Charlotte Brontë and Jane Eyre
It could be said that a great deal of mythology attaches both to Charlotte Brontë (1816-55) and her best-known novel, Jane Eyre, published in 1847.
Romanticised attitudes towards the Brontë family
Many biographers have emphasised the supposedly lonely lives led by Charlotte, her father, brother and sisters in their parsonage at Haworth in Yorkshire. Much has been made of Haworth’s proximity to wild moorland and its alleged remoteness from the worlds of business, industry and politics, and it has therefore been seen as extraordinary that young women who knew so little of life and lived at such a distance from the centres of literature and culture should be able to write such accomplished novels.
Another element in this myth is the sense of doom that seemed to pursue the family: a mother who died young, two sisters who died in childhood, and the deaths of three of the siblings in less than a year between September 1848 and May 1849, leaving Charlotte alone.
Romanticised biographies published in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many of them written by novelists, and often based on speculation or partial evidence, encouraged this image of an isolated, almost magical family of writers.
More recent biographical work, however, has given us a much clearer sense of the social and intellectual world inhabited by the family, which shows that they were well-read and well-informed young women with a strong sense of both the social and political issues of their time, and a wide-ranging knowledge and sophisticated understanding of literature.
The novel as fairy tale
The other kind of mythology arises from the novel itself:
- Jane Eyre is a version of the Cinderella story, in which a poor and disregarded young woman, neglected and rejected by her own family, wins the love of a prince or some other man apparently far removed from her in wealth and / or social class
- It is a story that has been told and retold in various forms and can be found in the modern versions of fairy-stories by contemporary feminist writer Angela Carter (1940-92), or even in popular films such as Pretty Woman (1990)
- Orphaned children have often been the starting-point of folk-tales, fairy stories and novels – comparable books from the nineteenth century would be Oliver Twist (1837-8) and Great Expectations (1860-1), both by Charles Dickens (1812-70)
- Jane Eyre has been adapted many times for film and television and has also given rise to both sequels and alternative versions, the best-known of which is Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) by Jean Rhys (1890-1979).
Jane Eyre has always been popular with young readers. As you read the novel you may find it interesting to think about how this story of a young person growing up and finding her way in the world differs – as it certainly will – from your own experience. If you do this, it will help you to understand the forces and situations that influence Jane as she tries to deal with opportunities, challenges and other twists of fortune that mark her path through life.
Charlotte Brontë (1816 – 1855) was an English novelist. She had two younger sisters - Anne and Emily, both of whom wrote novels which have since become English literature classics. Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre under the pen name 'Currer Bell'. Read more . . .
Context of Jane EyreJane Eyre was written in the Victorian Era. The world Charlotte Bront ë lived in had a profound effect on her writings and provides a lense through which one can better understand the text. Read more . . .
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Characterisation - find out about the main protagonists in the novel and analyse their characters.
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