Charlotte Brontë

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Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last.

Charlotte Brontë (21 April 181631 March 1855) was an English novelist and the eldest of the three Brontë sisters whose novels have become enduring classics of English literature. She first published her work under the pseudonym Currer Bell.


Imagination is a strong, restless faculty, which claims to be heard and exercised: are we to be quite deaf to her cry, and insensate to her struggles? When she shows us bright pictures, are we never to look at them, and try to reproduce them? And when she is eloquent, and speaks rapidly and urgently in our ear, are we not to write to her dictation?
  • I can be on guard against my enemies, but God deliver me from my friends!
    • In response to George Henry Lewes (LL, II, v, 272); Miriam Farris Allott (1974), The Brontës, the critical heritage, page 160;
  • I can only say with deeper sincerity and fuller significance — what I have always said in theory — Wait God's will.
    • (Referring to marriage). As quoted in Moglen, Helen (1984) Charlotte Brontë: the self conceived, University of Wisconsin Press, p. 235
  • If we would build on a sure foundation in friendship, we must love friends for their sake rather than for our own.
    • Carolyn Warner (1992), page 135
  • Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour ... If at my convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?
    • Jane Eyre
  • If you like poetry let it be first-rate; Milton, Shakespeare, Thomson, Goldsmith, Pope (if you will, though I don't admire him), Scott, Byron, Camp[b]ell, Wordsworth, and Southey. Now don't be startled at the names of Shakespeare and Byron. Both these were great men, and their works are like themselves. You will know how to choose the good and avoid the evil; the finest passages are always the purest, the bad are invariably revolting, you will never wish to read them over twice.
    • Letter to Ellen Nussey, 4 July 1834.
    • The letters of Charlotte Brontë (edited by Margaret Smith), Vol. I: 1829–1847, p. 130
  • You advise me, too, not to stray far from the ground of experience, as I become weak when I enter the region of fiction; and you say, "real experience is perennially interesting, and to all men."

    I feel that this also is true; but, dear Sir, is not the real experience of each individual very limited? And, if a writer dwells upon that solely or principally, is he not in danger of repeating himself, and also of becoming an egotist? Then, too, imagination is a strong, restless faculty, which claims to be heard and exercised: are we to be quite deaf to her cry, and insensate to her struggles? When she shows us bright pictures, are we never to look at them, and try to reproduce them? And when she is eloquent, and speaks rapidly and urgently in our ear, are we not to write to her dictation?

