Novel Conversations

Gender busting in the publishing world of the Victorian era

Charlotte Bronte was a woman ahead of her time as a proto-feminist in a patriarchal Victorian world. Bronte’s Jane Eyre is considered central to the feminist canon of literary works from publication until this day.

Bronte and her sisters Emily and Anne displayed considerable foresight in forwarding their written works to a publisher under the pseudonym of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, thereby placing their work in the best position of being considered for publication.

Upon publication of Jane Eyre in 1847 the novel received in equal measure high praise and criticism. The novel was the first to portray childhood and its difficulties (Dickens soon followed suit). Jane Eyre engaged the reading masses with a protagonist displaying a strong sense of morals and principles who crosses class barriers by falling in love with her employer, Mr Rochester. Jane Eyre is a gothic novel set in the Victorian countryside covering themes of romance, supernatural, mystery, social class and gender relations. The viewpoint is told from Jane’s childhood through to adulthood, a bold and engaging character who is outspoken against oppression from the beginning.

The critics were intrigued as to the gender of Currer Bell and with the Victorian viewpoint determined that gender to be male. Almost two years following publication criticism as to author gender continued. Bronte responded with “I am neither man nor woman – I come to you as an author only – judge me solely on that”, this was Bronte displaying her strong belief in gender, and social equality (Harman 2015 p277).