We have said that this was the picture of a natural heart. This, to our view, is the great and crying mischief of the book. Jane Eyre is throughout the personification of an unregenerate and undisciplined spirit, the more dangerous to exhibit from that prestige of principle and self-control which is liable to dazzle the eye too much for it to observe the inefficient and unsound foundation on which it rests. It is true Jane does right, and exerts great moral strength, but it is the strength of a mere heathen mind which is a law unto itself. No Christian grace is perceptible upon her. She has inherited in fullest measure the worst sin of our fallen nature – the sin of pride. Jane Eyre is proud, and therefore she is ungrateful too. It pleased God to make her an orphan, friendless, and penniless – yet she thanks nobody, and least of all Him. *** It is by her own talents, virtues and courage that she is made to attaining the summit of human happiness, and, as far as Jane Eyre’s own statement is concerned, no one would think that she is owed anything either to God above or to man below. ***
[Elizabeth Rigby, writing in The Quarterly Review, 1848]
I love this quote because it says so much in so few words. Charlotte Bronte rattled cages, by publishing a book about an “orphan, friendless and penniless” who had the audacity to not merely think highly of herself, but to refuse to be grateful to a social order that demeaned her as valueless, not because of a lack of merit, intelligence, ambition, self-sufficiency or honor, but because she was a girl-child orphaned in poverty.
Nearly everyone recognizes the name Charlotte Bronte. Nearly no one can name the woman who wrote this criticism. There is no doubt who won this historical argument.