Women of Letters: Charlotte Bronte (1816 - 1855)

Women of Letters: Charlotte Bronte

"I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward." - Charlotte Brontë
By Brooke Lehmann
Not many are unacquainted with famed Brontë name. The novels of the three sisters Bronte – Charlotte, Emily and Anne – have become some of the most revered works of the 20th century. 

Noted for their gothic undertones and untoward themes, the Brontë sisters paved the way for a new form of literature and made their mark in an unforgiving time for their profession. One of the standout novels to break forth from the trio is Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte, the eldest of the three.

Jane Eyre was a shocking installation to the literature world at the time, however, Charlotte's poems, novels and letters leave us with a small insight into the genius and passion of a groundbreaking and incontrovertible spirit.

Charlotte Brontë was born in Market Street in the village of Thornton, Yorkshire County, on 21st April, 1816. Her father was Reverend Patrick Brontë, a passionate Irishman hailing from County Down, Ireland, born under the name of Patrick Punty (a name which he later changed to the more elegant sounding Brontë). 

By many accounts, though handsome and of a quick intelligence and strong mind, he had a rather unfavourable disposition, and on one occasion it was said that he took his wife's brand new silk dress (a rare commodity for a clergyman's wife), and snipped it up into pieces in front of her, in order for her to learn the simple lesson of humility.

He was not given over to making household calls in his pastoral work, except in the case of sickness, believing it would offend the "surely independence" of his fellow Yorkshiremen to inquire, counsel or admonish them. The peculiar Brontë household was quite private. A stoic, he was "indifferent to the pleasures of eating and dress".

American writer Elbert Hubbard tells of Mr. Brontë's behaviour, "He used to practise with a pistol and shoot in the house to steady the lady's nerves, and occasionally he got plain drunk," though, as with the cutting up of finery, this popular anecdote was a debatable myth, according to journalist Clement K Shorter.

Charlotte's mother, Miss Maria Branwell, was quite the opposite in disposition to her marital partner if rumour is to be believed. A quiet, dainty, sweet and cheerful woman devoted to her husband, who reportedly returned her affection, she married Mr. Brontë when she was 29, after a candid exchange of love letters throughout their courting.

"I am certain no one ever loved you with an affection more pure, constant, tender, and ardent than that which I feel," Maria wrote in one exchange. "Surely this is not saying too much; it is the truth, and I trust you are worthy to know it. I long to improve in every religious and moral quality, that I may be a help, and if possible an ornament to you. Oh let us pray much for wisdom and grace to fill our appointed stations with propriety, that we may enjoy satisfaction in our own souls, edify others, and bring glory to the name of Him who has so wonderfully preserved, blessed, and brought us together."

After bearing six children – Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Patrick Branwell (referred to as 'Branwell' throughout his life), Emily and Anne – tragedy struck, though not for the last time, and Maria died of cancer on 15th September, 1821, leaving Mr. Brontë – not naturally fond of children or of companionship, for that matter – to care for the Brontë brood.

His daughters grew up without significant female influence, as those church wardens who did visit the home came without their wives. In a sign of compassion to young Charlotte, Mr Brontë bestowed on his daughter a true gift, which she wrote of affectionately to a friend:.

‘A few days since, a little incident happened which curiously touched me. Papa put into my hands a little packet of letters and papers, telling me that they were mamma’s, and that I might read them.  I did read them, in a frame of mind I cannot describe. The papers were yellow with time, all having been written before I was born. It was strange now to peruse, for the first time, the records of a mind whence my own sprang; and most strange, and at once sad and sweet, to find that mind of a truly fine, pure, and elevated order. They were written to papa before they were married. There is a rectitude, a refinement, a constancy, a modesty, a sense, a gentleness about them indescribable. I wish she had lived, and that I had known her.’

The family had moved from Thornton to a village called Haworth in 1820, and upon the death of the eldest child Maria, Charlotte's aunt, Elizabeth Branwell, moved into the parsonage to aid Reverend Brontë in the raising of her nieces and nephew. She was said to be of good character, performing her duty, but lacked affection for her new home and love for the children.

