The Life of Charlotte Bronte HTML version

Chapter 3
An article on "Vanity Fair" and "Jane Eyre" had appeared in the Quarterly Review of
December, 1848. Some weeks after, Miss Bronte wrote to her publishers, asking why it
had not been sent to her; and conjecturing that it was unfavourable, she repeated her
previous request, that whatever was done with the laudatory, all critiques adverse to the
novel might be forwarded to her without fail. The Quarterly Review was accordingly
sent. I am not aware that Miss Bronte took any greater notice of the article than to place a
few sentences out of it in the mouth of a hard and vulgar woman in "Shirley," where they
are so much in character, that few have recognised them as a quotation. The time when
the article was read was good for Miss Bronte; she was numbed to all petty annoyances
by the grand severity of Death. Otherwise she might have felt more keenly than they
deserved the criticisms which, while striving to be severe, failed in logic, owing to the
misuse of prepositions; and have smarted under conjectures as to the authorship of "Jane
Eyre," which, intended to be acute, were merely flippant. But flippancy takes a graver
name when directed against an author by an anonymous writer. We call it then cowardly
Every one has a right to form his own conclusion respecting the merits and demerits of a
book. I complain not of the judgment which the reviewer passes on "Jane Eyre."
Opinions as to its tendency varied then, as they do now. While I write, I receive a letter
from a clergyman in America in which he says: "We have in our sacred of sacreds a
special shelf, highly adorned, as a place we delight to honour, of novels which we
recognise as having had a good influence on character OUR character. Foremost is 'Jane
Nor do I deny the existence of a diametrically opposite judgment. And so (as I trouble not
myself about the reviewer's style of composition) I leave his criticisms regarding the
merits of the work on one side. But when--forgetting the chivalrous spirit of the good and
noble Southey, who said: "In reviewing anonymous works myself, when I have known
the authors I have never mentioned them, taking it for granted they had sufficient reasons
for avoiding the publicity"--the Quarterly reviewer goes on into gossiping conjectures as
to who Currer Bell really is, and pretends to decide on what the writer may be from the
book, I protest with my whole soul against such want of Christian charity. Not even the
desire to write a "smart article," which shall be talked about in London, when the faint
mask of the anonymous can be dropped at pleasure if the cleverness of the review be
admired--not even this temptation can excuse the stabbing cruelty of the judgment. Who
is he that should say of an unknown woman: "She must be one who for some sufficient
reason has long forfeited the society of her sex"? Is he one who has led a wild and
struggling and isolated life,--seeing few but plain and outspoken Northerns, unskilled in
the euphuisms which assist the polite world to skim over the mention of vice? Has he
striven through long weeping years to find excuses for the lapse of an only brother; and
through daily contact with a poor lost profligate, been compelled into a certain familiarity