Eight letters from Charlotte Brontë to George Henry Lewes, November 1847–October 1850


Writer and critic George Henry Lewes lauded Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) in his review for Fraser’s Magazine of December 1847. Lewes (who later became George Eliot’s partner) praised the ‘deep, significant reality’ that he judged to be the ‘great characteristic of the book’. He advised her to ‘Persevere; keep reality distinctly before you, and paint it as accurately as you can: invention will never equal the effect of truth’. 

In this letter to Lewes, Brontë responded to Lewes’s advice on realism, and also to his criticism that Jane Eyre was, in places, melodramatic and improbable. She was inclined to agree with Lewes about the necessity of real experience as a basis for fiction, but only to a point: 

If I ever do write another book, I think it will have nothing of what you call “melodrame”; I think so, but I am not sure. […] When authors write best, or at least, when they write most fluently, an influence seems to waken in them which becomes their master… 

‘Why do you like Miss Austen so very much?’ 

In his review for Fraser’s Magazine, Lewes gave the opinion that Jane Austen and Henry Fielding were the greatest novelists in the English language. Brontë’s opinion, expressed in this letter, was to the contrary: that Austen was ‘only shrewd and observant’, not profound. She found Austen’s portrait of life in Pride and Prejudice (1813) to be like a photograph of ‘a carefully-fenced, highly cultivated garden with neat borders and delicate flowers — but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy — no open country — no fresh air — no blue hill — no bonny beck’. For Brontë, observation and lived experience had to be coupled with imaginative flight.

Full title:
Eight letters from Charlotte Brontë to George Henry Lewes, November 1847–October 1850
6 November 1847-17 October 1850
Manuscript / Letter / Ephemera
Charlotte Brontë
© Brontë Parsonage Museum
Held by
British Library
Add MS 39763

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