Charlotte Brontë, English novelist and poet, is born in Thornton, West Yorkshire, England on April 21, 1816, the third daughter of the Rev. Patrick Brontë, an Irish Anglican clergyman, and his wife Maria. In 1820 her family moves a few miles to the village of Haworth, where her father has been appointed perpetual curate of St. Michael and All Angels’ Church.
In 1824 the four eldest Brontë daughters are enrolled as pupils at the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge. The following year Maria and Elizabeth, the two eldest daughters, become ill, leave the school and ultimately die. Charlotte and sister Emily, understandably, are brought home. Charlotte ultimately uses the school as the basis for Lowood School in Jane Eyre.
In 1826 Patrick Brontë brings home a box of wooden soldiers for son Branwell. Charlotte, Emily, Branwell, and Ann, playing with the soldiers, conceive of and begin to write in great detail about an imaginary world which they call Angria.
In 1831 Charlotte becomes a pupil at the school at Roe Head in Mirfield, but she leaves school the following year to teach her sisters at home. She returns to Roe Head School in 1835 as a governess, leaving in 1838. The following year she accepts a position as governess in the Sidgewick family, but leaves after three months and returns to Haworth. In 1841 she becomes governess in the White family, but leaves, once again, after nine months.
Upon her return to Haworth the three sisters, led by Charlotte, decide to open their own school after the necessary preparations have been completed. In 1842 Charlotte and Emily go to Brussels to complete their studies. After a trip home to Haworth, Charlotte returns alone to Brussels, where she remains until 1844.
Upon her return home the sisters embark upon their project for founding a school, which proves to be an abject failure. Their advertisements do not elicit a single response from the public. The following year Charlotte discovers Emily’s poems and decides to publish a selection of the poems of all three sisters. The poems, written under the pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, are published in 1846. She also completes The Professor, which is rejected for publication. The following year, however, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and Ann’s Agnes Grey are all published, still under the Bell pseudonyms.
In 1848 Charlotte and Ann visit their publishers in London, and reveal the true identities of the “Bells.” In the same year Branwell Brontë, by now an alcoholic and a drug addict, dies, and Emily dies shortly thereafter. Ann dies the following year.
In 1849 Charlotte, visiting London, begins to move in literary circles, making the acquaintance, for example, of William Makepeace Thackeray. In 1850 she edits her sister’s various works, and meets Elizabeth Gaskell. In 1851 she visits The Great Exhibition in London, and attends a series of lectures given by Thackeray.
The Rev. Arthur Bell Nicholls, curate of Haworth since 1845, proposes marriage to Charlotte in 1852. Her father objects violently, and Charlotte, who, though she may have pitied him, is not in love with him and refuses the proposal. Nicholls leaves Haworth in the following year, the same in which Charlotte’s Villette is published. By 1854, however, her father’s opposition to the proposed marriage has weakened, and Charlotte and Nicholls become engaged. Nicholls returns as curate at Haworth and they are married, though it seems clear that Charlotte, though she admires him, still does not love him.
Charlotte becomes pregnant soon after her wedding, but her health declines rapidly. She dies at the age of 38, with her unborn child, on March 31, 1855, three weeks before her 39th birthday, at Haworth, West Yorkshire, England. Her death certificate gives the cause of death as tuberculosis, but biographers including Claire Harman suggest that she died from dehydration and malnourishment due to vomiting caused by severe morning sickness.
The Professor is published postumously in 1857, having been written in 1845-1846. In that same year, Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë is published.
(Pictured: An idealised posthumous portrait by Duyckinick, 1873, based on a drawing by George Richmond)