Despite her significant loss, Charlotte's childhood was a relatively happy one, filled with story telling, piano playing, embroidery and games that were conjured up by the imaginations of her and her siblings, their most formative "society".

They were left largely to their own devices to daydream, converse and play the desolation away, wandering along the hillsides, reading in hushed tones, performing plays and penning manifold stories of adventure and modern drama authored by fictional persons (the nom de plume would become Charlotte's calling card) and informed by the newspapers Maria would read to them. 

One of Charlotte's favourite pastimes was creating an imaginary world called 'Angria' with her brother Branwell. This world she used as the base of her novellas My Angria and The Angrians, and Tales of Angria. They wrote many of their stories on tiny sheets of paper in miniscule handwriting that requires a magnifying glass for reading. The Brontë children's library of original works was extensive.

When Charlotte and her two older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, were of age, they were sent to attend the Clergy Daughter's School at Cowan Bridge. Due to the poor, damp condition of the school, the carelessness in food preparation and harsh treatment of Maria by one merciless teacher in particular, who suffered quietly under the persecution, the sisters' health was drastically affected.

In June 1825, both Maria and Elizabeth passed away from tuberculosis. In her re-imagining of Cowan Bridge as Lowood, Charlotte's indignation would be exacted through Jayne Eyre, the childhood memory seared into her consciousness awaiting its conception at a later date. Arguably, her inclination toward revenge spoiled her porridge, as much as the food at Cowan was to be her sisters' ruin.

After their deaths, Charlotte was immediately extracted from the school and in 1831 was again enrolled to study, this time in Miss Wooler's School in Roe Head, Mirfield, which she attended until 1832. Deficient in grammar, it was suggested that she go into the second class, but her crying at the mention, together with her sufficiency in other areas (poetry and politics), so softened her teacher that she was promoted to the first.

A school friend of Charlotte's recalled of the "indefatigable student" and gifted story-teller who begrudged hours of play:

"Her idea of self-improvement ruled her even at school. It was to cultivate her tastes. She always said there was enough of hard practicality and useful knowledge forced on us by necessity, and that the thing most needed was to soften and refine our minds. She picked up every scrap of information concerning painting, sculpture, poetry, music, &c., as if it were gold."

Around the school, the local politics played out in industrial relations, social class and religious disputes, amongst other things. The "Tory and clergyman's daughter" obviously took a particular interest. She was at the school for a year and a half before leaving behind firm friends and her affectionate teachers. 

At this time, in 1932, the now eldest of the Brontë girls, she left and returned home to help with the tutoring of her sisters alongside Miss Branwell, who encouraged sewing lessons, and her father. While the relative solitude of her home life quashed, perhaps, her hope and expectation for the future, small pleasures were found in drawing lessons. 

It was to his credit that their father kept a library of solid books, which disposed his daughters to reading and literary criticism, and never shied from discussing current events with his children. Much of Charlotte's early writing is concerned with politics and world events that belie her young and tender age.

Her novella The Green Dwarf, a story of love and political intrigue, was written in 1832 under one of her several pseudonyms, Lord Charles Albert Florian Wellesley, displaying her signature gothic style. Along with this novella, she had written several others in her younger years, such as The Foundling, and The Secret, and also edited a publication called The Young Men's Magazine, Number 1-3, in 1830. Published by her brother, it was modelled on the newspapers the family subscribed to, as well as popular journals like Blackwood's Magazine.

One of many "little magazines" composed by the children reveal something of the colour of their life: the bleak, cold outdoors and night-winds and the starring roles of politicians! In 1929, Charlotte journalled about one particular occasion in domestic life, written from a kitchen table with a geography book laid out before her, in which she details the family's newspaper consumption, revealing early taste in sophisticated grown-up matters.

