Brain Snacks: Tasty Tidbits of Knowledge
Charlotte Brontë published Jane Eyre under the pseudonym "Currer Bell" because there was a lot of prejudice against women writers in the Victorian period. It’s not that women weren’t writing – there were lots of women writing novels and poems and getting published in the nineteenth century – it’s just that critics automatically assumed that their work sucked. Charlotte wanted her work to be read on its merits, so she took a pseudonym that made her gender totally unclear. (It’s important that "Currer Bell" is a gender-neutral name, NOT a male pseudonym for a female author like "George Eliot.") (Source)
When Charlotte Brontë was a student in Brussels, she fell passionately in love with her teacher, Monsieur Heger, who was married and had a family of his own and was so not interested in her. Jane Eyre is in some ways a wish-fulfillment fantasy for Brontë in which the young woman student/teacher does get to seduce her master. (Source)
Charlotte Brontë was part of a strange and literary family: her sisters Emily and Anne also published novels and poems, and her brother Branwell was a wild drunk and drug addict who added some serious weirdness to their lives. Charlotte’s mother and two other sisters (Maria and Elizabeth) all died when Charlotte was very young. (Source)
The 1966 novel Wide Sargasso Sea retells the back-story of Jane Eyre from the perspective of Bertha Mason and explores issues of race, class, and gender.
In 1979, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar published The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination which almost instantly became one of the most important works of feminist literary criticism. The "madwoman in the attic," of course, is a reference to Bertha Mason. (Source)
Charlotte Brontë dedicated Jane Eyre (starting with the second edition) to William Makepeace Thackeray, the author of Vanity Fair. Unfortunately, Thackeray was married to a mentally ill woman and had written his own novel about a social-climbing governess, so the dedication caused a lot of unpleasant gossip. (Source)
Jane Eyre is a traditional Victorian three-volume novel. When the novel was originally published, it came out in three long installments, a little bit like the three volumes of a trilogy (think Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books), although there was just one main plot, not three separate ones. Libraries would buy the set of three volumes, and then they could check all three of them out to different people, so more than one person could be reading a different part of the book at the same time. In those days you paid to check books out of the library, so this was a big money-maker for the libraries and the publishers. After all three volumes had come out, the novel was usually reissued in a single-volume edition, which everyone bought so they could have the newest, snazziest version, and the publishers made even more money. (Does this sound familiar? Think about all those boxed sets of Harry Potter books. Scholastic is raking it in, man.) (Source)