On this day in history, Charlotte Brontë declined a marriage offer from Reverend Henry Nussey on the grounds that she was too “romantic and eccentric” and not suited to be a clergyman’s wife. In the mid-19th century, women didn’t have many options when it came to providing for themselves, so turning down a marriage proposal could be considered a risky move.
Instead, Charlotte worked as a teacher and governess to support her brother’s literary aspirations. Unfortunately, Branwell Brontë succumbed to alcohol and opium abuse and later died when he accidentally set fire to his bed.
Charlotte went on to publish under the pen name Currer Bell, releasing Jane Eyre in 1847.
Although fearless and independent, Charlotte did not go on to have a happy life. She survived her five siblings, Maria and Elizabeth, who died very young, Branwell, Emily (of Wuthering Heights fame), and Anne (author of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall), cared for her father, and went on to marry his curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls, a year after publishing Villette. She died while pregnant after being married for only nine months. Charlotte Bronte was just short of her 39th birthday.
It’s interesting to consider what might have happened had Charlotte accepted Reverend Nussey’s proposal. Would she have gone on to publish in an age when such options were limited for women or been lost to mediocrity for the sake of security and social acceptance?