Life and works of the sisters Brontë/Introduction to Jane Eyre
'Jane Eyre' was first published in October 1847. Half a century—since this tale of the North by an unknown writer stole upon London, and, in the very midst of the serial publication of 'Vanity Fair,' took the town by storm, obtaining for its author in the course of a few weeks a success which, as the creator of Becky Sharp afterwards said to her, a little sadly and sharply, 'it took me the work of ten years to achieve.'
Half a century, in the view of the Roman Church, is often hardly sufficient to decide even the first step in the process of canonisation; it is generally amply sufficient to decide all matters of literary rank and permanence. How has the verdict gone in the case of Currer Bell? Have these fifty years 'cut all meaning from the name,' or have they but filled it with a fuller content, wreathed it with memories and associations that will for ever keep it luminous and delightful amid the dim tracts of the past?
Judging by the books that have been written and read in recent years, by the common verdict as to the Bronte sisters, their story, and their work, which prevails, almost without exception, in the literary criticism of the present day; by the tone of personal tenderness, even of passionate homage, in which many writers speak of Charlotte and of Emily; and by the increasing recognition which their books have obtained abroad, one may say with some confidence that the name and memory of the Brontes were never more alive than now, that 'Honour and Fame have got about their graves' for good and all, and that Charlotte and Emily Bronte are no less secure, at any rate, than Jane Austen or George Eliot or Mrs. Browning of literary recollection in the time to come.
But if the Brontes live, their books live also. There are some names of the past -- Byron -- Voltaire that are far greater now, more full of magic and of spell, than the books associated with them that are, in fact, separable from the books, and could almost live on without them. But Charlotte Brontë is Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe. You can- not think of her apart from what she has written, and everything that she wrote has the challenging quality of personal emotion or of passion, moving in a narrow range among very concrete things, and intimately fused throughout with the incidents and feelings of one small, intense experience : so that, if one finds, as one does find abundantly, that the Brontes are remembered, it must be that their books are read, that people still sit up into the night with 'Jane Eyre,' and are still as angry as they were at the first, that they can get no one to assure them of Paul Emmanuel's safe return.
So it must be; and so, indeed, the personal experience of most of us can vouch that it is. Nevertheless, here and there one may hear a protesting voice. Here and there a reader and generally a reader of more subtlety and range than his fellows struck with the union of certain extravagances and certain dogmatisms in Charlotte Brontë's work, with the weakness of Anne's and the crudity of Emily's, will dare to say, 'Not at all! The vitality of the Bronte fame does not mean primarily the vitality of the Bronte books. It is a vitality which springs from the English love of the pa- thetic and the picturesque, and the English tendency to sub- ordinate matters of art to matters of sentiment. Mrs. Gas- kell, herself an accomplished novelist, wrote an account of these lonely girls on a Yorkshire moor, struggling with pov- erty and consumption, developing genius in the very wrestle with death, taking the heaven of fame by violence, and per- ishing in the effort. She showed them to us oppressed by poverty and by daily contact with a vicious brother, and yet, through it all, remaining dutiful, loving, and virtuous, as the good English public likes them to be: she describes the deaths the piteous deaths of two of the sisters in the very moment, or on the very threshold, of success, and, finally, her narrative brought us to the death of Charlotte herself Charlotte snatched from happiness and from motherhood, after one brief year of married life : and so skilful is the tell- ing, so touching the story, that the great English heart goes out to it, and forthwith the Bronte books must be books of genius, because the Brontes are so interesting and their story so tragic.'
Perhaps this explanation is put forward to account rather for the continuance of the Brontes' fame than for their original success. Such a critic would admit that 'Jane Eyre' is at least a vivid and exciting story; that 'Villette' has at least passages of extraordinary brilliance: but he will obsti- nately maintain, none the less, that other books, now forgot- ten, have had as much, and that the Bronte ' legend ' has unfairly strengthened the claim of the Bronte stories upon posterity.
Let us see how such a contention stands in the case of ' Jane Eyre.' ' Jane Eyre ' to run through a summary of the plot is the story of an orphan girl, reared at a Charity School amid many hardships, going out into the world as a governess, and falling in love with her employer, Mr. Roch- ester. She yields herself to her own passion and to his masterful love-making with an eager, an over-eager abandon- ment. The wedding-day is fixed ; the small marriage party assembles. But in the very church, and at the moment of the ceremony, it is revealed to Jane Eyre that Mr. Rochester has a wife living, a frenzied lunatic who has been confined for months in a corner of the same house where she and Rochester have had their daily dwelling; that Rochester has deliberately entrapped her, and that she stands on the edge of an abyss. The marriage party breaks up in confu- sion; and Rochester's next endeavour is to persuade the stunned and miserable Jane to scout law and convention, and fly with him to love and foreign parts. He shows her the lunatic, in all the odious horror of her state, and Jane for- gives him on the spot, having never indeed, so far as ap- pears, felt any deep resentment of his conduct. Neverthe- less, she summons up courage to leave him. She steals away by night, and, after days of wandering and starvation, she finds a home with the Rivers family, who ultimately turn out to be her cousins. St. John Rivers, the brother of the fam- ily, an Evangelical clergyman possessed with a fanatical en- thusiasm for missionary life, observes the girl's strong and energetic nature, and makes up his mind to marry her, not in the least because he loves her, but because he thinks her fitted to be a missionary's wife. Her will is on the point of yielding to his, when she hears a mysterious midnight call from Rochester ; she hurries back to her master, to find him blinded and maimed by the fire which has destroyed his house and his mad wife together; and of course the end is happiness.
