Two portraits of Charlotte Bronte exist, Branwell's 1830s depiction in the
'Pillar Portrait' and George Richmond's chalk drawing of 1850. Although the latter is a
beautiful portrait it is idealised, making any comparison with the photo difficult - see
Charlotte's Two Portraits.
Left: If this is Charlotte Bronte in the photo was taken
c1848, she would be 32.
Right: Charlotte Bronte in the 1830s,
aged about 18. She had a slightly crooked mouth; it turned downwards on
her right. This
is detail from the 'Pillar
Portrait' painted by her teenage brother,
Branwell in the 1830s but it was not seen by the public until 1914.
Elizabeth Gaskell first met Charlotte in 1850:
"the little lady worked away and hardly spoke but I had time for a good look at her. She
is (as she calls herself) UNDEVELOPED, thin, and more than half a head shorter than I am; soft
brown hair, not very dark; eyes (very good and expressive, looking straight and open at you) of
the same colour as her hair; a large mouth; the forehead square, broad and rather over-hanging.
She has a very sweet voice; rather hesitates in choosing her expressions, but when chosen they
seem without an effort admirable, and just befitting the occasion; there is nothing
overstrained, but perfectly simple."
Eyes as clear as
Many descriptions of Charlotte mention her eyes
and Elizabeth Gaskell thought them to
"...peculiar eyes, of which I find it
difficult to give a description, as they appeared to me in her later life. They were large, and
well shaped; their colour a reddish brown; but if the iris was closely examined, it appeared to
be composed of a great variety of tints. The
usual expression was of quiet, listening intelligence; but now and then, on some just occasion
for vivid interest or wholesome indignation, a light would shine out, as if some spiritual lamp
had been kindled, which glowed behind those expressive orbs. I never saw the like in any other human creature."
the rest of her features, they were plain, large, and ill set; but, unless you began to
catalogue them, you were hardly aware of the fact, for the eyes and power of the countenance
over-balanced every physical defect; the crooked mouth and large nose were forgotten, and
the whole face arrested the attention, and presently attracted all those whom she herself
would have cared to attract."
Life of Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell,
Joseph Marsden Dixon remembered Charlotte visiting Ellen
“She wor a ‘lowish’ [small] woman...and her eyes
they looked a long way into her head..." 1.
of the Bronte family in Ireland who visited Haworth as a
"Charlotte had a very wee foot and small arms, and
was [short] sighted" but her eyes
were "as clear as diamonds." 2.
"Many who met Charlotte Brontë were amazed to find that
the fierce and vehement Currer Bell was, in fact, a rather plain, terribly shy,
and quite proper woman, completely unremarkable in appearance except for eyes
of extraordinary brilliancy and penetration." 3.
"I must confess that my first impression of Charlotte
Brontë's personal appearance was that it was interesting rather than
attractive. She was very small, and had a quaint old-fashioned look.
Her head seemed too large for her body. She had fine eyes, but her face was
marred by the shape of the mouth and by the complexion. There was but little
feminine charm about her."
Over the years, paintings and descriptions of Charlotte's eyes are varied: grey,
blue, blue/brown, hazel, light brown and "difficult to
describe... but reddish-brown with tints." There is similar confusion over the colour of
Detail from Charlotte in Branwell's 'Pillar
Portrait' and 'Charlotte' in the photograph.
Charlotte in the photo, Branwell's portrait and
the sketch, photographed about 1900.
The only image found which in any way resembles Branwell's
version of Charlotte is a profile sketch, photographed about 1900 by A E Hall; a poor
reproduction of it is shown above. He thought that this was Anne but the nose is concave.
He couldn't have compared it with Branwell's painting because it wasn't discovered until 1914
and in 1900 the only image of Charlotte was her portrait by George Richmond.
This suggests that her nose was slightly retrousse
in the sense that it turned up at the bridge.
1.Bradford Daily Telegraph,
Thursday 20 February 1908. P.2: "CHARLOTTE BRONTE THOUGHT NOUGHT
""There is still living
at Birstall an old man named Joseph Marsden Dixon who has dear remembrance of Charlotte
Bronte. When Mr. Dixon was a boy — he is now well over eighty - Charlotte Bronte used come
to Birstall to see her friend Miss Ellen Nussey, who lived near Mr. Dixon’s home. “She wor a
‘lowish’ [small] woman.” said Mr. Dixon to an interviewer last week, “and her
eyes they looked a long way into her head.... She was thought nought about at that day. She
and Miss Nussey used to walk out together in the wood behind where Wensleydale Mill
stands now." It is close upon fifty-three years since Charlotte Bronte
Site of Red House, Gomersal and site of woods, now Wensleydale Mill, Birstall -
James's Gazette - Thursday 13 October 1898 "Eyes in Fiction
- Favourite Colours of Famous Novelists."
2. The Sketch, 10
3. One visitor to the Parsonage was mesmerized by them; although no
doubt exaggerated this is his account:
"Altogether she was as unpretending,
undemonstrative, quiet a little lady as you could well meet. Her age I took to be about
five-and-thirty. But when you saw and felt her eyes, the spirit that created Jane Eyre was
revealed at once to you. They were rather
small, but of a very peculiar colour, and had a strange lustre and intensity. They were
chameleon-like, a blending of various brown and olive tints. But they looked you through and through-and you felt they were
forming an opinion of you, not by mere acute noting of Lavaterish physiognomical
peculiarities, but by a subtle penetration into the very marrow of your mind, and the
innermost core of your soul.
Taking my hand again she apologised for her
enforced absence, and, as she did so, she looked right through me. There was no boldness in the
gaze, but an intense, direct, searching look, as of one who had the gift to read hidden
mysteries, and the right to read them. I had a feeling that I never experienced before or
since, as though I was being mesmerised. It was almost a relief when the look was removed, and
we sat down together to table. During dinner I had always a feeling that those eyes were on me,
when I was looking down myself, and when I looked at her, and her gaze was on her plate, I
still could not divest myself of the sensation that those eyes could see one through their
lids."The Free Lance, 7 and 14 March, 1868, articles
entitled "Charlotte Bronte" and "A Day with Charlotte Bronte [in 1850]" Personal
Reminiscences (of John Stores Smith).