In June of 1855, Mrs. Gaskell received a letter from Reverend Patrick Bronte, on behalf of himself and Bronte's husband, Reverend Arthur Bell Nicholls, asking if she would write a biography of Charlotte Bronte. Ellen Nussey, Bronte's friend, had written to Patrick Bronte and Nicholls concerned with her friend's reputation and some speculations made by the press. Ellen Nussey demanded that these speculations be challenged. Had the Bell brothers (Charlotte, Emily and Anne's pseudonyms) been three separate people? Were they male or female? According to Gaskell, people began wondering if the "author [of Jane Eyre] forfeited the right to keep the company of respectable women" (vii) because of her coarseness ("by which Victorians meant vehemence and passion") (Gordon 347)? Ellen suggested that Gaskell, a friend of Bronte’s and an established author, write Charlotte's biography.
In writing the biography, Gaskell used her own notes and letters describing her meetings with Charlotte Bronte. Patrick Bronte provided a skeleton biographical outline (not always accurate in detail) of himself and his family (Gaskell xiii). Gaskell traveled to Haworth and Cowan Bridge, to Casterton (where the clergy daughter's school located) to Thorton (where Bronte was born), to London to see George Smith and to Brussels to meet Constantin Heger. She spoke to those who had known Bronte and relied heavily on letters Bronte had written to Ellen Nussey, which Ellen had saved (Gaskell xv).
Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Bronte was published in 1857. Gaskell then spent some time in Italy and upon her return "found a heap of correspondence waiting for her" most of which were "attacks on grounds of misrepresentation" (Gaskell x). She then wrote a revised edition, which was later revised again and expanded (x).
Through the biography Gaskell sought to repudiate charges of "coarseness" (brought on by Bronte's bold, passionate writing) by showing that "It was not Bronte's nature but her environment that made her wild" (ix). Gaskell felt that Charlotte's life "was but labour and pain" (457). She attempted to protect her friend by removing all reference to Bronte's love for M. Heger from the biography. Due to the fact that the biography was published only two years after Bronte's death, Gaskell had to omit information that could have damaged the reputations of people who were still living.
Gaskell's perspective of Bronte's life is one of loss and grief. To this, she attributes the aspects of Bronte's writing and personality that were unacceptable at the time. She writes:
Miss Bronte never dared to allow herself to look forward with hope; she had no confidence in the future; and I thought, when I heard of the sorrowful years she had passed through, that it had been this pressure of grief which had crushed all buoyancy of expectation out of her. (94)
This perspective of Bronte also applies to Jane Eyre. After reading Gaskell's biography, one can see how autobiographical aspects of Bronte's life emerge in Jane Eyre. For example, Charlotte Bronte attended Cowan Bridge as a child, a school for the clergy’s daughters, which is represented as "Lowood" and her sister Maria is represented as the character "Helen Burns" (Gaskell 51). It is important to remember that Gaskell was writing for a different time, when women were to be seen and not heard. Bronte's bold behavior was not normal and could only be explained by the misery Bronte endured. Taking this into consideration, one can see Gaskell's view of Bronte's life reflected in Jane: her passion a result of her suffering.
Winifred Gerin's biography, Charlotte Bronte: Evolution of a Genius, was published in 1967. She used a variety of sources in writing the biography including Bronte's juvenile writings (preserved in manuscript only), and Bronte's letters. Gerin researched the personalities and backgrounds of Bronte's known acquaintances and visited sights from Bronte's life (from Thorton, to Cowan Bridge, to the home in Ireland where she stayed on her honeymoon) (Gerin xv). Gerin received information on Charlotte Bronte's experience in Belgium first hand from the Heger family. All of this was published for the first time in her biography.
Gerin focused on Bronte's "evolution towards fulfillment" (xv). Gerin viewed Bronte’s grief as an essential part of her character. Gerin revealed the passion that Bronte had felt for M. Heger, which was something Gaskell had not done. Gerin also saw the importance of Bronte's childhood writings and felt that they traced Bronte's development as a writer. She felt that they were the "key to her mature productions" and spent a great deal of time analyzing them (xv).
Gerin's biography recognized how the events in Bronte's life shaped her character. She recognized that Bronte's love for M. Heger was an important factor in her life and included it in her book. She was as concerned as Gaskell with defending Bronte, rather with presenting facts, and thus she did not omit things or modify them as Gaskell did. One hundred years later, women are viewed differently. What was once considered coarse, is no longer so. Gerin was able to present Bronte's life as it was.
Read on: 123helpme/view.