Now certainly there never was a plot, which pretended to be a plot, of looser texture than that of ' Jane Eyre.' It abounds with absurdities and inconsistencies. The critics of Charlotte Bronte's time had no difficulty in pointing them out ; they He, indeed, on the surface for all to see. That such incidents should have happened to Jane Eyre in Mr. Rochester's house as did happen, without awakening her sus- picions ; that the existence of a lunatic should have been commonly known to all the servants of the house, yet wholly concealed from the governess; that Mr. Rochester should have been a man of honour and generosity, a man with whom not only Jane Eyre, but clearly the writer herself, is in love, and yet capable of deliberately betraying and deceiving a girl of twenty placed in a singularly helpless position ; these are the fundamental puzzles of the story. Mrs. Fairfax is a mystery throughout. How, knowing what she did, did she not inevitably know more? what was her real relation to Rochester ? to Jane Eyre ? These are questions that no one can answer out of the four corners of the book. The country-house party is a tissue of extravagance throughout; the sarcasms and brutalities of the beautiful Miss Ingram are no more credible than the manners assumed by the aris- tocratic Rochester from the beginning towards his ward's governess, or the amazing freedom with which he pours into the ears of the same governess a virtuous girl of twenty, who has been no more than a few weeks under his roof the story of his relations with Adele's mother.
Turn to the early scenes, for instance, between Jane and Rochester. They have been 'several days' under the same roof; it is Jane's second interview with her employer. Mr. Rochester, in Sultan fashion, sends for her and her pupil after dinner. He sits silent, while Jane's quick eye takes note of him. Suddenly he turns upon her.
' You examine me, Miss Eyre,' said he ; 'do you think me handsome?'
Jane, taken by surprise, delivers a stout negative, whereupon her employer, in caprice or pique, pursues the subject further:
'--Criticise me : does my forehead not please you ?'
He lifted up the sable waves of hair which lay horizontally over his brow, and showed a solid enough mass of intellectual organs, but an abrupt deficiency where the suave sign of benev- olence should have risen.
'Now, ma'am, am I a fool ?'
Poor Jane gets out of the dilemma as best she can, and gradually this astonishing gentleman thaws, becomes conver- sational and kind. And this is how he puts the little gov- erness at her ease:-
'You look very much puzzled, Miss Eyre ; and though you are not pretty, any more than I am handsome, yet a puzzled air becomes you ; besides, it is convenient, for it keeps those search- ing eyes of yours away from my physiognomy, and busies them with the worsted flowers of the rug ; so puzzle on. Young lady, I am disposed to be gregarious and communicative to-night.'
'Young lady, I am disposed to be gregarious and communicate to - night !' Not even 'Mr. Rawchester' could exceed this. Parody has nothing to add. The country - house party is equally far from anything known, either to realistic or romantic truth, even to the truth as it existed in the days of 'Jane Eyre's' Quarterly Re- viewer and the Cowan Bridge School. Listen to the badinage of the beautiful and accomplished Miss Ingram. She is mak- ing brutal fun of governesses, in order to be overheard by the shy and shrinking Jane behind the window-curtain. Miss Ingram, it should be remarked, has never seen Jane before, has no grievance against her, and can only be supposed to be displaying the aristocratic temper as such. It pleases her to describe a love affair that her childhood had discovered between her own governess and her brother's tutor. She tells how she and her precious brothers and sisters employed it the love affair 'as a sort of lever to hoist our dead- weights from the house.'
'. . . Dear mamma, there, as soon as she got an inkling of the business, found out that it was of an immoral tendency. Did you not, my lady-mother?'
'Certainly, my best. And I was quite right, depend on that ; there are a thousand reasons why liaisons between governesses and tutors should never be tolerated a moment in any well- regulated house ; firstly ---'
'Oh, gracious, mamma! spare us the enumeration ! An reste, we all know them : danger of bad example to the innocence of childhood distractions and consequent neglect of duty on the part of the attached mutual alliance and reliance; confidence thence resulting insolence accompanying mutiny and general blow-up. Am I right, Baroness Ingram, of Ingram Park ?'
Baroness Ingram, of Ingram Park !
But Miss Ingram can also show herself as the gay and sprightly trifler with Rochester's well-bred homage.
'Whenever I marry,' she continued, after a pause which none interrupted, ' I am resolved that my husband shall not be a rival, but a foil. Mr. Rochester, now sing, and I will play for you.'
