Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Creator of Jane Eyre


Charlotte was an extraordinary literary talent and a woman whose vivid imagination and sheer determination allowed her to defy Victorian convention.

However, she was also arguably a wild fantasist who lived a dangerous double life, obsessively intent on destroying the marriage of the man she fell in lust with and a hopeless romantic who was taken to the very edge of a nervous breakdown.

Those seeds of destruction were sown during her childhood in Haworth parsonage. Charlotte desperately wanted to believe that brains were more important than beauty yet whenever she looked in the mirror she couldn’t help but feel disappointed.

She was short. Her lips were too small. Her head was far too big for her thin body. As for her hair, when curled it looked dry and frizzy, when left to its own devices it sat limply around her bony shoulders.

Charlotte felt her heart beat more ferociously than anyone else’s but her appearance was a constant reminder of the unfairness of real life. From the earliest age, it helped to draw Charlotte into imaginary worlds where those who loved passionately almost always triumphed. These were worlds unpolluted by industrial chimneys belching out smoke and noxious gases, worlds where beauty wasn’t a prerequisite for success.

Most of those who found themselves invited into the Haworth parsonage with its bare sandstone floors and grey painted walls would have found little to hold their interest for long. It was to all but the most careful observer the kind of existence where each day was the same as the next and where life brought few surprises.
Visitors may have caught a glimpse of the art tutor hired to instruct the Brontë children in painting and drawing. They may have heard musical scales being practised on the small piano or seen Patrick Brontë, a man whose own humble beginnings had shown him the value of education, teaching his children the basics of maths and geography.

When formal lessons were over however, Charlotte, her two younger sisters, Emily and Anne, and brother, Branwell, reached for one of the many books which lined the shelves on either side of the dining room fireplace. Almost immediately their otherwise grey world was transformed. It was perhaps little wonder Charlotte craved a world of exciting possibilities where happy endings could be delivered at a stroke of a pen and where old enemies could be dispatched with similar efficiency.

While her father was occupied in his study, the only sign of his presence being the tobacco smoke wafting across the hallway, Charlotte, Emily, Branwell and Anne found an outlet for their smouldering imaginations.

Away from the prying eyes of the practical and the pragmatic, together they wrote countless adventures about the exploits of great soldiers and Charlotte sketched out the rules of romance which would govern much of the rest of her life.

Scribbled in the tiniest of handwriting and read by no one but her siblings, her torrid romances delivered a freedom which real life was unlikely to offer a 4ft 9in, short-sighted daughter of a humble cleric.

To her father, the hours Charlotte spent crouched over her journals were nothing more than a sign of a creative mind occupying itself. Had he ever bothered to decipher the miniature script, he would have discovered a hopeless romantic who refused to let reality temper her idealism.

By her 23rd birthday she had rejected two proposals of marriage, one from a man she had met for only a couple of hours, because they failed to meet her high standards. Charlotte wanted to be swept off her feet and if true love wasn’t a possibility she would rather have nothing at all.

Resigned to being single she concentrated instead on achieving financial independence. She, Emily and Anne, hatched a plan to start their own school. If the scheme was to be a success they would need to offer lessons in French and German so what better way to improve their skills than by living on the Continent?

It was agreed. Anne, who was already working as a teacher, would stay in Yorkshire while Charlotte and Emily would head across the Channel.

The Pensionnat Heger in Brussels came recommended. It was an unremarkable building but within it 25-year-old Charlotte finally found a target for her all-consuming passion.

M ONSIEUR Heger was not blessed with good looks. He was also 10 years her senior, happily married with a growing family. None of that mattered to Charlotte. What she saw was a man who burned with a ferocious appetite for knowledge, who wanted to nurture her talent and challenge her intellectually.

Within a few months Charlotte had fallen hopelessly in love, hanging on his every word. what started as a schoolgirl crush quickly developed into something much more dangerous and, when she returned to Haworth after a death in the family, the absence merely made her heart grow fonder.

Back in Brussels, her obsession deepened and when Monsieur Heger, who always maintained Charlotte’s love was unrequited, tried to put some distance between them, it tipped her into a depression.

Charlotte spent hours wandering the school’s corridors hoping for even a briefest glimpse of the man she was now convinced was her one true love.

Every hour that went by without seeing him was agony and, unable to cope with the thought that they might never be together, Charlotte left Brussels.

Back home she wrote Monsieur Heger countless letters begging for even the tiniest hint he might feel the same way.

It never came and Charlotte eventually filled the gaping chasm by writing. Jane Eyre was part of that mourning process and allowed her to pen the happy ending she felt she and Monsieur Heger had been denied.

The book was an immediate success but the acclaim brought her little satisfaction and her desire to love and be loved soon became fixated on her publisher.

Young and good-looking, George Smith mixed easily in London’s literary circles and as Charlotte watched his effortless charm at work, she too fell under his spell. When her brother and sisters died within nine months of each other, all from tuberculosis, the promise of a relationship with George was her only escape from the misery of home.

Charlotte’s romantic childhood dreams had been reignited but her own feelings of inferiority now prevented her from grasping a chance of happiness.

Always feeling somehow unworthy of George and knowing she could not risk another broken heart, Charlotte pushed him away and retreated to the only place she ever truly felt herself: her father’s parsonage.

Charlotte’s brief flirtation with the capital and her publisher was over and, after rejecting a third proposal from one of George’s colleagues, it seemed she was destined to remain single.

However, life has a habit of upsetting even the best-laid plans and there was one final twist to Charlotte’s story.

On June 29, 1854, at the age of 38, she walked into her father’s church in Haworth and of her own free will married a man she didn’t love.

Arthur Nicholls was neither dashing, nor ruggedly handsome but the curate cared deeply for her and she finally realised that companionship was more important than the idealistic passion she had spent her life seeking.

She had at last found contentment but tragedy was never far from her door.

Within nine months Charlotte was dead, probably killed by severe morning sickness, and it would be left to Elizabeth Gaskell to rewrite the story of one of literature’s most remarkable, if miscast, heroines. FYI, Elizabeth Gaskellis Charlotte’s friend and fellow novelist.

p/s: Thanks to U.K Daily Express for the information

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