‘Being unnecessary’, according to Charlotte Brontë, the first edition of Jane Eyre did not contain a preface (p. [vii]). A year later, however, Brontë released this second edition complete with a Preface that reflects on the reviews, responses and speculation surrounding the novel. In it she thanks the public, press, and her publishers, simultaneously acknowledging the novel’s success yet remaining humble, describing it as ‘a plain tale with few pretensions’ (p. [vii]).
After initial words of gratitude, Brontë focuses on the main issue at hand: to defend the novel against the ‘carping few’ who criticised the novel as immoral, ‘an insult to piety’, believing that ‘whatever is unusual is wrong’ (p. viii). In particular, critics found fault with the novel’s frank portrayal of complicated sexual and romantic relationships, unconventional Christianity, and Jane Eyre’s outspoken views. In a dignified and self-possessed defence, Brontë argues that these critics who claim to speak as Christians, are in fact ignorant of the core truths about life, morality, and Christianity. Stating that ‘Conventionality is not morality' (p. viii) Brontë challenges the idea that certain values – ‘narrow human doctrines’ – exist universally for all generations and, in addition, the notion that they should never be examined. She states that literature can play the role of ‘scrutiniz[ing] and expos[ing]’ injustice, hypocrisy and self-serving behaviour (p. ix). This point is developed in the final part of the Preface where Brontë alludes to William Makepeace Thackeray, author of Vanity Fair, praising him as ‘the first social regenerator of the day’ (p. xi). In admiration, Brontë dedicates Jane Eyre to him.
As in the first edition Brontë publishes under her male pen name, Currer Bell.