Charlotte, one of six children of Maria Branwell Brontë and her husband, Anglican priest Patrick Brontë, lost her mother while she was very young, and was raised by her father and an aunt, Elizabeth Branwell.
Charlotte and her sister Emily attended the Clergy Daughters' School, the harsh conditions of which were reflected in the school in Charlotte Brontë's novel, Jane Eyre. Charlotte took various jobs as well as taking some time at home teaching and playing with her sisters. She worked variously as a teacher and as a governess.
In 1846, she published Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell with her sisters (Charlotte wrote as Currer Bell, using a man's name as was common for women writers in the early 19th century). She wrote a novel, The Professor, which was rejected during her lifetime but was published posthumously. In 1847, she published her best-known novel, Jane Eyre.
The years 1848 and 1849 were tragic ones: first her brother, Branwell, died, then Emily and then Anne. Charlotte, now nearly alone, wrote and published Shirley: A Tale, and began to make connections in London with other literary figures including William Makepeace Thackeray, Harriet Martineau and Elizabeth Gaskell.
She turned down several offers of marriage, finally accepting that of her father's curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls. They were married in 1854 and returned to Yorkshire, where she died of complications of pregnancy in 1855, another novel, Emma, barely begun. Two stories, "The Secret" and "Lily Hart," were not published until 1978.