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					Charlotte Bronte


• Charlotte was born in Thornton, Yorkshire, in the north
  of England
• the daughter of an Anglican clergyman who moved with
  his family to Haworth amid the Yorkshire moors in 1820
• 'A little, plain, provincial, sickly-looking old maid', is
  how George Lewes described Charlotte Brontë to
  George Eliot..
         The Bronte Home…


Home for the Bronte’s was a gray-stoned, two-story,
eight-bedroom parsonage overlooking a church and a
• When the family entered into the parsonage’s front
  door, an overabundance of tombstones greeted their
  approach as the church’s graveyard overflowed onto
  the parsonage’s front yard.

 • The upstairs of the
 parsonage contained
 two bedrooms and a
 third room, scarcely
 bigger than a closet, in
 which the sisters
 played their games.
The landscape around the parsonage, the
  lonely rolling moors and wild wind,
influenced all the Brontë sisters deeply.

• “I was a mile from Thornfield, in a lane noted
  for wild roses in summer…but whose best
  winter delight lay in its utter solitude and
  leafless repose. Far and wide, on each side,
  there were only fields, where no cattle now
  browsed; and the little brown birds, which
  stirred occasionally in the hedge, looked like
  single russet leaves that had forgotten to drop.”
  (Jane Eyre, Ch 12)
            One of three sisters…
• Charlotte was the sister of
  Anne Bronte and Emily
  Bronte. The three sisters are
  almost as famous for their
  short, tragic lives as for
  their novels .
• After their mother and two
  eldest siblings died,
  Charlotte was left, with her
  sisters Emily and Anne and
  brother Branwell, to the         brontes/brontes.asp
  care of their father and their
  strict, religious aunt,
  Elisabeth Branwell.
• The children created imaginary
  kingdoms, which were built
  around Branwell's toy soldiers,
  and which inspired them to write
  continuing sagas about the
  fantasylands of Angria and

• Later in a poem Charlotte wrote:
  "We wove a web in childhood, /
  A web of sunny air."
       Charlotte’s self image…
• The Brontës were
• Emily was considered
  to be tall at that time,
  but Charlotte's dress
  preserved in the
  Brontë Parsonage
  Museum would
  perhaps fit today’s
  eleven-year old.

• Charlotte also thought of herself as plain:
“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure,
  plain, and little, I am soulless and
  heartless?” (Jane Eyre, Ch 23)

(How many references can you find in Jane
  Eyre to Jane’s plainness and her small
        Charlotte’s Education…

• Charlotte attended the Clergy Daughter's
  School at Cowan Bridge in 1824.
• She returned home next year because of the
  harsh conditions.
“Our clothing was insufficient to protect us
  from the severe cold: we had no boots, and
  snow got into our shoes and melted
  there…the scanty supply of food was
  distressing…”(Jane Eyre, Ch 6)
                                • In 1831 she went to
                                  school at Roe Head,
                                  where she later worked
                                  as a teacher. However,
                                  she fell ill, suffered
                                  from melancholia, and
                                  gave up this post.
                                • Charlotte's attempts to
                                  earn her living as a
                                  governess were difficult
                                  because of her
                                  disabling shyness, her
                                  ignorance of normal
                                  children, and her
                                  constant desire to be bronte/     with her sisters
•  From her first job
  as governess to the
  Sidgwick family
  she wrote to her
  sister Emily:
  "... Mrs. Sidgwick
  expects me to do
  things that I cannot
  do - to love her
  children and be
  entirely devoted to
• Notice how these
  descriptions carry
  over into her novel,
  Jane Eyre…?
        Charlotte, the writer…
• The collection of poems, Poems By Currer, Ellis
  And Acton Bell (1846), which Charlotte wrote
  with her sisters, sold only two copies.
• By this time she had finished a novel, The
  Professor, but it never found a publisher during
  her lifetime.
    • At her twenty-first birthday, she asked
      Robert Southey's advice about her prospects
      as a writer:
     "Literature cannot be the business of a
      woman's life," answered Southey, "and it
      ought not to be."
    • Charlotte’s reply was humble:
    "I trust I shall never more feel ambitious to
      see my name in print; if the wish should
      rise, I'll look at Southey's letter, and
      suppress it."
   Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre…
• Apparently, she did not
  suppress it, as she wrote
  the famous romance novel,
  Jane Eyre

• In Jane Eyre Charlotte
  Bronte used her
  experiences at the
  Evangelical school and as
The novel is about a
penniless orphan who
obtains a post as a
governess, inherits money
from an uncle, and meets a
Byronic hero. (Do you
remember what a Byronic
hero is?)
                A Feminist?
• The novel severely criticized the limited options
  open to educated but impoverished women:

