Charlotte Bronte: Life, Poetry & Books

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  • 0:05 The Life of Charlotte Bronte
  • 2:08 Charlotte Bronte's Poetry
  • 4:07 Charlotte Bronte's Novels
  • 5:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michelle Herrin

Michelle has taught high school and college English and has master's degrees in eduation and liberal studies.

We'll look at a brief biography of English poet and novelist Charlotte Bronte. We'll also examine some common themes in her work, including her most famous novel, ''Jane Eyre.''

The Life of Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte was born on April 21, 1816 in Yorkshire, England. Her parents, Maria and Patrick Bronte, had six children. In 1821, Charlotte's mother died, and her aunt became a surrogate (substitute) mother for her and her five siblings.

Her father was a clergyman, and he sent his daughters to the Clergy Daughters' School in Lancashire. At this school, Charlotte and her sisters endured unsanitary and abusive conditions and two of Charlotte's sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, died from tuberculosis while at the school. After this, Charlotte's father removed his children from the school and tutored them at home.

During this time, Charlotte and her brother, Branwell, and sisters, Emily and Anne, began writing stories. They made up fictional (imaginary) worlds and created elaborated tales. Later, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne would all become important English writers.

As a young adult, Charlotte was a governess (nanny) for several families before she and Emily moved to Brussels, Belgium, where they went to school. In 1842, their aunt died, so Charlotte and Emily returned home.

At home, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne began writing again. Since they were women and unsure of how they would be received by the public, they used the pen names of Currer Bell, Ellis Bell, and Acton Bell. Emily wrote the famous novel Wuthering Heights, and Anne wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

In the period of 1848-9, Branwell, Emily, and Anne all died suddenly. This was a tragic time for Charlotte, and she was unable to write.

As her career progressed, Charlotte stopped using Currer Bell and began using her real name. She also became friends with authors Elizabeth Gaskell and William Makepeace Thackeray.

In 1854, Charlotte married Arthur Nicholls and became pregnant. On March 31, 1855, Charlotte died from complications of the pregnancy at the age of 38.

Charlotte Bronte's Poetry

Though Charlotte is most well-known for her novels, especially Jane Eyre, she also wrote poetry. Charlotte and her sisters, Emily and Anne, published a collection of poetry in 1846 (under their pen names). The collection, however, did not sell well, and Charlotte (and her sisters) instead began writing and publishing prose (novels or short stories).

Charlotte's poems are most often narrative poems, which means that they tell a story. For example, here is the first stanza (group of lines) of her poem 'Mementos':

Arranging long-locked drawers and shelves
Of cabinets, shut up for years,
What a strange task we've set ourselves!
How still the lonely room appears!
How strange this mass of ancient treasures,
Mementos of past pains and pleasures;
These volumes, clasped with costly stone,
With print all faded, gilding gone.

In this stanza, she is telling a story about someone looking through old dressers or cabinets at old mementos. These narrative poems often have a clear meter, which is the rhythmic structure of a verse of poetry, and a clear rhyme pattern. In this poem, for example, the rhyme scheme is ABABCCDD.

Charlotte also wrote lyrical poetry, which are poems that express personal feelings. Let's look at the first stanza from her poem 'Evening Solace':

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