This is the story of a woman whose work was lambasted as unchristian, immoral, anything but the work of an upstanding lady. She was nervous in temperament and given to moody depression and moments of utter despair, sadness that the unfettered moors of her childhood home heightened. She wore spectacles and had ruddy cheeks and a few missing teeth. And she gave us Jane Eyre, another plain, poor woman who changed the world.
This was Charlotte Brontë, and she’s been on my mind recently for many reasons.
To me, reading is as immersive and essential as breathing, and there are some authors who are more than my favorite writers…they feel like my intimate friends. Charlotte Brontë is one of those women, and she’s the subject of my first Heroine Mini-Series featuring three pivotal moments in her life.
That shuffling scamp! Charlotte read the letter swiftly, taking in the news once, twice, until she could scarcely see for anger. He had done it again. Thomas Newby, the man who had published Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, was spreading a vicious rumor, this time in the United States. Seeking to expand his fortune and capitalize off of the controversy surrounding Charlotte’s incendiary Jane Eyre, he had led the American publishing house Harpers to believe that the pen names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell all belonged to one person and that Jane Eyre, the American rights to which they had just bought, was in fact the work of one author instead of three.
That shuffling scamp! The Brontë sisters had never been ones to make public spectacles of themselves, but after the months of terrible reviews and public scrutiny, this was the last straw. Charlotte and her sister Anne tromped four miles across unforgiving moorland, enduring a thunderstorm before falling into a carriage that carried them to London. Barely rested and painfully aware of their countrified appearance in the midst of a bustling city, they sought out the offices of Smith, Elder. Charlotte herself had carried on a years-long correspondence with her publisher, George Smith…under the pseudonym of Currer Bell. And now his name, the name of the man who had fought for her book and brought it into the world, was being smeared an ocean away.
That shuffling scamp! Charlotte insisted, gently at first, more passionately when denied, that she must see Mr. Smith at once. And there he was, “young, tall, gentlemanly,” stepping forward courteous and confused at the sight of these two thin, timid-looking women. Charlotte thrust a letter into his hand, one he had addressed with his own hand to “Currer Bell, Esq.” He started, sputtering.
“Where did you get this?”
“At the post office. It was addressed to me.” She let the words sink in before she continued. “We have both come that you might have ocular proof that there are at least two of us.”
To be continued…