'I am all obedience,' was the response.
'Here, then, is a Corsair-song. Know that I doat on Corsairs ; and for that reason sing it " con spirito."'
'Commands from Miss Ingram's lips would put spirit into a mug of milk and water.' And so on. The whole scene from beginning to end is a piece of heavy grotesque, without either the truth or the fun of good satire. It was these pages, of course, and certain others like them in the book, that set George Henry Lewes preaching the 'mild eyes,' the 'truth,' and 'finish' of Miss Austen to the new and stormy genius which had produced ' Jane Eyre.' And one may see, perhaps, in Charlotte's sore- ness, in the very vehemence that she shows under this particu- lar criticism, that, secretly, the shaft has gone home. She is, after all, infinitely shrewd, sensitive, and, in the end, just. She wrote a petulant letter to Mr. Lewes ; but she sent for ' Pride and Prejudice,' which she had never read, and the proba- bility is that, in spite of a natural antipathy, her quick eye took note at once of the fineness of stroke that goes to cari- cature itself in that immortal book ; that she pondered Mr. Collins and Lady Catharine de Burgh ; and that in the com- parative ease and urbanity which marked the painting of manners in ' Shirley,' the influence of her tilt with Lewes counts for something.
As to the other weaknesses of plot and conception, they are very obvious and very simple. The 'arrangements' by which Jane Eyre is led to find a home in the Rivers house- hold, and becomes at once her uncle's heiress, and the good angel of her newly discovered cousins; the device of the phantom voice that recalls her to Rochester's side ; the fire that destroys the mad wife, and delivers into Jane's hands a subdued and helpless Rochester ; all these belong to that more mechanical and external sort of plot-making, which the modern novelist of feeling and passion as distinguished from the novelist of adventure prides himself on renouncing. To him the painting of a situation like that, say, in Benjamin Constant's ' Adolphe ' infinitely true, and wholly insoluble where the writer scorns to apply any coercive framework, any rough-and-ready 'plot' to his material, is the admirable and important thing. The true subject of ' Jane Eyre ' is the courage with which a friendless and loving girl confronts her own passion, and, in the interest of some strange social in- stinct which she knows as ' duty,' which she cannot explain and can only obey, tramples her love underfoot, and goes out miserable into the world. Beside this wrestle of the human will, everything else is trivial or vulgar. The various expedients legacies, uncles, fires, and coincidences by which Jane Eyre is ultimately brought to happiness, cheapen and degrade the book without convincing the reader. In fact to return to our advocatus diaboli - '"Jane Eyre" is on the one side a rather poor novel of incident, planned on the conventional pattern, and full of clumsy execution ; on an- other side it is a picture of passion and of ideas, for which in truth the writer had no sufficient equipment ; she moves im- prisoned, to quote Mr. Leslie Stephen, in " a narrow circle of thoughts ;" if you press it, the psychology of the book is really childish ; Rochester is absurd, Jane Eyre, in spite of the stir that she makes, only half-realised and half-conscious. Still, as a study of feeling, adapted to some extent to modern realist demands, the novel came at a happy moment. It is one of the signs, no doubt, that mark the transition from the old novel to the new, from the old novel of plot and coinci- dence to the new novel of psychology and character. But, given the defects of the book, how is it possible to assign it a high place in the history of that great modern art which has commanded the knowledge of a Tolstoy, and the mind of a Turguénieff, which is the subtle interpreter and not the vulgar stage-manager of nature, which shrinks from the mere- ly obvious and vigorous, and is ever pressing forward toward that more delicate, more complex, more elusive expression, satisfying in proportion to its incompleteness, which is the highest response of human genius to this unintelligible world?'
