Charlotte Brontë (21 April 1816 - 31 March 1855) was an English novelist and the eldest of the three Brontë sisters whose novels have become enduring classics of English literature. She first published her work under the pseudonym Currer Bell.
- You advise me, too, not to stray far from the ground of experience, as I become weak when I enter the region of fiction; and you say, "real experience is perennially interesting, and to all men."
I feel that this also is true; but, dear Sir, is not the real experience of each individual very limited? And, if a writer dwells upon that solely or principally, is he not in danger of repeating himself, and also of becoming an egotist? Then, too, imagination is a strong, restless faculty, which claims to be heard and exercised: are we to be quite deaf to her cry, and insensate to her struggles? When she shows us bright pictures, are we never to look at them, and try to reproduce them? And when she is eloquent, and speaks rapidly and urgently in our ear, are we not to write to her dictation?
- Letter to G. H. Lewes, 6 November 1847
- Novelists should never allow themselves to weary of the study of real life.
- The Professor (1857), ch. XIX
Jane Eyre (1847)
- Full text online (at Wikisource); for quotes from the musical based on the novel, see Jane Eyre: The Musical
- Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns.
These things and deeds are diametrically opposed: they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. Men too often confound them: they should not be confounded: appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ. There is — I repeat it — a difference; and it is a good, and not a bad action to mark broadly and clearly the line of separation between them.
The world may not like to see these ideas dissevered, for it has been accustomed to blend them; finding it convenient to make external show pass for sterling worth — to let white-washed walls vouch for clean shrines. It may hate him who dares to scrutinise and expose — to rase the gilding, and show base metal under it — to penetrate the sepulchre, and reveal charnel relics: but hate as it will, it is indebted to him.
- Preface, 2nd edition (21 December 1847)
- There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.
- Jane (Ch. 1) [opening line]
- Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day. At intervals, while turning over the leaves in my book, I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon. Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near, a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.
- Jane (Ch. 1)
- It seemed as if my tongue pronounced words without my will consenting to their utterance: something spoke out of me over which I had no control.
- Jane (Ch. 4)
- I am glad you are no relation of mine. I will never call you aunt as long as I live. I will never come to see you when I am grown up; and if any asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick.
- Jane to Mrs. Reed (Ch. 4)
- If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust; the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should — so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again.
- Jane to Helen Burns (Ch. 6)
- It is not violence that best overcomes hate — nor vengeance that most certainly heals injury.
- Helen Burns to Jane (Ch. 6)
- What a singularly deep impression her injustice seems to have made on your heart... Would you not be happier if you tried to forget her severity, together with the passionate emotions it excited? Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs.
- Helen Burns to Jane (Ch. 6)
- I can so clearly distinguish between the criminal and his crime; I can so sincerely forgive the first while I abhor the last.
- Helen Burns to Jane (Ch. 6)
- What have I to do with millions [of people]? The eighty I know despise me.
- Jane to Helen Burns (Ch. 8)
- If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.
- Helen Burns to Jane (Ch. 8)
- And then my mind made its first earnest effort to comprehend what had been infused into it concerning heaven and hell: and for the first it recoiled baffled; and for the first time glancing behind, on each side, and before it, it saw all round an unfathomed gulf: it felt the one point where it stood — the present; all the rest was formless cloud and vacant depth: and it shuddered at the thought of tottering, and plunging amid that chaos.
- Jane (Ch. 9)
- By dying young, I shall escape great sufferings. I had not qualities or talents to make my way very well in the world: I should have been continually at fault.
- Helen Burns to Jane (Ch. 9)
- School-rules, school-duties, school-habits and notions, and voices, and faces, and phrases, and costumes, and preferences, and antipathies — such was what I knew of existence. And now I felt that it was not enough; I tired of the routine of eight years in one afternoon. I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing. I abandoned it and framed a humbler supplication; for change, stimulus: that petition, too, seemed swept off into vague space: "Then," I cried, half desperate, "grant me at least a new servitude!"
Here a bell, ringing the hour of supper, called me downstairs.
- Jane (Ch. 10)
- It is a very strange sensation to inexperienced youth to feel itself quite alone in the world, cut adrift from every connection, uncertain whether the port to which it is bound can be reached, and prevented by many impediments from returning to that it has quitted.
- Jane (Ch. 11)
- All these relics gave... Thornfield Hall the aspect of a home of the past: a shrine to memory. I liked the hush, the gloom, the quaintness of these retreats in the day; but I by no means coveted a night's repose on one of those wide and heavy beds: shut in, some of them, with doors of oak; shaded, others, with wrought old-English hangings crusted with thick work, portraying effigies of strange flowers, and stranger birds, and strangest human beings, — all which would have looked strange, indeed, by the pallid gleam of moonlight.
- Jane (Ch. 11)
- I longed for a power of vision which might overpass that limit; which might reach the busy world, towns, regions full of life I had heard of but never seen: that I desired more of practical experience than I possessed; more of intercourse with my kind, of acquaintance with variety of character, than was here within my reach... I could not help it: the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes.
- Jane (Ch. 12)
- Women are supposed to be very calm generally; but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.
- Jane (Ch. 12)
- It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.
- Jane (Ch. 12)
- I don't think, sir, that you have a right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.
