View Full Version : Brontė pseudonyms

07-08-2012, 05:43 PM
I am curious about the pseudonyms used by the Brontė sisters. In the first place, Brontė does not seem like a very English name. The only name I can think of that sometimes uses a diaeresis or umlaut is Zöe. I believe in French, this symbol is used when a word contains two consecutive vowels that need to be pronounced separately - as in Nöel, the French for Christmas. However, if it was a French name then surely it would be spelt Bronté.

I am sure it was a brilliant bit of marketing. I think I read in a newspaper article that their father's surname was Brantey, but Brontė looks so much better.

I am also intrigued by the pseudonyms the Brontės used when they were first trying to get published: Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. I don't think I've ever met a Currer, Ellis or Acton. In fact, I don't think I've ever heard the names before.

In the front of my copy of Jane Eyre, there's a page that reads:

Jane Eyre
An Autobiography
Edited By
Currer Bell

I wonder how long it too for the publishers and readers to rumble that. The publishers must have cottoned on pretty quickly that the author was a woman, so I wonder why Charlotte Brontė felt the necessity to use a male pseudonym. Maybe it was just to persuade prospective publishers to start reading. However, the publishers, Smith, Elder & Co. had previously rejected Charlotte Brontė's earlier work, The Professor, although they encouraged her to submit something new that could be published in three volumes. They must have twigged they were dealing with women.

07-09-2012, 05:06 AM
*internet did its own thing there*

07-09-2012, 05:20 AM
I can't vouch for Smith, Elder & Co, but critics definitely were not agreed on what gender the author of Jane Eyre was. Some were adamant it had to be a man, that a woman could not write such coarseness (whatever they may have meant by coarseness...). Others couldn't decide.

When she was still a teenager, I think, Charlotte once wrote to a famous writer to as whether she could be a writer. He replied with the message that writing was not a profession for a woman. She was outraged by it. Maybe that direct experience made the three sisters decide on male pseudonyms?
Ironically, she would later marry a man called Bell. I think I read somewhere that he didn't know until she told him that she was Currer Bell, of the books...

At some point Anne and Charlotte (after Emily's death) went to London in order to prove to their publisher the fact that Currer, Acton and Ellis Bell were not one and the same person.

As to the name, Wikipedia claims (referenced I think) that the name Brontė can be traced back to an Irish clan, but that one man of the family (one of Patrick's ancestors) changed it, and he had affinity with Greek and things (so also the Umlaut). He was born Brunty, but may have wanted to emphasise the two syllables or something. It's all Greek to me ;).

07-09-2012, 01:18 PM
This must have been very intriguing for the readers. I can imagine most the female readers suspecting the author was a woman and hoping she was. It must have been quite some puzzle. The author name was unusual. Was it really an autobiography? If not then did Currer Bell really edit it? Is Currer actually a man's name? But then it is even more unusual for three very talented authors to live in the same house and have the same last name. Brontė is a rather unbelievable name too. People from up there have names like Leadbeater and Blenkinsop. Something weird was going on.

Apart from the love story angle (which I am led to believe resonates very much with the ladies) there is the description of Jane's childhood. Jane also has somewhat feminist tendencies.

Were there many male writers who wrote about female protagonists in this period? I haven't read them, but Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary spring to mind. Tess too, but that was written somewhat later, and Tess was a victim. Jane Eyre is no victim. Jane Eyre is also written in the first person. Surely, it would have been a brave undertaking for a male writer. Although maybe I am not giving the best authors enough credit for their powers of imagination. For example, I could hardly believe it when my mother told me the Just William books were written by a woman (Richmal Compton).

I know other female authors have used male or neutral pseudonyms, the most famous being George Elliot. I remember hearing the modern crime, P.D. James, saying on the radio that she was advised not to put her full name on her books on the grounds that they would be taken more seriously and sell better if her readers didn't know she was a woman.

All the same, Jane Austen had published a number of hugely popular books. Did publishers think she was a one-off?

07-09-2012, 04:56 PM
Yes, it is known what critics thought, but is it known what the general concensus was amongst readers? Did they discuss this after dinner over some port? :D

Queen Victoria, by the way, loved the novel.

