Jane Eyrewas the first novel to be published by one of the Bronte sisters, appearing on October 16th 1847, a few weeks before the combined publication of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey by Charlotte’s sisters Emily and Anne respectively.
The three Bronte sisters had published their combined book of poetry, Poems, in 1846 under the names Acton (Anne), Currer (Charlotte) and Ellis (Emily) Bell. The three pseudonyms had been deliberately chosen to sound masculine, without being definitive about gender. Only two or three copies of the 1846 edition of Poems were said to have been sold.
The first English edition of Jane Eyre in 1847 was followed by the first American edition of Jane Eyre, published by Harper & Brothers in 1848. On both the English and American first editions, the author’s name is given as Currer Bell.
Jane Eyre is a romance, but with Gothic elements, such as the Byronic Mr. Rochester, the mysterious Thornfield Hall and the strange ‘mad woman’ who disrupts life at Thornfield. Jane Eyre inspired the creation of the later novels Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier and Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.
The first English edition of Jane Eyre is one of the most desirable books in English Literature. It is the first book published by a Bronte sister and only 500 copies were printed. The second edition is also of interest as it is dedicated by the author to William Makepeace Thackeray, and contains a preface written by Charlotte Bronte, in which she robustly challenges and refutes some of the views of her critics.
I show here the title page of the very scarce English first edition of Jane Eyre, published in three volumes by Smith Elder, and Co. in 1847.