Charlotte Brontë Letter

Scope and Content

Letter in French from Charlotte Brontë probably to William Smith Williams. The letter is dated 21 July 1842, while she was staying in Brussels, and is headed Lettre d'invitation à un Ecclesiastique. Enclosed is an autograph note from Charlotte Brontë to W.S. Williams, dated in pencil '?September 1849' [20 September 1849 according to Smith], regarding her use of French in the novel Shirley; together with a cutting containing a printed letter from Charlotte to W.S. Smith, September 1849.

Administrative / Biographical History

The novelist Charlotte Brontë was born on 21 April 1816 at Thornton near Bradford, Yorkshire. In 1824 Charlotte attended the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire, established in 1823 by the Reverend William Carus Wilson. Following an outbreak of typhoid fever in 1825, she was removed from the school, and for the next five and a half years was educated at home.

From 1831 Charlotte was educated at Margaret Wooler's school at Roe Head, Mirfield, near Dewsbury, where she was to return in 1835 as a teacher. In May 1839 Charlotte took the temporary post of governess to the Sidgwick family at Stonegappe, Lothersdale, near Skipton, and in March 1841 became governess to the Whites of Upperwood House, Rawdon, near Leeds.

In 1842 Charlotte travelled to Brussels and enrolled at the Pensionnat Heger, 32 rue d'Isabelle, Brussels, where she stayed to teach English in lieu of tuition fees. In 1843 Charlotte returned to Haworth.

By 1846 Charlotte had completed her novel The Professor (published posthumously by Smith, Elder & Co. in 1857), and in October of 1847 she published Jane Eyre: an Autobiography. By January 1848 a second revised edition of Jane Eyre had appeared, dedicated to Thackeray; a third edition followed in April.

In October 1849, Charlotte's next novel, Shirley, was published in three volumes by Smith, Elder. In her last novel, Villette, published on 28 January 1853, she tells the story of her experience as an English teacher in a girls' school in Villette (Brussels).

On 29 June 1854 Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls (1819-1906), her father's curate. Charlotte died during the early stages of pregnancy on 31 March 1855 and was buried in the family vault beneath the aisle of Haworth parish church.

Source: Christine Alexander, 'Brontë, Charlotte (1816-1855)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -

Conditions Governing Access

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Acquired by the John Rylands Library as part of Mrs Rylands's bequest (R24453).


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan and Jo Humpleby, project archivists, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Charlotte Brontë.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MS 400).

Related Material

The JRUL also holds with Elizabeth Gaskell Collection, which contains the the autograph manuscript of Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857), and twenty-two autograph letters from Charlotte Brontë to Mrs Gaskell (ref.: GB 133 ECG).


The manuscript note from Charlotte Brontë to W.S. Williams is published in Margaret Smith (ed.), The letters of Charlotte Brontë: with a selection of letters by family and friends. Vol. 2: 1848-1851 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 257.