"'And you ought not to think yourself on an equality
 with the Misses Reed and Master Reed, because
 missis kindly allows you to be brought up with them.
 They will have a great deal of money and you will
 have none: it is your place to be humble, and try to
 make yourself agreeable to them.'" (from Jane Eyre)
• The idea that women "ought to confine
  themselves to making puddings and knitting
  stockings, to playing on the piano and
  embroidering bags“ was not acceptable to Bronte
                         (Jane Eyre, Ch )

• In the past 40 years Charlotte Brontë's reputation
  has risen rapidly, and feminists believe she was
  speaking up for oppressed women of every age.
• Jane's passionate desire for
  a wider life, her need to be
  loved, and her rebellious
  questioning of conventions,
  also reflected Charlotte's
  own dreams:
  "Conventionality is not
  morality" she wrote.
  "Self-righteousness is not
  religion. To attack the
  first is not to assail the
  last." (from the preface to
  Jane Eyre)
      Who was Currer Bell??
• Jane Eyre was followed
  by Shirley (1848) and
  Villette (1853), based on
  Charlotte’s memories of
• Although her identity
  was well known,
  Charlotte continued to
  publish under the
  pseudonym, Currer Bell.
                      Jane’s later life…
   • Branwell, whose alcohol             • Emily died in December of
     and opium addiction had               the same year, and Anne the
     caused the sisters much               following summer .
     distress, died in September         • In 1854 Charlotte married her
                                           father's curate, Arthur Bell
   • "The removal of our                   Nicholls - he was the fourth to
     only brother must
     necessarily be regarded               propose to her.
     by us rather in the light           • Charlotte died during her
     of a mercy than a                     pregnancy on March 31, 1855
     chastisement," Charlotte              in Haworth, Yorkshire.
     wrote to W.S. Williams. Brontes/Brontes.html
The Church of St. Michaels and All Angels, rebuilt in 1879-81, with the
exception of the tower, contains the tomb of Charlotte and Emily, and a
memorial tablet and a stained-glass window put up by an American
    The Victorian Class System
• To the people of the Victorian age, there
  was no such thing as 'equality'. The idea
  that some people are elevated above others
  through breeding was not just a belief - to
  the Victorians it was an absolute, scientific
• The upper classes believed that the lower
  classes could never be associated with
  healthy, productive lives - they were treated
  as if they were some primitive, savage tribe
  instead of fellow countrymen of the British
• Because the poor were
  always lacking food, proper
  healthcare or good
  sanitation, this belief was
  constantly reinforced.
• The differences were not just
  economic but physical as
  well: with their faces and
  physiques marred by a harsh
  life of disease and
  malnutrition , the poor were
  easily recognized and
  avoided by their betters.
     Upper Classes…
• Those of true noble blood did not need to
  work at all. They inherited their breeding,
  their wealth and the titles that came with it:
  Duke, Baron, Baronet or Lord.
• The rich socialized only with others of their
  class, but lived in constant domestic and
  trade contact with the working class. The
  relationship between a lady and her
  personal maid was often very intimate, yet
  socially they were a world apart.
          Middle Classes…
• Families of professionals -- physicians,
  attorneys, writers, engineers --
• Women writers and doctors (only near the
  end of the century)
• Member of religious orders (later nineteenth
Middle Class home and family…
      Lower Middle Classes and
        Ambiguous Classes…
•   Hoteliers
•   Publicans (tax collectors)
•   Tradeswomen
•   Lodging House
•   Governess or teacher
• Deserving poor: unemployed,
  underemployed, victims of injury and
• Undeserving poor:
  criminal classes,
**The accepted career for women was
*To get ready for courtship and marriage, a
  girl was groomed like a racehorse (in the
  upper and middle classes, of course)
* In addition to being able to sing, play an
  instrument and speak a little French or
  Italian, the qualities a young Victorian
  gentlewoman needed were to be innocent,
  virtuous, biddable, dutiful and be ignorant
  of intellectual opinion.
  Social Institutions in Victorian
• Victorian women’s rights:
  – The legal rights of married women were similar to
    those of children. They could not vote, sue, or own
  – Then in 1887 the Married Woman's Property Act
    gave women rights to own her own
    property. Previously her property, frequently inherited
    from her family, belonged to her husband . She became
    the chattel of the man.
  – The wife was not able to conclude a contract on her
    own. She needed her husband's agreement.
• The law regarded a married
  couple as one person. The
  husband was responsible for his
  wife and bound by law to
  protect her. She was supposed to
  obey him. The personal property
  the wife brought into the
  marriage was then owned by
  the husband, even in case
  of a divorce.
• Marriage & Divorce:

