“I still felt as a wanderer on the face of the earth; but I experienced firmer trust in myself and my own powers, and less withering dread of oppression.”— Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
In May 1846, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne self-financed the publication of a joint collection of poetry under the assumed names of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. These pseudonyms veiled the sisters’ gender whilst preserving their real initials, thus Charlotte was “Currer Bell”. “Bell” was the middle name of Haworth’s curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls, whom Charlotte later married. On the decision to use noms de plume, Charlotte wrote:
“Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because — without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called ‘feminine’ – we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality, and for their reward, a flattery, which is not true praise.”
In other words: people be trippin’ when you DO or SAY things that reflect your truth but differs from their limited scope. Say for example if you’re a non-white person who isn’t writing about the tragedy of racial oppression. Or if you’re a woman questioning ‘feminist theory’ as ascribed by others. Or if you question the meaning of “God”. Or decide to be your personal best.
Charlotte’s first manuscript, The Professor, did not secure a publisher, although she was heartened by an encouraging response from Smith, Elder & Co of Cornhill, who expressed an interest in any longer works which “Currer Bell” might wish to send. Charlotte responded by finishing and sending a second manuscript in August 1847, and six weeks later Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, was published. Jane Eyre was a success, and initially received favourable reviews. There was speculation about the identity of Currer Bell, and whether Bell was a man or a woman. The speculation heightened on the subsequent publication of novels by Charlotte’s sisters: Emily’s Wuthering Heights by “Ellis Bell” and Anne’s Agnes Grey by “Acton Bell”. Accompanying the speculation was a change in the critical reaction to Charlotte’s work; accusations began to be made that Charlotte’s writing was “coarse”, a judgement which was made more readily once it was suspected that “Currer Bell” was a woman. However sales of Jane Eyre continued to be strong, and may even have increased due to the novel’s developing reputation as an ‘improper’ book.
It seems hard to believe how radical the Bronte sisters, Austen, Barrett-Browning and Ada Lovelace (amongst other women like the music composers) were for simply CREATING works of arts, but there it is. We have challenges facing us today but they jumped over them (even if they did have certain class privileges). So can you. Persevere. Be encouraged. Get radical!