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Ellen Nussey (20 April 1817 – 26 November 1897), was a lifelong friend and correspondent of Britishmarker author Charlotte Brontë and, through more than 500 letters received from her, was a major source for Elizabeth Gaskell's 1857 biography The Life of Charlotte Brontë.

Early years

Nussey was the twelfth child of John Nussey (1760-1826), a cloth merchant of Birstall Smithiesmarker, near Gomersalmarker in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and his wife Ellen, née Wade (c.1771-1857). Nussey first attended a small local school before progressing to the Gomersal Moravian Ladies Academy. Nussey and Brontë first met in January 1831, when they were both pupils at Roe Head School, near Dewsburymarker in Yorkshiremarker. They corresponded with each other regularly over the next 24 years, each writing hundreds of letters to the other. In 1839, Ellen Nussey's brother, Henry, proposed marriage to Brontë, but she found him dull and refused him.

Friendship with the Brontës

Through her frequent visits to the Parsonage at Haworthmarker Nussey also became a friend of Anne and Emily Brontë, and was accepted as a suitable friend for his daughters by the Reverend Patrick Brontë. Indeed, when in May 1849, Anne decided to make a visit to Scarboroughmarker in the hope that the change of location and fresh sea air might be good for her failing health, and give her a chance to live, she went with Charlotte and Nussey. En route, the three spent a day and a night in Yorkmarker, where, escorting Anne around in a wheelchair, they did some shopping, and at Anne's request, visited the colossal York Minstermarker. However, it was clear that Anne had little strength left.

On Sunday, May 27, 1849, Anne asked Charlotte whether it would be easier for her to come home to die instead of remaining at Scarborough. A doctor, consulted the next day, indicated that death was already close. Anne received the news quietly. She expressed her love and concern for Nussey and Charlotte, and seeing Charlotte's distress, whispered to her to "take courage". Nussey's presence during the weeks following gave comfort to Charlotte Brontë, who was writing her novel Shirley at the time. Nussey believed that the character Caroline Helstone was based on herself, but most writers dispute this, believing that Caroline was actually based on Anne Brontë.

When Charlotte Brontë married her father's Curate, the Rev. Arthur Bell Nichols, at Haworthmarker in Yorkshiremarker in June, 1854, Nussey was one of two witnesses present. Their engagement had caused a cooling in the friendship on Nussey's part, who was probably jealous of Brontë's attachment to Nicholls. After her death, Brontë's husband, the Rev. Arthur Bell Nichols became concerned that her letters to Nussey might damage his late wife's reputation if they were misused, and he asked Nussey to destroy them, but she refused. Some scholars have claimed that this may have been to a struggle between Nicholls and Nussey over who had control over Charlotte Brontë's legacy . However, after over 350 letters from Charlotte Brontë to Nussey were used in Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Brontë he prevented at least one other publication from using them.

Legacy

After the death of Charlotte Brontë in 1855 Nussey devoted the rest of her life to maintaining the memory of her friend, and she was often sought out by Brontë enthusiasts and biographers.

Ellen Nussey died in 1897, aged 80, at Moor Lane House in Gomersalmarker in Yorkshiremarker.Following her death, her possessions and letters were dispersed at auction, and many of Charlotte Brontë's letters to her eventually made their way through donation or purchase to the Brontë Parsonage Museummarker in Haworthmarker in Yorkshiremarker.

Nussey was the great-aunt of Helen Georgiana Nussey (1875–1965) the welfare worker.

References

  1. [1] Chronology of Charlotte Bronte's Life
  2. Barker, Juliet, The Brontës, St. Martin's Press
  3. Barker, The Brontës, p. 594
  4. William Scruton, 'Reminiscences of the late Miss Ellen Nussey' 1897
  5. 'The Letters of Charlotte Brontë' edited by Margaret Smith. Oxford University Press (2004)
  6. [2] From History to Her Story
  7. Susan Williams and Tendayi Bloom, ‘Nussey, Helen Georgiana (1875–1965)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004


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