Charlotte Bronte’s Writing Process

This page is an overview of Charlotte's Bronte's writing process and is a timeline of when she started writing "Jane Eyre", of it's autobiographical influences, and it's reception at the time of publication. This page was put together with much help from Juliet Barker's thorough biography "The Brontes".

August 1846

Charlotte travels with her father, Rev. Patrick Bronte, to Manchester, for her father to undergo cataract surgery. They remained in Manchester for five weeks while her father recovered, and Charlotte began writing "Jane Eyre". Charlotte was 30 years old.

Now at home, Charlotte continues writing "Jane Eyre." Her friend - Harriet Martineau - comments on this time:

"On she went, writing incessantly for three weeks, by which she had carried her heroine away from Thornfield, and was herself in a fever, which compelled her to pause. The rest was written with less vehemence, and with more anxious care. The world adds, with less vigour and interest."

  • Some connections between Charlotte's life and the plot and characters of the novel:
    • Gateshead Hall and St. John - from manuscript fragments written as far back as 1844
    • Lowood School and Mr. Brocklehurst - Wilson's Clergy Daughter's School and William Carus Wilson
    • Helen Burns - Charlotte's older sister Maria who died in 1825 at age 12 from tuberculosis
    • Mr. Rochester - possibly M. Heger, Charlotte's Belgian teacher and employer, and Zamorna, a character from the stories that Charlotte wrote in her youth
    • Bertha Mason - many influences: Charlotte's friend Ellen's brother, George, was in an institution, the mad wife kept in the attic of North Lees Hall which Charlotte visited in 1845
    • Thornfield Hall - influenced by Norton Conyers House and North Lees Hall
    • St. John Rivers - his pragmatic proposal was influenced by the proposal Charlotte received from Henry Nussey.
    • Morton - the town of Hathersage
    • Ferndean - Wycoller Hall

    August 1847

    After a more positive rejection letter from Smith, Elder & Co's of her first novel "The Professor" (this was the seventh publishing house Charlotte had submitted to), Charlotte rushed to complete "Jane Eyre" and sent off her fair copy manuscript to the publisher on the 24th of August.

    George Smith writes of his experience first reading the manuscript:

    "He brought it to me on a Saturday, and said that he would like me to read it. There were no Saturday half-holidays in those days, and, as was usual, I did not reach home until late. I had made an appointment with a friend for Sunday morning; I was to meet him about twelve o'clock, at a place some two or three miles from our house, and ride with him into the country.

    After breakfast on Sunday morning I took the MS of 'Jane Eyre' to my little study, and began to read it. The story quickly took me captive. Before twelve o'clock my horse came to the door, but I could not put the book down. I scribbled two or three lines to my friend, saying I was very sorry but circumstances had arisen to prevent my meeting him, sent the note off by my groom, and went on reading the MS. Presently the servant came to tell me that luncheon was ready; I asked him to bring me a sandwich and a glass of wine, and still went on with 'Jane Eyre.' Dinner came; for me the meal was a very hasty one, and before I went to bed that night I had finished reading the manuscript."

    Charlotte signs with Smith, Elder & Co to a payment of 100 pounds for the copyright and the first right of refusal for the next two books. Later, with more editions and foreign rights, Charlotte would receive around 500 pounds for her novel.

    Charlotte's response to her publishers to revise "Jane Eyre" yet again:

    "I am not however in a position to follow the advice; my engagements will not permit me to revise 'Jane Eyre' a third time, and perhaps there is little to regret in the circumstance; you probably know from personal experience that an author never writes well till he has got into the full spirit of his work, and were I to retrench, to alter and to add now when I am uninterested and cold, I know I should only further injure what may be already defective. Perhaps too the first part of 'Jane Eyre' may suit the public taste better than you anticipate - for it is true and Truth has a severe charm of its own. Had I told all the truth, I might indeed have made it far more exquisitely painful - but I deemed it advisable to soften and retrench many particulars lest the narrative should rather displease than attract."

    October 1847

    On October 19th, Charlotte received six final copies of her new novel and wrote in reply to her publishers:

    You have given the work every advantage which good paper, clear type and a seemly outside can supply [...] if it fails - the fault will lie with the author - you are exempt."

    William Makepeace Thackeray, a favorite author of Charlotte's, was sent a copy of the novel by the publisher and wrote back this:

    "I wish you had not sent me Jane Eyre. It interested me so much that I have lost (or won if you like) a whole day in reading it at the busiest period, with the printers I know waiting for copy. Who the author can be I can't guess - if a woman she knows her language better than most ladies do, or has had a 'classical' education. It is a fine book though - the man & woman capital - the style very generous and upright so to speak... Some of the love passages made me cry - to the astonishment of John who came in with the coals. St. John the Missionary is a failure I think but a good failure there are parts excellent I dont know why I tell you this but that I have been exceedingly moved & pleased by Jane Eyre. It is a womans writing, but whose? Give my respects and thanks to the author - whose novel is the first English one (& the French are only romances now) that I've been able to read for many a day."

    It was later gossiped that the mysterious author of 'Jane Eyre' was a former governess of Thackeray's because as it turned out Thackeray's wife had gone mad and was incarcerated. Charlotte had dedicated the second edition of 'Jane Eyre' in ignorance of this and wrote about her mortification over this in a letter:

    Well may it be said that Fact is often stranger than Fiction! ...Of course I knew nothing whatever of Mr Thackeray's domestic concerns: he existed for me only as an author ... I am very, very sorry that my inadvertent blunder should have made his name and affairs a subject for common gossip

    The very fact of his not complaining at all - and addressing me with such kindness - notwithstanding the pain and annoyance I must have caused him - increases my chagrin. I could not half express my regret to him in my answer, for I was restrained by the consciousness that that regret was just worth nothing at all - quite valueless for healing the mischief I had done."

    Jane Eyre' was a success, notwithstanding some critics who were disturbed by the morality and the passion of the heroine. The novel was reprinted two times in England during the life of the author due to demand.

    Original newspaper ad for the third edition of Jane Eyre