On two nineteenth century novelists …

The novelists in question are Jane Austen (1775-1817) and Charlotte Bronte (1816-55). Jane Austen’s views on Richard III are well known: http://www.richardiii-nsw.org.au/about/a-literary-taste/jane-austen-and-richard-iii/.

Was Charlotte Bronte, whose sister Anne is buried on the approach to Richard’s Scarborough Castle, also a Ricardian? Perhaps she left a clue in her 1847 bestseller “Jane Eyre”, in which the eponymous character almost marries Edward Rochester, only to find out that he already has a wife. I really can’t think who she was referring to.

By super blue

Grandson of a Town player.


  1. Are you saying that Edward Rochester was a cypher for Edward IV and that Charlotte Bronte thought of Elizabeth Woodville as a romantic heroine?


      1. Apart from the coincidental use of the name Edward, what evidence is there that Charlotte Bronte took any interest in the lives and reigns of Edward IV or Richard III?


      2. Not exactly evidence, but she did set the book in the late eighteenth century, which was Austen’s period, there is a similarity of style and her main character was called Jane. This suggests a degree of influence by Austen upon Bronte, heightening the importance of Rochester’s forename. On the factual side, of course, Horace Walpole could have been a significant co-influence.


      3. ref. super blue’s reply on 23/06/2015 at 6:01 pm. The strongest influence on Charlotte Bronte, as a aspiring writer, seems to have been William Makepeace Thackeray, to whom she dedicated the 2nd edition of “Jane Eyre”. He is the only modern author apart from Henry Fielding that she acknowledges in the preface to the 2nd edition. She notes comparisons of Thackeray to Fielding – “his wit, humour, comic powers” – but she insists that, “He resembles Fielding as an eagle does a vulture: Fielding could stoop on carrion, but Thackeray never does.” And, “His wit is bright, his humour attractive,” but these are brilliantly outshone by “his serious genius”.


        Jane Austen may have influenced Bronte. Unfortunately you have not offered any definite proof that was so. Bronte was writing literally a generation later than Austen: Bronte was born in April 1816; Jane Austen died barely a year later, in July 1817.

        Bronte’s heroine, plain Jane Eyre, stands in opposition to Berthe Mason, Rochester’s wife, overcome by insanity; to Celine Varens, the French opera dancer who had been Rochester’s mistress, who abandoned him and her daughter Adele; and to Blanche Ingram, seen as a marriage prospect by Rochester. There may be a similarity in form between Austen’s stories and Bronte’s novel, but – without a detailed literary analysis – that might be only because they belong to the same genre. (Bronte putting the beginning of her story back in time does not prove a connection with Austen; it simply allows time for the plot to develop – of the consequences of Rochester’s marriage to Berthe Mason to be worked out. Beginning a story in the past also allows an author more creative space than the matter-of-fact present day.)

        Lastly, Bronte may have read Walpole’s Historic Doubts, published in 1768, but she could never have read Jane Austen’s History of England. Although it was written in 1791, the History was not published until 1922:

        The History was later copied into a notebook – volume two of three – now in the British Library. It was printed by Chatto & Windus under the title Love and Friendship. And the History is not a serious commentary: it has more in common with 1066 And All That by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman (1930). It parodies school book histories, particularly Oliver Goldsmith’s popular four-volume History of England from the Earliest Times to the Death of George II (1771).



      4. I am sure that Austen’s views, even if not properly published, were well known in literary circles at the time. Bronte would possibly have become aware of this through these circles – both ladies wrote of the same era. It really isn’t necessary to meet someone to be influenced by them.
        We all know of the Wikipedia editors’ biased approach to Richard, so their “More’s writings were against him, therefore he meant every word but Austen’s writings were in favour of him thus they are satire” is typical of their dishonest Cairo approach.


      5. Ref. super blue’s reply on 24/06/2015 at 12:34 pm: Whatever the bias in the Wikipedia articles about Richard III or Edward IV, since I did not use them here they are not relevant. I consult the articles on Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Thackeray, and the pieces on “Jane Eyre” and Austen’s “History”, but they do not mention Richard III, or any interest in him by Austen or Bronte.

