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Arthur Bell Nicholls

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Arthur Bell Nicholls

Arthur Bell Nicholls (1819–1906) was curate to Patrick Brontë, and husband of Patrick's daughter Charlotte Brontë, a famous 19th-century English novelist. Nicholls, cared for Charlotte's aged father after her death, and spent the rest of his life as curator of her memory.[1] After the death of Charlotte, he returned to his native Ireland, remarried, and left the church.

Early years

Nicholls was born in Killead, County Antrim, in Ireland to father William Nicholls, a Presbyterian farmer, and mother Margaret Bell, a member of the Anglican Church. He was educated at the Royal Free School in Banagher, County Offaly, whose headmaster was his uncle, Alan Bell. In 1836 Nicholls entered Trinity College, Dublin from where he finally graduated in 1844.[2]

Vicar at Haworth

He was ordained as a deacon in 1845 in Lichfield, England and became Patrick Brontë's vicar in June of that year. Charlotte Brontë said of him that he appeared to be a respectable young man who reads well, and that she hope would give satisfaction.[2] Although he visited the poor of the parish practically every afternoon, he was considered to be strict and conventional, and in 1847 he carried out a campaign to prevent women from hanging their washing out to dry in the cemetery. Charlotte noted sadly that while he was away on holiday in Ireland, many parishioners hoped that he would not return. He began to develop closer relations with Charlotte who by that time had written Jane Eyre, and they conducted a friendly exchange of letters.[2]

Marriage with Charlotte Brontë

On 13 December 1852, Nicholls asked Charlotte for her hand in marriage. Patrick, Charlotte's father, refused with vehemence, on the grounds that a poor Irish pastor should never be bold enough to suggest marrying his famous daughter.[3] In 1853 Nicholls announced his intention to leave for Australia as a missionary, but Charlotte was able to convince him that she was not insensitive to his passion. He was therefore exiled for several months to another parish from where he had several secret meetings with Charlotte in Haworth.[2] Little by little Charlotte became persuaded by Nicholls, and from respect to her determination, her father finally relented and in February 1854 gave his permission for the visits. They were married four months later in the church at Haworth. Still reticent about the marriage however, Patrick did not attend his daughter's wedding ceremony and Charlotte was led to the altar by Miss Margaret Wooler, the former school mistress of the Brontë sisters at Roe Head.

Following the death of Charlotte in 1855, Nicholls remained at Haworth for six years as Patrick's assistant until Patrick's death in 1861.

Return to Ireland

After the death of Patrick Brontë, Nicholls returned to Banagher in the county of Offaly in his native Ireland where he owned a house called Hill House, known today as Charlotte's Way. In 1864 he married a cousin, Mary Bell, and left the church. After his death in 1906 at the age of 88, his wife who was short of money, sold many of her husband's souvenirs of his former wife to the Brontë Society, including the portrait by Branwell Brontë of the three sisters, that had been kept, folded in four, on the top of a wardrobe.[4]

Relations with Charlotte Brontë

Nicholls' personality has given rise to various analyses. Ellen Nussey, a friend of Charlotte, accuses him of being ... that wicked man who was the death of dear Charlotte.[5] Patrick Brontë remained opposed to the marriage, maintaining that Nicholls was not worthy of his daughter's hand in marriage. Elizabeth Gaskell judged him as intransigent and bigoted, adding however, that (Charlotte) would never have been happy but with an exacting, rigid, law-giving, passionate man.[6] Even Charlotte's two best friends remained divided: Nussey was hostile towards Nicholls and disapproved of their correspondence, while Mary Taylor reproaches Nussey for exerting pressure on Charlotte to give up her choice in a matter so important.[7]

Nevertheless, the marriage appeared to succeed. The two servants at the parsonage in Haworth, Tabitha Aykroyd and Martha Brown firmly believe that Charlotte and Arthur were happy.[5] It is possible however, that Charlotte's feelings were at first ambivalent, if only because she had to give up the liberty she had enjoyed as a single woman. During her honeymoon she wrote to Nussey:

I think those married women who indiscriminatingly urge their acquaintance to marry — much to blame. For my part — I can only say with deeper sincerity and fuller significance — what I have always said in theory — Wait God's will. Indeed — indeed Nell — it is a strange and solemn and perilous thing for a woman to become a wife. Man's lot is far — far different.[8]

Their relationship deepened rapidly and on 26 December 1854, she wrote: he is certainly my dear boy, and he is dearer to me today than he was six months ago.[2]

See also

References

Footnotes
Bibliography

Further reading

External links

  • Bronte blog

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