'Jane Eyre' is Published

Jane Eyre is a wildly emotional romance, with a lonely heroine and a tormented Byronic hero, pathetic orphans, dark secrets, and a mad-woman in the attic.

When it was published in 1847 it was a great popular success. The power of the writing, the masterly handling of narrative, and the boldly realistic style were much admired. But when Currer Bell, the pseudonymous author, was revealed to be Charlotte Bronte, a young woman from a bleak Yorkshire parsonage, critics were disapproving. Jane Eyre is full of erotic tension, passion, and irony. These were not qualities encouraged in Victorian women writers, and Jane Eyre was an 'immoral production' to more than one contemporary. For late-twentieth-century readers, however, the book is an astonishing paradigm of feminist writing. At its heart is the assertion that a woman has the right to be independent, and its insistence on that fact and on the equality of the sexes makes it a truly revolutionary work of art.

That Jane Eyre sold so well should force us to reassess our custom of too casually dismissing the tastes and expectations of the large audience of "female" readers of the nineteenth century. For Jane Eyre, whatever its kinship to eighteenth-century Gothic and however melodramatic certain of its episodes (the one in which Rochester disguises himself as a gypsy is particularly strained), is nonetheless a work of stubbornly idiosyncratic intelligence; its strength lies as much in passages of introspective analysis as in conventionally dramatized scenes. Jane projects such rebellious undercurrents that some critics, including sympathetic readers, found the novel "coarse." Jane does not sentimentalize herself as an orphaned child any more than she sentimentalizes other children—in the scene in which she confronts Mrs. Reed her voice is "savage": "I am glad you are no relation of mine: I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. I will never come to see you when I am grown up; and if any one asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick."