Today in Literary History – October 16, 1847 – Jayne Eyre is published

Charlotte Bronte’s first and finest book was published on October 16, 1847 as Jayne Eyre: An Autobiography edited by Currer Bell in three volumes. Bronte felt the need to hide behind a male pseudonym.

Jayne Eyre sold slowly at the start and some critics considered the novel to be “immoral.” Perhaps, the denunciations helped boost sales out of curiosity.

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There was also curiosity about the identity of the author, since the name Currer Bell was not known to any readers or booksellers. Curiosity increased when Bronte’s sister Emily Bronte published her novel Wuthering Heights in December under the pen name Ellis Bell.

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Jayne Eyre tells Jane’s story in first-person narration from her childhood as an orphan, her time in Lowood, a harsh and strict boarding school to her employment as a governess at Thornfield Hall, the home of the alluring but inscrutable Mr. Rochester.

The novel has been filmed several times and there have been stage adaptations. The most famous use of Jayne Eyre is in Jean Rhys’s 1966 novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, a re-imagined “prequel” about Mr. Rochester’s first marriage to “the madwoman in the attic.”

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I read Jayne Eyre in university but haven’t looked at it since. I read Wide Sargasso Sea much later. It imagines the first Mrs. Rochester as a creole woman from Jamaica. It uses the story to comment on colonialism, racism and displacement.

More recently, the British fantasy novelist Jasper Fforde’s first novel in the “Thursday Next” series, The Eyre Affair,  follows Jayne Eyre’s characters through parallel universes. Jane becomes a vampire in Sherri Browning Erwin’s Jane Sleyre and features in a popular young adult novel, Jane Airhead by Kay Woodward.

 

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