  – During this era if a wife separated
    from her husband, she had no rights
    of access to see her children. He was
    able to refuse any contact between
    the mother and her children. Also, a
    divorced woman had no chance of
    acceptance in society again.
• Education of and Career options for Victorian
  – The attitude towards women and education was that education
    of women needn't be of the same extended, classical and
    commercial character as that of men.
  – Women were supposed to know the things necessary to bring
    up their children and to keep house. That's why subjects as
    history, geography and general literature were of extreme
    importance, whereas Latin and Greek were of little
  – Women who wanted to study such subjects as law, physics,
    engineering, or science were satirized and dismissed. People
    thought it unnecessary for women to attend university. It was
    even said that studying was against their nature and could
    make them ill.
  -Obedience was all that was required of them.
 -Career options included governess, wife, mother,
    household manager, and societal missionary.
  -They were to stay more or less an "ornament of society"
and be subordinate to their husbands.
• Learning in the Victorian boarding school was done by
  rote, with much recitation and repetition and relentless
  copying of subject matter on small slates using chalk, and
  into copybooks by means of a pen with a metal nib dipped
  into an inkwell. Fine handwriting was considered
  important, so much time was spent practicing letter and
  word formation.
• Geography was taught using a globe. Arithmetic skills
  were learned with an abacus. There was often time during
  the day for Bible reading, prayers and hymn singing
• Classrooms in the Victorian era were grim places without
  much decoration.
• Desks were arranged in straight rows facing the front of
  the classroom, where a blackboard and the teacher's desk
  faced the students.
• Teachers were not well-paid and did not need a college
  education to qualify for the profession. At the beginning of
  the era, most teachers were men, but gradually more
  women entered the field
• Boarding schools for lower class girls were
  considered useful places to put unwanted or
  illegitimate children. They were in business
  primarily to make a profit for their owners, and
  were places of harsh discipline, inadequate diet,
  and little learning.
• One such school advertised itself as a place in
  which "the strictest attention is paid to the health,
  moral conduct and intellectual improvement of
  [the owner's] Pupils; and in order to expedite their
  Education as much as possible, he teaches
  assiduously in the School himself, and does not
  allow any vacations."
• Discipline was strict and corporal
  punishment--a rap on the knuckles or palm
  with a ruler, or a swat across the backside
  with a birch cane--was common.
• Other punishments were the repetitious
  copying of lines and detention. A
  punishment log book kept track of
  punishments, which could be referenced
  when a student sought employment after
• A Dunce Cap, a tall pointed hat, was worn
  by students who were considered slow in
  their studies. These students were made to
  wear the cap and stand in full view of the
  other students as an example.
Mental Asylums Pre 1850
• Before the mid-eighteen hundreds, common belief was that
  those who suffered from mental illness suffered because
  they had a "disease of the soul" (Goldberg, 24). Their
  madness supposedly stemmed from an evil within, and
  they thus were treated as animals. Patients in these early
  asylums were kept in cages, given small amounts of often
  unclean food, had little or no clothing, wore no shoes, and
  slept in dirt. Because the patients could often live many
  years in such conditions, the caretakers became more
  confident that these human beings were in actuality closer
  to animals and thus deserving of such abuse (Ussher, 65).
Mental Asylums Post 1850
• During the mid-eighteen hundreds, a movement to reform
  the mental asylums began to permeate throughout society
  as popular belief began to change about the mentally ill.
• Those who suffered from madness were no longer
  suffering because “God deemed them ill,” but because of a
  disease of the brain, one that could be studied and
  eventually cured.
• Patients started being fed well, were given clothing and
  shoes, and were removed from their chains. Thus, this
  humanitarian treatment and change in the very perception
  of mental illness fuelled scientific development.
Attitudes Toward Women and Mental Illness
• Women during this time were deemed to be highly
  susceptible to becoming mentally ill as they “did
  not have the mental capacity of men,” and this risk
  grew greatly if the woman attempted to better
  herself through education or too many activities.
• Thus, women often suppressed their feelings, as to
  not appear mad and reassumed the passive,
  housewife role.
• Spinsters and women who bore illegitimate
  children were considered a threat to society during
  the nineteenth century as these women chose an
  alternative lifestyle.
• They went outside the social norms of women as
  passive housewives, and instead made their own
• They were thought to be mentally ill, as doctors
  claimed being without continued male interaction
  would cause “irritability, anemia, tiredness, and
• Husbands could have their wives committed for
  simply not “behaving properly”!

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