For years Charlotte and her friend Ellen Nussey had been discussing the likelihood that they would become ‘old maids’. Given that she was clearly plain, and without wealth, it may come as a surprise to hear that by the time Villette was published Charlotte had received and rejected four proposals of marriage. In 1839 Ellen’s brother, the Rev. Henry Nussey, had obtained a curacy in Sussex, intended to start a school, and sent Charlotte an eminently sensible letter suggesting she marry him and look after his pupils. It was this incident which inspired the St John Rivers proposal in Jane Eyre. Only a few months later, a visiting Irish-born curate met her just once, fell passionately in love at first sight, and the next day proposed by letter. Then in 1851, the Managing Clerk of Smith, Elder & Co called at Haworth on a similar mission, but he was about to go to India on behalf of the firm, and in any case Charlotte found him too self-assertive. Her financial future was never fully secure, but she was not prepared to marry for security alone, and she seems to have rejected these three suitors without any self-doubts.
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