  • I avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward.
    • 15 January, 1849. As quoted in Elizabeth Gaskell The life of Charlotte Brontë (1870), p. 285
  • Yesterday I went for the second time to the Crystal Palace. We remained in it about three hours, and I must say I was more struck with it on this occasion than at my first visit. It is a wonderful place – vast, strange, new and impossible to describe. Its grandeur does not consist in one thing, but in the unique assemblage of all things. Whatever human industry has created you find there, from the great compartments filled with railway engines and boilers, with mill machinery in full work, with splendid carriages of all kinds, with harness of every description, to the glass-covered and velvet-spread stands loaded with the most gorgeous work of the goldsmith and silversmith, and the carefully guarded caskets full of real diamonds and pearls worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. It may be called a bazaar or a fair, but it is such a bazaar or fair as Eastern genii might have created. It seems as if only magic could have gathered this mass of wealth from all the ends of the earth – as if none but supernatural hands could have arranged it this, with such a blaze and contrast of colours and marvellous power of effect. The multitude filling the great aisles seems ruled and subdued by some invisible influence. Amongst the thirty thousand souls that peopled it the day I was there not one loud noise was to be heard, not one irregular movement seen; the living tide rolls on quietly, with a deep hum like the sea heard from the distance.
    • Charlotte Brontë, on attending The Great Exhibition of 1851. The Brontes' Life and Letters, (by Clement King Shorter) (1907)
  • I have twice seen Macready act; once in Macbeth and once in Othello. I astounded a dinner-party by honestly saying I did not like him. It is the fashion to rave about his splendid acting; anything more false and artificial, less genuinely impressive than his whole style, I could scarcely have imagined. The fact is, the stage-system altogether is hollow nonsense. They act farces well enough; the actors comprehend their parts and do them justice. They comprehend nothing about tragedy or Shakespeare, and it is a failure. I said so, and by so saying produced a blank silence, a mute consternation.
    • Charlotte Brontë, on William Macready. Charlotte Brontë and Her Circle, (by Clement King Shorter) (1896)
  • Yesterday I saw Mr. Thackeray. He dined here with some other gentlemen. He is a very tall man — above six feet high, with a peculiar face — not handsome, very ugly indeed, generally somewhat stern and satirical in expression, but capable also of a kind look. He was not told who I was, he was not introduced to me, but I soon saw him looking at me through his spectacles; and when we all rose to go down to dinner he just stepped quietly up and said “Shake hands”; so I shook hands. He spoke very few words to me, but when he went away he shook hands again in a very kind way. It is better, I should think, to have him for a friend than an enemy, for he is a most formidable-looking personage. I listened to him as he conversed with the other gentlemen. All he says is most simple, but often cynical, harsh, and contradictory.
  • I have lately been reading Modern Painters, and I have derived from the work much genuine pleasure and, I hope, some edification; at any rate it made me feel how ignorant I had previously been on the subject which it treats. Hitherto I have only had instinct to guide me in judging of art; I feel now as if I had been walking blindfold — this book seems to give me eyes. I do wish I had pictures within reach by which to test the new sense. Who can read these glowing descriptions of (J. M. W.) Turner’s works without longing to see them? However eloquent and convincing the language in which another’s opinion is placed before you, you still wish to judge for yourself. I like this author’s style much; there is both energy and beauty in it: I like himself too, because he is such a hearty admirer. He does not give Turner half-measure of praise or veneration; he eulogizes, he reverences him (or rather his genius) with his whole soul. One can sympathize with that sort of devout, serious admiration (for he is no rhapsodist) one can respect it; and yet possibly many people would laugh at it. I am truly obliged to Mr. Smith for giving me this book, not having often met with one that has pleased me more.
    • Charlotte Brontë, on Modern Painters, Vol. 1 (1843), by John Ruskin. Letter to W. S. Williams (31 July 1848) The Letters of Charlotte Brontë
  • Have you yet read Miss Martineau’s and Mr. Atkinson’s new work, Letters on the Nature and Development of Man? If you have not, it would be worth your while to do so. Of the impression this book has made on me, I will not now say much. It is the first exposition of avowed atheism and materialism I have ever read; the first unequivocal declaration of disbelief in the existence of a God or a future life I have ever seen. In judging of such exposition and declaration, one would wish entirely to put aside the sort of instinctive horror they awaken, and to consider them in an impartial spirit and collected mood. This I find difficult to do. The strangest thing is, that we are called on to rejoice over this hopeless blank — to receive this bitter bereavement as great gain — to welcome this unutterable desolation as a state of pleasant freedom. Who could do this if he would? Who would do this if he could? Sincerely, for my own part, do I wish to know and find the Truth; but if this be Truth, well may she guard herself with mysteries, and cover herself with a veil. If this be Truth, man or woman who beholds her can but curse the day he or she was born. I said however, I would not dwell on what I thought; rather, I wish to hear what some other person thinks,--someone whose feelings are unapt to bias his judgment. Read the book, then, in an unprejudiced spirit, and candidly say what you think of it. I mean, of course, if you have time — not otherwise.
    • Charlotte Brontë, on Letters on the Nature and Development of Man (1851), by Harriet Martineau. Letter to James Taylor (11 February 1851) The life of Charlotte Brontë
  • You ask about Queen Victoria's visit to Brussels. I saw her for an instant flashing through the Rue Royale in a carriage and six, surrounded by soldiers. She was laughing and talking very gaily. She looked a little stout, vivacious lady, very plainly dressed, not much dignity or pretension about her. The Belgians liked her very well on the whole. They said she enlivened the sombre court of King Leopold, which is usually as gloomy as a conventicle.
    • Letter to Emily Brontë, (1 December 1843) The life of Charlotte Brontë (1857) by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846)[edit]

Quotes from poems published in Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (presented in chronological order)

From Retrospection (1835)[edit]

Written in December 1835 - Full text at Wikisource
  • We wove a web in childhood,
    A web of sunny air;
    We dug a spring in infancy
    Of water pure and fair;

    We sowed in youth a mustard seed,
    We cut an almond rod;
    We are now grown up to riper age—
    Are they withered in the sod?

