In Jane Eyre (1847), Charlotte Brontë created ‘a heroine as plain, and as small as myself, who’, she told her sisters, ‘shall be as interesting as any of yours’. Though Emily and Anne Brontë had already completed their first novels when Charlotte began writing her story of the headstrong governess, it was Jane Eyre that was the first of the sisters’ novels to be accepted for publication. Charlotte took a year to write the manuscript, submitting it to publishers Smith, Elder and Co in August 1847. It appeared in print two months later, to great acclaim (mixed with some controversy over the perceived immorality of the central character).
How did Charlotte Brontë compose the novel?
The manuscript shown here is Brontë’s autograph fair copy. It is remarkably neat, with very few corrections: ‘She would wait patiently’ her biographer Elizabeth Gaskell noted, ‘searching for the right term, until it presented itself to her’. Of the few revisions that Brontë made, the most significant serve to emphasize Jane’s strength of will in her encounters with Rochester.
For instance, Brontë chose to play down Jane’s physical imperfections, crossing through Jane’s self-deprecating comparison of her physical form with Blanche Ingram’s, and deleting Rochester’s corresponding remark: ‘I will graciously excuse deficiencies’. Also cancelled is a line further on, in which Jane declares Rochester to be her ‘alpha and omega of existence’. In another scene she hastily withdraws her hand from contact with Rochester’s, but in the revised passage she crushes his hand ‘and thrust it back to him red with the passionate pressure’. These changes underline Jane Eyre’s refusal to be subjugated to anyone, even Rochester.
What else does the manuscript reveal?
At the top of the title page can be seen Brontë’s pen name, ‘Currer Bell’. She expressed a number of reasons for wishing to be anonymous. Firstly, that it would ‘fetter me intolerably’ when writing, to know that acquaintances would read the works, and perhaps identify the real people and places behind their fictional counterparts. She was also conscious of a ‘vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked upon with prejudice’.
[by Currer Bell]
[Vol. 1 st]
Chap. 1 st
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering indeed in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning, but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, a rain so penetrating that further out - door exercise was now out of the question.
I was glad of it; I never liked long walks - especially on chilly afternoons ; dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight with nipped fingers and toes and a heart saddened by the chidings of Bessie, the nurse, and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John and Georgiana Reed.
The said Eliza, John and Georgiana were now clustered round their mamma in the Drawing - room ; she lay reclined
working , respectable poverty ; they think of the word only as connected with ragged clothes , scanty food , fireless grates , rude manners and debasing vices : Poverty for me was synonymous with Degradation .
“No - I should not like to belong to poor people." was my reply.
“Not even if they were kind to you ?"I shook my head - I could not see how poor people had the means of being kind ; and then to learn to speak like them , to adopt their manners , to be uneducated , to grow up like one of the poor women I saw sometimes nursing their children or washing their clothes at the cottage doors of the village of Gateshead - no - I was not heroic enough to purchase liberty at the price of caste .
“But are your relatives so very poor ? Are they working - people?"
“I cannot tell - Aunt Reed says if I have any they must be a beggarly set ; I should not like to go a begging ."
“Would you like to go to school ?"Again I reflected ; I scarcely knew what school was ; Bessie sometimes spoke of it as a place where young ladies sat in the stocks , wore backboards and were expected to be exceedingly genteel and precise ; John Reed hated his school and abused his master , but John Reed's tastes were no rule for mine , and if Bessie's accounts of school - discipline (gathered from the young
“Jane Eyre, Sir."
In uttering these words, I looked up ; he seemed to me a tall gentleman, but then I was very little , his features were large and they and all the lines of his frame were equally harsh and prim.
“Well, Jane Eyre, and are you a good child ?"
Impossible to reply to this in the affirmative ; my little world held a contrary opinion. I was silent ; Mrs Reed answered for me by an expressive shake of the head - adding soon :
“Perhaps the less said on that subject the better, Mr. Brocklehurst."
“Sorry indeed to hear it - she and I must have some talk."
And bending from the perpendicular, he installed his person in the arm - chair opposite Mrs Reed's.
“Come here," he said.
I stepped across the rug ; he placed me square and straight before him. What a face he had - now that it was almost on a level with mine! What a great nose, and what a mouth, and what large prominent teeth !
“No sight so sad as that of a naughty little child," he began “especially a naughty little girl . Do you know where the wicked go after death ? "
“They go to hell." was my ready and orthodox answer.
