Jane Eyre (First Edition) by Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre is a book by Victorian novelist Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855). The first edition of this work was published in 1847 by Smith, Elder & Co of London under Bronte’s nom de plume ‘Currer Bell’. The first American edition was released in 1848 by Harper & Brothers of New York. Background
Charlotte Bronte and her sisters Emily and Anne wrote prolifically together as they were growing up, developing imaginations through collaborative writing.
Later they published a volume of poetry under the masculine pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, as literature was still, by many, considered a male pursuit.
Charlotte’s novel Jane Eyre was the first to become widely popular. The subject matter incorporates many influences and significant moments of Charlotte’s own life.
The novel is dedicated to William Makepeace Thackeray.
Plot, characters, themes
A classic Victorian bildungsroman, Jane Eyre tells the story of an orphan girl whose cruel upbringing and negative school experience emotionally scar her, until she finds her own independence. She becomes a governess at Thornfield, the imposing manor house of Mr Rochester, and feels that she has finally found a home.
Strange and inexplicable things occur at the house. After a return to the place of her upbringing, and laying those ghosts to rest, she returns, and the master of the house proclaims his love for her. She believes she is finally happy, but during her wedding ceremony, discovers that he is still married to the madwoman in the attic – and the mystery of the strange occurrences at the house is explained.
Jane leaves and travels throughout England. She gets lost on the moor, and finds shelter with the family of a clergyman, St John Rivers. Rivers proposes to her, and wants to take her to India as a missionaries wife, but Jane declines.
With this decision, she hears mr Rochester’s voice in her mind, and returns to Thornfield. It has been burned to the ground. She finds Mr Rochester blind, and now that his wife has committed suicide, they resolve to be together. He eventually recovers his sight with the birth of their first son.
The novel borrows much from Gothic fiction, including the flawed Byronic hero Mr Rochester, the Gothic stately home in which he lives, and the ‘madwoman in the attic’, who is made to appear like a vampire. Themes include conscience vs passion, feminism, and atonement and forgiveness.
There is much suspense and mystery, disguise and darkness, but also romance. This is what presents this novel as profoundly Victorian, the love that dare not speak its name between the mighty rich lord with a dark past and the plain governess who believes she is worthless. The development of Jane throughout the novel, and the humbling of Rochester, finally allow them to reach a point where their love matters more than social propriety, or all the past impediments.
Charlotte was the eldest of the three Bronte sisters. She is considered a great Victorian novelist, largely due to Jane Eyre. After the novel’s success, she revealed her true identity and enjoyed moving in London’s social and literary circles.
Notable auction sales and collecting tips
First editions of Jane Eyre are very collectible, if not particularly rare. It is almost unheard of to see one signed ‘Currer Bell’, and as this is the name it was published under, unusual to see a first edition signed ‘Charlotte Bronte’. The English first edition (Smith, Elder & Co) was released a year prior to the American first edition (Harper & Brothers) and is therefore the true first edition.
Sothebys London sold an 1847 first edition copy for £34,750 in May 2009.
Christie’s New York sold an 1847 first edition copy for $40,000 in December 2009.
Bloomsbury Auctions New York sold an 1847 first edition copy for $38,000 in May 2009.
It is not recommended to restore a first edition, as they are more valuable if they retain their original covers.