The Origins and Legacy of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre

The purpose of our timeline is to illustrate the autobiographical elements of Charlotte Brontë’s life that led to the making of Jane Eyre. Additionally, this timeline will portray the influence and impact Jane Eyre has had since its publication in 1847. It is important to link the Charlotte Bronte’s real-life experiences with the legacy that Jane Eyre has left so the people who read this timeline can understand the origins of the novel and understand why it is held in such high regard to this day.

 

April 21, 1816

Charlotte Brontë enters the world

Charlotte Brontë is born to Reverend Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell.

 

1821

Maria Branwell passes away

The Brontë matriarch dies at the age of 38. Charlotte and her siblings and raised in a very religious household by their father, Reverend Patrick Brontë, and their aunt, Elizabeth Branwell. Jane Eyre is also a religious, motherless child who is raised by her aunt. This is the first autobiographical element of Charlotte Brontë’s seminal novel.

 

1824

The Brontë sisters begin their schooling at Cowan Bridge

Charlotte, Emily, Elizabeth, and Maria Brontë attend the Clergy Daughter’s School at Cowan Bridge. The conditions there are insufferable. Charlotte would describe the abhorrent environment at the fictional Lowood School in the same way.

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1825

Charlotte’s older sisters, Elizabeth and Maria, pass away

Elizabeth and Maria contract tuberculosis at the Clergy Daughter’s School at Cowan Bridge. They would die shortly thereafter. Many other students at the school die or suffer from symptoms of some kind and are pulled out of the institution. Charlotte and Emily would return home. The scene at Lowood in Jane Eyre in which the students, including Helen Burns, take sick and die, was not fiction at all. Charlotte and her sisters actually suffered through this.

 

1826

The creation of “Angria”

Charlotte and her siblings, Emily, Ann, and Branwell, create a fictional, whimsical world. This mystical land influenced Charlotte to take up writing.

 

1831

Brontë attends Roe Head School

Charlotte Brontë began going to Roe Head, a school with about 10 students, in 1831, when she was in her early teens. While attending Roe Head, Brontë became close friends with Mary Taylor and Ellen Nussey. In Jane Eyre, Jane attends Lowood School, where she makes two close friends as well – Maria Temple and Helen Burns.

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July 29, 1835

Brontë becomes governess at Roe Head School

After being a student at Roe Head, Brontë returns in 1835 as a governess. This experience directly correlates to Jane Eyre. Before leaving Lowood, Jane serves as a governess there as well.

jan eyre 2

 

1838

Brontë leaves Roe Head

The last year that Brontë served as a governess at Roe Head was 1838. Brontë returned home for some time since she was not happy with her position as a governess. Later on, she became a governess with two different families – Sidgewicks and the Whites – because she needed money. Jane took the governess position at Thornfield in order to earn money and have a better life.

 

1839

Brontë declines marriage proposal

In 1839, Brontë receives a marriage proposal from her close friend, Ellen Nussey’s, brother. Brontë rejects the proposal because she is not interested in him. In Jane Eyre, St. John proposes to Jane, but she refuses because they do not truly love each other.

 

Late 1830s-1846

Patrick Brontë’s degenerating vision

In his twilight years, Patrick Brontë’s eyesight began to fail him and he developed a cataract. Brontë’s situation was so dire, that he needed surgery to fix it. Patrick Brontë’s failing eyesight is reflected in the book in the form of Rochester’s blindness. Rochester’s vision returns in his good eye just as Patrick Brontë was able to recover in real life.

1846

Poetry as an entry into the publishing world

Before the birth of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, the three Brontë sisters published a collection of poems entitled Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. The poems were published under pseudonyms, a popular convention during the time, especially for women.

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1847

Brontë successfully publishes her first novel – Jane Eyre 

Charlotte Brontë’s first published novel is Jane Eyre, which was originally published under her pseudonym, Currer Bell. The novel tells a story of an orphan child whose character development is largely shaped by her difficult circumstances, leading her to seek spirituality and love. Prior to Jane Eyre, Brontë also wrote The Professor, but she was unable to get it published in her lifetime.

 

1848

Second Edition of Jane Eyre is published containing a preface 

The second edition of Jane Eyre is released containing a preface wherein Brontë thanks the public, the press, and her publishers for the realization of her work. In this preface, she also turns her attention to the “timorous or carping few who doubt the tendency of such books such as ‘Jane Eyre;’ in whose eyes whatever is unusual is wrong” (Brontë 1). Brontë pushes the envelope of her time both as a female novelist and writer of vibrant passions. Therefore, it is reasonable that Brontë would write such a message urging the “doubters” of her work to think twice before criticizing.

 

1850

The orphan theme

Charlotte’s father, Patrick Brontë, shares some letters he preserved from her mother. Brontë writes a letter on February 16, 1850, stating, “I wished she had lived and that I had known her” (Brontë, Smith 2).The fact that Brontë herself grew up without a mother is a major influence for the orphan theme in Jane Eyre. Although Brontë was not an orphan herself, she was, however, a victim of a life without the nurturing of a mother. Studies in psychology show that children who grow up without the presence of both parents develop certain attachment styles that lead to feelings of loneliness, fear, insecurities, and other psychological difficulties. It is no coincidence that Brontë is inspired to write a novel portraying a female character without parents.
If you are interested in reading about attachment, more information can be found here.

