Blue convolvulus
by Charlotte Brontë, 1832



From Poet Laureate Robert Southey
(to whom twenty-year-old Charlotte had sent a selection of her poems)
12 March 1837

Madam—… It is not my advice that you have asked as to the direction of your talents, but my opinion of them; and yet the opinion may be worth little, and the advice much. You evidently possess, and in no inconsiderable degree, what Wordsworth calls the "faculty of verse." I am not deprecating it when I say that in these times it is not rare... Whoever… is ambitious of distinction in this way ought to be prepared for disappointment. But it is not with a view to distinction that you should cultivate this talent, if you consult your own happiness. . .

The day dreams in which you habitually indulge are likely to induce a distempered state of mind; and, in proportion as all the ordinary uses of the world seem to you flat and unprofitable, you will be unfitted for them without becoming fitted for anything else. Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure will she have for it, even as an accomplishment and a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, and when you are you will be less eager for celebrity. You will not seek in imagination for excitement. . .

But do not suppose that I disparage the gift which you possess, nor that I would discourage you from exercising it. I only exhort you so to think of it, and so to use it, as to render it conducive to your own permanent good. Write poetry for its own sake… and not with a view to celebrity; the less you aim at that the more likely you will be to deserve and finally to obtain it. So written, it is wholesome both for the heart and soul; it may be made the surest means, next to religion, of soothing the mind, and elevating it. You may embody in it your best thoughts and your wisest feelings, and in so doing discipline and strengthen them.

From Charlotte's reply to Robert Southey
16 March 1837

Sir—… At the first perusal of your letter I felt only shame and regret that I had ever ventured to trouble you with my crude rhapsody; I felt a painful heat rise to my face when I thought of the quires of paper I had covered with what once gave me so much delight, but which now was only a source of confusion; but after I had thought a little, and read it again and again, the prospect seemed to clear. You do not forbid me to write. You only warn me against the folly of neglecting real duties for the sake of imaginative pleasures; of writing for the love of fame... You kindly allow me to write poetry for its own sake, provided I leave undone nothing which I ought to do, in order to pursue that single, absorbing, exquisite gratification. . .

Following my father's advice—who from my childhood has counselled me, just in the wise and friendly tone of your letter—I have endeavoured not only attentively to observe all the duties a woman ought to fulfill, but to feel deeply interested in them. I don't always succeed, for sometimes when I'm teaching or sewing I would rather be reading or writing; but I try to deny myself; and my father's approbation amply rewarded me for the privation. Once more allow me to thank you with sincere gratitude. I trust I shall never more feel ambitious to see my name in print; if the wish should rise, I'll look at Southey's letter, and suppress it.

To a number of celebrated writers
(including Wordsworth, Tennyson, Hartley Coleridge, and Thomas De Quincey; accompanied by a copy of their "unwanted" book, "Poems")16 June, 1847

Sir—My relatives, Ellis & Acton Bell and myself, heedless of the repeated warnings of various respectable publishers, have committed the rash act of printing a volume of poems.

The consequences predicted have, of course, overtaken us; our book is found to be a drug; no man needs it or heeds it; in the space of a year our publisher has disposed but of two copies and by what painful efforts he succeeded in getting rid of those two—himself only knows.

Before transferring the edition to the trunk-makers, we have decided on distributing as presents a few copies of what we cannot sell. We beg to offer you one in acknowledgement of the pleasure and profit we have often and long derived from your works.

I am sir, yours very respectfully,
Currer Bell

From C. Bell to Messrs. Smith, Elder & Co.
19 October 1847

Gentlemen: The six copies of “Jane Eyre” reached me this morning. You have given the work every advantage which good paper, clear type and a seemly outside can supply—if it fails—the fault will lie with the author—you are exempt. I now await the judgment of the press and the public.

To journalist, novelist and dramatist George Henry Lewes
12 January 1848

When authors write best, or at least, when they write most fluently, an influence seems to waken in them which becomes their master, which will have its own way, putting out of view all behests but its own, dictating certain words, and insisting on their being used, whether vehement or measured in their nature; new moulding characters, giving unthought-of turns to incidents, rejecting carefully elaborated old ideas, and suddenly creating and adopting new ones. Is it not so? And should we try to counteract this influence? Can we indeed counteract it?

