View Full Version : Charlotte in Love?

05-27-2009, 01:36 PM
Harriet Martineau wrote “ All the female characters in all their thoughts and lives, are full of one thing, or are regarded in the light of that one thought, love ! It begins with the child of six years old, of the opening (a charming picture), and closes with it at the last page.”
“The characteristics of Charlotte's books are emotional force, the exaltation of passion over all the commonplace proprieties, the low -toned feelings, the semi-educated pedantries that are the characteristics of the people who surround Charlotte. “(1)
How are we to reconcile that when Charlotte had rejected four marriage proposals and after having experienced 'the Grand Passion', that she finds love (έρωτας) at forty years of age, in her marriage with the Rev. A. B. Nicholls? A marriage that she describes where “ trust the demands of both feeling and duty will be in some measure reconciled by the step in contemplation”.
When to Hager she wrote “If my master withdraws his friendship entirely from me I will be completely without hope – if he gives me a little – very – little – I will be content – happy, I will have reason for living – for working -
Monsieur, the poor do not need much to live – they only ask for the crumbs of bread which fall from the rich man's table – but if one refuses them these crumbs of bread – they die of hunger – Nor do I need much affection from those I love – I would not know what to do with absolute and complete friendship – I am not used to such a thing – but you once showed me a little interest when I was your pupil in Brussels – and I cling on to preserving that little interest – I cling on to it as I cling to life ...”(2)
The contrast in the emotional language is too great for a woman in love.
When she described Hager as “a little black, ugly being ....Tom-cat ... a delirious Hyena” and goes on to characterize her marriage as ' Mr Nicholls is a kind, considerate fellow : with all his masculine faults, he enters into my wishes about having the thing done quietly '. A marriage done quietly? A Charlotte who in Jane Eyre said “Sacrifice! What do I sacrifice? Famine for food, expectation for content. To be privileged to put my arms round what I value – to press my lips to what I love...” and “No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh.”(3)
There is a contradiction in the above definitions of love and it is Charlotte's own words that gives us a clue “love ! It begins with the child of six years old ... and closes with it at the last page”. Charlotte was 5 years old when her mother died and she was deprived of the maternal love, of the security in love on which she could build her future relationships.
In closing the last page, Charlotte felt “Αγάπη ” - expresses the love of parents to children, between friends , for Nicholls but not “έρωτας ” - is more connected to the desire and the sudden and the giddiness of the feeling between lovers. I prefer using the Greek definitions of love, that avoids the English ambiguities, to try to understand what Charlotte meant.


1.The Secret of Charlotte Bronte, Frederika MacDonald.
2.Letter, Charlotte to Monsieur Heger, January 1845.
3.Jane Eyre, chapters 37 and 38.

05-27-2009, 03:07 PM
Although it might look like it, I am not inclined to believe that she felt nothing but regard for Nicholls. she would not have waited 5 whole years to marry a man she only had regard for.

'Αγάπη' is also used in for self-sacrificial love in the Bible, though. As the type of love between Jesus and Peter. It is very high respect, it is self-denial. It is used for the 'love thy neighbour as thyself' and also for the giving love to equally friend and enemy.

'Èρωτας',or 'έρoς' as it would have been in Ancient Greek, is more than longing or sensual feelings. It was used by Plato to signify the love between two people in relationships. But that έρoς with contemplation becomes an appreciation of the beauty in that person and over time becomes a general appreciation of Beauty.

We can also not forget that Charlotte was certainly younger when she wrote to Héger and that she was a lot older when she encountered Nicholls. Sensual attraction does not mean that there is anything more. Is it then even love (έρoς)? Not according to Plato at least. It could rather be θέλημα, which is 'desire'.

She certainly felt love for her Arthur. The contemplation Charlotte mentions in her letter might well allude to that έρoς in Platonic philosophy. Who is to say?

05-28-2009, 12:02 PM
It is impossible to be brief on Charlotte, anything one says requires qualifiers. I did not include the supporting evidence when I made the statement that toward Nicholl's Charlotte felt “Αγάπη ”, and not “έρωτας ” which implies desire. The evaluation of this evidence is subjective, but there are degrees in subjectivity: a lack of fact requiring an extrapolation and the argument based on personal belief - colored by ideological belief.

