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In This Article Charlotte Brontë

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Biographies
  • Editions and Letters
  • Collected Essays and Journals
  • Reference Works
  • Desire and Sexuality
  • Style, Genre, and Form
  • Juvenilia
  • The Professor

Victorian Literature Charlotte Brontë
by
Sharon Aronofsky Weltman, Doris Raab

Introduction

Charlotte Brontë (b. 1816–d. 1854) was the eldest of the three Brontë sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) whose books have been regarded as masterpieces of the English novel for over 160 years. The daughter of Rev. Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell Brontë, Charlotte grew up the third of six children in Haworth Parsonage in Yorkshire, England. In 1824 Charlotte, Emily, and their two older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, went off to school at Cowan Bridge (later depicted as Lowood School in Jane Eyre) but were removed in less than one year because conditions at the school were hastening the tragic deaths of the older girls from tuberculosis. Back home, Charlotte began writing tales about imaginary kingdoms with her younger siblings (Emily, Anne, and brother Branwell). She continued her education at Roe Head School, where she made lifelong friends and later taught. In 1842 Charlotte and Emily traveled to Brussels to study at Constantin Heger’s boarding school; there she was also later employed as a teacher. Unhappy, she developed feelings for the married Heger (providing material for her later novels). Brontë returned home in 1844, completing her first novel, The Professor (written 1845–1846, published posthumously in 1857), and publishing with her sisters Poems of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846), which sold only two copies. Undaunted, the three women followed up with a novel each, all published in 1847, and all now classics. Charlotte’s was Jane Eyre, an immediate sensation. She followed this success with Shirley in 1849 and Villette in 1853. Yet her private life was full of sorrow: in 1848 she lost Branwell and Emily; Anne died in 1849. In 1854 Charlotte Brontë married Rev. A. B. Nicholls, curate of Haworth, but she passed away the same year from pneumonia. Brontë’s fiction is most noted for her portrayal of passion, her subversive commentaries on Victorian women’s roles, and her narrative innovation, although she also deals with issues of empire, class, education, gender, and religion.

General Overviews

Religion, passion, class, and postcolonialism are popular critical topics for each of Brontë’s works, as these representative general studies demonstrate. Eagleton 2005, on Marxism in Brontë, reads her novels through their depiction of class antagonism, while Glen 2004 historicizes her. Both Peschier 2005 and Thormählen 1999 consider how Brontë’s religion affects her novels, although Peschier provides more historical context. Duthie 1975 similarly relies on biography to study the impact of Brussels on the novels. Gezari 1992 interrogates the relationship between physical bodies and social discourses. Martin 1966 delves into the tension between passion and reason throughout Brontë’s writings, while Miller 2003 dismantles the myths surrounding Brontë, and Kucich 1987 redefines the relationship between passion and repression in her works.

  • Duthie, Enid L. The Foreign Vision of Charlotte Brontë. London: Macmillan, 1975.

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    Argues that although Brontë’s stay in Brussels did not create her genius, it did expose her to material most suited to her creative powers. Begins with biographical chapters on her stay in Brussels, followed by an examination of its impact on her novels, from diction to characters and settings. Includes select bibliography.

  • Eagleton, Terry. Myths of Power: A Marxist Study of the Brontës. Rev. ed. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

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    Suggests Brontë’s novels attempt to balance middle-class reason and Romantic sentiments. Conflicts in the novels reflect tensions between landed and industrial ruling classes. Five chapters on Brontë’s novels.

  • Gezari, Janet. Charlotte Brontë and Defensive Conduct: The Author and the Body at Risk. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.

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    Shows how Brontë’s novels use the body as the site where social conflicts are worked out.

  • Glen, Heather. Charlotte Brontë: The Imagination in History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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    Thorough examination of Brontë’s works in historical context. Brontë’s juvenilia highlights interest in the history of “spectral others” that continues throughout her career (p. 25).

  • Kucich, John. Repression in Victorian Fiction: Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Charles Dickens. Berkley: University of California Press, 1987.

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    Argues that repression and passion in Victorian novels are not at odds; instead, repression heightens internal emotional responses in a way not accessible in public interactions. In the section on Brontë, Kucich contends that the characters choose interior spaces for emotional release as an escape from social powers.

  • Martin, Robert Bernard. The Accents of Persuasion: Charlotte Brontë’s Novels. London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

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    Four chapters approach Brontë’s novels thematically; their overarching theme is the conflict between reason and passion. Finds Shirley least successful, in part due to third-person narration.

  • Miller, Lucasta. The Brontë Myth. New York: Knopf, 2003.

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    Influential study discussing various myths surrounding the Brontës’ lives, examining the myth Charlotte herself creates. Critiques Gaskell’s portrayal of Brontë, offering a profusion of primary texts tracing Charlotte Brontë’s life.

  • Peschier, Diana. Nineteenth-Century Anti-Catholic Discourses: The Case of Charlotte Brontë. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

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    Examines nonfiction anti-Catholic influences on Brontë; extensive primary material, including newspapers that Brontë read. Also reads anti-Catholicism in Villette, Shirley, and The Professor.

  • Thormählen, Marianne. The Brontës and Religion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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    Analyzes the Brontës’ experiences with religion and its depiction in their novels. Large portions dedicated to Charlotte, with the final chapter devoted to St. John Rivers.

LAST MODIFIED: 03/02/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199799558-0008

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