Papa and Branwell are gone for the newspaper, the ‘Leeds Intelligencer,’ a most excellent Tory newspaper, edited by Mr. Wood, and the proprietor, Mr. Henneman. We take two and see three newspapers a week. We take the ‘Leeds Intelligencer,’ Tory, and the ‘Leeds Mercury,’ Whig, edited by Mr. Baines, and his brother, son-in-law, and his two sons, Edward and Talbot. We see the ‘John Bull;’ it is a high Tory, very violent.  Mr. Driver lends us it, as likewise ‘Blackwood’s Magazine,’ the most able periodical there is. 

Additionally, at age 13, Charlotte wrote a list of all the painters whose work she wished to see, including Michael Angelo and da Vinci; she was fascinated with high art. Here a hint of the young girl who wishes to rise above the parochial circumstances laid out before her and whose critical faculties and fantasies would be used therein.

In 1834, upon receiving a letter detailing her friend Ellen's visit to London, "the great city which is to me as apocryphal as Babylon, or Nineveh, or ancient Rome", she wrote to her:

I was greatly amused at the tone of nonchalance which you assumed, while treating of London and its wonders. Did you not feel awed while gazing at St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey? Had you no feeling of intense and ardent interest, when in St. James’s you saw the palace where so many of England’s kings have held their courts, and beheld the representations of their persons on the walls? You should not be too much afraid of appearing country-bred; the magnificence of London has drawn exclamations of astonishment from travelled men, experienced in the world, its wonders and beauties.  ... Make use of your own eyes for the purposes of observation now, and, for a time at least, lay aside the spectacles with which authors would furnish us.

Though she preferred to read or write than teach or sew, she was not without duty or practicality. In 1835, aged 19, Charlotte returned to the school at Roe Head, this time as a teacher, a position she held until 1838. It was during that time, when she willed herself to think more of duty than keeping the company of others, that the solitary Charlotte erred toward gloomy thought.

In 1839, she took her first job of many as a governess for a family in Yorkshire, a job she continued with until 1841, doing her best in duty despite her daily trials and miseries, not the least fitting herself into an occupation of which she felt she was not befitting at all.

One might be inclined to call her selfish and egotistical if not contemplating the literal literary waste, her lack of "natural knack" for the vocation, her strong desire to be nearer to her sisters and the freedom of home life to which she was accustomed that added to her discontentment.

"I have got on very well with the servants and children so far, yet it is dreary, solitary work," she wrote to her friend Ellen Nussey that year. "You can tell as well as me the lonely feeling of being without a companion. I offered the Irish concern to Mary Taylor, but she is so circumstanced that she cannot accept it. Her brothers have a feeling of pride that revolts at the thought of their sister 'going out.' I hardly knew that it was such a degradation till lately."

Upon leaving her displeasing job, and after petitioning her aunt, Charlotte and her sisters Emily and Anne left Haworth to attend a boarding school in Brussels, Belgium, run by Constantin Heger and his wife, Claire Zoé Parent Heger. It was their first foreign journey, and eagerly anticipated by Charlotte, as her school friend Mary was there and her hunger to learn and improve herself had reached its heights.

It was reported that on receiving a letter in earnest from Charlotte, whose pen clearly willed her way, M. Heger and his wife exclaimed to each other: "These are the daughters of an English pastor, of moderate means, anxious to learn with an ulterior view of instructing others, and to whom the risk of additional expense is of great consequence. Let us name a specific sum, within which all expenses shall be included."

At the age of 26, Charlotte was once again a school girl, at the behest of M. Heger. Brussels, with its religious impressions in French architecture and art, aroused Catholic contemplations in the two Protestant sisters but they would not be overwhelmed by awe.

The girls knew little of French and distanced themselves from the Belgian girls, whom Charlotte thought cold. M. Heger identified the sisters' considerable mental faculties and duly sought to address them with his teaching plan, which included doing away with a French dictionary and grammatical books in favour of works of high literature to encourage their appreciation and adoption of the language, as well as seeking after truth.

