(Almost) everyone has heard of the Bronte Sisters, but it’s only when we dig a little deeper into their story that we find that they each used a nom de plume and I will be exploring this a little more in this post.
The Bronte Sisters are now household names, but, before they found fame with their writing, they enjoyed the anonymity of being unknown. Charlotte Bronte famously wrote to her publisher “What author would be without the advantage of being able to walk invisible?”
When in 1846, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte took the step of publishing a book of poetry together, they did so, using pen-names. They used the names Currer, Ellis & Acton Bell respectively, each keeping their initial from their first names and using the surname Bell. It is believed that they took the name Bell from Mr Bell-Nicholls a curate that had come to Haworth some months earlier to work for their father and later married Charlotte.
Later when Emily published Wuthering Heights, Anne published The Tennant of Wildfell Hall and Charlotte publish Jane Eyre they continued to use their pen names.
The pseudonyms served them well as the storm of Victorian outrage shook the country over the ‘Bell Brothers’ novels. Meanwhile the Bronte Sisters were safe at home in Yorkshire, with their peace and privacy intact. It must have been wonderful to the retiring sisters, who very much enjoyed their peaceful existence on the edge of the moors. It must have also been really quite entertaining for them to listen to the gossip and read of the chaos that their hidden identities had caused in the far-away social and literary worlds and to know the secret.
So why did they reveal who they really were? Back in 1847, when Charlotte, Emily and Anne were trying to get their novels published, Thomas Newby agreed to publish Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey – they experienced some modest success. However, when George Smith published Charlotte’s Jane Eyre it was an instant hit and the press quickly made the connection between the Bell brothers. Thomas Newby saw his chance to make more money from Anne’s & Emily’s books and started the rumour; that the notorious Bell brothers were not three authors, but one person. The press ran with the story and very soon Charlotte’s publisher, George Smith became concerned and wrote to Charlotte (Mr Currer Bell) asking her to confirm that she was not also Mr Acton Bell and Mr Ellis Bell.
Charlotte and Anne set off for London, to put the matter straight (Emily refused to go, she hated leaving home and it did not need all three of them).
When they arrived at George Smith’s office, they gave him the shock of his life and a story to dine out on for eternity. He arrived to be told that Messers Bell were waiting in his office and when he entered, he found two small, simple, provincial women there. Charlotte showed him the letter he’d sent to Mr Currer Bell and he asked where she got it – “you sent it to me” she said and the deception was over.
I am in agreement with the Bronte sisters to walk invisible is a wonderful thing, we should enjoy our anonymity and their wonderful works!
I hope you enjoy this little dip into the Bronte’s world.
Thanks & have a really lovely day!
P.S. If you want a little bit more on the life of the Brontes then check out my post: A Potted History of The Brontes.
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