“And what is hell ? Can you tell me that ? "
sions would not be mistimed , wherein a judicious instructor would take the opportunity of referring to the sufferings of the pri primitive christians ; to the torments of martyrs ; to the exhortations of our Lord himself , calling upon his disciples to take up their cross and follow him ; to his warnings that man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God ; to his divine consolations , if ye suffer hunger or thirst for my sake , happy are ye . Oh , Madam, when you put bread and cheese instead of burnt porridge into these children's mouths you may indeed feed their vile bodies , but you little think how you starve their immortal souls !"
[D. Rofs?] Mr. Brocklehurst again paused - perhaps overcome by his feelings : Mifs Temple had looked down when he first began to speak to her , but she now gazed straight before her , and her face , naturally pale as marble , appeared to be assuming also the coldness and fixity of that material ; especially her mouth
closed as if it would have [required a sculptor's chisel to open it , and her brow settled gradually into petrified severity .
Meantime Mr Brocklehurst , standing on the hearth with his hands behind his back, majestically surveyed the whole school . Suddenly his eye gave a blink , as if it had met something that either dazzled or shocked its pupil ; turning, he said in more rapid accents than he had hitherto used :
of acquaintance with variety of character , than was here within my reach . I valued what was good in Mrs Fairfax and what was good in Adele , but I believed in the existence of other and more vivid kinds of goodness and what I believed in I wished to behold .
Who blames me ? Many no doubt , and I shall be called discontented . I could not help it ; the restlessness was in my nature ; it agitated me to pain sometimes . Then my sole relief was to walk along the corridor of the third story , backwards and forwards , safe in the silence and solitude of the spot , and allow my mind's eye to swell on whatever bright visions rose before it , and certainly they were many and glowing ; to let my heart be heaved by the exultant movement which , while it swelled it in trouble, expanded it with life , and , best of all , to open my inward ear to a tale that was never ended , a tale my imagination created , and narrated continuously , quickened with all of incident , life , fire , feeling that I desired and had not in my natural actual existence.
It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity , they must have action and they will make it if they cannot find it . Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine , and millions are in silent revolt against their lot . Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth . Women are supposed to be very calm generally , but women feel just as men feel ; they need
exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their Brothers do ; they suffer from too rigid a restraint , too absolute a stagnation precisely as men would suffer , and it is narrow - minded in their more privileged fellow - creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings , to playing on the piano and embroidering bags - It is thoughtless to condemn them or laugh at them if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex .
When thus alone , I not unfrequently heard Grace Poole's laugh ; the same peal , the same low , slow ha ! ha ! which , when first heard had thrilled me ; I heard too , her eccentric murmurs , stranger than her laugh . There were days when she was quite silent , but there were others when I could not account for the sounds she made . Sometimes I saw her ; she would come out of her room with a bason or a plate or a tray in her hand, go down to the kitchen and shortly return , generally (Oh romantic reader, forgive me for telling the plain truth !) bearing a pot of porter . Her appearance always acted as a damper to the curiosity raised by her oral oddities ; hard - featured and staid , she had no point to which interest could attach . I made some attempts to draw her into conversation , but she seemed a person of few words ; a monosyllabic reply usually cut short every effort of that sort .
The other members of the household , viz. John and his wife , Leah
joy and analyze the species of pleasure brooding for me in the hour and situation . It was three o 'clock ; the church bell tolled as I passed under the belfry ; the charm of the hour lay in its approach approaching dimness ; in the low - gliding and
pale - beaming sun. I was a mile from Thornfield in a lane noted for wild roses in summer , for nuts and blackberries in autumn , and even now possessing a few coral treasures in hips and haws , but whose best winter delight lay in its utter solitude and leafless repose . If a breath of air stirred , it made no sound here , for there was not a holly , not an evergreen to rustle , and the stripped hawthorn and hazel bushes were as still as the white , worn stones which causewayed the middle of the path . Far and wide , on each side there were only fields , where no cattle now browzed , and the little brown birds which stirred occasionally in the hedge looked only like single russet leaves that had forgotten to drop .
This lane inclined up - hill all the way to Hay ; having reached the middle , I sat down on a stile which led thence into a field . Gathering my mantle about me and sheltering my hands in my muff,P209 I did not feel the cold , though it froze keenly , as was attested by a
[sheet of ice covering the causeway where a little brooklet , now congealed , had overflowed after a rapid thaw some days since . From my seat I could look down on Thornfield ; the grey and battlemented hall was the principal object in the vale blo below me ; its woods and dark rookery rose against the West . I
whence I had just risen , and sat down .
I was in the mood for being useful , or at least, officious I think , for I now drew near him again .
“If you are hurt and want help , sir , I can fetch some one either from Thornfield Hall or from Hay."
