Charlotte Brontë was born on 21 April 1816 near Bradford in the West Riding of Yorkshire. She was the third of six children. In 1820, the family moved to Haworth, also in Yorkshire, where her father was curate. The following year, her mother died, and Charlotte’s aunt joined the household to look after the children. In 1824, the four eldest daughters were sent to a clergy daughters’ school in Lancashire, but soon after both of Charlotte’s older sisters died of tuberculosis. She and her sister Emily returned to live at the Haworth Parsonage with their younger siblings Bramwell and Anne. Brontë biographers note how the children at home encouraged each others imaginative games and creative writing.
Between 1831 and 1832, Charlotte was educated at Roe Head in Mirfield, less than 20 miles southeast of Haworth, where she made friends with Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor who became lifelong correspondents. From 1835 to 1838, she returned to Roe Head as a teacher, and thereafter took positions as governess in various families. In 1842, she moved to Brussels to attend a school, where she taught music in exchange for her tuition. It was not a happy experience and she was back at Haworth in 1844. By this time, she had written a number of stories (posthumously published as her juvenilia), but in 1846 the three sisters paid for the printing of a collection of poems, published under assumed names - though, biographies say, only two copies were ever sold.
The following year, Charlotte Brontë sent her second draft novel to Smith, Elder & Co. (a first novel, called The Professor, not having found a publisher) which published it almost immediately as Jane Eyre: An Autobiography under Charlotte’s pen name Currer Bell. The book was a commercial success, leading to speculation as to the identity of its author, speculation that only increased when Emily published Wuthering Heights under the pen name of Ellis Bell, and Anne published Agnes Grey under the pen name of Acton Bell. Tragically, over the next year or so, all three of Charlotte’s remaining siblings died - from tuberculosis also - Bramwell and Emily in 1948, and Anne in 1949. Although Anne had published her novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in 1948, Charlotte, as her heir, refused to allow it to be reprinted (and it was not until 1854 that a new edition, much edited, was published).
Shirley, the second of Charlotte’s novels to emerge, came out in late 1849, and a third, Villette, in 1853. Given the success of Jane Eyre, she was persuaded to visit London now and then, for a few weeks at a time, and, with her true identity now known, was received in literary circles. She became acquainted with Harriet Martineau, William Makepeace Thackeray, for example, and Elizabeth Gaskell. In June 1854, she married Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father’s curate, becoming pregnant soon after. But she, too, was to die tragically young, the following March, with her unborn child. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, The Brontë Society, Victorian Web, The Poetry Foundation, or Online Literature. Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1857 biography The Life of Charlotte Brontë is freely available at Internet Archive or here.
The Brontës were not diarists by nature, but there are fragments of diary material left by Emily and Anne - see Emily Brontë peels apples - and Charlotte. Charlotte’s diary-like texts, six of them amounting to around 2,000 words, were written during her years at Roe Head school. Most of the entries are quite long, and undated - and some of them can be previewed at Googlebooks in The Brontës: Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal - Selected Writings edited by Christine Alexander (Oxford University Press 2010). The British Library website mentions ‘Charlotte Brontë’s journal’, and gives one extract. However, more information as well as images of the journal itself with transcriptions can be found as part of the online exhibitions The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives at The Morgan Library & Museum. The exhibition notes say: ‘Having begun writing a straightforward diary entry - a real-time description of her life at Roe Head - Brontë had stepped seamlessly into fiction. She allowed her high-flown storytelling to provide an antidote to the dreary everyday, her diary serving as a gateway from the real world into the fantastical.’
4 February 1836
‘Well, here I am at Roe-Head. It is seven o’clock at night, the young ladies are all at their lessons, the school-room is quiet, the fire is low, a stormy day is at this moment passing off in a murmuring and bleak night. I now assume my own thoughts; my mind relaxes from the stretch on which it has been for the last twelve hours & falls back onto the rest which no-body in this house knows of but myself. I now, after a day’s weary wandering, return to the ark which for me floats alone on the face of this world’s desolate & boundless deluge. It is strange. I cannot get used to the ongoings that surround me. I fulfil my duties strictly & well, yet, so to speak, if the illustration be not profane, as God was not in the wind, nor the fire, nor the earth-quake, so neither is my heart in the task, the theme or the exercise. It is the still small voice alone that comes to me at eventide, that which like a breeze with a voice in it [comes] over the deeply blue hills & out of the now leafless forests & from the cities on distant river banks of a far & bright continent. It is that which wakes my spirit & engrosses all my living feelings, all my energies which are not merely mechanical, & like Haworth & home, wakes sensations which lie dormant elsewhere.
5 February 1836
‘Friday afternoon. Now as I have a little bit of time, there being no French lessons this afternoon, I should like to write something. I can’t enter into any continued narrative—my mind is not settled enough for that—but if I could call up some slight and pleasant sketch, I would amuse myself by jotting it down.
Two gentlemen in earnest conversation were walking along in St Mary’s Grove, & their deep commingling tones, very much subdued, softly broke the silence of the evening. Secret topics seemed to be implied in what they said, for the import of their words was concealed from every chance listener by the accents of a foreign tongue. All the soft vowels of Italian articulation flowed from their lips, as fluently as if they had been natives of the European Eden. “Henrico” was the appellative by which the talker & the younger of the two addressed his companion, & the other replied by the less familiar title of “Monsignore.” That young signore, or lord, often looked up at the Norman towers of Hawkscliffe, which rose even above the lofty elms of St Mary’s Grove. The sun was shining on their battlements, kissing them with its last beam that rivalled in hue the fire-dyed banner hanging motionless above them.