Two historical examples of subjectivity are:
1).“After much consideration of this point, I came to the resolution of writing truly, if I wrote at all; of withholding nothing, though some things, from their very nature, could not be spoken of so fully as others.”, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, E. Gaskell ,chp.28, 1857. Gaskell admits to censoring, skewing the autobiography.
2).“Would that Charlotte's literary friend could have seen her as I saw her ... A halo of happiness seemed to surround her – a holy calm pervaded her .. circumstances had as it were no power to ruffle her holy piece.”, Ellen Nussey's letter to George Smith.,1860.
Both are part of a growing battle of possession of Charlotte's memory, almost immediately after her death March 31, 1855. Ellen's is a sentimentalized image of a married Charlotte, of two years of happiness.

However there are these disquieting facts in Charlotte's history which require to be rationalized. I'll start with the most subjective, the second stanza of the poem Regret (1846)

Life and marriage I have known,
Things once deemed so bright;
Now, how utterly is flown
Every ray of light !
'Mid the unknown sea of life
I no blest isle have found;
At last, through all its wild wave's strife,
My bark is homeward bound.

The poem is prophetic of the sorrows that follow. Charlotte was 30, a woman not an impressionable girl when she wrote Regret. It is a window into her emotional mind. In 1842 she leaves Pensionnat Heger and the love -ξεμυάλισμα , loosing your mind in Greek, literally loosing Hager. In 1848 she looses Branwell and Emily. In 1849 Anne dies, and Charlotte is left bereft of the emotional props that made life bearable in the ''lonely moorland lives'' as characterized by Lucasta Miller.
“Life and marriage I have known, Things once deemed so bright;” may foretell the marriage in 1854 and “ My bark is homeward bound.”, her death soon after. It is a paean to death.

Letter to Ellen Nussey, December 15th, 1852.
“What his words were you can guess; his manner you can hardly realise, nor can I forget it. Shaking from head to foot, looking deadly pale, speaking low, vehemently, yet with difficulty, he made me for the first time feel what it costs a man to declare affection where he doubts response.
‘The spectacle of one ordinarily so statue-like thus trembling, stirred, and overcome, gave me a kind of strange shock. He spoke of sufferings he had borne for months, of sufferings he could endure no longer, and craved leave for some hope. I could only entreat him to leave me then and promise a reply on the morrow. I asked him if he had spoken to papa. He said he dared not. I think I half led, half put him out of the room. When he was gone I immediately went to papa, and told him what had taken place. Agitation and anger disproportionate to the occasion ensued; if I had loved Mr. Nicholls, and had heard such epithets applied to him as were used, it would have transported me past my patience; as it was, my blood boiled with a sense of injustice. But papa worked himself into a state not to be trifled with: the veins on his temples started up like whip-cord, and his eyes became suddenly bloodshot. I made haste to promise that Mr. Nicholls should on the morrow have a distinct refusal.”
‘Attachment to Mr. Nicholls you are aware I never entertained.’ A good deal has been made of this and other casual references of Charlotte Brontë to her slight affection for her future husband. Martha Brown, the servant, used in her latter days to say that Charlotte would come into the kitchen and ask her if it was right to marry a man one did not entirely love—and Martha Brown’s esteem for Mr. Nicholls was very great. ' - Charlotte Brontë and Her Circle,by Cement k. Shorter.