Pilate's Wife's Dream (1846)[edit]

Full text at Wikisource
  • What is this Hebrew Christ? To me unknown,
    His lineage—doctrine—mission—yet how clear,
    Is God-like goodness, in his actions shewn!
    How straight and stainless is his life's career!
    The ray of Deity that rests on him,
    In my eyes makes Olympian glory dim.

The Wood (1846)[edit]

Full text at Wikisource
  • But two miles more, and then we rest!
    Well, there is still an hour of day,
    And long the brightness of the West
    Will light us on our devious way;
    Sit then, awhile, here in this wood—
    So total is the solitude,
    We safely may delay.

Jane Eyre (1847)[edit]

Full text online (at Wikisource); for quotes from the musical based on the novel, see Jane Eyre: The Musical
  • Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns. These things and deeds are diametrically opposed: they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. Men too often confound them: they should not be confounded: appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ. There is — I repeat it — a difference; and it is a good, and not a bad action to mark broadly and clearly the line of separation between them.

    The world may not like to see these ideas dissevered, for it has been accustomed to blend them; finding it convenient to make external show pass for sterling worth — to let white-washed walls vouch for clean shrines. It may hate him who dares to scrutinise and expose — to rase the gilding, and show base metal under it — to penetrate the sepulchre, and reveal charnel relics: but hate as it will, it is indebted to him.

    • Preface, 2nd edition (21 December 1847)
  • There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.
    • Jane (Ch. 1) [opening line]
  • Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day. At intervals, while turning over the leaves in my book, I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon. Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near, a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.
    • Jane (Ch. 1)
  • “My feet they are sore, and my limbs they are weary;
    Long is the way, and the mountains are wild;
    Soon will the twilight close moonless and dreary
    Over the path of the poor orphan child.

    Why did they send me so far and so lonely,
    Up where the moors spread and grey rocks are piled?
    Men are hard-hearted, and kind angels only
    Watch o’er the steps of a poor orphan child.

    Yet distant and soft the night breeze is blowing,
    Clouds there are none, and clear stars beam mild,
    God, in His mercy, protection is showing,
    Comfort and hope to the poor orphan child.

    Ev’n should I fall o’er the broken bridge passing,
    Or stray in the marshes, by false lights beguiled,
    Still will my Father, with promise and blessing,
    Take to His bosom the poor orphan child.

    There is a thought that for strength should avail me,
    Though both of shelter and kindred despoiled;
    Heaven is a home, and a rest will not fail me;
    God is a friend to the poor orphan child.”

