Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë is one of the most famous literary figures in English literature. A look at her biography and an overview of her well-known novels will provide a more holistic picture of this important author. Her most famous book, Jane Eyre (1847), was a radical novel for the 1800s as it argued that women and men were equal. 

Charlotte Brontë Charlotte Brontë

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Table of contents

    Charlotte Brontë wrote under the pseudonym Currer Bell, as women weren’t supposed to write in the 1800s. Therefore, she had no option but to pose as a male writer to publish her work.

    Charlotte Bronte, Portrait, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Charlotte Bronte's family was full of very talented writers.

    Charlotte Brontë: biography

    Charlotte Brontë's Biography
    Birth:21st April 1816
    Death:31st March 1855
    Father:Patrick Brontë
    Mother:Maria (née Branwell)
    Spouse/Partners:Arthur Bell Nicholls (1854-1855)
    Famous Works:
    Literary Period:Victorian

    Let's examine Brontë's biography in greater detail to get a better understanding of who she was.

    Charlotte Brontë's early life and family

    Charlotte Brontë was born on 21 April 1816 in a little village in West Yorkshire, known as Thornton. She had an interesting family life that was both enjoyable and tumultuous. Charlotte Brontë was exposed to death from a young age as her mother died when she was just five years old.

    However, she lived in an active house filled with her five siblings. Her sisters are Emily, Anne, and Maria, who was named after their late mother. She had another sister called Elizabeth and a brother, Branwell, who took his own life aged 31. Her father, Patrick, was a poet and a teacher, but his primary occupation was a clergyman.

    In 1824, Patrick sent the girls to a clergy girl school called Cowan Bridge where they studied for a short while. Charlotte disliked the school and later declared it had long-term effects on her health, using the school as inspiration for the notorious Lowood school in her novel Jane Eyre.

    Her sisters Maria and Elizabeth died from tuberculosis shortly after they began attending Cowan Bridge in 1825. After this tragedy, Patrick removed the girls from the school. For the next five years, the Brontë's stayed at home and played games together, wrote, and told each other romantic tales.

    Later on, Charlotte attended Roe Head school in Mirfield, where she met her lifelong friends Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor. Their influence on her life is traceable throughout her work, and readers have enjoyed analyzing their friendship in the collection of Charlotte Brontë’s letters.

    Charlotte Brontë's adult life

    A few years later, between 1835–38, Charlotte Brontë returned to Roe Head as a teacher to provide for her family after her brother Branwell plunged the family into debt with his failed pursuit as an artist.

    Brontë didn’t like her occupation and after a year she grew very lonely. She expressed her emotions by writing poems, the most noteworthy being ‘We Wove a Web in Childhood’ (1835) and ‘Morning was its Freshness Still’ (1835). Her poor health caused her to leave her job as a teacher in 1838.

    Charlotte declined a marriage proposal from her good friend Ellen Nussey’s brother, Henry Nussey. A few months after that, she turned down another proposal from a clergyman. This reveals her strong-willed nature to find value in her life outside of male validation and societal expectations.

    In 1842, the Brontë sisters decided to open a school which their aunt agreed to finance. Charlotte and Emily traveled to Brussels to improve their German and French skills prior to opening the school. This trip turned out to be a vital part of Charlotte’s life and personal growth.

    Her academic talents caused her to be noticed by a well-respected teacher, Constantin Héger. They became close friends, both impressed with each other’s intelligence. However, their bond caught the attention of Constantin’s wife who grew jealous of their friendship.

    She returned to Haworth in 1844, and feeling lonely, she wrote letters to Constantin. She offered him her affection in a seemingly innocent way, as a friend, although it has been claimed that the letters she sent were of a non-platonic, loving persuasion.

    Due to his wife’s jealousy, Constantin told her the letters were inappropriate and could be misinterpreted as love letters and suggested she only write twice a year. We can only speculate how she truly felt, but scholars believe upon hearing this, Charlotte with her incredible self-discipline (which we see in multiple of her female characters) took control of her emotions and eventually repressed her admiration for Constantin.

    Fun fact: Charlotte and Emily continued their plans to start a school in Haworth. However, due to the obscure and remote location of the school, they failed to attract pupils and they had no option but to close it.

