The Secret History of Jane Eyre

How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece

John Pfordresher (Author, Georgetown University)


The surprising hidden history behind Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

Why did Charlotte Brontë go to such great lengths on the publication of her acclaimed, best-selling novel, Jane Eyre, to conceal its authorship from her family, close friends, and the press? In The Secret History of Jane Eyre, John Pfordresher tells the enthralling story of Brontë’s compulsion to write her masterpiece and why she then turned around and vehemently disavowed it.

Few people know how quickly Brontë composed Jane Eyre. Nor do many know that she wrote it during a devastating and anxious period in her life. Thwarted in her passionate, secret, and forbidden love for a married man, she found herself living in a home suddenly imperiled by the fact that her father, a minister, the sole support of the family, was on the brink of blindness. After his hasty operation, as she nursed him in an isolated apartment kept dark to help him heal his eyes, Brontë began writing Jane Eyre, an invigorating romance that, despite her own fears and sorrows, gives voice to a powerfully rebellious and ultimately optimistic woman’s spirit.

The Secret History of Jane Eyre expands our understanding of both Jane Eyre and the inner life of its notoriously private author. Pfordresher connects the people Brontë knew and the events she lived to the characters and story in the novel, and he explores how her fecund imagination used her inner life to shape one of the world’s most popular novels.

By aligning his insights into Brontë’s life with the timeless characters, harrowing plot, and forbidden romance of Jane Eyre, Pfordresher reveals the remarkable parallels between one of literature’s most beloved heroines and her passionate creator, and arrives at a new understanding of Brontë’s brilliant, immersive genius.

Book Details

  • Hardcover, Rough Front - Edge: Deckle, Feather, Uncut
  • June 2017
  • ISBN 978-0-393-24887-6
  • 6.5 × 9.5 in / 256 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“Pfordresher matches the events of Brontë's life with those of her heroine step by step, showing where they overlap and where they meaningfully diverge.” — John Williams, New York Times Book Review

“A wildly readable introduction to [Jane Eyre] and [Charlotte Brontë].” — Elizabeth Lowry, Wall Street Journal

“The psychologizing, speculation, and parallel-hunting [in The Secret History of Jane Eyre] are interesting and occasionally haunting. . . . Fans of the novel will enjoy this behind-the-scenes investigation into Jane Eyre and the imagination of its author.” — Publishers Weekly

“A helpful guide to [Jane Eyre] as a Rorschach blot of a singular Romantic temperament.” — Kirkus Reviews

““[Pfordresher’s] direct and assessable arguments . . . uncover surprising parallels between Charlotte’s life . . . and her creation. . . . Revelatory analysis.” — British Heritage

“Pfordresher . . . uses [Jane Eyre] as a kind of treasure map. . . . [The Secret History of Jane Eyre] is a fascinating and authoritative book, written with intelligence, wit and affection, and full of surprises. Reader, I recommend it.” — Deborah Mason, BookPage

“This is an engaging introduction to Charlotte and her famous novel, which will whet the appetite of anyone who is coming to either of them for the first time.” — Lucasta Miller, The Sunday Times

“[Pfordresher] knows . . . how to add his own penetrating insight to this perceptive, respectful portrait.” — Martin Rubin, The Washington Times

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