One of the strongest female characters in classic literature is undoubtedly Jane Eyre, the headstrong orphan who makes a life for herself as a governess. But Jane’s description of herself as “a free human being with an independent will” can just as easily apply to the writer behind her words: Charlotte Brontë. Now, visitors to the Morgan Library and Museum have the chance to learn more about the famed author through the new exhibition Charlotte Brontë: An Independent Will.
Charlotte Brontë, who grew up in West Yorkshire with her three siblings, was a writer who pursued success in the face of the male-dominated society of 19th century England. After starting an initial career as a teacher and governess (the most viable professions for women at the time), Brontë soon found success as a writer with the publication of the instantly popular Jane Eyre, and went on to write another three novels before her death at age 38. Jane Eyre, famously, was published under the male pseudonym Currer Bell, as Brontë eschewed personal fame to allow the book to be judged not as the work of a woman, but rather on its own merits. Marking the two hundredth anniversary of her birth in 1816, Charlotte Brontë: An Independent Will now celebrates Brontë’s life and successes, tracing her life from ambitious teenager to celebrated novelist.
“With Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë introduced one of the strongest—and most unforgettable—heroines in all literature,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Morgan. “Brontë herself was uncommonly ambitious, pursuing literary fame in a male-dominated profession and insisting that her work be judged on its own terms. The Morgan is very pleased to be able to tell her remarkable story and to explore her legacy in this important exhibition.”
The exhibition will be a collaboration with the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, England, the world’s foremost Brontë museum located on the site of the family’s childhood home. On display will be a variety of artifacts from Brontë’s life and work, including her portable writing desk, a dress, personal letters, and her earliest surviving miniature manuscript. The centerpiece, however, will be a portion of Jane Eyre’s original manuscript, which is on loan from the British Museum and will appear here for the first time in the US.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Morgan will also offer a series of Brontë-themed events, including a screening of the 1943 film adaptation of Jane Eyre; a discussion with scholar and author of The Brontë Cabinet, Deborah Lutz; and a reading group for Brontë’s final novel, Villette. For those who want to try their hand at making the miniature manuscripts on display in the exhibition, the Morgan will also host a special Brontë Book Arts workshop on October 22.