    In September 1848, her brother took his own life after suffering from alcohol and opium abuse. Later that year, in December 1848, Emily, the sister she was arguably closest to, died. This was followed by Anne’s death in May 1849, leaving Charlotte as the last remaining Brontë child.

    After declining another marriage proposal in 1851, Charlotte finally married her fourth suitor in 1854: Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father’s curate.

    Charlotte Brontë's cause of death

    Charlotte died in 1855 aged 38. She was in the process of writing Emma, of which some pages were salvaged. She died as a result of intense sickness during her pregnancy, passing away just less than one year after her marriage.

    Charlotte Bronte, Biographical Infographic, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Everything summarised about Brontë's life and works.

    Charlotte Brontë: facts

    Fun facts about Charlotte Brontë include:

    • Charlotte Brontë spoke with an Irish accent because her father, Patrick, was originally from Northern Ireland.
    • She loved the Duke of Wellington. As teenagers love celebrities now, the Duke of Wellington was Charlotte's favourite 'famous' figure.
    • She hated being a teacher. Contrary to Jane in Jane Eyre, Brontë disliked herself as a teacher and reportedly loathed her pupils according to her diary. She didn’t like the rules of the school and how the environment required her to act.

    Why is Charlotte Brontë important to English literature?

    Brontë was one of the most accredited female writers of her time. Years later, her work is still highly regarded by scholars. Her novels Jane Eyre, Shirley, and Villette gave voice to female protagonists and centred their attention on women, which was atypical of literature at the time.

    In the 1800s, it was not common for women to write literature which is why Brontë wrote under a male pseudonym, Currer Bell. Posing as a male author gave her a greater chance of her works being published.

    Brontë began writing and telling stories from a very young age. In 1845 she, Anne, and Emily wrote a joint collection of poems titled Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. The collection was not successful, however, the sisters found later success with their novels.

    Charlotte Brontë’s novels

    As we already mentioned, Brontë's famous novel is Jane Eyre. However, she wrote two more novels in her lifetime.

    Jane Eyre (1847)

    As a ‘Bildungsroman’, Jane Eyre follows the tumultuous life of a plain orphan girl called Jane. She experiences many hardships such as abuse, poor treatment at school, and heartbreak. The novel tells the tale of her journey into womanhood as she battles self-discipline against happiness and love, discovering her worth and means in society.

    A Bildungsroman is a novel that follows a character from childhood to adulthood. Narratives in these novels usually follow the protagonist in a journey of self-discovery, education, and finding their place in society. Other famous examples of bildungsroman are Charles DickensGreat Expectations and James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

    Shirley (1849)

    Shirley follows the story of two women who live contrasting lives, Caroline and Shirley. Caroline is reserved and poor, while Shirley is lively, independent, and rich. They become close friends and face life together despite their different personalities and circumstances.

    Shirley is a tale of unrequited love and romance, as Shirley and Caroline become entangled in a confusing love story, in which they battle the conflict between their heads and hearts.

    Food for thought: there was an increase in girls named Shirley after the success of this novel. Prior to its release, Shirley was perceived as a male name. What kind of effect would this have had on readers’ initial perception of the text when it first came out in 1849? Consider how the fact they may have expected it to be about a man to be significant, or why Brontë may have wanted to lead the public to think this way.

    Villette (1853)

    Following an unknown family disaster, the narrator and protagonist Lucy Snowe, an independent and knowledgeable 23-year-old woman, travels to Villette (a French-speaking town in Belgium) to seek new beginnings.

    Despite her limited experience, she gets a job as a nanny and turns out to be successful in this occupation. The novel is a story of adventure and romance, as things get complicated when Lucy starts to fall in love with her colleague Paul. Many people, (including Paul’s previous finance) try and split the pair, unravelling a tale of heartbreak and confusion.

    Fun fact: many believe this novel was partly influenced by Brontë's travels to Brussels. Much like Lucy, Charlotte grew fond of her colleague Constantin Héger, a married man and a teacher. His wife grew jealous of their bond and the two were driven apart despite their strong, non-platonic bond.

    Charlotte Brontë's quotes

    Examining key quotes from Brontë’s novels and her own life (in the form of letters to friends and family) provides insight into who she was. Understanding her character and her views on life enables us to better understand her work and her perspective on society.

