This is definitely going to be a recurring thing because I am swimming deep in the sea of all things Bronte for my research seminar this semester. It might even be a book project! So in order to keep from boring my in-person acquaintance silly, you all get to hear where I’m at whenever I feel like it. I turned up this gem in a letter from Charlotte to one of her publishers.
“To value praise or stand in awe of blame we must respect the source whence the praise and blame proceed, and I do not respect an inconsistant critic. He says ‘if Jane Eyre be the production of a woman, she must be a woman unsexed.’
In that case the book is an unredeemed error and should be unreservedly condemned. Jane Eyre is a woman’s autobiography, by a woman it is professedly written. If it is written as no woman would write, condemn it with spirit and decision–say it is bad, but do not eulogise and then detract. I am reminded of the Economist. The literary critic of that paper praised the book if written by a man, and pronounced it ‘odious’ if the work of a woman.
To such critics I would say, ‘To you I am neither man nor woman–I come before you as an author only. It is the sole standard by which you have a right to judge me–the sole ground on which I accept your judgment.”
I mean….yeah. Elsewhere in her letters, Charlotte denies being a “blue-stocking”…my heart broke a little when I read my hero give an 1850s “I’m not a feminist, but” cop-out. But then I read something like this, or this:
“The hard-wrung praise extorted reluctantly from a foe is the most precious praise of all–you are sure that this, at least, has no admixture of flattery.”
“I have received the Christian Remembrancer, and read the review. It is written with some ability; but to do justice was evidently not the critic’s main object, therefore he excuses himself from performing that duty. . . In other respects he aims his shafts in the dark, and the success, or rather, the ill-success of his hits make me laugh rather than cry. His shafts of sarcasm are nicely polished, keenly pointed; he should not have wasted them in shooting at a mark he cannot see.”
And I admire her from my heart, all over again.