So far the objector; yet, in spite of it all, 'Jane Eyre' per- sists, and Charlotte Bronte is with the immortals. What is it that a critic of this type forgets what item does he drop out of the reckoning which yet, in the addition, decides the sum ? Simply, one might say, Charlotte Bronte herself. Litera- ture, says Joubert, has been called the expression of society ; and so no doubt it is, looked at as a whole. In the single writer, however, it appears rather as the expression of stud- ies, or temper, or personality. 'And this last is the best. There are books so fine that literature in them is but the expression of those that write them.' In other words, there are books where the writer seems to be everything, the mate- rial employed, the environment, almost nothing. The main secret of the charm that clings to Charlotte Bronte's books is, and will always be, the contact which they give us with her own fresh, indomitable, surprising personality surpris- ing, above all. In spite of its conventionalities of scheme, 'Jane Eyre' has, in detail, in conversation, in the painting of character, that perpetual magic of the unexpected which overrides a thousand faults, and keeps the mood of the reader happy and alert. The expedients of the plot may irri- tate or chill the artistic sense ; the voice of the story-teller, in its inflections of passion, or feeling or reverie, charms and holds the ear, almost from first to last. The general plan maybe commonplace, the ideas even of no great profundity; but the book is original. How often in the early scenes of childhood or school-life does one instinctively expect the conventional solution, the conventional softening, the con- ventional prettiness or quaintness, that so many other story- tellers, of undoubted talent, could not have resisted ! And it never comes. Hammer-like, the blows of a passionate realism descend. Jane Eyre, the little helpless child, is never comforted ; Mrs. Reid, the cruel aunt, is never sorry for her cruelties ; Bessie, the kind nurse, is not very kind, she does not break the impression, she satisfies no instinct of poetic compensation, she only just makes the story credi- ble, the reader's assent possible. So, at Lowood, Helen Burns is not a suffering angel ; there is nothing consciously pretty or touching in the wonderful picture of her ; reality, with its discords, its infinite novelties, lends word and magic to the passion of Charlotte's memory of her dead sister ; all is varied, living, poignant, full of the inexhaustible savour of truth, and warm with the fire of the heart. So that at last, when pure pathos comes, when Helen sleeps herself to death in Jane's arms, when the struggle is over, and room is made for softness, for pity, the mind of the reader yields itself wholly, without reserve, to the working of an artist so masterful, so self-contained, so rightly frugal as to the great words and great emotions of her art. We are in the presence of the same kind of power as that which drew the death of Bazarov in ' Fathers and Sons ' a power which, in the regions covered by the experience of the mind behind it, ' nothing common does nor mean,' which shrinks from the borrowed and the imitated and the insincere, as the patriot shrinks from treason.
Personality then -- strong, free, passionate personality -- is the sole but the sufficient spell of these books. Can we analyse some of its elements ? so far, at least, as their literary expression is concerned ?
In the first place, has it ever been sufficiently recognised that Charlotte Bronte is first and foremost an Irishwoman, that her genius is at bottom a Celtic genius ? When she first appeared at the Roehead school in 1831, as a child of fourteen, it was noticed by the schoolfellow to whom we owe so many early remembrances of her, that she ' spoke with a strong Irish accent.' Her father came from an Irish cabin in County Down ; her mother was of a Cornish family. The main characteristics indeed of the Celt are all hers disinter- estedness, melancholy, wildness, a way ward force and passion, for ever wooed by sounds and sights to which other natures are insensible by murmurs from the earth, by colours in the sky, by tones and accents of the soul, that speak to the Celtic sense as to no other. ' We shall never build the Parthenon,' said Renan of his own Breton race ; ' marble is not for us ; but we know how to grip the heart and the soul ; we have an art of piercing that belongs to us alone ; we plunge our hands into the entrails of man, and, like the witches of " Macbeth," we draw them back full of the secrets of the infinite. The great marvel of our art is to know how to make a charm out of the very disease that plagues us. A spring of eternal madness rises in the heart of our race. The "realm of faery," the most beautiful on earth, is our domain.' Idealism, un- derstood as a life-long discontent ; passion, conceived as an inner thirst and longing that wears and kills more often than it makes happy ; a love of home and kindred entwined with the very roots of life, so that home-sickness may easily ex- haust and threaten life ; an art directed rather to expression than to form ragged often and broken, but always poignant, always suggestive, touched with reverie and emotion ; who does not recognize in these qualities, these essentially Celtic qualities, the qualities of the Brontes ?
Take this passage from Charlotte's letter to Miss Nussey, announcing Emily's death :
The anguish of seeing her suffer is over ; the spectacle of the pains of death is gone by ; the funeral day is past. We feel she is at peace. No need now to tremble for the hard frost and the keen wind. Emily does not feel them. She died in a time of promise. We saw her taken from life in its prime.
I cannot forget Emily's death-day. It was very terrible. She was torn, conscious, panting, reluctant, though resolute, out of a happy life.
Or, take the well-known outburst in 'Shirley,' where Char- lotte, writing in the desolate Haworth home after her sisters' deaths, turns from the description of Jessy Yorke, to think of Martha Taylor, Jessy Yorke's original, and of Martha's burial- day in Brussels :-
But, Jessy, I will write about you no more. This is an autumn evening, wet and wild. There is only one cloud in the sky ; but it curtains it from pole to pole. The wind cannot rest ; it hur- ries, sobbing, over hills of sullen outline, colourless with twilight and mist. Rain has beat all day on that church tower--
[ one thinks of her, lifting her eyes from her small writing, as she looks down the bare strip of garden to Haworth Church --] ; it rises dark from the stony enclosure of its graveyard ; the nettles, the long grass, and the tombs all drip with wet. This evening reminds me too forcibly of another evening some years ago: a howling, rainy, autumn evening, too, when certain who had that day performed a pilgrimage to a grave new- made in a heretic cemetery, sat near a wood fire on the hearth of a foreign dwelling. They were merry and social, but they each knew that a gap, never to be filled, had been made in their circle. They knew they had lost something whose absence could never be quite atoned for, so long as they lived ; and they knew that heavy falling rain was soaking into the wet earth which covered their lost darling; and that the sad, sighing gale was mourning above her buried head. The fire warmed them ; Life and Friendship yet blessed them : but Jessy lay cold, coffined, solitary only the sod screening her from the storm.