    Letters of Brontë: key quotes

    In correspondence to her good friend Ellen Nussey in January 1852, Charlotte Brontë reveals the hardships of her experience as a governess.

    As an educated British woman in the 1800s, it was expected she would write in a polite manner, evident in her letter. She makes an effort to clarify if there is any doubt that she does not want Mr C to trouble himself by picking her up.

    She goes on to insist she does not need a lot from her hostess, claiming ‘I am to live on the very plainest fare’, making sure Ellen does not go to too much trouble for her arrival, as it would make her miserable ‘to see Ellen bother herself’.

    She also exposes her ill health when she reveals that she did herself ‘harm by eating too indiscriminately’ in Haworth.

    She discusses her dislike of her occupation on page 3 of the letter, as she states ‘I am miserable when I allow myself to dwell on the necessity of spending my life as a Governess’. The quote shows how Jane Eyre’s discipline and control over her emotions mirror Charlotte Brontë herself. This is illustrated by the phrase ‘when I allow myself to dwell’, highlighting the strict control she exerts over her emotions, only allowing herself to think (‘dwell’) on things for a short period, before getting on with ‘the necessity’ of her work. The use of the word ‘necessity’ in relation to her work exhibits her mindset towards work as something she has to do to provide for her family.

    An alternative interpretation of this letter is that rather than being an example of Charlotte disciplining her emotions, it is an open declaration of her misery. Readers have noted how lively Charlotte is in her letter writing. She feels the need to communicate her feelings, as does Jane, and when she does, it comes as a torrent, a stream-of-consciousness.

    Jane Eyre: key quotes

    I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.

    One of the most famous quotes from the novel, Brontë uses an insightful metaphor to highlight the placement of women as inferior citizens in the nineteenth century.

    By using the imagery of a bird, not only does she allude to how women feel encaged by male patriarchs in their marriages and families, but she also draws on connotations of ownership. The notion of a bird being in a cage, aside from the obvious suggestion of restricted agency, suggests the bird is owned by someone. Here, Brontë comments on how women were commodified by their fathers and husbands as objects rather than human beings with ‘independent will’.

    'Reader, I married him.'

    The most well-known quote of the text, this sentence shows Jane triumphing over all the struggles and hardships she experiences in her life, as she finally decides to get married and prioritize her happiness.

    The wording ‘I married him’ presents Jane as an autonomous woman who made a decision for herself as an active part of the relationship, rather than a passive party who Rochester chose to marry. She asserted herself and chose to marry him.

    The autonomy of Brontë’s female characters in relation to marriage was atypical for literature (and life) at the time.

    Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre Film Adaptation, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Jane Eyre has been adapted into film and television since 1910.

    Shirley: key quotes

    At heart, he could not abide sense in women: he liked to see them as silly, as light-headed, as vain, as open to ridicule as possible; because they were then in reality what he held them to be, and wished them to be, - inferior: toys to play with, to amuse a vacant hour and to be thrown away.

    Here, Brontë comments on the way that men use women when they are craving amusement, and throw them away when they are bored.

    The phrasing ‘toys to play with’ nods towards the objectification of women and highlights the way women were expected to live to serve men as their wives. She even goes as far as saying that men like women with little substance and independent will, as it allows them to use women how they desire without protest.

    A common theme throughout Brontë’s novels is that women are more than just pretty objects at men’s disposal. Brontë appears tired of the notion that men like women who have little intelligence so they can shape them to be who they desire, rather than independent beings.

    God surely did not create us, and cause us to live, with the sole end of wishing always to die. I believe, in my heart, we were intended to prize life and enjoy it, so long as we retain it. Existence never was originally meant to be that useless, blank, pale, slow-trailing thing it often becomes to many, and is becoming to me, among the rest.

    Brontë was adventurous and fascinated by the world. Her travels to Brussels and passion for writing reveal her zest for life, as she refused to live ‘always wishing to die’, despite the fact she had many depressive episodes.

    Her faith in God is evident here as she believes he has a plan for our existence on this earth. She believed we have a duty to live the life we were given by God. Her fathers’ religious influence as a clergyman is traceable in this quote and many others throughout her novels.

    Villette: key quotes

    How will she get through this world, or battle with this life? How will she bear the shocks and repulses, the humiliations and desolations, which books, and my own reason, tell me are prepared for all flesh?

