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Authors: Elizabeth Gaskell

The Life of Charlotte Bronte

BOOK: The Life of Charlotte Bronte
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The parsonage stands at right angles to the road, facing down upon the church; so that, in fact, parsonage, church, and belfried school-house, form three sides of an irregular oblong, of which the fourth is open to the fields and moors that lie beyond. (page 13)
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. (page 18)
Children leading a secluded life are often thoughtful and dreamy: the impressions made upon them by the world without—the unusual sights of earth and sky—the accidental meetings with strange faces and figures—(rare occurrences in those out-of-the-way places)—are sometimes magnified by them into things so deeply significant as to be almost supernatural. (page 74)
“Human affairs are mutable, and human resolutions must bend to the course of events. We are all about to divide, break up, separate. Emily is going to school, Branwell is going to London, and I am going to be a governess.” (page 107)
“I am no teacher; to look on me in that light is to mistake me. To teach is not my vocation. What I am, it is useless to say. Those whom it concerns feel and find it out.” (page 326)
“I want us all to get on. I know we have talents, and I want them to be turned to account.” (page 166)
“Perfection is not the lot of humanity; and as long as we can regard those we love, and to whom we are closely allied, with profound and never-shaken esteem, it is a small thing that they should vex us occasionally by what appear to us unreasonable and headstrong notions.”
(page 231)
“There is no more respectable character on this earth than an unmarried woman, who makes her way through life quietly, perseveringly, without support of husband or brother.” (page 232)
She went on with her work steadily. But it was dreary to write without any one to listen to the progress of her tale,—to find fault or to sympathise,—while pacing the length of the parlour in the evenings, as in the days that were no more. Three sisters had done this,—then two, the other sister dropping off from the walk,—and now one was left desolate, to listen for echoing steps that never came,—and to hear the wind sobbing at the windows, with an almost articulate sound. (pages 317—318)
The characters were her companions in the quiet hours, which she spent utterly alone, unable often to stir out of doors for many days together. The interests of the persons in her novels supplied the lack of interest in her own life; and Memory and Imagination found their appropriate work, and ceased to prey upon her vitals. But too frequently she could not write, could not see her people, nor hear them speak; a great mist of headache had blotted them out; they were non existent to her. (page 402)
I appeal to that larger and more solemn public, who know how to look with tender humility at faults and errors; how to admire generously extraordinary genius, and how to reverence with warm, full hearts all noble virtue. To that Public I commit the memory of Charlotte Brontë. (page 454)
Published by Barnes & Noble Books 122 Fifth Avenue
The Life of Charlotte Brontë first appeared in 1857.
Published in 2005 by Barnes & Noble Classics with new Introduction, Notes, Biography, Chronology, The Legacy of, Comments & Questions, and For Further Reading.
Introduction, Notes, and For Further Reading
Copyright © 2005 by Anne Taranto.
Note on Elizabeth Gaskell, The World of Elizabeth Gaskell and
The Life of Charlotte Brontë, The Legacy of The Life of Charlotte Brontë, and Comments & Questions
Copyright © 2005 by Barnes & Noble, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Barnes & Noble Classics and the Barnes & Noble Classics colophon are trademarks of Barnes & Noble, Inc.
The Life of Charlotte
ISBN 1-59308-314-9
eISBN : 978-1-411-43256-7
LC Control Number 2004116678
Produced and published in conjunction with:
Fine Creative Media, Inc.
322 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10001
Michael J. Fine, President and Publisher
Printed in the United States of America
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson was born in London in 1810, the daughter of Unitarian parents. Her father chose a variety of different careers, including experimental farming, preaching in the Unitarian church, and writing for various periodicals. Her mother died the year after Elizabeth was born, and of the eight children she bore, only two survived childhood. Elizabeth was raised by her maternal aunt, Hannah Holland Lumb, whose farm in rural Knutsford provided a serene and happy childhood for the young girl. Unitarians believed in education for girls, and after lessons at home Elizabeth was further educated at a progressive boarding school.