I would also be interested to know if people still believed the 'edited' thing or whether they just took it as a matter of introducting fiction and that was it. I suppose they were used to it from Defoe. I don't think they bought it anymore, really.

Male writers on female protaginists:

Zola about Thérčse Raquin (also Naturalism, you can try that too ;))
Defoe on Moll Flanders (that's also an 'i'-sperspective, although 'edited' by a man, of course)
Did Vanity Fair by Thackeray not revolve around a woman?
Samuel Richardson's two great works Clarissa and Pamela are female protagonists and their (female) friends in detail. Marvellous too, in fact. (only based on the first part of Clarissa). You could not reproach him with the slightest inaccuracy. Maybe the triviality of their letters, compared to Lovelace's (a oint of critiism taken up by Austen too). Women don't really write nothing but trivial things... Of course not, it's all important! :D

Conversely, Charlotte's efforts at capturing the real man in Rochester I find pretty amazing. Counting also with the fact that she met very few men in general. And so are her sister's efforts at Gilbert Markham (still reading it :blush:) as the conceited, somewhat vain and arduous gentleman farmer.
Huntindon I am not so sure about, but he is explicitly through the eyes of his wife, so he's going to be less real, although come to think of it, so was Rochester. Lord Lowborugh is better, for the few times he appears. Very Rochester-like (I'll shut up now ;)).

Female writers with male pseudonyms:

Georges Sand is another.

07-09-2012, 05:25 PM
As to the name, Wikipedia claims (referenced I think) that the name Brontė can be traced back to an Irish clan, but that one man of the family (one of Patrick's ancestors) changed it, and he had affinity with Greek and things (so also the Umlaut). He was born Brunty, but may have wanted to emphasise the two syllables or something. It's all Greek to me ;).

If I understood it properly, Brunty was an anglicised version of Ó Pronntaigh from back in the mists of time. Patrick Brunty changed his surname again to Brontė. Also from Wikipedia, I notice Patrick Brontė came from County Down in what is now Northern Ireland. If you say Brunty in an Ulster accent, it possibly sounds more like it's spelt with an 'o' than a 'u', and possibly with a short 'e' or 'ay' sound at the end rather than an 'ee' sound that an English person would say. Old man Brontė liked to publish his poems, so maybe he decided to tart up his name for that reason too.

I notice the brother was called Branwell, which was their mother's maiden name. I wonder whether it was common practice to name children after surnames back then. That may be where the Brontė sisters got the names Currer, Acton and Ellis from.

07-10-2012, 05:19 AM
My experience in genealogical research definitely points at parents calling mainly their sons after their mothers' surnames. When it was too strange, they'd call them that by their middle names or something, like Edward Fairfax Rochester (his mother was a Fairfax).

I do have one woman in my husband's family tree who is called after her mother by her middle name, bt th overwhelming majority would have been male.

07-18-2012, 06:13 PM
Interestingly, the notes in my copy of Jane Eyre says for Volume 2 Chapter i:

Eshton Hall was the home of Frances Currer, the learned book-collector and the most distinguished memmber of the Keighley Mechanics' Institute.

There are several interesting things here:

Is this where Charlotte took her pseudonym? Was she honouring Frances Currer?
Isn't Frances a girl's name? I thought the boy's name was Francis?
If Frances Currer was female, wouldn't it be extremely unusual for her to be a member of a mechanics' institute?

07-21-2015, 03:43 PM
It looks like Frances Currer was indeed a person of the female persuasion. She was an heiress and book-collector. She gave Patrick Brontė £50 to assist the family when his wife died. She also donated money to the Clergy Daughters' School which the sisters attended, and to the local mechanics institute.


Jackson Richardson
07-22-2015, 06:35 AM
The King of Sicily gave Horatio Nelson the title of Duke of Bronte (presumably with umlaut) which I have heard inspired the Reverend Mr Brunty to re-spell his name.

Jackson Richardson
07-22-2015, 06:38 AM
PS. Bronte in Sicily doesn't have an umlaut - it doesn't need it since in Italian all vowels are sounded.

I seem to remember that E P Thompson in his history of the English working class definitely puts Charlotte and her family on the Tory side.