Literature History | The Bronte Sisters: What You Didn’t Know About Charlotte Bronte

The talented Bronte sisters evolved, sensationalized, and influenced classical literature in critical ways. They were excellent and fearless writers during an era that made it difficult for women to be taken serious.Today’s post will be the first of a three part series about the Bronte sisters covering facts many readers may not know about them.

The sisters were three of six children born to Maria Branwell and Patrick Bronte, an accomplished clergyman with his own parish. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne were involved in several individual novels that set flame to the literary world. They grew up living on the wild Yorkshire moors near Rector Village. This setting can often be found as the backdrop for much of their published writing. The women faced many tragedies in life starting with the death of their mother in 1821. This was quite a blow for the Bronte family.Patrick Bronte sent his daughters to boarding school for education a few years after his wife’s death. The two older Bronte siblings named Maria and Elizabeth died within months of each other from tuberculosis in 1825.

In just a short span of four years, the Bronte family suffered three great losses. The Bronte sisters had lost their mother and two older siblings. This made the three close with their father and younger brother. The siblings lived at home together and often roamed the moors exploring and spent long afternoons writing short stories together. Patrick Bronte was a pious and religious man that took a rather eccentric approach to how his children were raised and educated after everything they had gone through. This changed the family dynamic. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne were taught both at home and different schools in their life. The three worked as governesses and teachers while preparing to publish their own writing. This took a lot of courage. The women used male pseudos names in order to have their work taken seriously and get their writing known.


#1 Charlotte Bronte based the school “Lowood” in Jane Eyre off of a real one. 

Jane Eyre is Charlotte’s most popular novel. It became an instant success upon publication under Bronte’s pseudo name Currer Bell. The school in the story is heavily based off of her own experience at Cowan Bridge School. Charlotte attended the school with her sisters. This was an establishment mostly attended by middle class daughters of the clergyman. The school was cruel and harsh. The students often were fed rancid meat and inadequate nourishment. The conditions were cold. The freezing temperatures brought sickness. Students were often beaten and punished. The man who ran the school threatened to sue Charlotte when Jane Eyre was published because he recognized the many resemblances. When typhoid broke out, many children died. The Bronte family blamed the Cowan Bridge School for the death Maria and Elizabeth Bronte. The younger three Bronte sisters were pulled out of the school afterwards.

#2 Charlotte fell in love with her married teacher.

This is a pretty unknown fact; however, it is true. Charlotte fell in love with her instructor Constanin Heger while studying in Belgium. There were many love letters she sent to Mr. Heger begging for them to remain friends and expressing her feelings. He had thrown them up but some were salvaged by his wife and repaired. it is thought that her novel Villette is very much about this time. The story surrounds the unrequited love a student has for her teacher.

#3 Charlotte is officially listed to have died of unknown causes; however, the theory is she died during pregnancy of severe morning sickness. 

Charlotte married a curate named Arthur Nicholls in 1853. It was a very difficult time for the author because she was alone. Patrick, Emily, Anne, and Branswell (her brother) had all passed from life and she was the only living Bronte. A year later she died herself and many thought it could have been tuberculous; however, there is another theory that has a lot of merits. Elizabeth Gaskell, an author that was extremely close to Bronte said that Charlotte suffered “sensations of perpetual nausea and ever-recurring faintness.” Years later Phillip Rhodes made the claim it was a pregnancy that killed the famous writer. He wrote, “The evidence is quite clear that she died of hyperemesis gravidarum… an excess of the nausea and sickness which most women suffer in early pregnancy.” The condition is serious. It can cause a woman to become weak, malnourished, and dehydrated. A very dangerous combination. This theory has become generally accepted by most scholars and historians.

#4 Charlotte was proposed to by three different men. She said no each time! 

Charlotte was a young, smart, and beautiful woman. This fact did not go unnoticed! The first marriage proposal she received was from a random stranger she met during tea. He didn’t even know her! She naturally declined the generous offer. The second man was a clergyman like her father. He was a good friend of Charlotte’s brother Branwell and knew the family well. She also declined his proposal. The third gentleman was a curate that worked for her father. He had been in love with her for years but the first time he attempted to propose, it was her father that said no. Charlotte refused to stop seeing him. The man’s name was Arthur Nicholls. The pair did eventually wed and stated above. This would seem like a fairy-tale ending for the author but she died a year into marriage. Refer to fact #3 for more information on this.

#5 Charlotte had originally wanted to be a painter. 

Charlotte had love and passion for art in her early years. She created several sketches and works of art that never saw the light of day. When her publishers wanted her to do a second edition of Jane Eyre with illustration. She saud this, “I have, in my day, wasted a certain quantity of Bristol board and drawing-paper, crayons and cakes of colour, but when I examine the contents of my portfolio now, it seems as if during the years it has been lying closed some fairy has changed what I once thought sterling coin into dry leaves, and I feel much inclined to consign the whole collection of drawings to the fire.”



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The Brontë Sisters Boxed Set: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Villette (Penguin Clothbound Classics)

To celebrate the bicentennial of Charlotte Brontë’s birth, Penguin Classics presents the Brontë sisters’ four greatest works in a boxed set of lavish, clothbound Hardcover Classics editions designed by the award-winning Coralie Bickford-Smith. From the bleak moors of Wuthering Heights to the French boarding school of Villette to the gloomy, mysterious country estates of Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, these four novels show the most famous siblings in literature at the peak of their powers.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.



11 thoughts on “Literature History | The Bronte Sisters: What You Didn’t Know About Charlotte Bronte

  1. I hope I’m not anticipating your next post by noting how Charlotte wrote a satirical scene in the opening chapter of “Shirley” which features three curates, one of whom it is said was modeled on her future husband (at a time when she was not yet enamored of him).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Writer’s Lift Wednesday #27 – (armedwithcoffee)

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