When Charlotte Bronte was born in an isolated English village in 1816, she was one of six children. All had good imaginations, and three would end up becoming famous authors. But the story of the Brontes is not a happy one, much like the dark, chilling worlds they created on paper. Charlotte was the most successful of the sisters in their own time, and it all started with Jane Eyre.
Along with three of her sisters, Charlotte Bronte was sent to school at the Clergy Daughter’s School at Cowan Bridge. This was not a prestigious boarding school. The rooms were cold and drafty. The food was awful. And the staff was cold and stern, bent on strong discipline for all students.
All of these elements, and many of Charlotte’s experiences at school, found their way into Jane Eyre. The heroine of the story is an orphan, and maybe that’s how Charlotte felt as she strolled the drafty hallways of her school.
In 1846, Charlotte found that she and two of her sisters, Emily and Anne, had all been writing poems in private. The three Bronte sisters published a joint volume of poems under the pen names Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte respectively). It did not sell well, but it opened the door. And when Charlotte submitted Jane Eyre, the publishers flipped.
The book was accepted and published just eight weeks later, and it was an instant success. Both Emily and Anne published books the same year, but Jane Eyre outshined them right away.
The story of the Bronte sisters plays out like a great Greek tragedy, far sadder and darker than anything you will find in their books. Charlotte’s two oldest sisters both died young, while attending the Daughter’s School, that inspired Jane Eyre. Soon, every other member of the family would follow them to the grave.
Charlotte’s only brother, Branwell, died 11 months after Jane Eyre was published, and Emily followed him three months later. Just 5 months after that, Anne was also dead. Charlotte’s career was thriving, but she was suddenly an only child— and more like her famous character than ever.