After the death of her aunt in 1942, Charlotte returned home and then went back to Brussels where she was welcomed into the homes of three English families. She gave English lessons and studied German and Literature, but found herself, without Emily's company, turning "exceedingly misanthropic and sour" due to a lack of fit companionship, as correspondence with her brother Branwell suggests.

"You will say that this is no news, and that you never knew me possessed of the contrary qualities—philanthropy and sugariness," she jests in a letter to him dated May 1st, 1843.

It has been suggested that Charlotte took a fancy to M. Héger, with he returning his promising pupil's affections and keeping up correspondence, though innocent relationship it likely was, while his begrudging wife later became the unwitting target of Charlotte's unmerciful characterisation.

It has also been suggested that it was religious tensions which were rife; that Madame Héger's allegiance to her Catholic conscience railed against Charlotte's Protestant affections. The Brussels experience was the inspiration for her novels The Professor (posthumously in 1857) and Villette (1853).

By early 1844, aged nearly 28, she had returned home with the premise of establishing a school and to attend to her father who was losing his sight. She spoke of a taming of her enthusiasm; a breaking of her spirit. She felt she should be waking to the rough realities of the world, and attended to her household duties, but still harboured her desires to become a literary name, even if the assumed name were fictitious.   

While she had been prolific in the profession throughout her short life, the year 1846 marked the first professional publication of Charlotte's work, taking form in the joint collection of poetical works with her sisters. The three sisters all wrote under the pseudonyms, Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, taking place of Charlotte, Emily and Anne respectively.

Reflecting on using the pseudonyms, Charlotte once said, "...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...".

This intuitive notion was proven fair upon the publishing of Jane Eyre in 1847, which was written under the pseudonym Currer Bell. Initially quite a success, there became a suspicion as to the obscure author's origin and gender, and critical reviews were thus made (quite freely once the identity of the author was found to be a woman), describing the writing as 'coarse'.

Charlotte did not shy away from describing things – more particularly, people – as they are, such were her encounters with the hash and often cruel realities of life and human nature, undisguised by haughty pretension and on vagrant display in Yorkshire.

"It is possible that it would have been better to have described only good and pleasant people, doing only good and pleasant things (in which case they could hardly have written at any time): all I say is, that never, I believe, did women, possessed of such wonderful gifts, exercise them with a fuller feeling of responsibility for their use," observed Elizabeth Gaskell in defence of her friend. "As to mistakes, stand now—as authors as well as women—before the judgment-seat of God."

Furthermore, the literary critic and journalist G.K. Chesterton noted of her work:

"It is significant to notice that Charlotte Brontë, following consciously or unconsciously the great trend of her genius, was the first to take away from the heroine not only the artificial gold and diamonds of wealth and fashion, but even the natural gold and diamonds of physical beauty and grace. Instinctively she felt that the whole of the exterior must be made ugly that the whole of the interior might be made sublime."

No mistake that Charlotte made her most famous heroine "plain, small and unattractive in defiance of the accepted canon".  Charlotte did not write everyday, but instead when the spirit took a hold of her and she instinctively felt inclined to put pencil to paper. She was meticulous about her choice of words and sentence structure.

Of course, her major works were written at a time of great personal doubt and domestic distress ("But has not every house its trial?").

During the adventures and happenings of Charlotte and her sisters, her brother Branwell had taken up the study of portrait painting and had become a tutor. He had also worked at the railway for a time, however, these achievements barely lived up to the hopes and expectations of his father and others.

He caused his sisters and father considerable trouble. One source claims he was, "the one that was always going to do great things. He made the girls wait on him and cuffed them if they didn't, and if they did, and all the time told of the things he was going to do. But he never did them..." .