 

1855

R.I.P. Charlotte Brontë 

Charlotte Brontë dies as a pregnant woman at the age of 39. In spite of Brontë’s unfortunate passing, her spirit survived through her novels and poems.

 

February, 1944 

Jane Eyre gets its first adaptation into a major motion picture.

 Jane Eyre was directed by Robert Stevenson and released in America in 1944. Edward Rochester was played by Orson Welles and Jane Eyre was played by Joan Fontaine. One major difference from the screenplay and the novel is that after Jane finds out about Rochester’s wife, she does not leave him. Subsequently, Jane does not meet her cousins – the Rivers family. The synopsis of the movie on the American Film Institute catalog does not reflect that part of the novel.   

 

1979 

Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar publish The Madwoman in the Attic 

Based on the character of Bertha in Jane Eyre, The Madwoman in the Attic is a feminist-themed text that centers around the fact that in Victorian literature, women were portrayed only as being good or evil. Gilbert and Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic encouraged others to follow suit in terms of critiquing literature in a feminist light.

 

1995-2000 

A musical adaptation of Jane Eyre is created; music and lyrics by Paul Gordon. 

The novel, Jane Eyre, had influenced a musical adaptation that played in a few cities in America from the late 20th century to the early 21st century. The score was created by Paul Gordon, and its Broadway adaptation was directed by John Caird and Scott Schwartz. According to Paul Gordon’s website there were 209 Broadway performances before the show ended. This adds to Brontë’s legacy because not only avid readers can enjoy the masterpiece that is Jane Eyre, but musical lovers can now appreciate the world of the orphaned girl as well. The making of the novel into a musical elicits a new wave of an audience, too. The clip below is from Jane Eyre: The Musical and is called “The Orphan”.

 

2008

Jane Eyre was adapted into a graphic novel by Amy Corzine (script adaptation) and John M. Burns (artwork)

 

“Jane Eyre.” Classical Comic made the widely sold novel into a comic book that now enabled teachers to teach the novel to younger students in a way that was more enjoyable and easier to understand. The range of students that this comic book is targeted to is ten to seventeen years old. There are two versions; one with the original text, and a second with quick text, which is more concise and easier to read.  Classical Comics states, on their education page, that “The “Original Text” version features the authors words, carefully selected to augment the strong artwork that covers much of the descriptive prose.”

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2011 

Cary Fukunaga directs a new Jane Eyre movie adaptation  

Cary Fukunaga, director of HBO’s new hit series, True Detective, releases a British production of Jane Eyre in 2011. The all-star cast includes Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre, Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax, Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester, and Jamie Bell as St. John Rivers.

 

2014 

The volume, originally published under the name Currer Bell, sells for $55,000.00. 

Although not many copies of Jane Eyre were sold when it was first published, today, a first edition of this book can be worth as much as $55,000.00! The effect of the novel has lived on throughout generations, causing this volume to be a rare and exciting find.  This site has prices for all rare editions.

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Works Cited

Brontë, Charlotte, and Richard J. Dunn. Jane Eyre: An Authoritative Text, Context, Criticism.
New York:  Norton, 2001. Print.

Brontë, Charlotte, and Margaret Smith. The Letters of Charlotte Brontë: With a Selection of Letters by Family and Friends. Vol.1, 1829-1847. Oxford: Clarendon, 1995. Print.

Brontë School House. n.p., 2010. Web. 28 March, 2014.

 

“Charlotte Brontë Chronology.” Charlotte Brontë Chronology. n.p., n.d. Web. 27 March, 2014. <http://www.haworth-village.org.uk/brontes/charlotte/chronology.asp>.

 

Cody, David. “Charlotte Brontë: A Brief Biography.” The Victorian Web. n.p., 1987. Web. 28 March, 2014. http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/bronte/cbronte/brontbio.html

Cody, David. “The Victorian Web: An Overview.” The Victorian Web: An Overview. n.p., n.d. Web. 26 March, 2014. <http://victorianweb.org/>.

 

Classical Comics. “Jane Eyre.” Jane Eyre. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2014. <http://www.classicalcomics.com/titles/jane-eyre.html>

 

Gordon, Paul. “Jane Eyre.” Jane Eyre. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2014. <http://www.paulgordonmusic.com/paulgordonmusic.com/Jane_Eyre.html>

 

“Jane Eyre.” Detail View of Movies Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2014. <http://www.afi.com/members/catalog/DetailView.aspx?s=&Movie=712>

 

The Brontë Society & Brontë Parsonage Museum. n.p., n.d.  Web. 28 March, 2014. http://www.bronte.org.uk/haworth-and-the-brontes/family-and-friends/elizabeth-bronte

 

The Brontë Society & Bronte Parsonage Museum. n.p., n.d.  Web. 28 March, 2014. http://www.bronte.org.uk/haworth-and-the-brontes/family-and-friends/rev-bronte

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