    Here, Lucy wonders how Polly will survive. Yet, she is actually worried about herself although she doesn’t yet realize it. This quote hints at women’s vulnerability, as Lucy wonders how Polly will survive in this harsh world.

    This quote reveals the influence of literature on Brontë’s life, as Lucy suggests that ‘books’, and her ‘own research’ inform her that life will be a battle. As a child, Brontë read a lot of books and immersed herself in her studies; here she suggests books can help us make sense of the world and prepare us for hardship.

    Brontë wrote Villette after one of the hardest years of her life when three of her siblings died. We can assume she would have been feeling vulnerable herself, perhaps more alone in the world. Her fears translate to Lucy’s character, particularly in this quote.

    There is nothing like taking all you do at a moderate estimate: it keeps mind and body tranquil; whereas grandiloquent notions are apt to hurry both into fever.

    As an evangelical Christian, Brontë believed it was important to keep your emotions in check; if you didn’t, you would end up with a ‘fever’. Her protestant roots ground her in rationality and staying true to God.

    Grandiloquent means to be excessive and extravagant in language, manner, or style to attract positive attention.

    This quote shows Lucy battling her emotional unrest. We know that Charlotte Brontë looked to God to carry her through hard times, just as Lucy attempts to manage her emotions and keep herself grounded during testing times.

    What is Brontë's writing style?

    Charlotte Brontë had a distinctive writing style which is partly why her work is so highly regarded. Examples of her style of writing includes:

    • Long sentences and semicolons
    • allegory and symbolism
    • confidence and autonomy
    • genre-blending

    Long sentences and semicolons

    If you have ever read Charlotte Brontë’s novels, you may notice the way she uses long sentences and semi-colons:

    ‘While I looked, my inner self moved; my spirit shook its always-fettered wings half loose; I had a sudden feeling as if I, who never yet truly lived, were at last about to taste life. In that morning my soul grew as fast as Jonah’s gourd’ (Villette, 1853).

    The long sentence reads like a stream of consciousness. We follow the character, Lucy, through her emotions. The long sentence helps the language flow smoothly, but it also encourages us to read quickly to get to the end of the sentence and find out how the character is feeling.

    Notice how she alternates between long and short sentences in the example above. This makes the process of reading more interesting as it reads like real human thought or vocal narration.

    Allegory and symbolism

    Brontë employs allegory and symbolism throughout her novels. They bring her writing to life and elevate her ideas beyond the pages.

    Some examples from Jane Eyre would be the chestnut tree as a representation of Rochester and Jane’s relationship or Bertha as a symbol of repressed women.

    When the chestnut tree splits in the thunderstorm, it foreshadows the divide between Rochester and Jane on their wedding day. When it is in full bloom with green leaves in a beautiful garden, it reflects Jane’s ecstasy surrounding their union.

    Bertha, trapped in the attic, ends up taking her own life, representing how women were sidelined and repressed in this period. Many critics have argued whether Bertha is a representation of Jane’s inner feelings and frustrations towards the patriarchal system and the subordinate position of women in society.

    We could also argue that as a clergyman’s daughter, Brontë was possibly writing a moral fable, showing readers the dangers and repercussions of leading a reckless life as Bertha does. In contrast to Jane’s strict upbringing, Bertha had wealth and status which allowed her to behave as she pleased, whereas Jane only has her reputation to hold on to. The pair are opposite in their characteristics, and examining their relationship to each other can reveal more about the theme of how gender functions in the text.

    Top-tip: If you are interested in the character Bertha and her role in Jane Eyre, read Wide Sargasso Sea (1996) by Jean Rhys. The text explores Bertha's life before and during her relationship with Rochester, offering potential reasons for her erratic behaviour in Jane Eyre.

    Confidence and autonomy

    Brontë illustrated women as autonomous figures with ‘independent will’ and desires that go beyond marriage (despite the fact that many of her books are about love).

    Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel.

    Through Jane, Brontë comments on how women are forced to sideline their emotions and continue regardless, as Jane does in Jane Eyre, Caroline and Shirley in Shirley, and Lucy in Villette.

    Brontë’s heroines rebel from societal expectations. Jane, in particular, is a rebel from childhood onwards and flees Rochester when she feels she has not been treated with respect. Rather than deciding to get married in order to fulfil her destiny as a woman, she seeks solitude and fulfilment independent from him, before welcoming him back into her life.


