Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Jane Eyre’
Charlotte Brontë: draft for Jane Eyre
British Library Add. MS 43474, f.46
Copyright © The British Library Board
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The British Library possesses a splendid collection of Brontë family material, including autograph drafts of novels and poems, and an important group of notebooks containing childhood stories, poems and drawings. Charlotte Brontë’s most famous work Jane Eyre was published in 1847.
Who was Charlotte Brontë?
Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) was the fourth of the Brontë children and the eldest of the three sisters who gained fame through writing. Following an unhappy early education at Cowden Bridge school near Kirkby Lonsdale, where her two elder sisters contracted consumption from which they subsequently died, Charlotte was taught at home and later attended Roe Head School. In 1835, at the age of 19, she returned to Roe Head to take up a post as a teacher. Charlotte disliked teaching, but recognised that it was one of the very few careers that a middle-class woman could pursue at the time. She drew up plans with her younger sisters Anne and Emily to establish their own school, but these did not come to fruition. Following a period as a student and teacher in Brussels, she then returned to the idea that the sisters might earn an income from their writing, in which they were all prolific. Their first publication, a volume of poems which they funded themselves, sold only two copies, but Charlotte was undaunted, and when she submitted the manuscript of ‘Jane Eyre’ to the London publisher Smith, Elder and Co., it was accepted almost immediately.
How was ‘Jane Eyre’ received?
Jane Eyre was Charlotte Brontë’s second novel, but the first to be published. Her story of passionate love checked by her heroine’s stern moral scruples and beset by apparently insurmountable difficulties appeared only two months after Smith, Elder and Co., received the final manuscript in August 1847. The novel was greeted with almost instant acclaim. Critics seized upon its imaginative power and the ‘reality’ and ‘freshness’ of its style; the novelist William Thackeray, to whom Charlotte dedicated the second edition, ‘lost a whole day in reading it’. It remains one the most popular and widely read of English novels. The manuscript shown here is Charlotte’s autograph fair copy. It is remarkably neat, with very few corrections - a beautiful example of what Brontë’s biographer, Elizabeth Gaskell, described as her ‘clear, legible, delicate traced writing’.