“You ask how papa demeans himself to Mr. Nicholls. I only wish you were here to see papa in his present mood: you would know something of him. He just treats him with a hardness not to be bent, and a contempt not to be propitiated. The two have had no interview as yet; all has been done by letter. Papa wrote, I must say, a most cruel note to Mr. Nicholls on Wednesday.... I thought it right to accompany the pitiless despatch by a line to the effect that, while Mr. Nicholls must never expect me to reciprocate the feeling he had expressed....
‘You must understand that a good share of papa’s anger arises from the idea, not altogether groundless, that Mr. Nicholls has behaved with disingenuousness in so long concealing his aim. I am afraid also that papa thinks a little too much about his want of money; he says the match would be a degradation, that I should be throwing myself away.. “(Letter To Ellen Nussey, 1852.)
While Patric Bronte relented to Charlotte marrying, he refused to go to the ceremony to 'give the bride away', staying at home and thereby indicating that he had not changed his mind about Nicholls.
I think that the above substantiates my 'Perhaps Charlotte felt “Αγάπη ” ... , but not “έρωτας ” for Nicholls” That the marriage was an emotional act of desperation, not of passion, not of “έρωτας ”.
The marriage has to be viewed in the social Victorian context:”A simple answer was assumed by certain dignitaries of Charlotte's time: give a woman a man, and she will stop making unnatural efforts of intellect.”( The Secret of Charlotte Bronte, Frederika MacDonald).
It certainly was the view of Nicholls who attempted to forbid Charlotte corresponding with Ellen Nussey:
‘Dear Ellen,—Arthur wishes you would burn my letters. He was out when I commenced this letter, but he has just come in. It is not “old friends” he mistrusts, he says, but the chances of war—the accidental passing of letters into hands and under eyes for which they were never written.
‘All this seems mighty amusing to me; it is a man’s mode of viewing correspondence. Men’s letters are proverbially uninteresting and uncommunicative. I never quite knew before why they made them so. They may be right in a sense: strange chances do fall out certainly. As to my own notes, I never thought of attaching importance to them or considering their fate, till Arthur seemed to reflect on both so seriously. (Charlotte to Ellen, November 7th, 1854.)

mona amon
05-28-2009, 12:45 PM
Charlotte wrote “ All the female characters in all their thoughts and lives, are full of one thing, or are regarded in the light of that one thought, love ! It begins with the child of six years old, of the opening (a charming picture), and closes with it at the last page.”

Peripatetics, didn't you mean "Harriet Martineau wrote....", or did I misunderstand something? These words are from Martineau's review of Villette, the one which infuriated Charlotte and caused her to break off her friendship with her.

05-28-2009, 04:53 PM
mona amon, thank you!
You are quite correct, my error.
Could I interest you in a job as a proof reader?

mona amon
05-30-2009, 01:16 AM
LOL, Peripatetics, I'm afraid the posts on the Jane Eyre discussions are so long that I don't manage to go through it all, so I just indulge in what little nitpicking I can. :D No offense meant. The posts are well researched and interesting. But I'm a slow reader with a low attention span. :blush:

05-30-2009, 09:24 AM
LOL, Peripatetics, I'm afraid the posts on the Jane Eyre discussions are so long that I don't manage to go through it all, so I just indulge in what little nitpicking I can. :D No offense meant. The posts are well researched and interesting. But I'm a slow reader with a low attention span. :blush:

“But I'm a slow reader with a low attention span.”
I wish that there were more such readers, of 'low attention span ' and background knowledge. Knowledge of the Martineau/Bronte esoterica is not acquired from YouTube.
Frederika MacDonald summarizes well if wordily as:

“The critical blunder in this judgment is that here the authoress of the Illustrations in Political Economy and of the Atkinson Letters sees the authoress of Villette through her own temperament, as an intellectual like herself: a humane sociologist, and a philosophical freethinker, whose literary purpose is to use her talent as a writer in the service of her ideas and principles. Judging Vilette and its authoress from this point of view and by these standards, Harriet Martineau decides that because ' all events and characters in Villette are regarded through the medium of one passion, love,' therefore the literary motive and purpose of the authoress must have been to deny or at any rate to ignore - that there are substantial heartfelt interests for women of all ages and in ordinary circumstances quite apart from love.'
The mistake lay in assuming that Charlotte Bronte was an intellectual, instead of an imaginative genius ; and that her literary purpose was to affirm, or deny, or ignore deliberately, any principle; or in any way to make her genius the servant of her intellect ; whereas her intelligence was so coloured by her imagination, so subservient to her genius, that if one were to measure her by intellectual standards with Harriet Martineau, for instance she would remain as vastly Harriet's inferior in enthusiasm of humanity, in practical benevolence and warm interest in social reform, and in emancipations from prejudice and insularity and bigotry, as she was Harriet's superior in power of passionate feeling, in wealth of imagination, and in superb gift of expression. “

