Born on this day 197 years ago, Charlotte Bronte would grow to become one of the most popular writers of her time, with her stories continuing to be as popular today as they ever were.
Her inspiration and change in her writing style are intriguing. As a child she would write about fantasy worlds and the perils of the characters that lived within them, adding to the sagas along with her brother and two sisters, Emily and Anne. But the novels that made her famous were of a completely different style, and took inspiration from her own life experiences.
Charlotte was educated at a strict school in Lancashire, seemingly believing that the poor conditions there led to the death of two of her other siblings. After finishing her education she became a teacher and then a governess, and spent some time working in Brussels with her sister Emily. Even just looking at these brief facts, it is easy to see how her own experiences gave her imagination the fuel it needed to come up with her most famous characters – Jane Eyre, for example, had a difficult upbringing in a strict girls school, where she witnessed the death of her only friend, went on to become a teacher there, and then left to become a governess; all of these things mirror Charlottes own experiences.
First publishing poetry (self-funded with her sisters), and then her novels under the name Currer Bell, Charlotte believed that writing was more convincing when based on personal experience. It seems she was right – Jane Eyre is one of the most heartfelt characters I have ever come across – she is a determined woman who knows her own mind, and this is exactly how I imagine Charlotte to have been. She was unafraid to tackle difficult and controversial subject matter, such as religion, social class, and the role of women. She understood her limitations (or the limitations of society) and recognised that her writing probably wouldn’t be taken as seriously if she submitted it to be published under her own name, and so used a male pseudonym, writing, “While we did not like to declare ourselves women, because — without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called ‘feminine’ – we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality, and for their reward, a flattery, which is not true praise.”
Her personality shines through in characters like Jane – I love the way she rejects Rochester several times because she believes it is the right thing to do by her own moral compass, despite her desire to be with him, and despite his convincing claim that nothing else should matter, that they deserve happiness no matter what society may think of them.
“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! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal — as we are!”