This post contains NO SPOILERS for Jane Eyre.
That being said, have you all started reading Jane Eyre yet? I’m only a few pages in, but it’s as upsetting and brilliant as I remember. I don’t understand how a Victorian novel manages to feel and read and sound so modern, in terms of content and emotion. I won’t talk now about the plot, but I do want to talk about the Brontës.
The Brontës are my literary Squad Goals.* Charlotte, her sisters (those who didn’t die absurdly young) and her brother, were taken from school and kept at home, so they wrote and wrote and wrote. They wrote crazy adventures and scandals and tragedies, all taking place in connected fictional lands. Once the sisters started publishing, first their poetry and then novels, they did so under ambiguous pseudonyms. There’s a really great article on their pseudonyms, where they got them, and the thinking behind using them here. That article includes a quote from Charlotte Brontë, in which she explains:
Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because — without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called ‘feminine’ — we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice . . .
-“Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell” by Charlotte Brontë
Of course, it’s hard to say if and how publishing under their real, female names would have hurt or helped their books, but based on publishing in general, I guess it wouldn’t have been great.
This is another really good article from The Atlantic on the Brontë sisters and how they managed to be subversive in their writings even if they couldn’t be in “real” life.
Charlotte outlived the rest of her siblings to the ripe old age of 39. You can read a short biography of Charlotte here and see a timeline of her life here. Keep her life experience in mind while reading Jane Eyre….or don’t. I’m all about ignoring authorial intention. But the parallels between Charlotte and Jane can be enlightening.
To wrap up, I’d like to share a quote from Charlotte Brontë’s Preface to Jane Eyre. I usually skip prefaces because they’re boring, but I read it this time and am really glad I did.
Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns.
These things and deeds are diametrically opposed: they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. Men too often confound them: they should not be confounded: appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ. There is — I repeat it — a difference; and it is a good, and not a bad action to mark broadly and clearly the line of separation between them.
The world may not like to see these ideas dissevered, for it has been accustomed to blend them; finding it convenient to make external show pass for sterling worth — to let white-washed walls vouch for clean shrines. It may hate him who dares to scrutinise and expose — to rase the gilding, and show base metal under it — to penetrate the sepulchre, and reveal charnel relics: but hate as it will, it is indebted to him.
Keep the above attitude and belief in mind while reading Jane Eyre.
*Yes, I just linked to Urban Dictionary. You’re welcome.