    • Bessie's song (Ch. 3)
  • It seemed as if my tongue pronounced words without my will consenting to their utterance: something spoke out of me over which I had no control.
    • Jane (Ch. 4)
  • I am glad you are no relation of mine. I will never call you aunt as long as I live. I will never come to see you when I am grown up; and if any asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick.
    • Jane to Mrs. Reed (Ch. 4)
  • If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust; the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should — so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again.
    • Jane to Helen Burns (Ch. 6)
  • It is not violence that best overcomes hate — nor vengeance that most certainly heals injury. … Read the New Testament, and observe what Christ says, and how he acts — make his word your rule, and his conduct your example. … Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you and despitefully use you.
    • Helen Burns to Jane (Ch. 6)
  • What a singularly deep impression her injustice seems to have made on your heart... Would you not be happier if you tried to forget her severity, together with the passionate emotions it excited? Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs.
    • Helen Burns to Jane (Ch. 6)
If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.
  • I can so clearly distinguish between the criminal and his crime; I can so sincerely forgive the first while I abhor the last.
    • Helen Burns to Jane (Ch. 6)
  • What have I to do with millions [of people]? The eighty I know despise me.
    • Jane to Helen Burns (Ch. 8)
  • If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.
    • Helen Burns to Jane (Ch. 8)
  • And then my mind made its first earnest effort to comprehend what had been infused into it concerning heaven and hell: and for the first it recoiled baffled; and for the first time glancing behind, on each side, and before it, it saw all round an unfathomed gulf: it felt the one point where it stood — the present; all the rest was formless cloud and vacant depth: and it shuddered at the thought of tottering, and plunging amid that chaos.
    • Jane (Ch. 9)
  • By dying young, I shall escape great sufferings. I had not qualities or talents to make my way very well in the world: I should have been continually at fault.
    • Helen Burns to Jane (Ch. 9)
  • School-rules, school-duties, school-habits and notions, and voices, and faces, and phrases, and costumes, and preferences, and antipathies — such was what I knew of existence. And now I felt that it was not enough; I tired of the routine of eight years in one afternoon. I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing. I abandoned it and framed a humbler supplication; for change, stimulus: that petition, too, seemed swept off into vague space: "Then," I cried, half desperate, "grant me at least a new servitude!"

    Here a bell, ringing the hour of supper, called me downstairs.

    • Jane (Ch. 10)
  • It is a very strange sensation to inexperienced youth to feel itself quite alone in the world, cut adrift from every connection, uncertain whether the port to which it is bound can be reached, and prevented by many impediments from returning to that it has quitted.
    • Jane (Ch. 11)
  • All these relics gave... Thornfield Hall the aspect of a home of the past: a shrine to memory. I liked the hush, the gloom, the quaintness of these retreats in the day; but I by no means coveted a night's repose on one of those wide and heavy beds: shut in, some of them, with doors of oak; shaded, others, with wrought old-English hangings crusted with thick work, portraying effigies of strange flowers, and stranger birds, and strangest human beings, — all which would have looked strange, indeed, by the pallid gleam of moonlight.
    • Jane (Ch. 11)
  • I longed for a power of vision which might overpass that limit; which might reach the busy world, towns, regions full of life I had heard of but never seen: that I desired more of practical experience than I possessed; more of intercourse with my kind, of acquaintance with variety of character, than was here within my reach.
    • Jane (Ch. 12)
  • I shall be called discontented. I could not help it: the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes.
    • Jane (Ch. 12)
  • Women are supposed to be very calm generally; but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.
    • Jane (Ch. 12)
  • It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.
    • Jane (Ch. 12)
  • I don't think, sir, that you have a right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.
    • Jane to Mr. Rochester (Ch. 14)
  • I envy your peace of mind, your clean conscience, your unpolluted memory. Little girl, a memory without blot or contamination must be an exquisite treasure — an inexhaustible source of pure refreshment: is it not?
    • Mr. Rochester to Jane (Ch. 14)
  • The human and fallible should not arrogate a power with which the divine and perfect alone can be safely intrusted.
    • Jane to Rochester (Ch. 14)
  • Most true is it that "beauty is in the eye of the gazer." My master’s colourless, olive face, square, massive brow, broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm, grim mouth, — all energy, decision, will, — were not beautiful, according to rule; but they were more than beautiful to me; they were full of an interest, an influence that quite mastered me, — that took my feelings from my own power and fettered them in his. I had not intended to love him; the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously arrived, green and strong! He made me love him without looking at me.
    • Jane (Ch. 17)
  • It is one of my faults, that though my tongue is sometimes prompt enough at an answer, there are times when it sadly fails me in framing an excuse; and always the lapse occurs at some crisis, when a facile word or plausible pretext is specially wanted to get me out of painful embarrassment.
    • Jane (Ch. 23)
  • "Are you anything akin to me, do you think, Jane?"
    I could risk no sort of answer by this time; my heart was full.
    "Because," he said, "I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you — especially when you are near to me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land, come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapped; and then I've a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly."
    • Mr. Rochester and Jane (Ch. 23)
  • Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal — as we are!
    • Jane to Mr. Rochester (Ch. 23)
  • I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.
    • Jane to Mr. Rochester (Ch. 23)
  • My bride is here... because my equal is here, and my likeness.
    • Mr. Rochester to Jane (Ch. 23)
  • I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.
    • Jane (Ch. 27)
  • Feeling... clamoured wildly. "Oh, comply!" it said. "… soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? or who will be injured by what you do?" Still indomitable was the reply: "I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation... They have a worth — so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane — quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs.
    • Jane (Ch. 27)
  • Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt? May your eyes never shed such stormy, scalding, heart-wrung tears as poured from mine. May you never appeal to Heaven in prayers so hopeless and so agonized as in that hour left my lips; for never may you, like me, dread to be the instrument of evil to what you wholly love.
    • Jane (Ch. 27)
  • I can but die... and I believe in God. Let me try and wait His will in silence.
    • Jane (Ch. 28)
  • "I scorn your idea of love," I could not help saying, as I rose up and stood before him, leaning my back against the rock. "I scorn the counterfeit sentiment you offer; yes, St. John, and I scorn you when you offer it."
    • Jane to St. John Rivers (Ch. 34)
  • I have not much pride under such circumstances: I would always rather be happy than dignified.
    • Ch. 34
  • God did not give me my life to throw away.
    • (Ch. 35)
  • I recalled the voice I had heard; again I questioned whence it came, as vainly as before: it seemed in me — not in the external world. I asked, was it a mere nervous impression — a delusion? I could not conceive or believe: it was more like an inspiration.
    • Jane (Ch. 36)
  • Reader, I married him.
    • Jane (Ch. 38)