These passages surely have the Celtic quality, if ever writ- ing had. Rapid, yearning, broken speech ! there is no note more penetrating in our literature.
Then, as to the Celtic pride, the Celtic shyness, the Celtic endurance, Charlotte Bronte was rich in them all. Her nature loves to give recoils from gifts. She will owe noth- ing to anyone ; she half enjoys, half dislikes, the kindnesses even of her friendly and considerate publisher ; and in society she will neither be exhibited nor patronised. Nor will she submit her judgment or taste ; she will swear to no man's words. Nothing is more curious than to mark the resolute, and even haughty, independence with which the little coun- trywoman approached for the first time the literary world and the celebrities of London. She breaks her shy silence at a dinner-table crowded with Macready worshippers to denounce Macready's acting ; when Thackeray comes to see her for the first time, she herself says, ' The giant sate before me ; I was moved to speak to him of some of his shortcomings (literary, of course) ; one by one the faults came into my head, and one by one I brought them out and sought some explanation or defence ;' so that Mr. Smith, sitting by, may well describe it as ' a queer scene.' She will have nothing to say to Miss Barrett's poetry ; and when she returns to Haworth, she says, with a touch of quiet and confident scorn, that London people talk a great deal of writers and books who mean nothing in the country, nothing to England at large. As to the shyness, it was the torment of both her physical and mental life. The Celtic craving for solitude, the Celtic shrinking from all active competitive existence they were part of Charlotte's inmost nature, although per- petually crossed and checked, no doubt, by other influences driving her to utterance, to production, to sustained effort. And for endurance did not her short life, divided between labour, fame, and calamity, make, first and chief upon all who knew it, the impression of an unshaken and indomitable spirit ? The ' chainless soul ' was hers no less than Emily's, though she was far saner and sweeter than Emily.
And all three qualities pride, shrinking, endurance are writ large in her books. With passion added, they are Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe. They supply the atmosphere, the peculiar note, of all the stories. A contempt for mean and easy living, for common gains, and common luxuries, breathes in them, and makes them harsh and bracing as the air of her own moors.
And one other Celtic quality there is in Charlotte Bronte and her books, which is responsible perhaps for half their defects. It is a quality of exuberance, of extravagance, of what her contemporaries called 'bad taste.' Charles Kings- ley threw ' Shirley' aside because the opening seemed to him vulgar. Miss Martineau expressed much the same judgment on ' Villette.' And there can be no doubt that there was in Miss Bronte a curious vein of recklessness, roughness, one might also say -hoydenism- that exists side by side with an exquisite delicacy and a true dignity, and is none the less Irish and Celtic for that. It disappears, so far as one can see. with the publication of 'Shirley;' but, up till then, it has to be reckoned with. It is conspicuous in the whole episode of ' the curates,' both in real life and in the pages of ' Shirley ; ' it is visible especially in certain recently published letters to Miss Nussey, which one could wish had been left imprinted; and it makes the one shadow of excuse for the inexcusable 'Quarterly' article. There is one sentence in the first chapter 6f 'Shirley,' which may serve both as an illustration of this defect, and as a landmark pointing to certain radical differences of feeling that separate 1900 from 1850. It occurs in the course of an address to the reader, warning him to expect neither sentiment, poetry, nor passion from the book before him. 'Calm your expectations; re- duce them to a lowly standard. ... It is not positively affirmed that you shall not have a taste of the exciting, per- haps towards the middle and close of the meal, but it is re- solved that the first dish set upon the table shall be one that a Catholic-- aye, even an Anglo-Catholic- might eat on Good Friday on Passion Week : it shall be fold lentils and vinegar without oil ; it shall be unleavened bread with bitter herbs, and no roast lamb.'
These lines that I have thrown into italics were written in 1850, five years after Newman's secession, in the midst no doubt of a swelling tide of Liberal reaction, destined, how- ever, as we all know now, to interfere very little with the spread and power of those deep undercurrents setting from the Oxford Movement. The hasty arrogance, the failure in feeling and right instinct, which the passage shows, mark the chief limitation and weakness in the artist who wrote it. It is a weakness of taste, a limitation, as Mr. Leslie Stephen would perhaps insist, of thought and idea. Taken together with the country-house scenes in 'Jane Eyre,' with some of the curate scenes in ' Shirley,' with various passages of raw didactic and rather shrill preaching, this utterance, and some others like it, suggest a lack of social intelligence, of a wide outlook, of that sense, above all, for measure and urbanity which belongs to other and more perfect art like George Sand's or to a more exquisitely tempered instinct like that of Burns. One returns to Kenan's explanation : ' We Celts shall never build a Parthenon ; marble is not for us.' Our art is uncertain and wavering ; liable to many lapses and false notes. But ! ' we lay our grip on heart and soul, we bring up from the depths of the human spirit the secrets of the infinite.'
