CHARLOTTE BRONTË’S LIFE

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and played there, writing and telling romantic tales for one another and inventing imaginative games played out at home or on the desolate moors.

It is at this point that their paths diverged somewhat.

Charlotte Brontë’s Life

In 1831 Charlotte was sent to Miss Wooler’s school at Roe Head, near Huddersfield, where she stayed a year and made some lasting friendships; her correspondence with one of her friends, Ellen Nussey, continued until her death, and has provided much of the current knowledge of her life. In 1832 she came home to teach her sisters but in 1835 returned to Roe Head as a teacher. She wished to improve her family’s position, and this was the only outlet that was offered to her unsatisfied energies. Branwell, moreover, was to start on his career as an artist, and it became necessary to supplement the family resources. The work, with its inevitable restrictions, was uncongenial to Charlotte. She fell into ill health and melancholia and in the summer of 1838 terminated her engagement.

In 1839 Charlotte declined a proposal from the Rev. Henry Nussey, her friend’s brother, and some months later one from another young clergyman. At the same time Charlotte’s ambition to make the practical best of her talents and the need to pay Branwell’s debts urged her to spend some months as governess with the Whites at Upperwood House, Rawdon. Branwell’s talents for writing and painting, his good classical scholarship, and his social charm had engendered high hopes for him; but he was fundamentally unstable, weak willed, and intemperate. He went from job to job and took refuge in alcohol and opium. Meanwhile his sisters had planned to open a school together, which their aunt had agreed to finance, and in February 1842 Charlotte and Emily went to Brussels as

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pupilstoimprovetheirqualificationsin Frenchandacquire some German. The talent displayed by both brought them to the notice of Constantin Héger, a fine teacher and a man of unusual perception. After a brief trip home upon the death of her aunt, Charlotte returned to Brussels as a pupil-teacher. She stayed there during 1843 but was lonely and depressed. Her friends had left Brussels, and Madame Héger appears to have become jealous of her. The nature

Proving that (left to right) Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Brontë were not the only talented ones in the family, Branwell, their brother, painted the women’s portrait in 1834. Rischgitz/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Proving that (left to right) Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Brontë were not the only talented ones in the family, Branwell, their brother, painted the women’s portrait in 1834. Rischgitz/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

of Charlotte’s attachment to Héger and the degree to which she understood herself have been much discussed. His was the most interesting mind she had yet met, and he had perceived and evoked her latent talents. His strong and eccentric personality appealed both to her sense of humour and to her affections. She offered him an innocent but ardent devotion, but he tried to repress her emotions. The letters she wrote to him after her return may well be called love letters. When, however, he suggested that they were open to misapprehension, she stopped writing and applied herself, in silence, to disciplining her feelings. However they are interpreted, Charlotte’s experiences at Brussels were crucial for her development. She received a strict literary training, became aware of the resources of her own nature, and gathered material that served her, in various shapes, for all her novels.

In 1844 Charlotte attempted to start a school that she had long envisaged in the parsonage itself, as her father’s failing sight precluded his being left alone. Prospectuses were issued, but no pupils were attracted to distant Haworth.

In the autumn of 1845 Charlotte came across some poems by Emily, and this led to the publication of a joint volume of Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (1846), or Charlotte, Emily, andAnne; thepseudonymswereassumed to preserve secrecy and avoid the special treatment that they believed reviewers accorded to women. The book was issued at their own expense. It received few reviews and only two copies were sold. Nevertheless, a way had opened to them, and they were already trying to place the three novels they had written. Charlotte failed to place The Professor: A Tale but had, however, nearly finished Jane Eyre:AnAutobiography, beguninAugust 1846 in Manchester, where she was staying with her father, who had gone there for an eye operation. When Smith, Elder and Company, declining The Professor, declared themselves willing to

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