“Thank you ; I shall do ; I have no broken bones , only a sprain," And again he stood up and tryed his foot , but the result extorted an involuntary “Ugh !"
Something of daylight still lingered and the moon was waxing bright ; I could see him plainly . This figure was enveloped in a riding - cloak , fur - collared and steel - clasped ; its details were not apparent but I traced the general points of middle height and considerable breadth of chest ; he had a dark face with stern features and a heavy brow ; his eyes and gathered eye-brows looked ireful and thwarted just now ; he was past youth but had not reached middle age ; perhaps he might be thirty - five.
I felt no fear of him and but little shyness . Had he been a handsome , heroic looking young gentleman I should not have dared to stand thus , questioning him against his will and offering my services unasked . I had hardly ever seen a handsome youth , never in my life spoken to one ; I had a theoretical reverence and homage for beauty , elegance , gallantry , fascination , but had I met those qualities incarnate in masculine shape , I should have known instinctively that they neither had nor could
His face was very much agitated and very much flushed, and there were strong markings in the features and strange gleams in the eyes.
“Oh Jane, you torture me !" he exclaimed “With that searching and yet faithful and generous look - you torture me !"
“How can I do that ? If you are true and your offer real, my only feeling to you must be gratitude and devotion - that cannot torture."
“Gratitude !" he ejaculated, and added wildly “Jane accept me quickly - say, Edward, give me my name, Edward, I will marry you."
“Are you in earnest -? Do you truly love me ? Do you sincerely wish me to marry you be your wife ?"“I do - and if an oath is necessary to satisfy you - I swear it."
“Then Sir - I will marry you."
“Edward - my little wife !"
“Dear Edward !"
“Come to me - come to me entirely now." said he, and added in his deepest tone, speaking in my ear as his cheek was laid on mine,
“Make my happiness - I will make yours."
“God, pardon me !" he subjoined erelong “and man, meddle not with me ; I have her and will hold her . "
“There is no one to meddle Sir ; I have no kindred to interfere."
“No - that is the best of it." he said and if I had loved him less
Profound silence fell when he had uttered that word with deep but low intonation. Presently Mr. Wood said: 237
“I cannot proceed without some investigation into what has been asserted, and evidence of its truth or falsehood."
“The ceremony is quite broken off;" subjoined the voice behind us “I am in a condition to prove my allegation - an insuperable impediment to this marriage exists."
Mr. Rochester heard but heeded not - he stood stubborn and rigid, making no movement but to possess himself of my hand - what a hot and strong grasp he had - and how like quarried marble was his pale, firm, massive front at this moment!- how his eyes shone, still - watchful and yet wild beneath - !
Mr. Wood seemed at a loss : “What is the nature of the impediment?" he asked “Perhaps it may be got over - explained away ?"
“Hardly;" was the answer “I have called it insuperable and I speak advisedly." The speaker came forwards and leant on the rails : he continued, uttering each word distinctly, calmly, steadily but not loudly “It simply consists in the existence of a previous marriage : Mr. Rochester has a wife now living."
My nerves vibrated to these soft whispered low-spoken words as they had never vibrated to thunder - my blood felt their subtle violence as it had never felt fever as frost or fire - but I was collected and in no danger of swooning. I looked at Mr. Rochester, I made him look at me - his whole face was colourless rock,
me strength to lead henceforth, a purer life than I have done hitherto!" 259
Then he stretched his hand out to be led : I took that dear hand, held it a moment to my lips, then let is pass round my shoulder ; being so much lower of stature than he, I served both for his prop and guide. We entered the wood and wended homeward.
Reader - I married him. A quiet wedding we had : he and I, the parson and clerk were alone present. When we got back from church, I went into the kitchen of the Manor - house, where Mary was cooking the dinner, and John, cleaning the knives - and I said:
Mary - I have been married to Mr. Rochester this morning." The housekeeper and her husband were both of that decent phlegmatic order of people, to whom one may at any time safely communicate a remarkable piece of news without incurring the danger of having one's ears pierced by some shrill ejaculation, and subsequently stunned by a torrent of wordy wonderment. Mary did look up, and she did stare at me, the ladle with which she was basting a pair of chickens roasting at the fire, did for some three minutes hang suspended in air, and for the same
- Full title:
- Jane Eyre
- 16-19 March 1847, probably Haworth, Yorkshire
- Manuscript / Fair copy
- Charlotte Brontë
- © Brontë Parsonage Museum
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- Add MS 43474-43476
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Professor Tim Youngs considers how Victorian authors chronicled and questioned Britain’s imperial expansion.
- Article by:
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