In This Month: 1847 - Jane Eyre first published in London

In This Month: 1847 - Jane Eyre first published in London

Date: 07/10/2020 13:54

On the 16th October 1847, Jane Eyre was published by Smith, Elder and Company. Charlotte Brontë, the book’s author, used the pseudonym Currer Bell due to the attitudes towards female writers at the time. The book's narrative is about the struggles of an orphan girl who grows up to become a governess. It was an immediate and hugely popular success.

Charlotte was born in 1816, the third child of six, and grew up in the remote English village of Hawthorne, Yorkshire. Her mother, Maria, died when she was five, leaving her father, Patrick - an Irishman from Drumballyroney, Co. Down - a widower.  Charlotte, her two older sisters, and her younger sister Emily, were sent to Clergy Daughter’s School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire. The school was said to have had bad food, cold rooms, and harsh discipline - these attributes reflected captured in the boarding school portrayed in Jane Eyre

Unfortunately, all of the Brontë siblings were to die relatively young, passing away in quick succession. Charlotte was the last to die, aged dying just 39. She had only recently married Arthur Bell Nicholls (in 1854), her father’s curate and loyal suitor.

Nicholls was born in Killead, Co. Antrim and was educated in Trinity College, Dublin. After the death of Charlotte - and later Patrick Brontë - Nicholls returned to Banagher in County Offaly, where he had been educated, to live with his widowed aunt and her daughter, Mary Anna Bell whom he married in 1864. He left the curacy and managed a small farm, refusing to co-operate with would-be biographers who wanted to exploit his connection to the Brontës.

There is only one explicit mention of Ireland in the novel, which was when Jane was to become a governess to five daughters in Connaught. The passage soon becomes a protest due to the “barrier” it put between her and England; though some scholars suggest it was the author calling attention to the contested role of Ireland within the British Empire, something which Charlotte would have been acutely aware of, given her family ties and regular visits to Ireland.  

Many do not know of the connection between the famous Brontë trio and Northern Ireland, but in a segment of the footage below in ‘Ulster Richer and Rarer’ (1960), the viewer is taken on a tour of the family homeland, a location that reputedly inspired elements of Jane Eyre