Elizabeth’s ties to her brother John were kept up through letters and occasional visits. After setting sail for India in 1828, he disappeared without a trace, leaving Elizabeth stunned and her father in deep depression. Her father’s failing health compelled Elizabeth to travel to London to nurse him until his death the following year. After his death, Elizabeth visited a variety of cultured family members, and met William Gaskell, an assistant Unitarian preacher in Manchester, whom she wed in 1832.
Although the Industrial Revolution thrummed in the background of her childhood, it was William’s Manchester congregation that first put Gaskell in touch with the grim realities of factory work. Cotton mills dominated the labor force in the city, and filthy shanty towns housed thousands of exploited, undernourished mill workers. William and Elizabeth were kept busy by their congregation and by their efforts to address the social problems that plagued the booming industrial city of Manchester. Although she had written only personal diaries, and was also busy raising her own family in the early years of her marriage, Gaskell’s community work inspired her to collaborate with her husband on the narrative poem “Sketches Among the Poor, No. 1,” which was published in 1837.
Gaskell’s happy, busy life was interrupted by tragedy in 1845 when her infant son died of scarlet fever while on a family vacation. Overcome by grief, Gaskell followed her husband’s advice and became absorbed in her writing. The result was her first novel,
Mary Barton: A Tale of
Manchester Life
(1848), which earned her instant success—and hostile criticism from the cotton mill owners whom she so unsparingly portrayed. Gaskell went on to write six other novels:
North and
South (1855), Sylvia’s
Cousin Phyllis
(1864), and
Wives and Daughters
(1866). She also wrote numerous short stories, as well as a famous biography of her friend,
The Life of Charlotte
Brontë (1857). Much of Gaskell’s short fiction appeared in popular literary journals, and several of her novels were serialized in those publications. Gaskell’s works were popular during her lifetime and received critical acclaim as well. Friendships with literary giants of the day—including Charles Dickens, who also published her work in his journals—aided her career, and frequent travels throughout Europe gave her material for her writing and eased the strains of an extremely busy life. Gaskell had six children, four of whom, all daughters, lived to be adults.
In 1865 Gaskell bought a country house in Hampshire as a surprise for her husband’s retirement. By then her last novel, Wives and Daughters, was being serialized in the
Cornhill Magazine.
Physically exhausted, and yet to complete the final installment of her novel, Elizabeth Gaskell died suddenly on a visit to the house on November 12, 1865. Although never completed,
Wives and Daughters
is considered by many to be a study in character on a par with the novels of George Eliot and Jane Austen. Elizabeth Gaskell was buried at Brook Street Chapel in Knutsford.
The Napoleonic Wars begin.
Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson is born on September 29 in London to Unitarian parents. She is her parents’ eighth and last child.
Elizabeth’s mother dies, and she is taken in by her mother’s sister, Hannah Holland Lumb, in the town of Knutsford in Cheshire. Jane Austen’s
Sense and Sensibility
is published.
Charles Dickens, future publisher and friend of Elizabeth Gaskell, is born.
Elizabeth’s father remarries. Elizabeth remains in Knutsford with her aunt.
Anthony Trollope is born. The Napoleonic Wars end with the Battle of Waterloo.
Charlotte Brontë is born on April 21 in Thornton, England, the third of six children of the Reverend Patrick and Maria Branwell Brontë.
Patrick Branwell Brontë is born.
Emily Brontë is born.
Novelist George Eliot (pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans) is born. John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” is published. Victoria, the future queen, is born.
Anne Brontë is born, and the Brontë family moves to Haworth, where Reverend Brontë has been offered a lifetime curacy. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s
Prometheus Unbound
is published.
Charlotte’s mother, Maria, dies, and her sister, Elizabeth Branwell, moves into the Brontë household to help raise the six young children.
Elizabeth Gaskell enters the liberal-minded Avonbank School at Stratford-on-Avon, where she spends the next five years absorbed in her studies. She receives an excellent education, unlike many girls of her generation.
Maria and Elizabeth Brontë contract what is probably tuberculosis and die. Charlotte and Emily are pulled out of school to return home to Haworth.
The four surviving Brontë siblings create the “Young Men” plays, the first of their imaginative fictional writings, which are followed in 1827 by “Our Fellows” and “The Islanders.”
Tragedy grips the Stevenson family when John disappears on a trip with the East India Company to India. Elizabeth travels to London to nurse her father, whose health is deteriorating.
