Or...The Dragon is foregoing all the typical posts to just bask in the glory of Charlotte
On March 31, 1855, the great Charlotte Bronte passed away from what doctors reported as either phthisis or Hyperemesis gravidarum. The former, a Greek term for tuberculosis, is what's listed on her death certificate, and is what many in the village of Haworth died from in that time period; the latter, extreme sickness during pregnancy, is also highly likely.
She was 38 years old.
She was working on a novel entitled Emma.
She was a literary genius and an inspired, motived young woman who had overcome adversity and tragedy starting at age 5 when her mother died, continuing at age 9 when two of her sisters died from abuse and neglect at boarding school. Her troubled older brother ended up disappointing the family with a "difficult" life (or drinking himself to death) rather than contributing to their financial well-being. (I don't mean to sound harsh, but it would have been great if Branwell could have stepped up to the plate instead of pining over a married woman who rejected him.) When Charlotte's unrequited love stabbed her in the heart, she got to work. She made plans.
Charlotte attempted, with her sisters, to assemble a boarding school there in Haworth so she and her sisters wouldn't have to sell themselves out as governesses, a task none of the remaining three looked forward to. When the school could attract no students (I might be averse to sending my daughter into a tuberculosis-infested village myself), the girls had no choice but to seek employment abroad. When circumstances brought them home again for Branwell's trying death scene, Emily and Anne took ill and Charlotte ultimately found herself mired in tragedy again.
Yet that woman rode through like a champion.
She poured her sorrow into her letters and poetry, but the fact that she carried on is heroic in light of all she endured. For people who have never read her story, I recommend picking up The Brontes: Charlotte Bronte and Her Family, by Rebecca Fraser, published in 1988 by Ballantine. The story is presented with plenty of historical fact, but it's told in a novel-like fashion. If you're up for a bit more historical information presented mostly in the characters' voices through excerpts of letters with narration to explain events, Juliet Barker's The Brontes: A Life in Letters, published in 2002 by The Overlook Press, gives a clear picture of their lives and trials. The original, of course, which Charlotte's father requested, is Elizabeth Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Bronte, and it is written in novel fashion. You can pick up a reprint anywhere.
The reasons I consider Charlotte a literary genius include the works she left us, but also include her inspired moment when she discovered her sister Emily's poetry one evening and recognized the power and potential there. Charlotte didn't just wrap up those poems and represent Emily as a poet in London. No, she put together a book (which I'd commit a capital offense to get my hands on now) of poems from all three sisters and marketed the thing. It became a first offering from the Brontes (writing under the oh-so-wise male pseudonym of Bell). Next, they had three novels to market.
Are you ready for this? Just like writers of today, Charlotte had to apply to publishers to get the manuscript reviewed and printed. She took it upon herself to send the parcel out, and send it she did. Once. Twice. Three times. Four... In Barker's Life in Letters, page 72, Charlotte's letter to her friend Ellen Nussey, dated Jan. 24, 1840, talks of working on a relationship with a difficult person. Charlotte writes, "and my motto is 'Try again.'"
She stuck to that motto with her writing career. Fraser states in her book listed above, page 246, "To her polite enquiries, publishers...returned no answer. But Charlotte was made of sterner stuff; she would be responded to." She wrote to the firm that published the encyclopaedia to get advice from someone there. Although her first novel, The Professor, was rejected time and again, ultimately not published until after her death, her second novel, Jane Eyre, became a timeless classic. It's a gothic fiction novel that woke an industry. The reviewers went wild with their opinions, either loving or hating it based on its dark, brooding hero and its tormented, masculine themes that people of the day claimed were inappropriate for Christians and women to consider. (Imagine.) Charlotte had to set about defending her Mr. Rochester. Yet she weathered that storm, too.
She defended her sisters, who were vilified by the reviewers who found fault with their masculine tones and "unChristian" themes of violence and debauchery in their novels. Now, if you've read Wuthering Heights (by Emily), Agnes Grey or The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (by Anne), you'll know that the bad characters are truly bad; Anne knows how to make you loathe an evil man. But even I get miffed when I read some of these old-time reviews. I have to wonder how obnoxious these old sots were, sitting around with their smoking pipes, writing up their pompous opinions while staring down their noses at the pages...and then returning to their bath houses with their fair-skinned playtoys before returning home to their wives. You can't tell me these men were any less corrupt than a New York Times-like reporter who hides behind the First Amendment today.
By the end of her days, Charlotte bested the reviewers. She outlived her siblings, which, on one hand, is a sad statement. On the other hand, and I'll admit the selfishness of this, I'm thankful the reading public was allowed the years we were gifted. I'm also thankful for the example she set. If someone as monumental as Charlotte Bronte had to face rejection, who are we to complain when query letters come back with form rejection letters inside? Consider the publishers of the mid 1840s who said "no" to Curer Bell. Ah, how they were kicking themselves in 1849, 50, 51, etc.
Have you received a spate of rejection letters during your writing career so far? Now, don't you let that get you down. Just consider how those folks will be kicking themselves when your "Jane Eyre" hits the shelves and the reviewers are giving it such publicity that every household is uttering your name in disbelief. Maybe it won't be your first novel that hits the bigtime, but with role models like Charlotte to guide us, we can see that the first one may be the one to set aside and let cool. Even though The Professor is a fantastic novel, and the autobiographical tidbits within it wrench your heart out (if you know Charlotte's unrequited love story), the masterpiece to launch Charlotte into the literary stratosphere was Jane Eyre.
What's your masterpiece? I can be honest and tell you I don't believe Choices Meant for Gods is my masterpiece. Yes, I have a bunch of five-star reviews on Amazon for the book. Yes, I'm proud of the story. Yes, the characters sing. But, let me tell you something: The sequel kicks its butt.
Let Charlotte inspire your masterpiece out of you...She is a constant, phenomenal source of inspiration for me.
"Some days, I just want the dragon to win."
Tags: Charlotte Bronte, March 31, 1855, Jane Eyre, Choices Meant for Gods