MARCH 31: Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855)

365daysoflesbians:

Whether you’ve read the entirety of Jane
Eyre
 or you’re simply familiar with references to the whirlwind
romance of Jane and Mr. Rochester, you’ve been exposed to the cultural impact
of Charlotte Brontë. Having cemented
her name in the literary world nearly a decade before, the Victorian-era author
died on this day in 1855 at the age of thirty-eight.

Charlotte was born on April 21, 1816 and, although she is
most often remembered as the eldest of the three literary Bronte sisters, she
was the third child out of Maria and Patrick Brontë’s six children. Growing up, Charlotte faced one tragedy after
another; her mother died of cancer in 1821 and her two sisters Maria and
Elizabeth followed suit in 1825. The grief of losing several family members in
such a short amount of time brought Charlotte, her two sisters Emily and Anne,
and their brother Branwell closer together. The four remaining Brontë children were wildly creative and together
they created volumes after volume of fanciful manuscripts about their make-believe
worlds, which can still be read today! 

Although she worked as a governess for a
time, Charlotte’s true calling was to create; in 1846, Charlotte published a
collection of poetry along with her two sisters. In order to hide the fact that
they were women, the sisters published under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis, and
Acton Bell. Th following year Charlotte published her most lauded work, Jane Eyre, once again under the pseudonym
Currer Bell. The tale’s Gothicism and entrancing love story had readers all
over England hooked.

An illustration of Ellen Nussey drawn by her supposed lover Charlotte

Brontë. (x)

Charlotte has long been suspected of having had a romantic
relationship with her lifelong friend Ellen Nussey. The two met while they were
both attending Roe Head School as children and continued a correspondence for
the rest of their lives. The language of their letters were extremely romantic,
with one written by Ellen proclaiming, “If I had but been a man, thou wouldst
have been the very ticket for me as a wife.” At one point, Ellen’s brother
proposed to Charlotte and Charlotte briefly considered it for the mere reason
that it would bring her closer to Ellen: 

“Now my dear Ellen there were in this
proposal some things that might have proved a strong temptation—I thought if I
were to marry so, Ellen could live with me and how happy I should be.” 

Like
many lesbian women from history, Charlotte and Ellen’s relationship has been
hardcore gal pal-ed by historians in the past, but for what it’s worth, Vita
Sackville West once noted, after reading Charlotte’s letters in 1926, that she knew
exactly “what Charlotte’s tendencies really were.” It takes one to know one,
right? 

Charlotte did eventually marry however, to a family friend by the name
of Arthur Nicholls. Charlotte tragically passed away soon after her wedding due
to pregnancy complications, but she is survived by the great works of literature
left behind. The English literary world celebrated posthumously celebrated her
with the publication of both her own novel The
Professor
and Elizabeth Gaskell’s telling The Life of Charlotte Brontë in 1857.  

-LC