Shirley (1849)[edit]

  • If you think, from this prelude, that anything like a romance is preparing for you, reader, you never were more mistaken. Do you anticipate sentiment, and poetry, and reverie? Do you expect passion, and stimulus, and melodrama? Calm your expectations; reduce them to a lowly standard. Something real, cool and solid lies before you; something unromantic as Monday morning, when all who have work wake with the consciousness that they must rise and betake themselves thereto.
    • Ch. 1: Levitical
  • I describe imperfect characters. Every character in this book will be found to be more or less imperfect, my pen refusing to draw anything in the model line.
    • Ch. 5: Hollow's Cottage
  • This is a terrible hour, but it is often that darkest point which precedes the rise of day; that turn of the year when the icy January wind carries over the waste at once the dirge of departing winter, and the prophecy of coming spring.
    • Ch. 20: To-Morrow
  • Old maids like the houseless and unemployed poor, should not ask for a place and an occupation in the world: the demand disturbs the happy and the rich.
    • Ch. 22: Two Lives

Villette (1853)[edit]

  • Liberty lends us her wings and Hope guides us by her star.
    • Ch. VI: London
  • If there are words and wrongs like knives, whose deep inflicted lacerations never heal - cutting injuries and insults of serrated and poison-dripping edge - so, too, there are consolations of tone too fine for the ear not fondly and for ever to retain their echo: caressing kindnesses - loved, lingered over through a whole life, recalled with unfaded tenderness, and answering the call with undimmed shine, out of that raven cloud foreshadowing Death himself.
    • Ch. XXII: The Letter
  • No mockery in this world ever sounds to me so hollow as that of being told to cultivate happiness. What does such advice mean? Happiness is not a potato, to be planted in mould, and tilled with manure. Happiness is a glory shining far down upon us out of Heaven. She is a divine dew which the soul, on certain of its summer mornings, feels dropping upon it from the amaranth bloom and golden fruitage of Paradise.
    • Ch. XXII: The Letter
  • The theatre was full — crammed to its roof: royal and noble were there; palace and hotel had emptied their inmates into those tiers so thronged and so hushed. Deeply did I feel myself privileged in having a place before that stage; I longed to see a being of whose powers I had heard reports which made me conceive peculiar anticipations. I wondered if she would justify her renown: with strange curiosity, with feelings severe and austere, yet of riveted interest, I waited. She was a study of such nature as had not encountered my eyes yet: a great and new planet she was: but in what shape? I waited her rising.