To Ellen Nussey
3 May 1848

I have given no one a right either to affirm, or hint, in the most distant manner, that I am "publishing"—(humbug!)… Though twenty books were ascribed to me, I should own none. I scout the idea utterly.

To William S. Williams
14 August, 1848

The first duty of an Author is—I conceive—a faithful allegiance to Truth and Nature.

To William S. Williams
(Upon reading Jane Austen's "Emma") 12 April, 1850

I read it with interest and with just the degree of admiration which Miss Austen herself would have thought sensible and suitable—anything like warmth or enthusiasm; anything energetic, poignant, heart-felt, is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstration the authoress would have met with a well-bred sneer, would have calmly scorned as outré and extravagant.

She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well; there is a Chinese fidelity, a miniature delicacy in the painting: she ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her . . . even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasional graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress . . . what sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study, but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through . . . this Miss Austen ignores . . . . if this is heresy—I cannot help it.


To Ellen Nussey
1 April, 1843

It is an imbecility, which I reject with contempt, for women, who have neither fortune nor beauty, to make marriage the principal object of their wishes and hopes, and the aim of all their actions.

To Ellen Nussey
2 April, 1845

I know that if women wish to escape the stigma of husband-seeking they must act and look like marble or clay—cold, expressionless, bloodless; for every appearance of feeling, of joy, sorrow, friendliness, antipathy, admiration, disgust are alike construed by the world into an attempt to hook a husband. Never mind! Well-meaning women have their own consciences to comfort them after all.

Do not, therefore, be too much afraid of showing yourself as you are, affectionate and good-hearted; do not too harshly repress sentiments and feelings excellent in themselves, because you fear that some puppy may fancy that you are letting them come out to fascinate him.

To Monsieur Constantin Heger
18 November, 1845 (Translated from the original French)

Monsieur— . . .The summer and autumn have seemed very long to me . . . I will tell you candidly that during this time of waiting I have tried to forget you, for the memory of a person one believes one is never to see again, and whom one nevertheless greatly respects, torments the mind exceedingly and when one has suffered this kind of anxiety for one or two years, one is ready to do anything to regain peace of mind.

I have done everything, I have sought occupations, I have forbidden myself the pleasure of speaking about you—even to Emily, but I have not been able to overcome either my regrets or my impatience—and that is truly humiliating—not to know how to get the mastery over one's own thoughts, to be the slave of a regret, a memory, the slave of a dominant and fixed idea which has become a tyrant over one's mind. Why cannot I have for you exactly as much friendship as you have for me—neither more nor less? Then I would be so tranquil, so free—I could keep silence for ten years without effort . . . .

To forbid me to write to you, to refuse to reply to me—that will be to tear from me the only joy I have on earth—to deprive me of my last remaining privilege . . . when a dreary and prolonged silence seems to warn me that my master is becoming estranged from me—when day after day I await a letter and day after day disappointment flings me down again into overwhelming misery, when the sweet delight of seeing your writing and reading your counsel flees from me like an empty vision—then I am in a fever—I lose my appetite and my sleep—I pine away.

To Ellen Nussey
10 July 1846

Who gravely asked you whether Miss Bronte was not going to be married to her papa's curate? I scarcely need say that never was rumour more unfounded—it puzzles me to think how it could possibly have originated. A cold, far-away sort of civility are the only terms on which I have ever been with Mr. Nicholls. I could by no means think of mentioning such a rumour to him even as a joke—it would make me the laughing-stock of himself and his fellow-curates for half a year to come. They regard me as an old maid, and I regard them, one and all, as highly uninteresting, narrow and unattractive specimens of the coarser sex.

To Ellen Nussey
14 September, 1850

What is the "twaddle about my marrying, etc.," which you hear? . . . Whom am I to marry? I think I have scarcely seen a single man with whom such a union would be possible since I left London. Doubtless there are men whom if I chose to encourage I might marry, but no matrimonial lot is even remotely offered me which seems to me truly desirable: and even if that were the case, there would be many obstacles; the least allusion to such a thing is most offensive to papa.

To Ellen Nussey
15 December, 1852

He entered, he stood before me. What his words were you can guess; his manner, you can hardly realise, nor can I forget it . . . He spoke of sufferings he had borne for months—of sufferings he could endure no longer—and craved leave for some hope . . .

That he cared something for me—and wanted me to care for him—I have long suspected—but I did not know the degree or strength of his feelings.