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Q: First audience (readers) of the novel Jane Eyre ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: First audience (readers) of the novel Jane Eyre
Category: Reference, Education and News > Teaching and Research
Asked by: smck-ga
List Price: $15.00
Posted: 22 Sep 2002 19:30 PDT
Expires: 22 Oct 2002 19:30 PDT
Question ID: 67957
Jane Eyre was published in 1847 and what is known about the novel's
first audiences (readers)& how many copies were sold in the first
publication and then in subsequent publications?

Request for Question Clarification by leli-ga on 23 Sep 2002 03:21 PDT
Thanks for your question. After a preliminary search I think it could
be very tough to get figures on numbers of copies sold. I'm also not
quite certain what kind of information you want on the Victorian
audience for "Jane Eyre".
We do want to help, so maybe if I say what kind of information we
might be able to provide, you could get back to us to let us know
whether it would be any use to you.
- General information on editions of "Jane Eyre" when it was still
'new', i.e.    reprinting confirming its popularity.
- General information on Victorian readers of novels.
- Information about praise (and criticism) of the novel in its early
If you want us to go ahead, please feel free to go into detail about
what would be an acceptable answer. For instance, if you are working
on an assignment, we can help you gather material for it, although
forming opinions and writing it would be up to you.

Clarification of Question by smck-ga on 23 Sep 2002 08:30 PDT
Yes, whatever you can find related to the novel's popularity despite
criticisms of its "coarseness".  I'm trying to see if enough
information can be found to warrant further research, especially
related to the novel's readers in 1847.
Were they primarily women readers and is there any info related to the
numbers of the novel that were published in 1847?
Subject: Re: First audience (readers) of the novel Jane Eyre
Answered By: chromedome-ga on 23 Sep 2002 20:37 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello, Smck-ga!

You couldn't have known it, but you've made my day with your question.
 I've been a researcher here since May, and every day I've told
myself, "Someday somebody's going to ask a question about Jane Eyre!" 
I first read this book at the age of 13, and have owned several copies
in the intervening years.  I have read it often enough that I can
quote sections of it verbatim!

As you are probably aware, Jane Eyre was Charlotte Bronte's second
novel, though the first to see print.  Staffers of Smith & Elder, her
publishing house, were the first to come under the book's undeniably
powerful influence.  Let us take a moment to consult Bronte's
biographer and supportive friend, Elizabeth Gaskell:

"When the manuscript of 'Jane Eyre' had been received by the
future publishers of that remarkable novel, it fell to the share
of a gentleman connected with the firm to read it first. He was
so powerfully struck by the character of the tale, that he
reported his impression in very strong terms to Mr. Smith, who
appears to have been much amused by the admiration excited. 'You
seem to have been so enchanted, that I do not know how to believe
you,' he laughingly said. But when a second reader, in the person
of a clear-headed Scotchman, not given to enthusiasm, had taken
the MS. home in the evening, and became so deeply interested in
it, as to sit up half the night to finish it, Mr. Smith's
curiosity was sufficiently excited to prompt him to read it for
himself; and great as were the praises which had been bestowed
upon it, he found that they had not exceeded the truth."

(From Vol 2, Ch 2, The Life of Charlotte Bronte.  All quotations are
from the Project Gutenberg e-text of Mrs. Gaskell's biography, full
citation below.)

The initial print run was limited, as has ever been the case with new
and unknown authors (at least before the dawn of modern hype).  The
initial 1847 printing consisted of only 500 copies, as any antiquarian
bookseller worth his/her salt will readily affirm.  Here is a
representative example, in Pdf format (requires Adobe Acrobat reader).
 We are looking for item 10, at the bottom of page four:$FILE/61239%20new%20york%20text.pdf

Smith & Elder sent the book to a number of influential papers and
critics for review; as well as "a few private literary friends" who
"were of considerable standing in the world of letters".  Thackeray,
referred to by the circumspect Gaskell as "the great writer of fiction
for whom Miss Bronte felt so strong an admiration", wrote a note of
high praise to the publishers.  The Athenaeum, The Spectator, and most
notably The Examiner also obliged with favourable notice.

The driving force behind the novel's early success, though, seems to
have been nothing more elaborate than word of mouth.  The novel was
published on October 16th, and the rush for copies began in December -
before the highly favourable review in The Examiner could have an
impact, as Mrs. Gaskell gleefully points out.  A second print run was
initiated immediately (January 1848), with a third to follow only a
few months later in April of that year.  While I do not have numbers
for you on these printings, it is only reasonable to suppose that they
were significantly larger than the first!  A fourth printing, in 1850,
coincided with Smith & Elder's purchase of the rights to Wuthering
Heights and Agnes Grey.  The first American edition was published in
1848.  This Pdf file contains Bronte's publication history, which
starts on page 2 and runs onto page 3:

Although the work was well received in the main, some objected to the
strong undercurrents of sexual desire inherent in the plot.  They may
not have known what to call it in those pre-Freudian days, but as the
Oxford Companion to English Literature drily notes, "it was considered
by many to be unsuitable for young ladies."  (The Oxford Companion to
English Literature,  Margaret Drabble and Oxford University Press
1995). See the full entry here:

In spite of the above, she was welcomed in polite society.  See Mrs.
Gaskell's account of her visits with Thackeray and a Miss Martineau,
in Chapter 4 of volume two.  The imposing Thackeray, originally
nonplussed by the fervent dedication accorded him in the second
edition of Jane Eyre, seems to have been inclined to lionize her a

Who else was reading the book?  We've already noted that the public
libraries (well-used by the newly literate lower classes) were unable
to keep up with the demand. In Bronte's home town of Haworth,
neighbours gleefully identified each other in her characters.  By the
time Shirley was printed, the Mechanic's Institute was forced to
implement a two-day lending period, backed by a stiff shilling-a-day
overdue fine.

The popularity of Bronte's work never diminished.  Although this is
beyond the scope of your inquiry, it is interesting to note that Jane
Eyre was popular with the men of Scott's expedition:

A reading of Mrs. Gaskell's biography will provide you with a starting
point for evaluating the controversies surrounding Bronte and her
novels.  You may also wish to spend some time at, which
neatly cross-references many articles, biographical notes, and
critical assessments.  The main article on Charlotte Bronte (from the
Oxford Companion to English Literature, see above) is here:

There are also a number of useful links at

If you are in search of a thesis topic, this may well prove to be a
solid and feasible choice.  Charlotte's correspondence has been
largely preserved, and presumably would be available in one form or
another to a researcher.  This should prove useful in your quest. 
Another option is to find microfiche copies of those journals that
published reviews of Jane Eyre in 1847 and 1848.  The letters to the
editor in ensuing issues will almost certainly yield some insight.

Search strategy:

+"jane eyre" +"first printing" OR "Smith & Elder"
+"jane eyre" +"second printing" OR "second edition" OR "Smith & Elder"

All quotations from Mrs. Gaskell are drawn from version 2locb10.txt of
Project Gutenberg's e-text of her Life of Charlotte Bronte.  Note that
this e-text is drawn from the third edition of the biography, which
had been extensively revamped by Mrs. Gaskell to avoid potential

Thank you again for an interesting inquiry.  Best of luck in your

smck-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
thanks for your very helpful response!

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