    She rose at nine that December night: above the horizon I saw her come. She could shine yet with pale grandeur and steady might; but that star verged already on its judgment-day. Seen near, it was a chaos — hollow, half-consumed: an orb perished or perishing — half lava, half glow.

    I had heard this woman termed "plain," and I expected bony harshness and grimness — something large, angular, sallow. What I saw was the shadow of a royal Vashti: a queen, fair as the day once, turned pale now like twilight, and wasted like wax in flame.

    For awhile — a long while — I thought it was only a woman, though an unique woman, who moved in might and grace before this multitude. By-and-by I recognized my mistake. Behold! I found upon her something neither of woman nor of man: in each of her eyes sat a devil. These evil forces bore her through the tragedy, kept up her feeble strength — for she was but a frail creature; and as the action rose and the stir deepened, how wildly they shook her with their passions of the pit! They wrote HELL on her straight, haughty brow. They tuned her voice to the note of torment. They writhed her regal face to a demoniac mask. Hate and Murder and Madness incarnate she stood.

    It was a marvellous sight: a mighty revelation.

    It was a spectacle low, horrible, immoral.

    Swordsmen thrust through, and dying in their blood on the arena sand; bulls goring horses disembowelled, made a meeker vision for the public — a milder condiment for a people's palate — than Vashti torn by seven devils: devils which cried sore and rent the tenement they haunted, but still refused to be exorcised.

    Suffering had struck that stage empress; and she stood before her audience neither yielding to, nor enduring, nor in finite measure, resenting it: she stood locked in struggle, rigid in resistance. She stood, not dressed, but draped in pale antique folds, long and regular like sculpture. A background and entourage and flooring of deepest crimson threw her out, white like alabaster — like silver: rather, be it said, like Death.

    • Ch. XXIII: Vashi
  • I like to see flowers growing, but when they are gathered, they cease to please. I look on them as things rootless and perishable; their likeness to life makes me sad. I never offer flowers to those I love; I never wish to receive them from hands dear to me.
    • Ch. XXIX: Monsieur's Fête
  • I believe in some blending of hope and sunshine sweetening the worst lots. I believe that this life is not all; neither the beginning nor the end. I believe while I tremble; I trust while I weep.
    • Chapter XXXI: The Dryad
  • "Monsieur, sit down; listen to me. I am not a heathen, I am not hard-hearted, I am not unchristian, I am not dangerous, as they tell you; I would not trouble your faith; you believe in God and Christ and the Bible, and so do I."
    • Chapter XXXVI: The Apple of Discord
  • I told him how we kept fewer forms between us and God; retaining, indeed, no more than, perhaps, the nature of mankind in the mass rendered necessary for due observance. I told him I could not look on flowers and tinsel, on wax- lights and embroidery, at such times and under such circumstances as should be devoted to lifting the secret vision to Him whose home is Infinity, and His being — Eternity. That when I thought of sin and sorrow, of earthly corruption, mortal depravity, weighty temporal woe — I could not care for chanting priests or mumming officials; that when the pains of existence and the terrors of dissolution pressed before me — when the mighty hope and measureless doubt of the future arose in view — _then_, even the scientific strain, or the prayer in a language learned and dead, harassed: with hindrance a heart which only longed to cry — "God be merciful to me, a sinner!"
    • Chapter XXXVI: The Apple of Discord
  • There is, in lovers, a certain infatuation of egotism; they will have a witness of their happiness, cost that witness what it may.
    • Chapter XXXVII: Sunshine

The Professor (1857)[edit]

