Charlotte Brontë Threw the Most Excellent Shade

Illustration for article titled Charlotte Brontë Threw the Most Excellent Shade

You need to drop everything you’re doing right now and read all of the essays on LitHub right now about Charlotte Brontë in honor of her bicentennial birthday, because how else will you find out all about how the sister once threw the most amazing shade at a Vanity Fair critic for her review of Jane Eyre?


In an excellent essay written by Lyndsay Faye about wheter Brontë’s most famous book would be marketed as a genre novel today, Faye quotes Elizabeth Rigby, who described the book in 1849 as one that “[combines] such genuine power with such horrid taste.” She continued:

“Both together have equally assisted to gain the great popularity it has enjoyed; for in these days of extravagant adoration of all that bears the stamp of novelty and originality, sheer rudeness and vulgarity have come in for a most mistaken worship.”

Apparently, Brontë wasn’t exactly overjoyed by Rigby’s analysis. The author alluded to Rigby’s review in the prologue for the second edition of Jane Eyre, in which she stated, “Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion.”

BOOM. And that’s how you do it.

But like, of course Charlotte would make this kind of crack. Maybe Anne would, but Emily? Probably not. Poor Emily.

Faye also makes an excellent point about the dialectic inherent in Jane Eyre—and many other novels—about the dialectic between highbrow literary value and guilty pleasure:

“Despite the fact that Jane Eyre has been fully accepted into the canon of great Western literature, I have to fight to be proud of loving it, and of enjoying these florid, fabulous scenes. A century and half after it was written, I have to battle not to agree with Rigby’s scorn over their vulgarity—and why is that, exactly? After conceding that if a man ever mentioned crushing me, as Mr. Rochester does to Jane, I’d be out the door in under six seconds, do I have to give up the rest of the novel? For example, I’d prefer to keep the part where he thinks they have a little string, each end connected to the other’s ribs. And I’d like to keep it without it being a ‘guilty’ pleasure, because I don’t believe in having any guilt over pleasures.”


Other essays over at LitHub celebrating the English author’s bicentennial include the relationship between Brontë and author Jean Rhys, and an excellent personal piece penned by none other than our own Rachel Vorona Cote.

I am also assuming you would still want to sex-bang Michael Fassbender in britches, so I’m throwing in the trailer of Cary Fukunaga’s 2011 adaptation of Jane Eyre. You are most certainly welcome.

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Contributor, Jezebel


Rachel Vorona Cote

You are sweet. <3