On my 12th birthday, my grandmother gifted me a copy of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. For the next week, I wandered around with my nose buried deep into the life of a woman unfolding her moral and spiritual sensibilities in the throes of a rigid English society. While the story spoke of a time and age that I knew nothing about, it was the conflict within the mind of the protagonist that I felt drawn to, even at the highly naïve but impressionable age of 12.
And therein lies the power of the pen. Charlotte Bronte has often been called the ‘first historian of the private consciousness’ on account of her simple yet rich insight into human consciousness and emotion. As a woman writing under the guise of a pen-name to avoid sexual discrimination, prejudiced societal norms formed a major backdrop in a majority of her novels. Born in Thornton, Yorkshire to a country-bred family, Charlotte had to take on the maternal reins of the family at an early age, following the sudden passing of both her mother and older sisters. Through most of her growing years, she was trapped in the battle between taking care of her three younger siblings – Emily, Anne (also famous 19th century writers), and Branwell, and her desire to travel overseas and seek inspiration for her writing.
A lifetime of monetary limitations, orthodox restraints, and maternal burdens allowed Charlotte to explore the themes of religion, sexuality, gender, and rebellion through her critically acclaimed writing. Other than Jane Eyre (1847), the most published of the three Bronte sisters also received a positive response to her two other famous novels Shirley (1849) and Villette (1853).
As a tribute to her timeless literature, here are a few quotes to remember her on her 201st birthday.
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
“Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.”
“I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward.”
“Better to be without logic than without feeling.”
“Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow firm there, firm as weeds among stones.”
“The soul, fortunately, has an interpreter – often an unconscious but still a faithful interpreter – in the eye.”
“I ask you to pass through life at my side—to be my second self, and best earthly companion.”
“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel.”
“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”
“I mean that I value vision, and dread being struck stone blind.”
“I would always rather be happy than dignified.”
“The human heart has hidden treasures, In secret kept, in silence sealed; The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures, Whose charms were broken if revealed.”
“Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.”
“Crying does not indicate that you are weak. Since birth, it has always been a sign that you are alive.”
“Friendship however is a plant which cannot be forced -- true friendship is no gourd spring up in a night and withering in a day.”
“It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.”
“No mockery in the world ever sounds to me as hollow as that of being told to cultivate happiness. Happiness is not a potato, to be planted in mould, and tilled with manure.”
“Talented people almost always know full well the excellence that is in them.”