William Stevenson dies, and Elizabeth lives with a distant relative, Unitarian minister William Turner. She is exposed to a socially progressive and intellectual way of life that will inform her fictional works.
Modern rail travel begins in England.
On a trip to Manchester, Elizabeth meets her future husband, William Gaskell, an assistant minister at an important Unitarian center, the Cross Street Chapel.
Elizabeth and William Gaskell marry in Knutsford. After their honeymoon in Wales, they reside in Manchester. The First Reform Act redistributes parliamentary seats and extends voting rights for the middle classes.
Gaskell suffers the stillborn birth of her first child. Slavery is abolished in the British Empire.
A daughter, Marianne, is born to Gaskell.
Charlotte Brontë teaches at Miss Wooler’s school at Roe Head.
Gaskell writes the poem “On Visiting the Grave of My Stillborn Little Girl, Sunday July 4
, 1836.”
The narrative poem “Sketches Among the Poor, No. 1,” which Gaskell wrote with her husband, is published by Blackwood’s
Edinburgh Magazine.
A daughter, Margaret Emily, known as Meta, is born. Charlotte Brontë writes to Robert Southey, the British poet laureate, to ask his opinion of her poetry. His disheartening response implies that while Charlotte displays what Wordsworth calls “faculty of verse,” this is nothing extraordinary in a time of so many successful poets. He goes on to declare that women have no place in the business of literature. Queen Victoria assumes the throne of England.
Charlotte resigns from her teaching position at Miss Wooler’s school. Dickens’s
Oliver Twist
is published.
Charlotte works for the next three years as a governess, first in Lothersdale and later in Rawdon.
“Clopton Hall,” a short essay recalling a visit to Clopton House during Gaskell’s school days, is included in William Howitt’s
Visits to Remarkable Places.
Thomas Hardy is born.
A daughter, Florence, is born to Gaskell. Charlotte and Emily Brontë travel to Brussels to study at Pensionnat Heger, where they read, among other things, works by French and German Romantics. They stay less than a year, returning to Haworth because their aunt Elizabeth Branwell has died.
1843- 1844
Charlotte spends a second year at the Pensionnat in Brussels honing her French and German language skills. She develops a strong emotional attachment to her married employer and former teacher, Constantin Heger. Charlotte returns to Haworth in January 1844. A son, William, is born to Gaskell in 1844.
While on family vacation in Wales, the infant William contracts scarlet fever and dies. Gaskell distracts herself from her grief by focusing on her writing. Friedrich Engels’s Die Lage der
arbeitenden Klasse
n England (The Condition of the Working Class in England)
is published.
A daughter, Julia Bradford, is born to Gaskell. In February, Charlotte sends a manuscript,
Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell
(the pen names of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë, respectively), to the London publisher Aylott and Jones. The poems are published in May at the sisters’ expense; only two copies are sold. In June Charlotte completes her first novel,
By the end of the year she has begun work on
Jane Eyre.
Gaskell’s “Libbie Marsh’s Three Eras” appears in Howitt’s
published by fellow Unitarian William Howitt. While Charlotte’s manuscript for
The Professor
is rejected by various publishers, her sisters’ novels—Anne’s
Agnes Grey
and Emily’s Wuthering
accepted for publication by Thomas Cautley Newby. Charlotte approaches another publisher, Smith, Elder, with Jane
which is published in October to instant success, overshadowing the publication in December of her sisters’
novels and surpassing them in acclaim. All three sisters are still publishing under their “Bell” pen names.
Gaskell’s first novel,
Mary Barton: A Tale of
Manchester Life,
is published anonymously, although the author’s identity is immediately uncovered. The sympathetic portrait of mill workers and their unbearable living conditions infuriates Manchester factory owners. Amid growing rumors that there is only one “Bell” writer, Charlotte and Anne travel to London to prove otherwise. Charlotte’s publisher, George Smith, learns the truth of the Brontës’ identities but is sworn to protect their secret. In September, Branwell Brontë dies after a sustained bout of depression, alcoholism, and drug use; in December, Emily dies of tuberculosis. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s
Manifest der
nistischen Partei (Communist Manifesto)
is published. Major rebellions take place in France, Austria, Prussia, and other European countries. William Makepeace Thackeray’s
Vanity Fair
is published.
