On this day in history : 31st March 1855 – English novelist Charlotte Brontë, author of Jane Eyre, dies during her pregnancy – three weeks before her 39th birthday….

Charlotte Bronte – George Richmond Public domain

Charlotte, the daughter of an Irish-Anglican priest, had received an unexpected marriage proposal from her father’s curate, Arthur Bell Nichols…. Arthur had loved her from a far for a long time….but Charlotte’s father thought it an unsuitable match, partly due to Arthur’s financial status – and so Charlotte declined the proposal….

However, her good friend, fellow writer Elizabeth Gaskell (who was later to become Charlotte’s biographer) urged her to reconsider….pointing out the advantages of being married….

Charlotte found herself becoming more and more attracted to Arthur – and in January 1854 she agreed to become his wife…. It took until April to finally get her father’s begrudging approval but once he had reluctantly agreed plans were made and the couple married in June. Charlotte’s father had been due to give his daughter away – but at the last minute decided he was unable to do it, leaving Charlotte to walk down the aisle alone….

She became pregnant soon after the wedding – but her health was quickly to decline…. Elizabeth Gaskell described the symptoms of her illness as “sensations of perpetual nausea and ever-recurring faintness”…. Charlotte became weaker and weaker and eventually she and her unborn child passed away….

Portrait by J.H. Thompson at the Bronte Parsonage Museum – Public domain

The cause of death stated upon her death certificate is that of tuberculosis…. However, there are several other possibilities as to the illness that claimed her life…. Typhoid is one such possibility – servant to the Brontë family, Tabitha Ackroyd, had died from the disease a few weeks before – so this could have been very likely…. Another thought is that Charlotte may have contracted pneumonia after getting soaked on a moorland walk – at the time pneumonia was almost impossible to recover from…. ‘Jail Fever’ – or Epidemic Typhus – has been another suggestion put forward; a bacterial infection very common in those more unsanitary times and passed to humans by fleas or lice…. Or it could have been an infection from contaminated water….

But one of the possible causes most favoured by the experts is that she died from dehydration and malnutrition brought on by Hyperemesis Gravidarum – or chronic morning sickness….

Charlotte is buried in the family vault in the church of St. Michael and All Angels in Haworth, West Yorkshire….

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