Charlotte Bronte and Bridget Jones

Literary Notes: Brian Wilkes

WHEN CHARLOTTE Bronte turned her back on her father's curate to flirt with her publisher George Smith, he turned his back on her by getting engaged and married. Once she knew, Charlotte let fly two splendidly bitchy letters making it clear that she had been rejecting proposals while he had been making them; she was glad to hear of his happiness and hoped it would last!

On the rebound, with the Rev Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father's fellow Irishman and curate, still showing interest, Charlotte gave him a searching look, wrote to him without her father knowing, had a series of secret meetings and got engaged.

She was dead within a year of her marriage, six months pregnant. By sending Bronte into Arthur Nicholls's arms the publisher who gave the world Jane Eyre seems also to have consigned her to an early death. As we thank him for the one we grieve for the other.

Charlotte was a passionate woman who claimed when asked that "she knew what love was". Jane Eyre was clear on the matter: "To gain some real affection . . . from any whom I truly love, I would willingly submit to have the bone of my arm broken, or let a bull toss me, or to stand behind a kicking horse, and let it dash its hoof at my chest."

Used to sleeping with her closest friend, Ellen Nussey, from their schooldays well into their thirties, she was nevertheless in July 1854 ready to swap her female "bed mate" for a male. She never regretted that swap, telling everyone that Arthur was the best earthly comfort woman ever knew, on her deathbed claiming that she had been "so happy".

The woman who could write of St John Rivers's experimental kiss in Jane Eyre had evidently found real kisses in the arms of Arthur Nicholls. The lonely Charlotte had found the warmth she had longed for in her wretched loneliness after the death of her brother Branwell, and her sister novelists Emily and Anne. What courage she showed in risking all for love in the true Shakespearean tradition.

Perhaps due to Mrs Gaskell's storytelling magic in her biography of Charlotte, everyone knows that the Rev Patrick Bronte had an apoplectic fit when his impoverished Irish curate had the effrontery to ask for Charlotte's hand. Wasn't she a best-selling novelist with the London literary world at her feet and the snivelling curate merely a bounty hunter and insincere trouble-maker?

In fact there is no account of Arthur's conversation with Patrick Bronte other than Charlotte's own breathless letter written to her best friend (intimations of Bridget Jones's Diary perhaps?). There being no telephone, it was Charlotte's habit to whizz off a letter saying more or less, "Guess what . . . I've just had a proposal of marriage, I shall of course refuse - you know we are both destined to be old maids! Can't wait to see you to tell you all the interesting bits."

Charlotte Bronte, like her contemporary Mrs Gaskell, has a storymaking impulse. Her letters telling of her rejecting proposals (there were four in all that we know of) are worthy of Jane Austen. Read aloud they are splendid. One of them tells of her horror, ". . . each moment he came near me, and that I could see his eye fastened upon me my veins ran ice. Now that he has gone away I feel far more gently towards him, it is only close by that I go rigid . . . if [he] be the only husband fate offers me, single I must remain."

When she heard of her publishers' engagement and marriage she confessed to Ellen Nussey that she had been living in dreamland. Wakening with a bump, there was Arthur still adoring as ever so, as Jane memorably said, "Reader I married him." She seems to have enjoyed it too.

Brian Wilks is Vice- President of the Bronte Society and author of `Charlotte in Love: the story of Charlotte Bronte's courtship and marriage' (Michael O'Mara, pounds 20)

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories
comedy

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?