Arthur Bell Nicholls

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Portrait of Arthur Bell Nicholls, at the time of his marriage to Charlotte Brontë, in 1854.

Arthur Bell Nicholls (6 January 1819 – 3 December 1906) is best known as the husband of the English novelist Charlotte Brontë.

Nicholls was curate to Patrick Brontë, Charlotte's father, cared for him after her death and spent the rest of his life as curator of her memory.[1] He returned to his native Ireland, remarried and left the church.

Early years[edit]

Nicholls was born in Killead, County Antrim, in Ireland, to William Nicholls, a Presbyterian farmer, and Margaret (whose maiden name, Bell, became his middle name), a member of the Anglican Church of Ireland. 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 graduated in 1844.[2]

Vicar at Haworth[edit]

Nicholls was ordained as a deacon in 1845 in Lichfield and became Patrick Brontë's curate in June that year. Charlotte Brontë said of him that he appeared to be a respectable young man who read well, and she hoped that he 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 said that they hoped 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[edit]

On 13 December 1852 Nicholls asked Charlotte for her hand in marriage. Patrick, Charlotte's father, vehemently refused to approve the union 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, but he had several secret meetings with Charlotte in Haworth.[2] Little by little Charlotte became persuaded by Nicholls, and out of respect for 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. Patrick did not attend the ceremony, so Charlotte was led to the altar by Miss Margaret Wooler, the former schoolmistress of the Brontë sisters at Roe Head.

Following Charlotte's death, in 1855, Nicholls remained at Haworth as Patrick's assistant until Patrick's death in 1861.

Relations with Charlotte Brontë[edit]

Ellen Nussey, a friend of Charlotte's, accused Nicholls of being "that wicked man who was the death of dear Charlotte".[4] Another of Charlotte's friends, Mary Taylor, reproached Ellen Nussey for exerting pressure on Charlotte to "give up her choice in a matter so important".[5] Elizabeth Gaskell judged him intransigent and bigoted, adding, however, that Charlotte "would never have been happy but with an exacting, rigid, law-giving, passionate man".[6] The two servants at the parsonage in Haworth, Tabitha Aykroyd and Martha Brown, believed that Charlotte and Arthur were happy together.[4] During her honeymoon Charlotte wrote to Ellen 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.[7]

However, on 26 December 1854 Charlotte wrote that Arthur "is certainly my dear boy, and he is dearer to me today than he was six months ago".[2]

Return to Ireland[edit]

Arthur Bell Nicholls's house in Banagher, Ireland

After the death of Charlotte and Patrick Brontë, Nicholls returned to Banagher in County Offaly, where he owned a house called Hill House, known today as Charlotte's Way. In 1864 he married a cousin, Mary Bell, and gave up his work as a clergyman. After his death in 1906, at the age of 88, his widow, 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, which had been kept, folded in four, on the top of a wardrobe.[8]

See also[edit]

Arthur Bell Nicholls's gravestone in Banagher


  1. ^ Alan H. Adamson (2008) Mr Charlotte Bronte: The Life of Arthur Bell Nicholls McGill-Queen's University Press, ISBN 0-7735-3365-6
  2. ^ a b c d e Charlotte Brontë, Margaret Smith, The Letters of Charlotte Brontë: 1852–1855, Oxford University Press, 2004, pages xxxv à xxxix
  3. ^ Ann Dinsdale, Simon Warner, (2006) The Brontës at Haworth, Brontë Parsonage Museum, Frances Lincoln Ltd, p. 37.
  4. ^ a b Campbell, Marie (2001) Strange World of the Brontes, Sigma Leisure, p. 12
  5. ^ Barker 1995, p. 710
  6. ^ Moglen, Helen (1984) Charlotte Brontë: the self conceived, University of Wisconsin Press, pp. 232, 233
  7. ^ Moglen, Helen (1984) Charlotte Brontë: the self conceived, University of Wisconsin Press, p. 235
  8. ^ Orel, Harold (1997) The Brontës, University of Iowa Press, p. 190.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gordon, Lyndall (1996). Charlotte Brontë: a passionate life. New York: WW Norton. ISBN 0-393-31448-0. 
  • Jay, Elisabeth; Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn (1997). The life of Charlotte Brontë. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-043493-3. 

External links[edit]