Gaskell’s writing finds many admirers, and she meets Dickens, Thackeray, and Wordsworth, among other well-known authors. In May, Anne Brontë dies of tuberculosis. Charlotte’s novel
is published by Smith, Elder. In November, Charlotte travels again to London, this time as a successful author. She, like Gaskell, meets one of her literary idols, William Makepeace Thackeray.
Charlotte returns to London. In August, she travels to Windermere, where she and Elizabeth Gaskell meet for the first time. The two will become close friends. In December, Charlotte writes the prefaces and biographical notes for her sisters’ novels; she reveals the true identities of the “Bells” and works to protect the posthumous reputations of Emily and Anne, who have received some criticism for their “coarse” and “nihilisbtic” writings. Several of Gaskell’s works, including “The Heart of John Middleton,” are published in Charles Dickens’s weekly journal
Household Words. The Moorland Cottage,
a novella, is published in book form.
The first two chapters of Cranford—often considered Gaskell’s most popular work—are published in
Household Words
(the final installments will appear in 1853). “The Deserted Mansion” appears in Fraser’s
is published in book form; the novel stirs controversy because it questions the conventional wisdom that the life of a “fallen woman” necessarily ends in ruin. Cranford is published in book form. The stories “Cumberland Sheep Shearers” and “The Squire’s Story,” among others, appear in
Household Words.
Charlotte’s novel
is published in January. In April, Charlotte and Gaskell spend a week together in Manchester; in September, Gaskell visits Charlotte at Haworth.
Gaskell’s novel
North and South,
which addresses social problems, is serialized in
Household Words.
Gaskell meets Florence Nightingale in London. In June, Charlotte marries Arthur Bell Nicholls, whom she has known since 1845, when he began work as a curate at Haworth.
Charlotte is happily married for a few months, but early in the year she becomes ill; she dies on March 31. Her father asks Gaskell to write Charlotte’s biography North
and South
is published in book form, and
Household Words
publishes Gaskell’s “An Accursed Race” and “Half a Life-Time Ago.” A group of Gaskell’s short stories is published as the book
Lizzie Leigh and Other Stories.
The Life of Charlotte
Brontë is published. Although it is praised by most, some individuals depicted in the work threaten legal action over the way they are portrayed. Charlotte’s first novel and the last to bear her name,
The Professor,
is published, though the book’s release is partly obscured by the enormous interest readers show in Gaskell’s biography of her. The Matrimonial Causes Act enables women to inherit, own, and bequeath property.
Gaskell’s “The Doom of the Griffiths” appears in the American monthly
Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.
“My Lady Ludlow” and other short stories are published in
Household Words.
Round the Sofa and Other Tales,
a book of short stories, is published. Several short stories appear in
All the Year Round,
Dickens’s new weekly magazine. Darwin’s On
the Origin of Species
and Dickens’s
A Tale of Two
Cities are published.
Last and Other Tales,
a book of short stories, is published.
The American Civil War begins.
“Six Weeks at Heppenheim” is published in the Cornhill Magazine.
“A Dark Night’s Work” appears in All the Year
Round. Cousin
Phyllis, a short novel, is serialized in the Cornhill
to be concluded early in 1864. The story’s country setting prefigures a more detailed portrait in
Wives and Daughters.
The novel Sylvia’s
set in Napoléon’s time, is published.
The first installments of
Wives and Daughters
appear in the
hill Magazine.
The novel evokes the pastoral setting of Gaskell’s girlhood country home.
As a surprise for her husband’s future retirement, Gaskell buys a country house in Hampshire with the proceeds from her writing. Physically exhausted, and yet to complete the final installment of her novel, Gaskell dies suddenly on a visit to the house on November 12. She is buried at Brook Street Chapel in Knutsford.
The serial publication of
Wives and Daughters
ends. In lieu of the novel’s last installment, the editor of the
Cornhill Magazine
writes a note that explains how he thinks the author would have completed the book. The novel is released in book form.
In August, Haworth Parsonage opens to the public as the Brontë Parsonage Museum.
BOOK: The Life of Charlotte Bronte
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