Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Charlotte Bronte refuses marriage proposal - 1839

On March 5, 1839, Charlotte Bronte writes to the Reverend Henry Nussey, declining marriage. The 23-year-old Bronte told him that he would find her "romantic and eccentric" and not practical enough to be a clergyman's wife. Charlotte was born in 1816, one of six siblings born to an Anglican clergyman. When she was five, the family moved to the remote village of Haworth on the moors of Yorkshire. The gloomy parsonage produced some of the best-known novels in English literature. Bronte's mother died in 1821, and Charlotte and her older sisters were sent to the Cowan Bridge School, a cheap boarding school for daughters of the clergy. However, Charlotte was brought home, where she and her siblings, Branwell, Emily, and Anne, invented and wrote about elaborate fantasy worlds to amuse themselves.

Shortly after declining the proposal of Reverend Nussey, Charlotte went to Brussels with her sister Emily to study languages and school administration. Returning to the parsonage at Haworth, the sisters attempted to set up their own school, but no pupils registered. Meanwhile, their adored brother Branwell was becoming a heavy drinker and opium user. He eventually died from tuberculosis. In 1846, Charlotte ran across some poems that Emily had written, which led to the revelation that all three sisters were secret poets. The sisters published their own book, Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Only two copies sold, but publishers became interested in the sister’s other works. Charlotte, under the pen name Currer Bell, published Jane Eyre in 1847. Emily's Wuthering Heights and Anne's Agnes Grey were published later that year. Sadly, all three of Charlotte's siblings died within the next two years. Left alone, Charlotte cared for her ill father and married his curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls, just a year after she published Villette, a novel inspired by a failed romance she had in Brussels years before.  

Charlotte became pregnant soon after the marriage but her health declined rapidly. She died with her unborn child on March 31, 1855, aged 38. She may have died from dehydration and malnourishment, caused by excessive vomiting from severe morning sickness. There is evidence to suggest that Charlotte might have died from typhus which she may have caught from a household servant. Charlotte was interred in the family vault in the Church of St. Michael and All Angels at Haworth.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Great Britain’s Literary Legends. The book can be purchased through the following links: 

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