A portrait of Charlotte Brontë from The Brontë Sisters, by Patrick Branwell Brontë, ca. 1834.
From Charlotte Brontë’s letter to her friend Ellen Nussey, April 2, 1845. Brontë and Nussey exchanged hundreds of letters; this one, written about two weeks before Brontë turned twenty-nine and two years before the publication of Jane Eyre, finds her in a laudably bitter frame of mind, inveighing against marriage and men.
I see plainly it is proved to us that there is scarcely a draught of unmingled happiness to be had in this world. ——’s illness comes with ——’s marriage. Mary T. finds herself free, and on that path to adventure and exertion to which she has so long been seeking admission. Sickness, hardship, danger are her fellow-travellers—her inseparable companions … Yet these real, material dangers, when once past, leave in the mind the satisfaction of having struggled with difficulty, and overcome it. Strength, courage, and experience are their invariable results; whereas, I doubt whether suffering purely mental has any good result, unless it be to make us by comparison less sensitive to physical suffering …
I can perceive that your scruples are founded on common sense. 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 the attempt to hook a husband. Never mind! well-meaning women have their own conscience 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 feat that some puppy may fancy that you are letting them come out to fascinate him; do not condemn yourself to live only by halves, because if you shewed too much animation some pragmatical thing in breeches might take it into his pate to imagine that you designed to dedicate your life to his inanity. Still, a composed, decent, equable deportment is a capital treasure to a woman, and that you possess. Write again soon, for I feel rather fierce, and want stroking down.
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