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and June of 1848 when she and her twosurviving sisters, Emily and Anne, emerged quite suddenly assuccessful novelists. At the time, literary society in England was a very smallworld. For a complete unknown to publish a successful novel wasrelatively unusual. For three unknowns to manage it in a singleyear was unheard of. Naturally, everyone was curious aboutthem, though normally the curiosity would have died down as soonas a new subject for gossip came along. But an aura of mysterysurrounding the identity of the Brontes kept them a subject ofinterest for much longer than that. In all innocence, the threesisters had chosen to publish their books under male pennames--as Currer (Charlotte), Acton (Anne), and Ellis (Emily)Bell. They did this partly to escape the prejudice againstwomen novelists and partly to avoid embarrassing friends andacquaintances who might find themselves portrayed in the novels.As itturned out, the pen names only helped to make the Brontesmore famous. Everyone was wildly eager to figure out the trueidentities of Currer, Acton, and Ellis Bell. Were they reallymen? Or if they were women, why were they pretending to be men?There was even a rumor, encouraged by Emily and Anne'spublisher, that thethree authors were one and the sameperson. By the time the truth became widelyknown, Emily and Annewere dead. Charlotte was the only Bronte who became a literarycelebrity during her own lifetime, but all three sisters werewell on their way to becoming cult heroines. Unlike many writers who achieve instant fame, the Brontes'books have stood the test of time. Two of the three bookspublished during that ten-month period in 1847-48--Charlotte'sJane Eyre and Emily's Wuthering Heights--are still widely readand enjoyed today. Anne's novel, Agnes Grey, has never been aspopular, but its admirers are often the mostenthusiastic ofall. One highly respected critic even called it "the mostperfectnarrative in English prose." Precisely because the Brontes led such limited lives, manyreaders have been quick to jump to the conclusion that theirnovels are highly autobiographical. Where would three youngwomen--who had done little traveling and knew only a fewpeople--get their material, if not out of their ownlives?Trying to reconstruct Charlotte Bronte's private life fromscenes in her books has become almost a game. It's true that Charlotte Bronte, like all writers' borrowedfrom her own experiences. But it's a mistake to think thatCharlotte Bronte was Jane Eyre. There are almost as manydifferences between Charlotte and her famous heroine as thereare likenessess. For one thing, Jane Eyre finds her happinessonly through love and marriage. The real Charlotte Bronte foundher fulfillment in her dedication to writing. There are other differences, too. Jane Eyre is an unlovedorphan. But Charlotte Bronte, although her mother died when shewas only five, had a father, a loving aunt, andolder sisters tocare for her. We don't know very much about Charlotte'srelationship with her father. Some biographers think that hewas cold and eccentric.