And importantly that “The supreme gift of the authoress of Villette and Jane Eyrey as a painter of emotions, an interpreter of intimate moods, a witness in the cause of ideal sentiments, an incessant rebel against vulgarity and common worldliness, and the stupid tyranny of custom, an upholder of the sovereignty of romance, cannot be weighed against, nor judged by, the same standards as the accomplished literary gift of such finished artists as the authors of Pride and Prejudice and Cranford, such subtle students of character as the authors of Middlemarch and Robert Elsmere, such vigorous fighters for intellectual and moral ends as are represented by the author of the Illustrations upon Political Economy, and the Atkinson Letters. And it is because, as a result of judging her genius and her personality from the standpoint of false impressions, Charlotte Bronte has not been recognised in England as a painter of personal emotions, a Romantic in short, but has been judged as the advocate of a general doctrine (one very agreeable to the convictions of the average man, but especially exasperating to the aspirations and principles of the superior woman) I mean, the doctrine that to obtain the love of a man whom she feels to be and rejoices to recognise as her 'Master' - is the supreme desire and dream of every truly feminine heart “

The stylistic difference should have been a red flag and it's not as if I did not know the attribution, I was just sloppy in writing. Not reading what I had written. Thus thank you again for caching my error.

05-30-2009, 12:39 PM
The poem with which you support your argument, is part of a cycle: The Wife’s Will, The Wood, Regret and Apostasy. That cycle is about a woman who accompanies her husband into France where they are pursued (judging by the end it must have a religious approach, protestants against Catholics). By the end, her husband (Walter as it turns out) has been locked up in a prison cell, and has obviously died, as she hears him calling just before her death. She is perishing, and they try to make her renounce her faith, but she refuses, wanting to stay true to her husband. She addresses in all four poems a fictive audience. In the first three it is a man, William, in the last it is a Catholic priest. The whole is a narrative cycle of poems, a style that would become very popular in the Victorian era. Consequently, this does not say anything about Brontë herself, let alone about her feelings towards Héger or Nicholls. If it was about one of the two, she would certainly not have called her audience William, but rather Constantin or Arthur/Bell. (Poetry Foundation.org)

Shorter, which you quote, writes on where you stopped quoting: ‘But it is possible to make too much of all this. It is a commonplace of psychology to say that a woman’s love is of slow growth. It is quite certain that Charlotte Brontë suffered much during this period of alienation and separation; that she alone secured Mr. Nicholls’s return to Haworth, after his temporary estrangement from Mr. Brontë; and finally, that the months of her married life, prior to her last illness, were the happiest she was destined to know.’ The word ‘attachment’ was also widely used in the books of Austen and meant something like affection or infatuation. There could be attachment on both sides or only on one side. I can’t help thinking that this ‘attachment’ is something similar to ‘being in love’ we see now: people always wanting to talk to each other, wanting to be in each other’s neighbourhood, looking and what-not. Let us say that Anne and Wentworth in Persuasion and Elizabeth and Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice had mutual attachments. Of Jane and Bingley, it was thought that it was only from his side, but that was not true… I am slowly getting to understand why psychologists said in the 19th century that women’s love must grow (after marriage). Women do not fall in love at the mere sight. It is embedded in the biological constitution of men to seek a female that looks childbearing and healthy to then procreate. A woman looks for other qualities in her mate: he should be able to support her and her children, he should be an able person, he should exhibit his constancy (so he is trustworthy) so that she can be sure that she and her children are not at risk of dying because they are not fed. That structure still lives through, although our society has changed. Women also associate sex with longer relationships and love, while men have no problem at all with casual sex for the sex. Men can look for the qualities in a woman in a large group of people, like it was the case in Austen’s days and Charlotte’s days (‘big and buxom’ as Rochester called his Blanche), but women need longer for that and need to talk in order to judge. In that, it is clear that Charlotte Brontë did not entertain any attachment up to that point, but what does that say about her feelings afterwards?

