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CHARLOTTE BRONTË (1816 - 1855)

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(Also wrote under the pseudonym Currer Bell) English novelist and poet.

The author of vivid, skillfully constructed novels, Brontë created female characters who broke the traditional, nineteenth-century fictional stereotype of a woman as submissive and dependent, beautiful but ignorant. Her highly acclaimed Jane Eyre (1847) best demonstrates these attitudes: its heroine is a plain woman who displays intelligence, self-confidence, a will of her own, and moral righteousness. With an oeuvre consisting of four novels, some poems, and other writings from her youth, Brontë is hailed as a precursor of feminist novelists, and her works, often depicting the struggles and minor victories of everyday life, are considered early examples of literary realism. Her novels, particularly Jane Eyre and Villette (1853), have been discussed as part of the Gothic literary tradition, and contain elements of mystery, heightened passions, and the supernatural.

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

The eldest surviving daughter in a motherless family of six, Brontë helped to raise her remaining brother, Branwell, and two sisters, Emily and Anne. Her father, a strict Yorkshire clergyman, believed firmly in the values of self-education and forbade his family from socializing with other children. Intellectual growth was encouraged, however, and he introduced his family to the Bible and to the works of William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, and Sir Walter Scott. In their youths, the Brontë siblings collaborated on a series of imaginative stories, plays, and poems set in the fictional land of Angria. Charlotte's contribution to these tales, which were collected and published posthumously as Legends of Angria (1933), served as a catalyst for her mature works and marked the beginning of her interest in writing.

For many years Brontë concealed her writing from her family. After the accidental discovery that Emily, too, secretly wrote verse, and that Anne shared their interest, the three published, at their own expense, Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (1846). The sisters assumed masculine pseudonyms both to preserve their privacy and to avoid the patronizing treatment they believed critics accorded women writers. Poems sold only two copies, but Charlotte was undeterred and continued to write. Her first novel, The Professor (1857), was rejected by six publishers, but her next work, Jane Eyre, was accepted immediately. The work received lavish attention, was praised by Queen Victoria and George Eliot, and brought Brontë into popular literary circles, where she met William Makepeace Thackeray (to whom she dedicated the second edition of Jane Eyre), Matthew Arnold, and Harriet Martineau.

Brontë went on to publish two more novels, Shirley (1849) and Villette. During the writing of Shirley, Brontë experienced a series of personal tragedies that marked the beginning of a time of intense sorrow and loneliness. Within a period of about nine months, Brontë lost her three remaining siblings, first Branwell, then Emily, and finally Anne in the spring of 1849. After their deaths, Brontë found it very trying to write in solitude. She eventually began work on her final novel, Villette, basing its plot and characters on her unpublished The Professor. The year after Villette's publication, in 1854, Brontë married Arthur Bell Nicholls. She became pregnant early in 1855, dying in March of that year from complications related to her pregnancy. The Professor was published after her death, in 1857.

MAJOR WORKS

Many who have studied Brontë's life and works have noted connections between the two, with each of her novels reflecting autobiographical details. In Jane Eyre , the young heroine spends many years as a student, and later a teacher, at a strict girls' boarding school, Lowood. This fictional school bears a resemblance to the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan...

(The entire section contains 21987 words.)

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Brontë, Charlotte