The Irish and Celtic element in Charlotte Bronte, how- ever, is not all. Far from it. Crossing, controlling the wild impetuous temper of the Irishwoman is an influence from another world, an influence of habit and long associa- tion, breathed from Yorkshire, and the hard, frugal, persist- ent North. One has but to climb her Haworth hills to feel it flowing around one. Let it be in the winter, on some frosty white-rimed day, when the tops of the moors are lost in the cold mist, while a dim sun steals along their sides showing the great mills in the hollows, the ice -fringed streams, the bare half -poisoned woods, the rows of stone cottages, while the horse's hoofs ring sharp on the paving- stones of this Haworth Street that mounts stern and steep, without a relenting slope or zig-zag, heedless of the strained muscles of man or beast, from the busy factories below to the towered church and the little parsonage on the hill-top. The small stone houses mount with you on either hand, low, ugly, solid, without a trace of colour or ornament, the decent yet unlovely homes of a sturdy industrious race. The chim- neys pour out their smoke, the valley hums with life and toil. You stand at the top of the hill and look around you. Man- chester and the teeming Lancashire world are behind you. Bradford and Leeds in front of you. You can see nothing through the sun-lit fog, save the rolling forms of the moors bearing their dim ever-growing burden of houses ; but you know that you stand in the heart of working England, the England that goes through its labour and its play, its trade- unionism and its football, its weaving or its coal-mining, with equal vigour and tenacity, with all the English love of gain and the English thirst for success -watchful, jealous, thrift, absorbed in this very tangible earth, and the struggle to sub- due it, stained with many coarse and brutal things, scornful of the dreamer and the talker, and yet, by virtue of its very strength of striving life, its very excesses of rough force and will, holding in its deep breast powers of passion and of drama unsuspected even by itself.
Amid this rude full-blooded keen-brained world grew up the four wonderful children who had survived their fragile mother and their two elder sisters. From the beginning they showed the Celtic qualities the Celtic vision that re- makes the world, throws it into groups and pictures, seen with a magical edge and sharpness. Are they gathered on a winter's night round the kitchen fire with Tabby for a com- panion ? Charlotte -a mere child- sees the little scene as a whole, as a poet or a painter would see it, notes the winter storm and wind outside, the glow within, the quick-witted children, the old servant, throws it all into a fragment of vivid dialogue and writes it down realised, on record, for ever. Or a tramp, talking the language of religious mania, comes to the door. Again Charlotte marks him, stamps him into words, makes a permanent representative figure out of him, a figure of the imagination. Yet all the time there are secret bonds between these four small creatures the chil- dren of an Irish father and a Cornish mother and the stern practical Yorkshire world about them. For they come not from the typical and Catholic Ireland, but from the Ireland of the North, on which commerce and Protestantism have set their grasp, the Ireland which has half yielded itself to England. In the girls, at any rate, the Bible and Puritanism have mingled with their Celtic blood. Economy, self-disci- pline, constancy, self-repression, order, these things come easily to them, so far as the outer conduct of life is concern- ed. They take their revenge in dreams, in the whims and passions of the imagination. But they cook and clean and sew, they learn all the household arts that their aunt and Tabby can teach them. They are docile, hard-working, hard- living. They are poor, saving, industrious, keenly alive to the value of money and of work, like the world about them.
And it is this mixture of Celtic dreaming with English realism and self-control which gives value and originality to all they do to Emily's 'Wuthering Heights,' to Charlotte's four stories. Lady Caroline Lamb, an Irishwoman like Charlotte, could tear you a passion to tatters, in 'Glenarvon,' with a certain wild power. Take a passage at random :-
'Many can deceive,' said Glenarvon, mournfully gazing on Calantha whilst she wept ; ' but is your lover like the common herd ? Oh ! we have loved, my gentle mistress, better than they know how; we have dared the utmost: your mind and mine must not even be compared with theirs. Let the vulgar dissemble and fear let them talk idly in the unmeaning jargon they admire ; they never felt what we have felt ; they never dared what we have done : to win, and to betray, is with them an air a fancy ; and fit is the delight for the beings who can enjoy it. But if once I show myself again, the rabble must shrink at last ; they dare not stand before Glenarvon. Heaven or hell, I care not which, have cast a ray so bright around my brow that not all the perfidy of a heart as lost as mine, of a heart loaded, as you know too well, with crimes man shudders even to imagine not all the envy and malice of those whom my contempt has stung can lower me to their level. And you, Calantha, do you think you will ever learn to hate me, even were I to leave and to betray you ? Poor blighted flower to thy last wretched hour thou wouldst pine in unavailing recollec- tion and regret ; as Clytie, though bound and fettered to the earth, still fixes her uplifted eyes upon her own sun, who passes over regardless in his course, nor deigns to cast a look below!'
