She was born on 21 April 1816, at 74 Market Street in the village of Thornton near Bradford in Yorkshire County, England. She was the third daughter born to Maria Branwell (1783-1821) and Anglican clergyman of Irish descent Patrick Bronte (1777-1861). In 1835, Charlotte herself was teaching at Roe Head and she helped pay for Emily’s schooling there. She stayed for three years then resigned, again returning to Haworth. Branwell had started his study of portrait painting and would later create the ‘Gun Group Portrait’ of Anne, Charlotte, Emily and himself, among many others. He was also a tutor and worked at the railway for a time. In 1839 Charlotte obtained a position as governess but disliked it and soon she and her sisters Emily and Anne travelled to Brussels, Belgium to study at the Pensionnat Heger under the instruction of Constantin Heger. They learned French and German and studied literature with the aim to start their own school someday. It is said that Charlotte was in love with the married Heger, this period inspiring her novels Villete and The Professor (1857), which she had submitted to publishers before Jane Eyre but did not see publication until after her death. Charlotte returned home to Haworth and unsuccessfully tried to start her own school, around the same time that Arthur Bell Nicholls (1819-1906) was appointed curate of Haworth. In 1846 the collection of poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell was published, Charlotte’s including “Pilate’s Wife’s Dream”, “The Teacher’s Monologue” and “Passion”;
Could the battle-struggle earn
One kind glance from thine eye,
How this withering heart would burn,
The heady fight to try!
1848 was a sad year for the Brontes: Charlotte’s brother Branwell, who was an alcoholic and addicted to opium died in September and her sister Emily died in December. The following year Anne died, and Charlotte wrote “On The Death of Anne Bronte”;
There’s little joy in life for me,
And little terror in the grave ;
I’ve lived the parting hour to see
Of one I would have died to save.
In 1852 Arthur Nicholls proposed to her, much to her surprise and the consternation of Rev. Bronte. Life was soon unbearable to Arthur and he left Haworth to take a curacy at Kirk Smeaton, about forty miles south of Haworth. In 1853 Charlotte’s Villette was published with similar themes to Jane Eyre and Shirley; the struggles of a strong independent woman and her need for love. After some months of correspondence, on 29 June 1854 Charlotte married Arthur. Her father came to agree that he was worthy of his daughter and approved. They started their very short but happy marriage with a month-long honeymoon in Ireland, then returned to Haworth. On 31 March 1855, after an extended illness, Charlotte Bronte died while pregnant. She now rests with her mother, sisters Maria, Elizabeth and Charlotte and brother Patrick in the family vault of the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels in Haworth, West Yorkshire, England