“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.”

Today is the birthday anniversary of English novelist Charlotte Bronte, most famous for her novel Jane Eyre – one of the finest pieces of literature of the Victorian era.

The book has inspired young and mature readers alike for generations and for reasons that aren’t so abundantly evident in contemporary literature. Jane Eyre, the book’s protagonist, demonstrates great resilience in the face of deprivation, abandonment and hardship while still retaining a deep sense of morality and commitment to justice and kindness that come at a deeply personal cost.

Born on April 21, 1816, in Yorkshire, England, Charlotte Bronte’s sisters are all similarly remembered for their literary skills and novels that are still imbibed today, most notably Emily Bronte and her disturbingly wild love story Wuthering Heights, the intensity of which is matched only by the environment in which it is set – the Yorkshire moors.

Much of Charlotte Bronte’s work was inspired and informed by personal experience, from her days spent at a harsh boarding school, to her work as a governess and her time spent working at a school in Brussels where she met the married male inspiration for her novel Villette and the source of her unrequited passion.

But it was the brilliance of Jane Eyre, published in 1847 that earned her recognition, and when visiting London she moved in top literary circles. She was befriended by the underrated novelist Mrs Gaskell together with William Thackeray, the latter remembering Charlotte Bronte as possessing ‘the trembling little frame, the little hand, the great honest eyes’.

Her novel Shirley, published in 1849, demonstrated Charlotte’s engagement with both women’s rights and radical workers’ movements, and the conflicts between classes, sexes and generations.

In June 1854, she married her father’s curate Arthur Nicholls, who had long been her loyal suitor. She became pregnant but, severely weakened by morning sickness, died aged 38 on 31 March 1855.

Happy birthday, Charlotte. Let’s spend this day celebrating one of her insights:

“Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs.”

 

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