Shorter puts it down to Charlotte alone that Nicholls came back to Haworth. I wonder why she asked for him back, if she did not love him and did not want to marry him for love. I cannot think of a reason why she could not have waited for another suitor. Suitors might not have been so frequent anymore, as she was already an ‘old maid’ by then, but still, her celebrity status cannot have failed in supplying her with possible suitors if she had wanted…

But no, after the refusal of her father, she does feel pain at the injustice done to Nicholls. And on the 9th of March 1853 she writes to Ellen: ‘I do not know, I am not sure myself, that any other termination would be better than lasting estrangement and unbroken silence. Yet a good deal of pain has been and must be gone through in that case.’ She might not have entertained any attachment in December 1852 but now she feels it’ll be a little difficult when Nicholls goes away…

On the 6th of April 1853 she writes: ‘How much of all this he deserves I can’t tell; certainly he never was agreeable or amiable, and is less so now than ever, and alas! I do not know him well enough to be sure that there is truth and true affection, or only rancour and corroding disappointment at the bottom of his chagrin.’ This might look as very clear, but one sentence later, she adds: ‘I may be losing the purest gem, and to me far the most precious, life can give—genuine attachment—or I may be escaping the yoke of a morose temper. In this doubt conscience will not suffer me to take one step in opposition to papa’s will…’ It is interesting that she just tells Ellen point blank that she does not know what he feels for her and consequently that she does not want to wrong her father until she knows and also knows what she herself wants. She definitely is not in love, but there is still time, as it seems, and she has not given him up.

Shorter writes about Nicholls’s successor in function: ‘Mr. Nicholls’s successor did not prove acceptable to Mr. Brontë. He complained again and again, and one day Charlotte turned upon her father and told him pretty frankly that he was alone to blame—that he had only to let her marry Mr. Nicholls, with whom she corresponded and whom she really loved, and all would be well. A little arrangement, the transfer of Mr. Nicholls’s successor, Mr. De Renzi, to a Bradford church, and Mr. Nicholls left his curacy at Kirk-Smeaton and returned once more to Haworth as an accepted lover.’ We will not make too much of ‘whom she really loved,’ as that could be a too liberal interpretation from Shorter. But she does correspond with him, in secret, behind her father’s back. In Austen’s times, this was only allowed in case of being engaged. In Victorian times, things had lightened up, but It was still not done to write to a strange man without reason. Unlike to Mr Williams, Charlotte did not have an indicative reason for writing to Mr Nicholls, and certainly not behind her father’s back. So, she does value him, at least enough to slight her father and write to him while her father cannot stand him any longer…
On the 11th of April 1854, she writes: ‘Mr. Nicholls came on Monday, and was here all last week. Matters have progressed thus since July. He renewed his visit in September, but then matters so fell out that I saw little of him. He continued to write. The correspondence pressed on my mind. I grew very miserable in keeping it from papa. At last sheer pain made me gather courage to break it. I told all. It was very hard and rough work at the time, but the issue after a few days was that I obtained leave to continue the communication. Mr. Nicholls came in January; he was ten days in the neighbourhood. I saw much of him. I had stipulated with papa for opportunity to become better acquainted. I had it, and all I learnt inclined me to esteem and affection. Still papa was very, very hostile, bitterly unjust.’ The fact that she wrote to him in secret means at least that she valued him more than others. And then she wants to get better acquainted with him… What we can say, is at least that she is interested. She writes on in the same letter: ‘I told Mr. Nicholls the great obstacle that lay in his way. He has persevered. The result of this, his last visit, is, that papa’s consent is gained, that his respect, I believe, is won, for Mr. Nicholls has in all things proved himself disinterested and forbearing. Certainly, I must respect him, nor can I withhold from him more than mere cool respect. In fact, dear Ellen, I am engaged.’ In short, during the time he was away, she has certainly started to more than respect him… Because she cannot deny him anything more than mere cool respect. And then she writes: ‘I mean the marriage to be literally as quiet as possible.’ Indeed, she wanted the same kind of wedding as Jane and Rochester if that is comparable…

