In attempting to guess at the character and circumstances of the writer, a reviewer could only choose among such types of men and women as he had known, or heard, or read of. An early European settler in Australia, in conjecturing whether his garden had been ravaged by a bird or by a quadruped, would not light readily on the conception of an ornithorhynchus; and assuredly no one accustomed only to ordinary men and women could have divined the character, the training, and the position of Charlotte Bronte, as they have been made known to us by her biographer’s unsparing revelations. It was not to be expected that any one should have imagined the life of Howorth [Trasncriber’s note: sic] parsonage; the gifted, wayward, and unhappy sisterhood in their cheerless home; the rudeness of the only society which was within their reach; while their views of anything beyond their own immediate circle, and certain unpleasing forms of school-life which they had known, were drawn from the representations of a brother whose abilities they regarded with awe, but who in other respects appears to have been an utterly worthless debauchee; lying and slandering, bragging not only of the sins which he had committed, but of many which he had not committed; thoroughly depraved himself, and tainting the thoughts of all within his sphere. There was, therefore, in “Jane Eyre,” as the reviewer supposed, the influence of a corrupt male mind, although this influence had been exerted through an unsuspected medium. We now know how it was that a clergyman’s daughter, herself innocent, and honourably devoted to the discharge of many a painful duty, could have written such a book as “Jane Eyre” but without such explanations as Mrs. Gaskell has placed (perhaps somewhat too unreservedly) before the world, the thing would have been inconceivable. Indeed there is very sufficient evidence that the Quarterly reviewer was by no means alone in entertaining the opinions we have referred to: for the book was most vehemently cried up— the society of the authoress, when she became known, was most eagerly courted—assiduous attempts were made (greatly to her annoyance) to enlist her, to exhibit her, to trade on her fame—by the very persons who would have been most ready to welcome her if she had been such as the reviewer supposed her to be. And it is clear that the gentleman who introduced himself to her acquaintance on the ground that each of them had “written a naughty book” must have drawn pretty much the same conclusions from the tone of Miss Bronte’s first novel as the writer in this Review.
In like manner a great and remarkable departure from ordinary forms and conditions has caused extreme uncertainty and many mistaken guesses as to the new novelist who writes under the name of George Eliot. One critic of considerable pretensions, for instance, declared his belief that “George Eliot” was “a gentleman of high-church tendencies”; next came the strange mystification which ascribed the “Eliot” tales to one Mr. Joseph Liggins; and finally, the public learnt on authority that the “gentleman of high church tendencies” was a lady; and that this lady was the same who had given a remarkable proof of mastery over both the German language and her own, but had certainly not established a reputation for orthodoxy, by a translation of Strauss’s “Life of Jesus.”