- Jane to Mr. Rochester (Ch. 14)
- I envy your peace of mind, your clean conscience, your unpolluted memory. Little girl, a memory without blot or contamination must be an exquisite treasure — an inexhaustible source of pure refreshment: is it not?
- Mr. Rochester to Jane (Ch. 14)
- The human and fallible should not arrogate a power with which the divine and perfect alone can be safely intrusted.
- Jane to Rochester (Ch. 14)
- Most true is it that "beauty is in the eye of the gazer." My master’s colourless, olive face, square, massive brow, broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm, grim mouth, — all energy, decision, will, — were not beautiful, according to rule; but they were more than beautiful to me; they were full of an interest, an influence that quite mastered me, — that took my feelings from my own power and fettered them in his. I had not intended to love him; the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously arrived, green and strong! He made me love him without looking at me.
- Jane (Ch. 17)
- "Are you anything akin to me, do you think, Jane?"
I could risk no sort of answer by this time; my heart was full.
"Because," he said, "I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you — especially when you are near to me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land, come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapped; and then I've a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly."
- Mr. Rochester and Jane (Ch. 23)
- Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal — as we are!
- Jane to Mr. Rochester (Ch. 23)
- I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.
- Jane to Mr. Rochester (Ch. 23)
- My bride is here... because my equal is here, and my likeness.
- Mr. Rochester to Jane (Ch. 23)
- I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.
- Jane (Ch. 27)
- Feeling... clamoured wildly. "Oh, comply!" it said. "... soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? or who will be injured by what you do?" Still indomitable was the reply: "I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation... They have a worth — so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane — quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs.
- Jane (Ch. 27)
- Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt? May your eyes never shed such stormy, scalding, heart-wrung tears as poured from mine. May you never appeal to Heaven in prayers so hopeless and so agonized as in that hour left my lips; for never may you, like me, dread to be the instrument of evil to what you wholly love.
- Jane (Ch. 27)
- I can but die... and I believe in God. Let me try and wait His will in silence.
- Jane (Ch. 28)
- "I scorn your idea of love," I could not help saying, as I rose up and stood before him, leaning my back against the rock. "I scorn the counterfeit sentiment you offer; yes, St. John, and I scorn you when you offer it."
- Jane to St. John Rivers (Ch. 34)
- I recalled the voice I had heard; again I questioned whence it came, as vainly as before: it seemed in me — not in the external world. I asked, was it a mere nervous impression — a delusion? I could not conceive or believe: it was more like an inspiration.
- Jane (Ch 36)
- Reader, I married him.
- Jane (Ch 38)
- The theatre was full — crammed to its roof: royal and noble were there; palace and hotel had emptied their inmates into those tiers so thronged and so hushed. Deeply did I feel myself privileged in having a place before that stage; I longed to see a being of whose powers I had heard reports which made me conceive peculiar anticipations. I wondered if she would justify her renown: with strange curiosity, with feelings severe and austere, yet of riveted interest, I waited. She was a study of such nature as had not encountered my eyes yet: a great and new planet she was: but in what shape? I waited her rising.
She rose at nine that December night: above the horizon I saw her come. She could shine yet with pale grandeur and steady might; but that star verged already on its judgment-day. Seen near, it was a chaos — hollow, half-consumed: an orb perished or perishing — half lava, half glow.
I had heard this woman termed "plain," and I expected bony harshness and grimness — something large, angular, sallow. What I saw was the shadow of a royal Vashti: a queen, fair as the day once, turned pale now like twilight, and wasted like wax in flame.
For awhile — a long while — I thought it was only a woman, though an unique woman, who moved in might and grace before this multitude. By-and-by I recognized my mistake. Behold! I found upon her something neither of woman nor of man: in each of her eyes sat a devil. These evil forces bore her through the tragedy, kept up her feeble strength — for she was but a frail creature; and as the action rose and the stir deepened, how wildly they shook her with their passions of the pit! They wrote HELL on her straight, haughty brow. They tuned her voice to the note of torment. They writhed her regal face to a demoniac mask. Hate and Murder and Madness incarnate she stood.
It was a marvellous sight: a mighty revelation.
It was a spectacle low, horrible, immoral.
Swordsmen thrust through, and dying in their blood on the arena sand; bulls goring horses disembowelled, made a meeker vision for the public — a milder condiment for a people's palate — than Vashti torn by seven devils: devils which cried sore and rent the tenement they haunted, but still refused to be exorcised.
Suffering had struck that stage empress; and she stood before her audience neither yielding to, nor enduring, nor in finite measure, resenting it: she stood locked in struggle, rigid in resistance. She stood, not dressed, but draped in pale antique folds, long and regular like sculpture. A background and entourage and flooring of deepest crimson threw her out, white like alabaster — like silver: rather, be it said, like Death.
- Ch. 23
- If you like poetry, let it be first rate, Milton, Shakespeare.....Wordsworth, Southey. Charlotte's advice to her friend Ellen Nussey.
- Website of the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, Yorkshire
- Works by Charlotte Brontë at Project Gutenberg
- Online editions of Charlotte Brontë's works
- Charlotte Brontë — Drawing by George Richmond (National Portrait Gallery)
- Charlotte Brontë and Her Circle, by Clement K. Shorter, from Project Gutenberg