History of the Text
Jane Eyre’s Reception and Publication History: Jane Eyre was very popular among the general public, selling to great success and going through three editions within a decade of its initial publication. However, it also faced criticism from many reviewers and critics as improper and scandalous.
- Victorian era values: Brontë wrote Jane Eyre during the Victorian period (1837–1901), an era known for extremely strict, conservative social rules. For gender roles, this was the time of “separate spheres” between men and women, in which men occupied the public sphere and women occupied the domestic sphere. Much of the criticism for Jane Eyre when it was released came from the novel’s self-willed heroine, who moreover marries a man previously married. This was fairly controversial for the time.
- Brontë’s pen name: As it was not socially typical or encouraged that women author books, women who wrote often published under a male pseudonym. In the case of Jane Eyre, the book was published under Brontë’s male pseudonym, “Currer Bell.” It was not until a decade after the initial publication of Jane Eyre that Brontë would begin to go public with her true identity.
Literary Predecessors and Influences: Published in the wake of the romantic period, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is a novel with strong romantic and Gothic influences.
- Novels: In Brontë’s time, novels (fictional, book-length prose narratives) were thought of as a more low-brow form of popular entertainment. Coming to a height in popularity in Europe over the course of the 18th century, the novel sprung from the medieval and early modern romances—not just tales of love and passion, but also tales of adventure, intrigue, and peril.
- Romanticism and Gothic fiction: Literature in the late 18th century is commonly characterized by intense, poignant experiences of emotion and the natural world as well as the glorification of individual lives and experiences. Romanticism was influential to both poetry and prose (for poetry, see Wordsworth, Keats, Byron, Shelley). For prose, Gothic fiction was a new sub-genre that came out of romanticism, using supernatural imagery to create a dark and thrilling reading experience. Many literary scholars and critics consider Jane Eyre a key text in the early 19th-century Victorian Gothic moment to follow.