    Brontë blends multiple genres in her work to treat multiple themes such as love and loss, religion, morals, and family.

    For example, Jane Eyre falls into multiple genres: mystery, romance, gothic.

    Gothic: the supernatural dreamlike elements of Thornfield Hall and the dark imagery surrounding the moors in which the majority of the text is set.

    Mystery: the inexplicable events that occur at Thornfield: the fire in Rochester’s room, distant laughter, Jane’s veil found torn on her wedding day.

    Romance: the growing attraction between Jane and Rochester throughout the novel and St John’s love for Jane.

    The combination of genres makes for a gripping read and demonstrates Brontë’s talents as an author. She blends moral realism with the gothic genre, expanding the possibilities of the gothic text.

    What are the major themes of Charlotte Brontë’s work?

    Let’s take a look at some of the common themes in Charlotte Brontë’s work, and how her life influenced it.

    Love and Marriage

    Tumultuous experiences of love and marriageBrontë's experiences with love and marriage led her to portray love as complex and difficult.
    High standardsTurning down three suitors and getting happily married shows Brontë's high standards for love.
    Realistic and unrealistic portrayal of loveBrontë presents love as difficult to define and sometimes hard to experience, but also often conquering all challenges to an unrealistic extent.


    Complex family dynamicsBrontë's own broken and confusing family dynamic is reflected in her novels.
    Importance of familyBrontë presents a good relationship with the family as the key to happiness, with many characters battling feelings of not belonging without a family.


    Education is significant in life and novelsEducation and learning were a big part of Brontë's life and a large part of her novels.
    Valuing of knowledge and intellectIn Jane Eyre, knowledge and intellect are highly valued.
    School as a formative experienceSchool is portrayed as a short but vital part of Jane's life, influencing her throughout her life.


    Impact on BrontëBrontë's life was deeply impacted by the death of all her siblings and parents.
    Imminent possibilityDeath was a more imminent possibility in the 1800s due to shorter life expectancy.
    Driving character growthDeath in Brontë's works helps characters grow and understand more about themselves, often leading to internal or symbolic rebirth.


    Governed by moralityBrontë was a very moral person who governed herself strictly to ensure she was always doing the right thing. Her ideals of moral behaviour are due to her Christian upbringing.
    Emulated in charactersFor example, moral behaviour is emulated in characters such as Jane, who prioritize the happiness of others over their own emotions.


    Prevalent in societyReligion was a large part of society in the 1800s.
    Significant in Brontë's lifeReligion was a large part of Brontë's life, with her father being an Evangelical Christian and her attending a clergy girl school.
    A moral guide for charactersMany of Brontë's protagonists rely on faith in God as a moral guide to assist them through hardship, with Jane being a symbol of purity and morality who stays true to God and herself.

    Charlotte Brontë - Key takeaways

    • Charlotte Brontë remains one of the greatest writers of all time.
    • Her novels focused on female characters, which was atypical of literature written in the 1800s.
    • Her life events greatly influenced her work. Reading and writing romance novels growing up also largely influenced her novels.
    • Her father’s religious faith is traceable in her most notable works.
    • Much like her character, Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë was a moral human being with control over her emotions.
    Charlotte Brontë Charlotte Brontë
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Charlotte Brontë

    What is Charlotte Brontë’s writing style?

    Brontë uses long sentences and semi-colons that read like a stream of consciousness. She also uses allegory and symbolism. 

    How did Charlotte Bronte's life influence Jane Eyre?

    The character of Jane was heavily influenced by the life and circumstances of Charlotte Brontë. Her restraint and control of her emotions is similar to that of the author and her troublesome relationship with Constantin Hèger.

    How did Charlotte Brontë die?

    Charlotte Brontë died after being severly ill during her pregnancy.

    When was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë published?

    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë was first published in 1847.

    Who is Charlotte Brontë?

    Charlotte Brontë was a prominent novelist in the English literary canon and the author of the famous novel Jane Eyre.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What year was the most tragic in Brontë's life?

    The success of the novel Shirley caused many people to name their children Caroline. 

    Villette is believed by some scholars to be influenced by Brontë's travels to Brussels and her experience with Constantin Héger.


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