Charlotte Brontë (//, commonly /-/; 21 April 1816 – 31 March 1855) was an English novelist and poet, the eldest of the three Brontë sisters who survived into adulthood and whose novels have become classics of English literature.
She enlisted in school at Roe Head in January 1831, aged 14 years. She left the year after to teach her sisters, Emily and Anne, at home, returning in 1835 as a governess. In 1839 she undertook the role as governess for the Sidgwick family, but left after a few months to return to Haworth where the sisters opened a school, but failed to attract any students. Instead they turned to writing and they each first published in 1846 under the pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Her first novel The Professor was rejected by publishers, her second novel Jane Eyre was published in 1847, although it was not initially well received; one critic described it as a "pre-eminently an anti-Christian composition". The sisters admitted to their Bell pseudonyms in 1848, and by the following year were celebrated in London literary circles.
Charlotte Brontë was born on 21 April 1816 in Market Street Thornton, west of Bradford in the West Riding of Yorkshire, the third of the six children of Maria (née Branwell) and Patrick Brontë (formerly surnamed Brunty), an Irish Anglican clergyman. In 1820 her family moved a few miles to the village of Haworth, where her father had been appointed perpetual curate of St Michael and All Angels Church. Maria died of cancer on 15 September 1821, leaving five daughters, Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, and a son, Branwell, to be taken care of by her sister, Elizabeth Branwell.
In August 1824 Patrick sent Charlotte, Emily, Maria and Elizabeth to the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire. Charlotte maintained that the school's poor conditions permanently affected her health and physical development, and hastened the deaths of Maria (born 1814) and Elizabeth (born 1815), who both died of tuberculosis in June 1825. After the deaths of his older daughters, Patrick removed Charlotte and Emily from the school. Charlotte used the school as the basis for Lowood School in Jane Eyre.
At home in Haworth Parsonage, Brontë acted as "the motherly friend and guardian of her younger sisters". Brontë wrote her first known poem at the age of 13 in 1829, and was to go on to write more than 200 poems in the course of her life. Many of her poems were "published" in their homemade magazine Branwell's Blackwood's Magazine, and concerned the fictional Glass Town Confederacy. She and her surviving siblings – Branwell, Emily and Anne – created their own fictional worlds, and began chronicling the lives and struggles of the inhabitants of their imaginary kingdoms. Charlotte and Branwell wrote Byronic stories about their jointly imagined country, Angria, and Emily and Anne wrote articles and poems about Gondal. The sagas they created were episodic and elaborate, and they exist in incomplete manuscripts, some of which have been published as juvenilia. They provided them with an obsessive interest during childhood and early adolescence, which prepared them for literary vocations in adulthood.
Between 1831 and 1832, Brontë continued her education at Roe Head in Mirfield, where she met her lifelong friends and correspondents Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor. In 1833 she wrote a novella, The Green Dwarf, using the name Wellesley. Around about 1833, her stories shifted from tales of the supernatural to more realistic stories. She returned to Roe Head as a teacher from 1835 to 1838. Unhappy and lonely as a teacher at Roe Head, Brontë took out her sorrows in poetry, writing a series of melancholic poems. In "We wove a Web in Childhood" written in December 1835, Brontë drew a sharp contrast between her miserable life as a teacher and the vivid imaginary worlds she and her siblings had created. In another poem "Morning was its freshness still" written at the same time, Brontë wrote "Tis bitter sometimes to recall/Illusions once deemed fair". Many of her poems concerned the imaginary world of Angria, often concerning Byronic heroes, and in December 1836 she wrote to the Poet Laureate Robert Southey asking him for encouragement of her career as a poet. Southey wrote back to say she was a bad poet and to consider another career, a letter that greatly hurt her. One scholar Dawn Potter wrote that Brontë had a streak of sadism in her novels with her characters always suffering in some way, which she suggested was due to her own unhappy life.