The Wisdom of Charlotte Bronte

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.”

Or this:

“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.

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