Read the rest at the Guardian:
Let me introduce you to the real Charlotte Brontë. She was not a wallflower in mourning. She always wanted to be famous; she pined to be “forever known”. Aged 20, she wrote boldly to the Poet Laureate Robert Southey, asking for his opinion of her talents. He replied: “You evidently possess and in no inconsiderable degree what Wordsworth calls ‘the faculty of verse’.” Then he chides her: “There is a danger of which I would … warn you. The daydreams in which you habitually indulge are likely to induce a distempered state of mind. Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life and it ought not to be.” Charlotte ignored Southey but Gaskell couldn’t believe it. She concluded the correspondence “made her put aside, for a time, all idea of literary enterprise”.
Charlotte continued in her position as a schoolteacher, which she had already held for a year. But she hated her profession and heartily despised the aggravating brats she was forced to teach. As the children at Roe Head School did their lessons, she wrote in her journal: “I had been toiling for nearly an hour. I sat sinking from irritation and weariness into a kind of lethargy. The thought came over me: am I to spend all the best part of my life in this wretched bondage, forcibly suppressing my rage at the idleness, the apathy and the hyperbolic and most asinine stupidity of these fat headed oafs and on compulsion assuming an air of kindness, patience and assiduity? Must I from day to day sit chained to this chair prisoned within these four bare walls, while the glorious summer suns are burning in heaven and the year is revolving in its richest glow and declaring at the close of every summer day the time I am losing will never come again? Just then a dolt came up with a lesson. I thought I should have vomited.” Note to Mrs Gaskell: Charlotte didn’t want to kiss those children; she wanted to vomit on them.
Charlotte did not only feel passionate hatred for small children; she felt passionate love for men. Unlike the female eunuch created by Gaskell, she was obsessed with her sensuality. She wrote to a friend: “If you knew my thoughts; the dreams that absorb me; and the fiery imagination that at times eats me up … you would pity and I daresay despise me.” The thwarted lust of a parson’s daughter? Gaskell dismisses it as “traces of despondency”. In Brussels, studying to become a governess at Heger’s school, the virgin became ever more lustful. She wrote obsessive letters to him, begging for his attention. “I would write a book and dedicate it to my literature master – to the only master I have ever had – to you Monsieur.” Later she writes: “Day or night I find neither rest nor peace. If I sleep I have tortured dreams in which I see you always severe, always gloomy and annoyed with me. I do not seek to justify myself, I submit to every kind of reproach – all that I know – is that I cannot – that I will not resign myself to losing the friendship of my master completely – I would rather undergo the greatest physical sufferings. If my master withdraws his friendship entirely from me I will be completely without hope … I cling on to preserving that little interest – I cling on to it as I cling on to life.”