In 1848 Charlotte was partway through her second novel, Shirley, when tragedy struck the Brontë household again. In September, Branwell, who was an alcoholic and opium addict, passed away aged 31, and in December her sister Emily – who authored Wuthering Heights – died of pulmonary tuberculosis aged 29. Charlotte penned these words in a letter to Ellen Nussey after her sister's death:

Emily suffers no more from pain or weakness now. She will never suffer more in this world. She is gone, after a hard, short conflict... Yes, there is no Emily in time or on earth now. Yesterday we put her poor, wasted, mortal frame quietly under the church pavement. We are very calm at present. Why should we be otherwise? The anguish of seeing her suffer is over; the spectacle of the pains of death is gone by; the funeral day is past. We feel she is at peace. No need now to tremble for the hard frost and the keen wind. Emily does not feel them. She died in a time of promise. We saw her taken from life in its prime.  But it is God’s will, and the place where she is gone is better than she has left.

In a letter to a Miss Wooler on March 24th, 1849, Charlotte wrote of her surviving sister Anne's ailing health, that it was gradual and fluctuating but sustained by faith as much as 'Gobold's Vegetable Balasam': "I have learned that we are not to find solace in our own strength: we must seek it in God’s omnipotence. Fortitude is good, but fortitude itself must be shaken under us to teach us how weak we are."

Two months later, in May, Anne died of pulmonary tuberculosis, only six months after the death of Branwell and five since the death of Emily. The bereavement that Charlotte bore can be seen in part, revealed in her poem 'On the Death of Anne Brontë':

There's little joy in life for me,
And little terror in the grave;
I've lived the parting hour to see
Of one I would have died to save.

Five months later, Charlotte had Shirley published. The opening of the novel bears a somewhat sombre tone, enforcing her gothic and unorthodox romantic ideals:

"If you think, from this prelude, that anything like a romance is preparing for you, reader, you never were more mistaken… Calm your expectations; reduce them to a lowly standard. Something real, cool and solid lies before you; something unromantic as Monday morning."

After the harsh reviews and opinions of Jane Eyre had simmered down, Brontë again was revered for her literary marvel, a reverence which was only solidified more upon the success of her second publish novel, Shirley, of which she wrote:

"You are not to suppose any of the characters in 'Shirley' intended as literal portraits. It would not suit the rules of art, nor of my own feelings; to write in that style. We only suffer reality to SUGGEST, never to DICTATE. The heroines are abstractions and the heroes also. Qualities I have seen, loved, and admired, are here and there put in as decorative gems, to be preserved in that sitting."

Her literary dreams coming to full life, Charlotte soon found herself in the limelight of the literary world, and in the society of its leading lights, befriending authors among the greats, such as, William Makepeace Thackeray, Elizabeth Gaskell (who later wrote a rather controversial biography on Charlotte), and Harriet Martineau.

Still, she maintained her childhood friendships, including that of Ellen Nussey, one of three firm girlfriends to whom she was loyal from age 15 to her dying day, describing her as good, faithful and true. In one letter, dated May 5th, 1838, Charlotte writes words of encouragement to her ill friend:

I doubt not, my dear Ellen, that amidst your many trials, amidst the sufferings that you have of late felt in yourself, and seen in several of your relations, you have still been able to look up and find support in trial, consolation in affliction, and repose in tumult, where human interference can make no change. I think you know in the right spirit how to withdraw yourself from the vexation, the care, the meanness of life, and to derive comfort from purer sources than this world can afford. You know how to do it silently, unknown to others, and can avail yourself of that hallowed communion the Bible gives us with God.

Charlotte described friendship as a "plant that cannot be forced". Of her friend, with whom she maintained frequent correspondence by letter, Charlotte wrote, somewhat condescendingly, in 1850:

"Affection was first a germ, then a sapling, then a strong tree—now, no new friend, however lofty or profound in intellect—not even Miss Martineau herself—could be to me what Ellen is; yet she is no more than a conscientious, observant, calm, well-bred Yorkshire girl."

Of the "mass of London critics", she was less generous in appraisal, instead seeking to satisfy her own conscience and the approval of the likes of "a Forsarde, a Fonblanque, and a Thackeray [author of Vanity Fair]... To all others I wish only to be an obscure, steady-going, private character."  

