Jane Eyre is, hands down, my favorite of all the Brontë sisters’ works, and as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth on April 21, I thought I would share some interesting facts about Charlotte and her first book, Jane Eyre. I may mention her other works as well.
10 Interesting Facts about Charlotte Brontë
1. Charlotte and her sisters were enrolled in a strict boarding school called the Clergy Daughter’s School. During their time at the school, a outbreak killed several students. Though Charlotte and her sister were removed from the school, two of her sister, Maria and Elizabeth, died of tuberculosis shortly afterwards. Charlotte blamed the school for their death, and her sister Maria is said to be the inspiration for Helen Burns, Jane’s friend who dies at school in Jane Eyre.
2. The mistreatment she and her sisters received at their own school was inspiration for much of Charlotte’s first novel. In fact, the character of the hypocritical director of Lowood was based on the director of her own school, Reverend W. Carus Wilson. She must have created a good likeness, as Wilson not only recognized himself in the character, but threatened to sue, forcing her to write an apology letter.
3. Like her character Jane, Charlotte worked as a governess at a country estate. She didn’t like the job and thought the children were spoilt, but it was a great experience for her novel.
4. While she was a governess, Charlotte visited a historic house in North Yorkshire which had a secret staircase leading to a hidden chamber where a madwoman had once been imprisoned. I wonder what that would have inspired?
5. Charlotte and her brother Branwell used to make up stories about Branwell’s toy soldiers. One of Charlotte’s stories was about a soldier she named Alfred the Duke of Zamorna, who had an illegitimate child from a torrid affair. She defined him as a petulant but romantic figure. Could we be seeing the first glimpses of Mr. Rochester?
6. Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre while nursing her father who was recovering from cataract surgery. Blind man who ultimately recovers his sight? Remind you of anyone?
7. Charlotte and her sisters, Emily and Anne, first published a volume of poems under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. They only sold two copies of their book of poetry. Discouraged, they promptly turned their attention to writing novels. Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey were all published the following year.
8. The Brontë sisters still used their pseudonyms when they published their most famous novels. Not even their publishers knew they were women until Charlotte and Anne were forced to meet their editors in person. Emily was not invited. Wuthering Heights was not a success until long after her death.
9. The earliest known recording of the phrase ‘Wild West’ appears in Charlotte’s novel Shirley. Incidentally, the name Shirley was a boy’s name until Charlotte used the name for her female protagonist. Afterward, Shirley gained popularity as a girl’s name.
10. Charlotte was the last in her family to die. Sadly, she had married, became pregnant and was thought to have died of severe mornings sickness. The official cause of death was tuberculosis.
Clearly, Charlotte’s life was the inspiration for her work, which is probably why so many find her novels moving and captivating. If you want to bone up on Brontë, you can find her works at your local Half Price Books.
I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another important literary anniversary. April 23rd marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Like Brontë, Shakespeare was responsible for introducing the world to some new girl’s names which later became popular, such as Olivia, Miranda, Jessica and Cordelia. Shakespeare also introduced almost 3,000 new words and phrases to the English language.
If you are a Shakespeare buff, you may want to check out the Knicherbocker Leather & Novelty Co. Shakespeare miniatures we acquired in our Algonquin, Illinois store. If you are interested in purchasing the Easton Press Jane Eyre, or the Shakespeare miniatures, you can contact the Buy Guy.