Drafting Jane Eyre: Charlotte Brontë at the Circulating Library
With recent digital advancements, it is increasingly possible to question Charlotte Brontë’s 1850 account of the instinctive process by which she and her sisters wrote their way into the British literary canon by exploring popular Georgian and early Victorian fiction for textual similarities to the 1847 novels. After being advised by publishers to consider readerly tastes catered to by British circulating libraries, Charlotte Brontë could consult such works at Haworth or Manchester-area circulating libraries while drafting her successful novel Jane Eyre (1847). Though, as the Victorian era approached, genres such as the silver fork novel were framed as inferior, largely intended by librarians for female reading, their undeniable popularity influenced publishing trends between 1825 and 1841 and afterwards remained a financial force at the circulating library despite attracting critical satire. Two anonymously published silver fork novels, The Coquette (1834) by Frederick Mansel Reynolds and The M.D.’s Daughter (1842) by Lady Harriet Anne Scott contain scenes and dialogue that appear to have been adapted by Charlotte to enliven the plot of Jane Eyre and ensure its publication, perhaps justifying George Henry Lewes’ sagacious 1847 criticism of this English novel as evoking “the circulating library.”
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë, circulating library, popular fiction, silver fork novel, English novel, adaptation, reading
Date of Acceptance: 27 June 2022
Date of Publication: 4 July 2022
Double Blind Peer Reviewed
Craig, Lydia. 2022. “Drafting Jane Eyre: Charlotte Brontë at the Circulating Library,” Victorian Popular Fictions 4:1: 78-93. ISSN: 2632-4253 (online) DOI: https://doi.org/10.46911/SHAI3722
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