For three unhappy years, starting in August of 1835 when she was just nineteen, Charlotte Brontë served as a teacher in the Yorkshire town of Mirfield at Roe Head—the same school where she had been a pupil just a few years earlier. With Jane Eyre a decade away, Brontë’s only desire was to write, yet the everyday grind of teaching students she privately called “fat headed oafs” and “dolts” was stifling those literary ambitions, leading to some cathartic, entertaining journal entries such as this one. It was written by Brontë during her second year of teaching, as the pupils she so despised were at work in the very same room.
The Diary Entry
Friday August 11th — All this day I have been in a dream half-miserable & half-ecstatic, miserable because I could not follow it out uninterruptedly, ecstatic because it shewed almost in the vivid light of reality the ongoings of the infernal world. I had been toiling for nearly an hour with Miss Lister, Miss Marriott & Ellen Cook striving to teach them the distinction between an article and a substantive. The parsing lesson was completed, a dead silence had succeeded it in the school-room & I sat sinking from irritation & weariness into a kind of lethargy. The thought came over me am I to spend all the best part of my life in this wretched bondage, forcibly suppressing my rage at the idleness the apathy and the hyperbolical & most asinine stupidity of these fat headed oafs and on compulsion assuming an air of kindness, patience & assiduity? must I from day to day sit chained to this chair prisoned with in these four bare-walls, while these glorious summer suns are burning in heaven & the year is revolving in its richest glow & declaring at the close of every summer day the time I am losing will never come again? Stung to the heart with this reflection I started up & mechanically walked to the window a sweet August morning was smiling without. The dew was not yet dried off the field. the early shadows were stretching cool & dim from the hay-stack & the roots of the grand old oaks & thorns scattered along the sunk fence. All was still except the murmur of the scrubs about me over their tasks, I flung up the sash. an uncertain sound of inexpressible sweetness came on a dying gale from the south, I looked in that direction Huddersfield & the hills beyond it were all veiled in blue mist, the woods of Hopton & Heaton Lodge were clouding the waters-edge & the Calder silent but bright was shooting among them like a silver arrow. I listened the sound sailed full & liquid down the descent. it was the bells of Huddersfield Parish church. I shut the window & went back to my seat. Then came on me rushing impetuously. all the mighty phantasm that this had conjured from nothing to a system strong as some religious creed. I felt as if I could have written gloriously – I longed to write. The Spirit of all Verdopolis of all the mountainous North of all the woodland West of all the river-watered East came crowding into my mind. if I had had time to indulge it I felt that the vague sensations of that moment would have settled down into some narrative better at least than any thing I ever produced before. But just then a Dolt came up with a lesson. I thought I should have vomited.
Charlotte Brontë’s “Roe Head Journal” is owned by the Brontë Society & Brontë Parsonage Museum, who have kindly allowed me to reproduce a page of it here on Diaries of Note. Some additional pages can be seen on the website of the British Library, as can this one at the Morgan Library & Museum.