The fact that Arthur wanted Ellen to burn his wife’s letters:

This was also done in Austen’s time in order to protect the honour of someone. With Charlotte’s celebrity status, it was dangerous for her letters to fall in the wrong hands. If he knew about her correspondence with Héger, he would have liked that to be burnt, because it was not something that contributed to the impeccable reputation people were supposed to have to the public. (Remember how Mrs Smith in Persuasion finds it not done to disclose Mr Elliot’s real character to Anne, even if she believes the latter is engaged to him) Also her correspondence home when she was at Miss Wooler’s School and suffered from depression was hushed up, because she had ‘strange’ thoughts. It was a question of protecting her honour, which was then very important. More important than we find it now, because more things could compromise it. Unfortunately, Mrs Gaskell went to Brussels and got the letters to Héger anyway, but hushed them up as well. Because that did not suit a married woman in those days. And anyway, would we like an old infatuation to come to the surface after years and years? Whether she had to be portrayed in the way Mrs Gaskell portrayed her is the question. Gaskell made Brontë a very Christian, sickly, morbid woman, even to Brontë’s own detriment.

Clement K Shorter further writes about Mrs Gaskell: ‘Mrs. Gaskell, in fact, did not like Mr. Nicholls, and there were those with whom she came in contact while writing Miss Brontë’s Life who were eager to fan that feeling in the usually kindly biographer.’ It is interesting. We know now, from other biographers that Gaskell totally miss-interpreted Brontë. Continually presenting her In a morbid, very asexual and sickly way, while she was actually a very passionate, intelligent, and smart woman. Modern biographies are a lot more to the point. So the question is how much we should really trust Mrs Gaskell’s view in comparison with Ellen’s view, who knew her much longer and who had seen a development in her and her feelings. She of all people must have known if she loved Nicholls or not.

In fact, Brontë writes to Ellen on the 26th of December 1854, after about 6 months of marriage: ‘Arthur joins me in sincere good wishes for a happy Christmas, and many of them to you and yours. He is well, thank God, and so am I, and he is “my dear boy,” certainly dearer now than he was six months ago. In three days we shall actually have been married that length of time!’ She herself here acknowledges that she now likes him better than six months prior to that. But she also says in the same letter that ‘the longer [she] live[s] the more [she] suspect[s] exaggerations.’ ‘I fancy it is sometimes a sort of fashion for each to vie with the other in protestations about their wonderful felicity.’ In other words, she would never have shouted her happiness from the rooftops, because she found that too much exaggerated, but she did value her husband more than when she married him. Which says a lot to me, as even prior to the wedding she made out that she started to like him better than before she got really acquainted with him and that she felt more than cool respect for him.

And indeed, she writes in an undated letter from her deathbed to Ellen: ‘I want to give you an assurance, which I know will comfort you--and that is, that I find in my husband the tenderest nurse, the kindest support, the best earthly comfort that ever woman had. His patience never fails, and it is tried by sad days and broken nights.’ In her last letter to Ellen she writes: ‘Even to my dear, patient, constant Arthur I can say but few words at once.’ And to an old school-friend, she writes on the 15th of February 1855: ‘No kinder, better husband than mine, it seems to me, there can be in the world. I do not want now for kind companionship in health and the tenderest nursing in sickness.’

There was no infatuation from her side, but there was still ‘ερος’ as Plato defined it. Eros is much wider than passion. It is not because one is not besotted from the start that one cannot marry and love someone. There was certainly more than normal affection ‘αγαπη’ from her side at the end of her life. She did not shout it from the rooftops, but as she said, what is the use of bidding against one another about how happy one is?


Clement K Shorter, Charlotte Brontë and her Circle, 1896, Hodder & Stoughton

Elizabeth Gaskell, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, 1857, Smith & Elder

03-30-2010, 06:44 PM
I believe she wrote in her letters to Ellen Nussey that her honeymoon in Ireland was a delightful surprise and she found marriage much more to her liking than originally expected. I have the book of Charlotte's letters.