Today’s Illustrated Women in History was submitted by Amy Kovac @kovvac and will be included in the next Illustrated Women in History zine!
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.” – Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
Charlotte Brontë has become one of the most well-known Victorian writers and her novel Jane Eyre is a classic that still sits on many bookshelves across the world. She brought a truthfulness to Victorian fiction through complex female characters and insight into the lives of women.
Charlotte Brontë lived a life filled with loss. Her mother had six children but passed away when Charlotte was only 5 years old. Her two older sisters also passed away at an early age while living under harsh conditions at a boarding school in Cowan Bridge. This tragedy undoubtedly inspired the events at Lowood School in Jane Eyre. Charlotte became the eldest daughter and was left to become a mother-figure to her three remaining siblings Anne, Emily and Branwell. The four Brontë siblings were homeschooled by their father and they became very creative and read avidly to pass the time. They would combine their ideas to create imaginary worlds that they would fill notebooks with stories about.
Charlotte moved on to become a governess and teacher but found her true calling and success in writing. Her novels Villette and The Professor were both well received but it was Jane Eyre that really earned her fame.
Jane Eyre became a successful novel during a time when stories about strong female protagonists written by women were very far and few between. Charlotte was only able to publish this novel under the male pen name Currer Bell and revealed herself to be female after it became successful.
Jane Eyre is the story of a young woman who struggles to find her place in the world under strict social conditions and expectations for women. The novel challenges social norms that were very prevalent in the 1800’s and not often discussed, especially in popular fiction. Today, there are definite flaws to be found in the feminism of Jane Eyre but when you consider the limitations and oppression that women faced in Victorian England, Charlotte Brontë broke barriers through her writing.
Soon after Jane Eyre brought fame to Charlotte Brontë, she lost all three of her remaining siblings within a single year. She persevered through her extreme grief and married Arthur Nicholls. She soon became pregnant but tragically died from pregnancy complications at the age of 38. Charlotte Brontë will continue to live through the pages of her books and if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading her work, you should go out and pick up a copy.
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