In these five deeply personal letters from Charlotte Brontë, each written on traditional mourning paper, the novelist reveals the depth of her grief for her siblings Emily, Anne and Branwell, all of whom died within a year between 1848-49. They are written to close friend Ellen Nussey and publisher W S Williams. In the face of such suffering, Brontë draws support and comfort from her own Christian faith and that of her siblings.
Novb 22nd 1848
My dear Sir
I put your most friendly letter into Emily's hands as soon as I had myself perused it, taking care however not to say a word in favour of homeopathy, that would not have answered ; it is best usually not to leave her to form her own judgement and especially not to advocate the side you wish her to favour ; if you do she is sure to lean in the opposite direction, and ten to one will argue herself into non-compliance . Hitherto she has refused medicine, rejected medical advice. no reasoning, no entreaty has availed to induce her to see a physician; after reading your letter she said “Mr Williams' intention was kind and good, but he was under a delusion - Homeopathy was only another form of quackery." Yet she may
reconsider this opinion and come to a different conclusion ; her second thoughts are often the best .
The North American Review is worth reading - there is no mincing the matter there - what a bad set the Bells must be! What appalling books they write ! To-day as Emily appeared a little easier, I thought the Review would amuse her so I read it aloud to her and Anne. As I sat between them at our quiet but now somewhat melancholy fireside, I studied the two ferocious authors. Ellis the “man of uncommon talents but dogged, brutal and morose," sat leaning back in his easy chair drawing his impeded breath as he best could, and looking, alas ! piteously pale and wasted - it is not his wont to laugh but he smiled half-amused and half in scorn as he listened - Acton was sewing , no - emotion ever stirs him to loquacity, so he only smiled too, dropping at the same time a single word of calm amazement to
hear his character so darkly pourtrayed, I wonder what the Reviewer would have thought of his own sagacity, could he have beheld the pair, as I did. Vainly too might he have looked round for the masculine partner in the firm of “Bell & Co." How I laugh in my sleeve when I read the solemn assertions that “Jane Eyre” was written in partnership, and that it “bears the marks of more than one mind, and one sex."
The wise critics would certainly sink a degree in their own estimation if they knew that yours or Mr. Smith's was the first masculine hand that touched the M.S. of “Jane Eyre” - and that till you or he read it, no masculine eye had scanned a line of its contents - no masculine ear heard a phrase from its pages. However the view they take of the matter rather pleases me than otherwise - if they like I am not unwilling they should think a dozen ladies and gentlemen aided at the compilation of the book - Strange patch -
work it must seem to them, this chapter being penned by Mr_, and that by Mifs or Mrs Bell ; that character or scene being delineated by the husband - that other by the wife ! The gentleman of course getting doing the rough work - the lady getting up the finer parts. I admire the idea vastly.
I have read “Madeleine”. It is a fine pearl in simple setting. Julia Kavanagh has my esteem - I would rather know her than many far more brilliant personages - somehow my heart leans more to her than to Eliza Lynn for instance. Not that I have read either “Amymone” or “Azeth” - but I have seen extracts from them which I found it literally impossible to digest . They presented to my imagination Lytton Bulwer in petticoats - an overwhelming vision. By the by the American Critic talks admirable sense about Bulwer - Candour obliges me to confess that.
I must abruptly bid you good bye for the present
Yours sincerely Currer Bell.
He Died after 20 minutes struggle on Sunday Morning 24th Septbr . He was perfectly conscious till the last agony came on - His mind had undergone the peculiar change which frequently precedes death, two days previously - the calm of better feelings filled it - a return of natural affection marked his last moments - he is in God's hands now - and the all - powerful - is likewise the all - merciful - a deep conviction that he rests at last - rests well after his brief, erring, suffering, feverish life fills and quiets my mind now.
The final separation - the spectacle of his pale corpse gave more acute, bitter pain than I could have imagined - Till the last hour comes we never know how much we can forgive, pity, regret a near relation - All his vices were and are nothing now - we remember only his woes.
Decb 25 th 1848
My dear Sir
I will write to you more at length when my heart can find a little rest - now I can only thank you very briefly for your letter which seemed to me eloquent in its sincerity
Emily is nowhere here now - her wasted mortal remains are taken out of the house ; we have laid her cherished head under the church = aisle beside my mother's my two sisters', dead long ago, and my poor, hapless brothers'. But a small remnant of the race is left - so my poor father thinks.
Well - the loss is her ours - not hers, and some sad comfort I take, as I hear the wind blow and feel the cutting keen -
2. Cliff. Scarbro'
June 4th /49
My dear Sir
I hardly know what I said when I wrote last - I was then feverish and exhausted - I am now better and - I believe - quite calm.
You have been informed of my dear sister Anne's death - let me now add that she died without severe struggle - resigned - trusting in God - thankful for release from a suffering life - deeply assured that a better existence lay before her - she believed - she hoped, and declared her belief and hope with her last breath. - Her quiet - Christian death did not rend my heart as Emily's stern, simple, undemonstrative end did - I let Anne go to God and felt He had a right to her
I could hardly let Emily go - I wanted to hold her back then - and I want her back hourly now - Anne, from her childhood seemed preparing for an early death. Emily's spirit seemed strong enough to bear her to fulness of years - They are both gone - and so is poor Branwell - and Papa has now me only - the weakest - puniest - least promising of his six children - Consumption has taken the whole five.
For the present Anne's ashes rest apart from the others - I have buried her here at Scarbro' to save Papa the anguish of the return and a third funeral.
I am ordered to remain at the sea-side a while - I cannot rest here but neither can I go home - Possibly I may not write again soon - attribute my silence neither to illness nor negligence. No letters will find me at Scarbro' after the 7th at I do not know what my next address will be - I shall wander a week or two on the east coast and only stop at quiet
lonely places - No one need be anxious about me as far as I know - Friends and acquaintance seem to think this the worst time of suffering - they are sorely mistaken - Anne reposes now - what have the long desolate hours of her patient pain and fast decay been ?
Why life is so blank, brief and bitter I do not know - Why younger and far better than I are snatched from it with projects unfulfilled I cannot comprehend - but I believe God is wise - perfect - merciful .
I have heard from Papa - he and the servants knew when they parted from Anne they would see her no more - all try to be resigned - I knew it likewise and I wanted her to die where she would be happiest - She loved Scarbro' - a peaceful sun gilded her evening .
- Full title:
- Five letters from Charlotte Brontë to Ellen Nussey and W S Williams
- October 1848-November 1854
- Manuscript / Letter / Ephemera
- Charlotte Brontë
- Usage terms
Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.
- Held by
- British Library
- Ashley MS 2452
- Article by:
- Sally Shuttleworth
- The novel 1832–1880, Gender and sexuality
Professor Sally Shuttleworth explores how Charlotte Brontë challenges 19th-century conceptions of appropriate female behaviour through the creation of a heroine who works, demands respect and combines self-control with passion and rebellion.