April 21, 2013 - Happy Birthday, Charlotte Bronte

There is a very famous book called Jane Eyre, written by a British man named Currer Bell.

Right away, since the book was about a woman and seemed to be from the point of view of a woman, people suspected that the author wasn't really a man. Perhaps, some people thought, it was written by a woman.

Everyone was sure that Currer Bell was a pen name (or pseudonym). There didn't seem to be a man knocking about in London by that name!

Jane Eyre was successful right away—people bought it and read it and discussed it! They discussed who this mysterious Currer Bell was even more when the books Wuthering Heights, by Ellis Bell, and Agnes Grey, by Acton Bell.

Actually, the three novels written by three “Bells” were really written by three sisters who lived in Yorkshire. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte wanted to hide the fact that they were women—but they didn't want to use common male names, since they felt that that would be too much of a lie. Notice that their pen names—Currer, Ellis and Acton—started with the same letters as their real names, and of course Bell started with the same letter as Bronte. So their pen names shared the same initials as their real names.

Charlotte Bronte was born on this date in 1816. Reading a little bit about her life reminds me how lucky we are to live now, rather than back in the 1800s. Her mother died of cancer when Charlotte was just five years old (baby sister Anne was only one). Her two older sisters died of tuberculosis when they were just 11 and 12 years old. Her younger brother Brandon died in 1848 (they were both in their early 30s at this point), and her younger sisters Emily and Anne died of tuberculosis soon thereafter. Charlotte was devastated—all five of her siblings had now died!

Charlotte herself married and lived to a grand old age of – yikes! only 38! She died of complications from pregnancy. Only Charlotte's father lived what we today would consider a full life of 84 years. And remember, this was a middle-class family living in one of the most “advanced” countries of the world, at the time—not a family living in dire poverty far away from the latest medical advances.

Jane Eyre—one of the all-time greats!

Some people consider Charlotte Bronte's book Jane Eyre one of the greatest works of fiction ever written in English. The title character is one of the strongest, most intelligent, and most independent female characters, for sure.

Many people have compared Bronte's writing, plots, and characters with Jane Austen's (who wrote Pride and Prejudice and five other novels). Perhaps these comparisons are made because both authors were women living in England in the 1800s—but there is little overlap in their lives. Austen died the year after Bronte was born, and Austen lived among the landed gentry of the south of England, whereas Bronte and her sisters lived a much more secluded life in the colder, harsher north.

Here is one comparison:

Charlotte Bronte wrote 4 novels.
Jane Austen wrote 6 novels. 

Bronte: only Jane Eyre is very well known and loved today.
Austen: all of her books are very well known today (and I would argue that most are still well-loved today. 
This is the best version of P&P

Bronte's Jane Eyre: at least 17 film and TV versions made.
Austen's Pride and Prejudice: at least 10 film and TV versions made, plus at least 7 looser adaptations. (Many of Austen's other works have been filmed multiple times, as well.) 

Bronte's Jane Eyre: millions sold worldwide.
Austen's Pride and Prejudice: an estimated 20 million sold worldwide. (About 110,000 P & P sold in bookstores in 2002 alone!)

Weird but true: Both Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice have been made into series of board books for toddlers. I honestly think that that is just silly!

Also on this date:

Kindergarten Day 

Kartini Day in Indonesia

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