Most of us know the basic facts of Charlotte Brontë’s life. Raised in an isolated Yorkshire parsonage; lost two sisters to illnesses contracted at boarding school; later worked as a governess. Shared an elaborate invented world with her talented siblings; wrote novels, with her sisters Emily and Anne, that were published under male pseudonyms. Brother Branwell drank himself to death; Emily and Anne died of consumption. Charlotte married late and died at the age of 39. A woman of limited means, shy, myopic, socially isolated and living in the straight-laced society of Victorian England, Charlotte penned the spirited, passionate Jane Eyre. Anyone who has ever written a Gothic romance, or enjoyed reading one, owes her a debt for creating that unforgettable prototype.
The facts of Charlotte’s life are sobering – she lost all three younger siblings within a year. But the facts don’t tell the full story. I’ve just finished reading a book called The Brontës: A Life in Letters by Juliet Barker. It contains selections from Charlotte’s letters – we can be glad that her friend, Ellen Nussey, chose to break a promise to Charlotte’s husband that she would burn the many missives Charlotte wrote to her – and correspondence to Charlotte from friends, family and business contacts.
The book was a revelation. [Read more…]