“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!……”, Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
These powerful lines by Charlotte Bronte in her most prominent novel Jane Eyre is one of many by the authoress which precisely describes the desires and feelings that women like Charlotte had to suppress in a Victorian society where their voices and emotions were considered inconsequential. An advocate of Victorian women, Charlotte’s work and life are weaved with strong independent emotions and creativity that she went on to become an eminent figure of change in 19th-century literature. Her tribulations in life served as foundations for most of her novels.
Born in 1816 to the Irish-born Vicar of the church of England Patrick Bronte, Charlotte grew up in the isolated moors in Haworth, Yorkshire. Motherless from a very young age Charlotte had to experience grief, death and the consequent responsibilities when she suddenly found herself the eldest of the siblings after the tragic death of the elder sisters Maria and Elizabeth from Tuberculosis in 1825, taken ill at the boarding school which Charlotte Bronte scathingly fictionalizes as ‘Lowood’ in Jane Eyre.
The next six years spent in Bronte’s parsonage home in Haworth becomes elemental in the development of the literary talent of Charlotte Bronte and her sisters. They read voraciously indulging in Byronic stories explaining the gothic influences of the Bronte works. Together they created dozens of little books and wrote about life in the fantastic kingdoms of Gondal and Angria, the latter jointly invented by Charlotte and Branwell in 1934.
‘Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life and it ought not to be’, Southey’s reply to Charlotte’s letter in 1936 asking for advice about a literary career came as a major setback. A stint as a private governess and a trip to Brussels with Emily; to improve their qualifications for the school they planned to open, had a profound impact on Charlotte’s life and career. Her respect for the head of the boarding school, Constantine Héger, a married man, soon turned into unrequited attachment.
These experiences found their way in three of her four novels. Her first individual project The Professor failed to find any publication, but her second novel Jane Eyre an Autobiography (1847) under the pseudonym Currer Bell, was an immediate success.
A blend of Bildungsroman and Gothic, the story follows the life of a strong Jane as she seeks balance between love and achievement. Deemed scandalous and improper by some of the 19th-century critics, Jane Eyre was a seminal work that challenged the Victorian ideals of a beautiful, submissive and ignorant woman. Her other works Shirley (1849) and Villette (1853) also follow strong central female characters, righteous in their own way.
Charlotte Bronte lived the longest of the Bronte sisters and perhaps the hardest. She died at age of 38 due to complications of early pregnancy and was buried along with her other siblings.
Written By: Aakriti Bhandari
Editor and Team Lead: Ashutosh Sharma
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Charlotte Bronte Jane Eyre Penguin Classics Ed by Dr. Stevie Davis Introduction