  • What animal magnetism drew thee and me together—I know not.
    • Ch. I
  • My God, whose son, as on this night, took on Him the form of man, and for man vouchsafed to suffer and bleed, controls thy hand, and without His behest, thou canst not strike a stroke. My God is sinless, eternal, all-wise, and in Him is my trust, and though stripped and crushed by thee, -though naked, desolate, void of resource- I do not despair:where the lance of Guthrum now wet with my blood, I should not despair. I watch, I toil, I hope, I pray: Jehovah, in His own time, will aid.
    • Ch. XVI
  • Novelists should never allow themselves to weary of the study of real life.
    • Ch. XIX
  • Unlawful pleasure, trenching on another’s rights, is delusive and envenomed pleasure—its hollowness disappoints at the time, its poison cruelly tortures afterwards, its effects deprave forever.
    • Ch. XX
  • I tell you, Mr. Hunsden, you are a more unpractical man than I am an unpractical woman, for you don't acknowledge what really exists; you want to annihilate individual patriotism and national greatness as an atheist would annihilate God and his own soul, by denying their existence.
    • Ch. XXIV
  • Better to be without logic than without feeling.
    • Ch. XXIV
  • Against slavery all right thinkers revolt, and though torture be the price of resistance, torture must be dared: though the only road to freedom lie through the gates of death, those gates must be passed; for freedom is indispensable.
    • Ch. XXV


  • Men judge us by the success of our efforts. God looks at the efforts themselves.
    • This quote is sometimes pointing Brontë as the author, but is is originally attributed to Richard Whately, first quoted in The Railroad Telegrapher, Volume 18 (1901), Order of Railroad Telegraphers, page 713.

Quotes about Charlotte Brontë[edit]

  • The English writers who had a big influence on me during my adolescence were Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Charles Dickens, Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, and Virginia Woolf.
  • Recently I found a copy of Jane Eyre in Spanish and I bought it, but it's not the same.
  • When I was fourteen I used to read literature in English. I read textbooks and the newspapers in Spanish, but when I really started to get into literature was when I started reading Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.
    • Rosario Ferré interview in Backtalk: Women Writers Speak Out by Donna Marie Perry (1993)
  • Jane Eyre was the book that made me want to write.
  • You know that when the work entitled "Jane Eyre" appeared, with a fictitious name, it was said to be a work of too great power for any woman-that it must have been written by a man. It proved, however, to have been written by a woman.
    • Lucretia Mott, speech (1856) in Lucretia Mott, Her Complete Speeches And Sermons (1980)
  • As our President said, we have in our army such minds as Spencer, and Mill, and I would add Buckle, and many others; and they are diffusing light, intelligence and civilization, and advocating the right. We have women also. We have Frances Cobbe; whose name I speak with pride and rejoicing; and in the literary world we have Charlotte Bronte, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, and many others, who are consecrating their talents to the great cause of womanhood, and freedom, and right.
  • I like Brontë. Not just Jane Eyre, but Villette is a wonderful novel. And Shirley is interesting too.
    • 1981 interview in Conversations with Grace Paley (1997)
  • Like Thackeray's daughters, I read Jane Eyre in childhood, carried away "as by a whirlwind." Returning to Charlotte Brontë's most famous novel, as I did over and over in adolescence, in my twenties, thirties, now in my forties, I have never lost the sense that it contains, through and beyond the force of its creator's imagination, some nourishment I needed then and still need today.
  • At all events, except for her writings on her mother, Colette is a less reliable source on the lesbian continuum than, I would think, Charlotte Brontë, who understood that while women may, indeed must, be one another's allies, mentors, and comforters in the female struggle for survival, there is quite extraneous delight in each other's company and attraction to each others' minds and character, which attend a recognition of each others' strengths.
  • Comparing Jane Eyre to Wuthering Heights, as people tend to do, Virginia Woolf had this to say: "The drawbacks of being Jane Eyre are not far to seek. Always to be a governess and always to be in love is a serious limitation in a world which is full, after all, of people who are neither one nor the other.... [Charlotte Brontë] does not attempt to solve the problems of human life; she is even unaware that such problems exist; all her force, which is the more tremendous for being constricted, goes into the assertion, "I love," "I hate," "I suffer"...She goes on to state that Emily Brontë is a greater poet than Charlotte because "there is no 'I' in Wuthering Heights. There are no governesses. There are no employers. There is love, but not the love of men and women." In short, and here I would agree with her, Wuthering Heights is mythic.

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