Charlotte was the oldest, most ambitious and longest-living of the three remarkable Brontë sisters, who were writing in the mid-19th century. Jane Eyre was Charlotte’s first novel and it was an instant hit, despite being criticised for its passionate portrayal of the life of a fiercely independent governess. Women in Charlotte’s novels are not looking for husbands — although sometimes they find them anyway — they are searching for independence and equality. It may not seem too shocking now but, at the time, it was revolutionary.
“If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed,” says Shirley, the eponymous heroine (a character whose name is the same as the book title). “Their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend.” How far have attitudes changed?
‘We are less safe than cows’ say Indian women
The epidemic of violence against women in India has prompted some to wear cow masks, saying that the sacred cattle are safer than women. How much effect will this campaign really have?
Despite #MeToo, feminism is still a dirty word
Why do so many young women avoid calling themselves feminists? Surveys show that around half of young women believe in gender equality, but avoid using the f-word. What is going on?
‘Women make better leaders than men’
In the wake of the Christchurch shooting, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been hailed as “the leader the world needs right now”. Are women better leaders than men?
Sexist Afghan code highlights global inequalities
Today, women across the globe celebrate a century of freedoms won – voting rights, equality in marriage, equal pay laws. But a glance at the news shows we still have far to go.
“Think of my marrying you to be kept by you, monsieur! I could not do it; how dull my days would be!” These are the words of Frances Henri in The Professor, as she discusses her marriage. It was incredible for a woman to keep her job after marriage — but Charlotte’s heroines insist on independence above all else.
Asylum hope for Saudi teenager who fled death
An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family at the weekend is in hiding in Thailand pleading for asylum. She fears that her father and brother may kill her for renouncing Islam.
Thank u, next: being single is the new normal
Is that better than being in a couple? Ariana Grande’s new ode to singledom is number one in the UK. Meanwhile, people around the world spent record amounts on Sunday — aka “Singles Day”.
Young priced out of leaving the family home
A new report shows that 26% of young people are choosing to remain with their parents rather than striking out expensively on their own. Is this a crisis, or an opportunity?
“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!” Jane Eyre was not just a radical novel because it insisted on women’s equality, it took seriously the life of a poor governess, and ended with her marriage to a someone of a far higher class.
Report sparks row over ‘callous’ UK poverty
How bad is Britain’s poverty problem? A UN expert has slammed the British government for causing “staggering” levels of poverty. However, not everyone agrees with his analysis.
‘One Nation’ Labour leader takes aim at elites
Ed Miliband claims the common touch because he went to a state school, while his opponent was educated at great expense. Does this mean only Labour’s leader can unite the nation?
Poverty-stricken parents give up babies in Greece
Poverty, hunger, families crammed into crumbling houses and, now, babies left on church doorsteps. It sounds like a Victorian novel – but this is happening right now, within the EU.
Before the Brontës, Gothic literature was not taken very seriously: it was unrealistic, flighty fiction full of swooning maidens. But Charlotte and her sister Emily wrote far more intellectual Gothic novels, where the spooky supernatural was blended with the realism of daily life.
Expert on ghosts and UFOs joins Euro Parliament
The newest member of the European Parliament is an expert on aliens, man-apes, hauntings, sea-serpents, lake monsters, predictions and curses. Should we all learn more about the paranormal?
Curses and crystals: meet the modern witches
Should we take witchcraft seriously? A surprising number of young women are becoming witches, and not just for Halloween. What does magic and mysticism have to offer the modern world?
Witching hour as Halloween draws closer
Millions of children will dress up as supernatural beings for Halloween. But in the past, fear of spirits and witches has led to conflict, torture and mass murder.
Many of Charlotte’s characters are teachers and governesses, often with female pupils. She was drawing on her own experiences as a teacher in Brussels, but education is also central to her characters’ search for independence. Women are just as intelligent as men, she implies — and learning is their route to equality.
Bitter war of words over university elitism
Is elitism defensible? As Oxford University publishes its admissions data for the first time in 800 years, one British politician has denounced it as “a bastion of privilege”.
Pay, education, childbirth: boosts for women
Will gender ever be irrelevant to success? Despite recent scandals the longer-term trend points towards gender equality. And this trend is global, not simply confined to the western world.
Malala pledges ‘second life’ to education for all
On October 9th, assassins boarded a Pakistani school bus and shot 15-year-old Malala in the head for defending education. Somehow she survived – and has now sworn to continue her struggle.