Charlotte Brontë: Her Kind

After reading the novels of Charlotte Brontë which were published in her lifetime (Jane Eyre, Villette, Shirley) I was not only curious about the life of this extraordinary being, but was puzzled by the fact that she married Arthur Nicholls. It just didn’t make sense, especially after reading Shirley! I got a biography out of the library (Unquiet Soul by Margot Peters) which gave me an idea about her life, but did not satisfy me about the reasons behind her marriage. I wrote to the Brontë Blog and asked for a suggestion on a good biography to read, and they kindly wrote back suggesting Charlotte Brontë: A Writer’s Life by Rebecca Fraser. (Thank you!)

I learned a ton about not only Charlotte, but her entire family. I see Emily and Anne in a whole new light, especially (I have really fallen in love with stubborn, homebody, animal and nature loving Emily!). One of the best parts of Fraser’s book is how vividly she describes the all-important inner world of the Brontës – not an easy feat! Fraser’s prose is engaging and imbued with life; you never feel like you are reading a dry 500 page tome. She is objective, but you never doubt that she is fascinated by and cares greatly for her subject (I just hate a mean biographer, don’t you?).

Do I now feel satisfied that I know why Charlotte married Arthur Nicholls? Not completely. I have a much better sense (loneliness after the death of her siblings and a falling away of her London contacts, Victorian society’s great pressure to marry, wanting to ensure her father’s care, a little bit of being flattered over his persistence) but I also realize maybe I was not asking the right question.

Perhaps the better question is, “Why do I care?”

I care because my intense, unconventional Charlotte died shortly after marriage at 38 years old. She wasn’t writing much after her union with Mr. Nicholls, and she was never what you call well. Complications from a pregnancy made her unable to keep food down and hastened her demise.  Chilling for a person who was known for her “hunger, rebellion, and rage” (Matthew Arnold, on her writing). I care because society still doesn’t make it easy for women like Charlotte, as evidenced by the poem I’ve included below by Anne Sexton, written in 1960. She died at 45.

Her Kind

by Anne Sexton

I have gone out, a possessed witch,

haunting the black air, braver at night;

dreaming evil, I have done my hitch

over the plain houses, light by light:

lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.

A woman like that is not a woman, quite.

I have been her kind.

 

I have found the warm caves in the woods,

filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,

closets, silks, innumerable goods;

fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:

whining, rearranging the disaligned.

A woman like that is misunderstood.

I have been her kind.

 

I have ridden in your cart, driver,

waved my nude arms at villages going by,

learning the last bright routes, survivor

where your flames still bite my thigh

and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.

A woman like that is not ashamed to die.

I have been her kind.

Advertisements

7 comments

  1. joon*ann

    Jackie, I’ve wondered the same thing…I read somewhere online that she didn’t love Mr. Nicholls and she refused help when she was ill because she would rather die. Then I read Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte and she paints an entirely different picture of the marriage…that she was in a happy marriage and didn’t want to die and be separated from her husband. I would like to believe that, but then I thought maybe she was just being nice because Mr. Nicholls was still living at the time. Rebellion and rage weren’t words used by Mrs. Gaskell in describing Charlotte either, quite the opposite. 🙂 Have you read the Gaskell biography yet?

    • jackiemania

      I haven’t, because I feel that Mrs. Gaskell wrote it to show Charlotte as a mild person more like any other woman of the day (and I strongly feel she was not). Fraser calls what Gaskell did “camouflage” – I think that’s a good word – she wanted Charlotte to blend in more with the ideal of Victorian womanhood. Fraser describes how much it bothered Gaskell that Charlotte was called coarse, and the bio was written in a hope to correct that perception. I would like to read it some day because I think it’s of historical worth, but I don’t think of it as a book that will give me insight into Charlotte’s character.

  2. sweetteaapothecary

    This is such a great post. I love that you included a poem from Anne Sexton in your discussion of Bronte. Really thought provoking. I haven’t read a lot of these books since college but I think I need to bust out the Norton.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s