Autograph letter signed to Ellen Nussey.[Haworth], 13 March 1835 Stock Code: 139244
NotesThe letter written when Charlotte was just short of her 19th birthday is a wonderful harbinger of her mature literary style, beginning with an almost poetic expression of her feelings for Nussey before transitioning to an effective setting of scene and an amusing character study, then moving on to politics, expressing her strong anti-Whig sentiments.
At the time of this letter, "Charlotte's fondness for Ellen Nussey was becoming extreme; Charlotte was desolate when Ellen was away from her home in nearby Birstall, hated to be separated from her, and longed for her return" (Smith). The letter is clearly self-consciously literary and at some level performative, as she explains near the end of the letter: "Now Ellen, laugh heartily at all this rodomontade, but you have brought it on yourself, don't you remember telling me to write such letters to you as I write to Mary Taylor? Here's a specimen; hereafter should follow a long disquisition on books, but I'll spare you that."
"Ellen Nussey first met her lifelong friend Charlotte Brontë in January 1831 at Miss Wooler's school Roe Head, Mirfield, where they were both pupils. Ellen was 13 and Charlotte 14... Ellen was a steady, conscientious and reliable friend for Charlotte, and the Reverend Patrick Brontë approved their friendship. Visiting the Parsonage often, she was soon also a friend of Anne and Emily. It was during her time at Roe Head that she began her correspondence with Charlotte, which lasted until the end of Charlotte's life, and which is responsible for so much of what we know today of Charlotte's life."
"Ellen's brother Henry asked Charlotte to marry him in March 1839, but she gracefully refused his suit... Ellen's friendship with Charlotte survived her brother's rejection, and 10 years later she was one of only two friends Charlotte asked to accompany her and Anne on what was to be Anne's last trip to Scarborough, where she died. Ellen's presence was a huge comfort to Charlotte at what was an agonisingly difficult time in her life."
"Charlotte also asked Ellen to be one of her two witnesses when, in June 1854, she married her father's curate Arthur Bell Nicholls. Ellen was not enthusiastic about the marriage it is believed she had imagined herself and Charlotte living as spinster friends into old age yet she did appear as a witness, and remained Charlotte's friend until her death nine months later in March 1855" (The Brontë Society / Brontë Parsonage Museum).
Many of Ellen Nussey's letters were used by Mrs Gaskell as the basis for her important biography The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857). Arthur Bell Nicholls asked Ellen to destroy them after Charlotte's death, but Ellen refused. Nussey, who never had any children, sold most of Charlotte's letters before her death in 1897.
Charlotte Brontë's early letters offer a "terrifying look of life seen from the inside, as we are confronted by the inability of Charlotte Bronte, the bored, lonely, poverty-stricken victim of 19th-century bourgeois mores, to realise that she was Charlotte Brontë, the self-sufficient writer who fused grand passion with a quiet vernacular. Because she kept that world completely hidden from her main correspondent, her school friend Ellen Nussey, we become keenly aware of the disjunction between her social and inner life" (Natasha Walter, "The passionate governess - Charlotte Bronte's letters reveal a struggle between spirit and obedience", The Guardian, 21 July 1995). Although Charlotte's letters to Nussey "tell us little, at this stage, of Charlotte's secret world of imagination, shared only with her family,... their style was joyfully experimental and varied, precocious in its forays into rough satire, elaborately picturesque description, or dramatic dialogue, and full of echoes of their reading" (Margaret Smith, ed., The Letters of Charlotte Brontë, Volume I, 1829-1847). "Even if much of Charlotte's heart is left out of these letters, what we find instead is a lucid development of style and tone as she creates the peculiar voice that rooted Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe so securely in reality" (Walter, ibid.).
The text reads in full: "Dear Ellen, I suppose by this time you will be expecting to hear from me. You did not fix any precise period when I should write, so I hope you will not be very angry on the score of delay, &c. Well, here I am, as completely separated from you as if a hundred instead of seventeen miles intervened between us. I can neither hear you, nor see you, nor feel you, you are become a mere thought, an unsubstantial impression on the memory which, however, is happily incapable of erasure. My journey home was rather melancholy, and would have been very much so, but for the presence and conversation of my worthy companion. I found Kelly a very intelligent man and really not unlike Cato (you will understand the allusion). He told me the adventures of his sailor's life, his shipwreck, and the hurricane he had witnessed in the West Indies, with a much better flow of language than many of far greater pretensions are masters of. I thought he appeared a little dismayed by the wildness of the country round Haworth, and I imagine he has carried back a pretty report of it. He was very inquisitive, and asked several questions respecting the names of places, directions of roads, &c., which I could not answer. I fancy he thought me very stupid. What do you think of the course Politics are taking? I make this inquiry because I now think you have a wholesome interest in the matter, formerly you did not care greatly about it. Baines you see is triumphant. Wretch! I am a hearty hater, and if there is any one I thoroughly abhor, it is that man. But the opposition is divided, red hots, and luke warms; and the Duke (his excellence the Duke) and Sir Robert Peel show no sign of insecurity, though they have already been twice beat; so "courage, mon amie." Heaven defend the right! as the old chevaliers used to say, before they joined battle. Now Ellen, laugh heartily at all this rodomontade, but you have brought it on yourself, don't you remember telling me to write such letters to you as I write to Mary Taylor? Here's a specimen; hereafter should follow a long disquisition on books, but I'll spare you that. Give my best and sincerest love to your mother and sisters. I hope Mary crossed out in ink is quite well by this time kiss Sarah crossed out in ink for me, and ???? particularly to her. Every soul in this house unites with me in best wishes to yourself. I am, dear Ellen, Thy friend, signed Charlotte. P. S. Did Kelly request you to send the umbrella I left to the Bull's Head Inn, Bradford? Our carrier called for it on Thursday but it was not there. I suppose the people of the Inn have lost it. Happily it was of no great value, so it does not much signify."
Single large sheet (220 x 375 mm; 8.75 x 14.75 ins), folded to create four pages. With manuscript address and dated postmark on address panel. Simply framed with an engraving by John Sartain after the classic portrait of Brontë by George Richmond.
Usual folds, a few small chips at edges not affecting text, very good.
Published in Margaret Smith, ed., The Letters of Charlotte Brontë, Volume I, 1829-1847, p. 136. There is one sentence ("I hope Mary is quite well...") that is not in the printed text.
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