This was passion, masterful passion, as a woman, Byron's pupil, conceived it, in 1816, the year of Charlotte Bronte's birth. It is instructive sometimes to look back at landmarks of this lesser kind. There is vigour in these sentences, but compare their vague and mouthing falsity with any conver- sation in 'Jane Eyre'- above all, with the touches in the last scene between Jane and Rochester. Dwell on the mo- ment when Jane, carrying the tray, enters the blind man's presence ; notice how clear and true- with the clearness and truth of poetry are all the stages of recognition and of rapture -till Rochester says :
'Hitherto I have hated to be helped to be led ; henceforth, I feel I shall hate it no more, I did not like to put my hand into a hireling's ; but it is pleasant to feel it circled by Jane's little fingers. I preferred utter loneliness to the constant at- tendance of servants; but Jane's soft ministry will be a per- petual joy. Jane suits me ; do I suit her?'
To the finest fibre of my nature, sir.' . . . Reverently lifting his hat from his brow, and bending his sightless eyes to the earth, he stood in mute devotion. Only the last words of the worship were audible.
'I thank my Maker that in the midst of judgment He has remembered mercy. I humbly entreat my Redeemer to give me strength to lead henceforth a purer life than I have done hitherto.'
Then he stretched out his hand to be led. I took that dear hand, held it a moment to my lips, then let it pass round my shoulder ; being so much lower of stature than he, 1 served both for his prop and guide. We entered the wood and wended homeward.
What feeling, and what truth ! a truth all Charlotte's own, not Jane Austen's nor another's in which we may, if we will, detect the fusion of two races, the mingling of two worlds.
As to the outer and material history of 'Jane Eyre,' it is written to some extent in Mrs. Gaskell's 'Life,' and has em- ployed the pens of many a critic and local antiquary since. We all know that Lowood is Cowan Bridge, that Helen Burns stands for Maria Bronte, that ' Miss Temple ' and ' Miss Scatcherd ' were drawn from real people ; we are told that Thornfield Hall was suggested by one old Yorkshire house, and Ferndean Manor by another; that St. John Rivers had an original : we may take for granted that Char- lotte's own experiences as a governess have passed into the bitterness with which the rich and 'society' are described; and Mrs. Gaskell has recorded that, according to Charlotte's, own testimony, the incident of the midnight voice heard by Rochester and Jane was ' true ' and ' really happened.' Such identifications and researches will always have their interest, though the artist never sees as the critic sees, and is often filled with a secret amazement when he or she is led back to the scene or the person which is supposed to have furnished which did indeed furnish the germ, and the clay. The student will collect these details ; the reader will do well not to pay too much attention to them. The literary affiliations and connections of the book would be far more important and significant if one could trace them. But they are not easy to trace.
If one gathers together the information to be gleaned from Mrs. Gaskell's ' Life ' and elsewhere, as to Charlotte's book education that voracious and continuous reading to which we have many references, one may arrive at a general outline, something of this kind. There were no children's books in Haworth Parsonage. The children there were nourish- ed upon the food of their elders : the Bible, Shakspeare, Addison, Johnson, Sheridan, Cowper, for the past ; Scott, Byron, Southey, Wordsworth, Coleridge, 'Blackwood's Mag- azine,' ' Eraser's Magazine,' and Leigh Hunt for the moderns ; on a constant supply of newspapers, Whig and Tory Char- lotte once said to a friend that she had taken an interest in politics since she was five years old on current biographies, such as Lockhart's Life of Burns, Moore's Lives of Byron and Sheridan, Southey's 'Nelson,' Wolfe's 'Remains;' and on miscellaneous readings of old Methodist magazines con- taining visions and miraculous conversions, Mrs. Rowe's ' Letters from the Dead to the Living,' the ' British Essay- ists,' collected from the 'Rambler,' the 'Mirror,' and else- where, and stories from the ' Lady's Magazine.' They breathed, therefore, as far as books were concerned a brac- ing and stimulating air from the beginning. Nothing was softened or adapted for them. Before little Maria, the eldest girl, died, at the age of eleven, her father could discuss with her any current topic in which he himself was interested, as though she were grown-up and his equal.
The Duke of Wellington was their nursery-hero, and Char- lotte, a child of twelve, recorded at the time the emotions with which the news of Catholic Emancipation was received at Haworth Parsonage, and spent her leisure time at school, when she was fifteen, in fighting a Radical schoolfellow on behalf of the Duke and against Reform.
