraged them in their creative efforts.

After Maria died, Patrick sent his four oldest daughters to the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge, probably the model for Charlotte’s vivid portrayal of the harsh conditions in Jane Eyre’s boarding school. After the two oldest girls became ill, Patrick brought his daughters home. Within a five-week period in 1825, Maria and Elizabeth died from tuberculosis. During the next six years Patrick educated the children himself.

The children found the outside world intimidating. In 1831 Charlotte went to Roe Head, a private school that she first attended as a student and then later returned to briefly as a teacher. Emily and Anne attended Roe Head for a short time but were unhappy away from home. In 1842 Charlotte and Emily attended a private school in Belgium, where Charlotte remained until 1844. The three sisters sometimes worked as governesses, which enriched their writing by exposing them to diverse social situations and giving them insights into aspects of human nature from which they were sheltered in Haworth.

Life’s Work

While the young Brontë women found their ventures out into the world emotionally trying, their intellectual and creative lives blossomed in Haworth. In 1826 Patrick gave Branwell twelve toy soldiers. Each child chose a soldier and named it after a personal hero and then wrote and performed plays about the character. They set their stories in an imaginary African kingdom called Angria; later Emily and Anne created their own realm, which they named Gondal, and located it on an island in the Pacific Ocean. Their fantasy worlds satisfied their emotional needs more than their bleak surroundings did. Charlotte did not free herself from her obsession with Angria until 1839, and Anne and Emily were still writing about Gondal in 1845. Angria and Gondal served as a deep well for the Brontës’ creative lives. They populated their kingdoms with people from history and from contemporary society pages. They laid out cities, devised geographies and drew maps, wrote their kingdoms’ histories, and incorporated the social and political controversies of their own day into Angria and Gondal. They painted and wrote poetry, drama, prose, and historical narrative.

Charlotte had a wider audience in mind. In 1845, she convinced Emily and Anne to join her in publishing a collection of their poetry, entitled Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846). Since the patriarchal Victorian society seldom took female writers seriously, they published their book under male-sounding pseudonyms: Currer (Charlotte), Ellis (Emily), and Acton (Anne) Bell. Even before the poems appeared, the three sisters decided that each, using their pseudonyms, would publish a novel, to be published jointly in a three-volume work. Anne wrote Agnes Grey (1847), which drew on her experiences as a governess. Emily contributed Wuthering Heights (1847), whose dramatic characters and emotionally charged plot derived from her Gondal writings. Charlotte’s The Professor (1857) was enriched by her work as a teacher, especially from her years in Belgium.

Publisher Thomas Cautley Newby refused The Professor but published Anne’s and Emily’s novels. Anne’s book was warmly accepted by the public. She was concerned with incorporating morality and religion into daily life. Agnes Grey provided trenchant criticism of a society that allowed mediocrity to triumph over excellence and that tolerated an ignorant and insensitive upper class that had little understanding of the hard-working, decent people that surrounded and served them.

The first reaction to Wuthering Heights was that it was powerful but coarse and disturbing. In the novel, Heathcliff, a...

(The entire section is 2110 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Charlotte Brontë (BRAHN-tee) was born in Thornton, England, on April 21, 1816, the third daughter of Maria Branwell Brontë and the Reverend Patrick Brontë. The family rapidly increased to include a son, Branwell, and two more daughters, Emily and Anne. Shortly after moving to the village of Haworth, situated high in the moors of West Yorkshire, the children experienced the first of many tragedies: In September, 1821, their mother died of a lingering illness. To help take care of the children, Maria Branwell’s older sister Elizabeth came to live with the family; her strict Methodist ways and somewhat unsympathetic nature were a gloomy influence on the grieving, lonely youngsters.

Finding some sympathy in one...

(The entire section is 1202 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Charlotte Brontë’s contribution to the Victorian novel was one of character, not one of plot or technical innovation. Her most vivid creation is the autobiographical narrator of Jane Eyre, a character who relates her story in an entertaining fashion and establishes that it is personality, rather than wealth or physical appeal, that makes an interesting heroine. By the time she wrote Villette, Brontë was more overt in her challenges to literary convention, a tendency that makes that novel more problematic and promising for contemporary literary scholars.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Charlotte Bronte was born on April 21, 1816, in Thorton, Yorkshire, England. The third of six children, she spent much of her childhood at...

(The entire section is 991 words.)


(Novels for Students)

Charlotte Brontë, born on April 21, 1816, was the third child of Maria Branwell Brontë and the Reverend Patrick Brontë. Originally of...

(The entire section is 556 words.)