But at the end of her London adventures, she always returned home to her father's side, daily duties and relative obscurity. She battled her heaviness of spirit amidst mixed book reviews and poor health in solitude, finding solace in parcels of new books sent by her publishers. She wrote:

"I cannot help feeling something of the excitement of expectation till the post hour comes, and when, day after day, it brings nothing, I get low. This is a stupid, disgraceful, unmeaning state of things. I feel bitterly vexed at my own dependence and folly; but it is so bad for the mind to be quite alone, and to have none with whom to talk over little crosses and disappointments, and to laugh them away."

Her position on the female sex was that of one who acknowledged the "deep-rooted" foundations of the social system which worked against women, while believing self-effort could also overcome evils. She liked the work of George Sand but wasn't inclined toward Jane Austen.

Though she had reconciled herself to a life of loneliness and despondency, on 29th June 1854, Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls, the curate of Haworth. Initially shocked by the proposal, Charlotte soon accepted and her father finally gave his consent, however, it is reported that he did not attend the wedding.

Nicholls was a "conscientious man with a deep sense of religion" and Charlotte's affections for him only grew with time. Their marriage was a happy one, however, sadly, it was short lived, as Charlotte passed away on 31 March, 1855, while pregnant from an extended illness of phthisis (pulmonary tuberculosis). She was only 38.

There are other theories that consider her death to have been caused by dehydration and malnourishment from acute morning sickness, or, to be caused by typhus, which could have been contracted from the Brontë's servant who died shortly before her from the disease. Phtisis is the cause of death given on her death certificate.

Upon his wife's death death, Arthur Nicholls moved into the house occupied by Rev. Brontë, and cared for him in his declining years, til his death in 1861, at the age of 85. Nicholls continued to protect and guard personal aspects of the Brontës' lives from the public eye for the remainder of his life.

Reluctantly, concessions were made in sharing some of her private letters with Elizabeth Gaskell, an acclaimed novelist whom Charlotte held in mutually high esteem, for the purpose of penning Charlotte's biography and doing so with delicacy and accuracy to dispel rumour.

Notably, Gaskell was commissioned with the task by Charlotte's father, Mr Brontë.

"I confess that the course most consonant with my own feelings would be to take no steps in the matter, but I do not think it right to offer any opposition to Mr. Brontë’s wishes," wrote Nicholls to Charlotte's childhood friend Ellen Nussey. "We have the same object in view, but should differ in our mode of proceeding." 

Finding herself amidst a "veritable hornet's nest", despite being initially well received, the biography's publication caused Gaskell much personal discomfort, though she maintained her conviction that she had presented the truth. Her great undoing being the misrepresentation of Charlotte's home village, the nature of its inhabitants and certain pillars in the London community.

"For a right understanding of the life of my dear friend, Charlotte Brontë, it appears to me more necessary in her case than in most others, that the reader should be made acquainted with the peculiar forms of population and society amidst which her earliest years were passed, and from which both her own and her sisters’ first impressions of human life must have been received," she wrote in the opening chapter.

Gaskell describes characteristics common to Charlotte's kinsfolk as a "strange willfulness" bordering on an each-man-for-himself savagery; there are mentions of drunkenness, profligacy, rough amusements and vengefulness, yet a "not unkindly population". Charlotte would have sympathised with the plight of Gaskell facing her critics.

"But this I know; the writer who possesses the creative gift owns something of which he is not always master / something that at times strangely wills and works for itself," Charlotte once wrote. "If the result be attractive, the World will praise you, who little deserve praise; if it be repulsive, the same World will blame you, who almost as little deserve blame."

Charlotte was thoroughly acquainted with Christian principles, as she studied at Sunday School and was brought up in a Christian home and married her priestly love, but also had her own mind and interpretations, in keeping with Paul's Biblical instruction to, "let each firmly make up his own mind" about matters of lesser significance than loving God and accepting Christ.