Thus strongly were the foundations laid, deep in the rich main soil of English life and letters. The force and freedom with which these lonely girls wrote and thought from the be- ginning they owed largely to this first training. Later on, both in Charlotte and in Emily, certain foreign influences come in. Just as Emily certainly owed something to Hof- mann's Tales, so Charlotte probably owed much more, I am inclined to believe, than has yet been recognised to the books of French Romanticism, that great movement starting from Chateaubriand at the beginning of the century, and already at its height before 'Jane Eyre' was written. There are one or two pieces of evidence that bear on this point. In 1840, before the visit to Brussels, Charlotte writes that she has received ' another bale of French books from G---- '--- apparently from the Taylors 'containing upwards of forty volumes. They are like the rest, clever, wicked, sophistical and immoral. The best of it is, that they give one a thor- ough idea of France and Paris.' If these were contempo- rary books, as, from the last sentence, one might suppose they were, it is worth while to inquire what writers were probably among them. By 1840 Victor Hugo had written 'Marion Delorme,' ' Hernani,' 'Le Roi s'amuse,' ' Ruy Bias,' six volumes of poems, ' Notre Dame de Paris,' and much else. Alfred de Musset, who was thirty in 1840, had done all his work of importance, and sunk into premature exhaustion ; 'Premieres Poesies,' 'Rolla,' 'Confession d'un Enfant du Siecle,' ' Espoir en Dieu' were they in the packet that reached Charlotte in 1840? George Sand, making her first great suc- cess with 'Indiana' in 1832, had produced 'Valentine,' ' Le'- lia,' 'Jacques,' 'Ldone Leoni,' 'Andre,' ' Mauprat,' and some others. Balzac, herald of another age and another world, had been ten years at work on the 'Comedie Humaine.' We know, however, from a letter of Charlotte's in 1848, that she never read a novel of Balzac's till after the publication of 'Jane Eyre.' But she did read George Sand, as the same letter informs us, and the influence of that great romantic artist in whom restless imagination went hand in hand with a fine and chosen realism, was probably of some true importance in the development of Charlotte Bronte's genius. During her two years in Brussels, under the teaching of M. Heger who gave her passages from Victor Hugo to study as models of style, and was himself a keen reader, critic, and lecturer there can be little question that she made wide acquaintance with the French books of the day, and it was the day of Victor Hugo, Alfred de Musset and George Sand. It has not yet, I think, been pointed out that there is in ' Jacques ' a novel written in 1834 a very curious anticipation of the cry of Rochester to Jane. The passage occurs in a letter from Sylvia, the sisterly friend, to Jacques, about to become the husband of Fernande :--
Mon ame est habituee a vivre seule, Dieu le veut ainsi ; que vient faire la tienne dans ma solitude? Viens-tu m'avertir de quelque danger, ou m'annoncer quelque malheur plus epouvan- table que tous ceux auxquels a suffi mon courage ? L'autre soir j'etais assise au pied de la montagne ; le ciel etait voile, et le vent gemissait dans les arbres ; j'ai entendu distinctement, au milieu de ces sons d'une triste harmonic, le son de ta voix. Elle a jete trois ou quatre notes dans 1'espace, faibles, mais si pures et si saisissables que j'ai ete voir les buissons d'ou elle etait partie pour m'assurer que tu n'y etais pas. Ces choses-la m'ont rarement trompee; Jacques, il faut qu'il y ait un orage sur nos tetes.
The suggestion, the romantic suggestion of these sentences may very possibly have come in Charlotte Bronte's way, may have mingled with, perhaps given birth to, some later fancy or experience, of which she spoke to Mrs. Gaskell, and so found shape ultimately in the thrilling scene of 'Jane Eyre.' Of direct imitation of George Sand there is nowhere any trace ; but in certain parts of ' Shirley,' in the ' Marriage of Genius and Humanity,' for instance, the stimulating influence of certain famous passages in ' L^lia ' suggests itself readily ; and throughout 'Villette' there is constantly something in her mode of approaching her subject, even in the turn of the sentences, especially in the use of participles, which is French rather than English. All the books testify to her pride in her French culture. She had won it at great cost ; it had opened fresh worlds to her, and she makes free use of it in numerous scenes of ' Shirley ' and ' Villette,' and in the whole portraiture of the Moores.
The differences, of course, between her and the author of 'Jacques' are great and fundamental. Charlotte Bronte's main stuff "is English, Protestant, law-respecting, conventional even. No judgment was ever more foolish than that which detected a social rebel in the writer of ' Jane Eyre.' She thought the French books, as we have seen, ' clever, wicked, sophistical, and immoral.' But she read them ; and for all her revolt from them, they quickened and fertilised her genius. More than this. The influence which she absorbed from them has given her a special place in our literature of imagination. She stands between Jane Austen, the gentle and witty successor of Miss Burney and Richardson, and George Eliot, upon whom played influences of quite another kind German, critical, scientific representing the world which succeeded the world of ' Hernani.' Midway appears the work of Charlotte Bronte, linked in various significant ways with the French romantic movement, which began with ' Atala' in 1801, and had run its course abroad before 1847, the year of 'Jane Eyre.' One may almost say of it, indeed, that it belongs more to the European than to the special Eng- lish tradition. For all its strongly marked national and pro- vincial elements, it was very early understood and praised in France ; and it was of a French critic, and a French critic only, that Charlotte Bronte said with gratitude, in the case of Shirley, ' he follows Currer Bell through every winding, dis- cerns every point, discriminates every shade, proves himself master of the subject, and lord of the aim.'
- MARY A. WARD.