The Madwoman Upstairs tells the story of Samantha Whipple, the last remaining descendant of the illustrious Brontë family, of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre fame. After losing her father it is up to Samantha to piece together the mysterious family inheritance lurking somewhere in her past – yet the only clues she has at her disposal are the Bronte's own novels... To celebrate the book's release this week, author Catherine Lowell has written a fascinating guest post for the blog tour on five things you might not know yet about Charlotte Brontë.
5 Things You Didn’t Know About Charlotte Brontë by Catherine Lowell
For all their fame, the Brontë sisters are still an enigma in many ways, and leave us with some fascinating unanswered questions. How did three sisters, secluded on the Moors with very little outside company, write novels that were so sweeping in their scope? How did three relatively inexperienced young women write so powerfully about love?
The Brontë lives are still an endless source of interest for both readers and scholars. Their biographies not only provide insight into their novels but help us see three larger-than-life authors as relatable, real people. Here are some fun facts you may not know about Charlotte, the eldest, and author of the beloved classic, Jane Eyre.
1) She was four foot nine
This was short even for 19th century standards. Charlotte blamed her diminutive height on malnutrition as a child—it’s also how Jane Eyre justifies her size—though that’s not necessarily backed up by facts.
2) She was one of six siblings
We tend to remember the Brontës as a trio: Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. We forget that they had two others sisters—both of whom died young, while in school—and a brother, Branwell. He was an artist as well who lost his talent and his life to alcohol and drugs. Maria Brontë is said to have inspired Helen Burns in Jane Eyre; Branwell inspired Arthur Huntington in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
3) Charlotte’s one great love was for her married professor
Charlotte’s great (unrequited) love was for her teacher, Constantin Héger. Her letters to him speak of great passion and disappointment, and reflect the vulnerable side of Charlotte. They would be lost to us were it not for Héger’s wife, who saved them, perhaps having gauged the significance of the affection. In one letter, Charlotte writes:
“All I know – is that I cannot – that I will not resign myself to the total loss of my master’s friendship – I would rather undergo the greatest bodily pains that have my heart constantly lacerated by searing regrets. If my master withdraws his friendship from me entirely I shall be absolutely without hope – if he gives me a little friendship – a very little – I shall be content – happy, I would have a motive for living – for working. …. You showed a little interest in me in days gone by when I was your pupil in Brussels – and I cling to the preservation of this little interest – I cling to it as I would cling on to life.”
4) Charlotte didn’t feel passion for her husband
As an author of the most famous romances in English literature, it’s all the more tragic that Charlotte likely did not love the man she eventually married. While she admired Arthur, the marriage was influenced by his offer to help her father in his old age.
Of her husband, she wrote with affection, but not passion: “My destiny will not be brilliant, certainly, but Mr. Nicholls is conscientious, affectionate, pure in heart and life. He offers a most constant and tried attachment—I am very grateful to him.” In a letter to Ellen Nussey in 1854, Charlotte summed up her opinion on marriage: “It is a strange and perilous thing for a woman to become a wife.”
5) Charlotte’s publisher believed she was a man until she showed up as his door
All the Brontë sisters assumed male pseudonyms—even their publishers didn’t know the truth. The grand reveal was cinematic in its perfection; the sisters showed up at their publisher’s door and calmly introduced themselves. Of the incident, Charlotte wrote:
“Neither Mr. Smith nor Mr. Williams knew we were coming—they had never seen us—they did not know whether we were men or women, but had always written to us as men. [ …] I laughed at [Mr. Smith’s] perplexity—a recognition took place. I gave him my real name—Miss Brontë.”
Thanks so much Catherine, for these brilliant insights into Charlotte Brontë's life, I certainly didn't know this about her yet!
The Madwoman Upstairs is published by Quercus and you can buy a copy from Foyles or your own preferred retailer now.