"I have my own doctrines, not acquired, but innate, some that I fear cannot be rooted up without tearing away all the soil from which they spring, and leaving only unproductive rock for new seed," she wrote to her friend W.S. Williams.

Through her work, she conveyed the struggle between the conventional and the moral; the self-righteous and religious; the weak self and goodness of God.

"Reason sits firm and holds the reins, and she will not let the feelings burst away and hurry her to wild chasms," she wrote. "The passions may rage furiously, like true heathens, as they are; and the desires may imagine all sorts of vain things: but judgment shall still have the last word in every argument, and the casting vote in every decision."

She did seem to abhor the rich and pine for the poor, which caused one reviewer, who wrote on Jane Eyre in 1847 in the Quarterly Review, that to assume this position made her anti-Christian because it denied God's appointment in life.

One might be sympathetically inclined to believe that Charlotte's views were commensurate with Jesus who said it's harder for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to pass through to Heaven. 

One might deduce that Charlotte's view of life, and perhaps of God, were darkened by her experience of death (first of all her mother; note her retreat with her siblings into a fantasy world), the poverty of her home life, and then of the lure and seduction of the intellectual and literary realms.

"...the cases are rare in which the possessors of great gifts have known the blessings of that careless happy time; their unusual powers stir within them, and, instead of the natural life of perception—the objective, as the Germans call it—they begin the deeper life of reflection—the subjective," noted Gaskell.

This interspersion of taking the high moral ground and practising liberty seem to be at play; she offended sensibilities but perhaps gave pause for us to reflect on our own behaviours, as did Paul in Romans.

"If you knew my thoughts, the dreams that absorb me, and the fiery imagination that at times eats me up, and makes me feel society, as it is, wretchedly insipid, you would pity and I dare say despise me," she wrote to a friend in 1836. "But I know the treasures of the Bible; I love and adore them.  I can see the Well of Life in all its clearness and brightness; but when I stoop down to drink of the pure waters they fly from my lips as if I were Tantalus."

Her religious distress was palpable, her despondency over the absolute nature of her salvation clouded by her acute awareness of her own natural imperfections. In 1837 she wrote:

"If Christian perfection be necessary to salvation, I shall never be saved; my heart is a very hotbed for sinful thoughts, and when I decide on an action I scarcely remember to look to my Redeemer for direction.  I know not how to pray; I cannot bend my life to the grand end of doing good; I go on constantly seeking my own pleasure, pursuing the gratification of my own desires.  I forget God, and will not God forget me? And, meantime, I know the greatness of Jehovah; I acknowledge the perfection of His word; I adore the purity of the Christian faith; my theory is right, my practice horribly wrong."

A lack of a strong, nurturing mother figure in the home and a history of death and suppression added to her sorrows, but not all was lost. As Elbert Hubbard puts it, "So why prate of her sorrows! Did she not work them up into art? Why weep over her troubles when these were the weapons with which she won?".

A few of Charlotte's works were published posthumously, with The Professor published in 1857, despite it having been written before Jane Eyre and previously unaccepted by publishers. A half finished manuscript that was left on Charlotte's death has been finished and published in two different versions, the most notable being, Emma Brown: A Novel From the Unfinished Manuscript by Charlotte Brontë by Clare Boylan in 2003.

Upon reflection, it is somewhat difficult to look upon Charlotte Brontë's life without a heavy heart. The grief and heartache she endured is something many can hardly imagine. Despite all these events, and perhaps because of them, she managed to produce some of the most remarkable literary work of the 20th century. As a result, it is difficult to look upon her short life of sorrows, solitude and spirit as something that was strictly amiss.

Charlotte Bronte and Her Circle by Clement K Shorter, Guttenberg.org
The Life of Charlotte Bronte - Volumes 1 and 2 by Elizabeth Gaskell, Guttenberg.orghttp://www.gutenberg.org/files/1827/1827-h/1827-h.htm