        My comment about Austen’s “History” being a parody (of Goldsmith in particular) was taken direct from the British Library webpage on Austen’s notebooks, which contain the manuscript of the “History”. (I doubt that the British Library’s experts have to use Wikipedia as a reference.) See also:


        On Jane Austen’s views of Richard III: she writes, “It has indeed been confidently asserted that he killed his two Nephews and his Wife, but it has also been declared that he did not kill his two Nephews, which I am inclined to beleive true; and if this is the case, it may also be affirmed that he did not kill his Wife, for if Perkin Warbeck was really the Duke of York, why might not Lambert Simnel be the Widow of Richard.” Which does not sound like an orthodox, pro-Ricardian view to me.

        And she writes about Edward V that: “This unfortunate Prince lived so little a while that nobody had him to draw his picture. He was murdered by his Uncle’s Contrivance, whose name was Richard the 3rd.” Is that a pro-Ricardian opinion?



  2. There are at least two other theories about the origins of the character “Edward Rochester”. One is that he was developed out of a figure contributed by Charlotte to the stories about the lands of Gondal and Angria, made up by the Bronte children, including the brother Branwell. The realm of Angria was ruled by the Duke of Zamorna. “Zamorna’s romantic conquests make up the greater part of Charlotte’s contributions. He was a character who ruled by strength of will and feeling and easily conquered women—they recognized the evil in him but could not fight their attraction to him.”


    A second theory is that “Rochester” was based on a real historical personality, John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (1 April 1647 – 26 July 1680). This was put forward by Murray Pittock in an article published in Nineteenth Century Literature, vol. 41 (1987). See also the online essay “The Real Rochester in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre”: the author of this piece argues that, “The key to understanding Bronte’s motivation in selecting the rake John Wilmot as the model for Rochester lies in Wilmot’s deathbed confessional”, in his moral reform. “By the end of his short life Wilmot repented his immoral lifestyle.” (This moral concern is perhaps not unsurprising in a clergyman’s daughter.)



    1. I know all about Wilmot but he was a sadistic rake and a suspect in the Godfrey murder. Bronte’s Rochester wasn’t called John but Edward, presumably for a reason.
      It seems that those who tried to explain Bronte’s motives have missed an obvious point.


    2. That may be true as far as the character’s name, background and some plot details are concerned, but otherwise, it’s a pretty common belief that, like most of Charlotte’s romantic heroes, his personality andappearance and and Jane’s feelings for him are based on Charlotte’s (married) former teacher Constantin Heger and her unrequited love for him, which was also the inspiration for “Professor” and “Villette”. One can perhaps see some interesting psychological mechanisms at work in how she transformed that into a story about her heroine Jane, who has a lot in common with herself, and her mutual and requited love with an older, married man whose wife becomes insane, sort of a bad guy and an obstacle for their love.

      Off-topic, it’s interesting that Thackerey was a huge fan of “Jane Eyre” and praised it a lot, and Charlotte then dedicated the second edition of the novel to him – unaware that the plot had similarities with Thackeray’s real life marital situation. His wife had become mentally ill and increasingly detached from reality and was placed in a home near Paris. She outlived him for 30 years. One of the women Thackeray is thought to have had a romantic interest in (but not a sexual relationship) after becoming a de facto widower was called Jane Brookfield.


      1. Jane Austin seems to have been a Yorkist, instead of a Ricardian. She had a strong dislike of the Lancastrians, partly because it was during the reign of Henry VI that the English in France executed Joan of Arc: “They should not have burnt her – but they did”. She also dislikes the Tudors, particularly Henry VIII for his ruthless treatment of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, but above all Elizabeth I.

        The reasons for her Yorkist sympathies (or prejudices) are not clear, because she is not very complimentary to the three Yorkist kings except, as in Richard III’s case, for being a York.

        Jane Austin’s real hero was not an English king: her maligned monarch was Mary, Queen of Scots, whose “true Merit” was “despised, neglected and defamed”. Austin is bitterly critical of Elizabeth’s ministers, writing that they, “were such scandals to their Country and sex as to allow and assist their Queen” in confining Mary for nineteen years, “and allowing Elizabeth to bring the amiable Woman to an untimely, unmerited and scandalous death”.


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