To mark the birthdate of Charlotte Brontë, we are joined by Michael Stewart – author of the upcoming book Walking the Invisible – to reflect on her life and her writing.
Today is Charlotte Brontë’s birthday. She was born on the 21st April, 1816, the third eldest of six children. Her two older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, both died in childhood, leaving her to become the eldest sibling. She was the most ambitious of her sisters, neither Emily nor Anne had any strong desires to be published. And yet, when they all sent their debut novels to publishers, it was Charlotte’s debut novel, The Professor, that was rejected, and Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and Anne’s Agnes Grey that were accepted for publication.
Most writers would have been crushed by this experience, but Charlotte instead picked up her pen, and in a matter of months wrote one of the most extraordinary novels in Victorian literature: Jane Eyre. By some quirk of fate this was published before either of her sisters’ books, and she became a literary sensation almost overnight. She eventually found happiness with her father’s curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls, becoming pregnant shortly after their wedding.
She outlived all her sisters, and her brother, and yet still only made it to the age of 38, dying just a few weeks before her 39th birthday. Her death is recorded as TB, but some of her biographies think she actually died of a severe form of morning sickness.
The Charlotte Stone, written by former poet Laurette, Carol Ann Duffy, stands in the outside wall of the Brontë Birthplace in Thornton, where she and the four youngest siblings were all born. It focusses on her life after the death of Branwell, Emily and Anne, acknowledging the dark episodes of her story. The poem ends with the line, ‘So your writer’s hand, the hand of a god rending the roof.’ Despite her diminutive height and plain features, she became a giant of English Literature.
Learn more about this stone, and the Bronte Stones project, and immerse yourself in the landscapes that inspired Charlotte to write her great works with Walking the Invisible by Michael Stewart, coming in hardback this June. Pre-order your copy here.