‘The Helen Mentality’

The most immediately striking thing about this 1999 copy of Jane Eyre held at Senate House Library and published by Canadian publishers Broadview Literary Texts is the wonderful cover art. The photograph is credited to R. Phene Spiers and is of Charlotte Spiers, taken in 1857, and is held by the Bodleian Library.

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A bit of digging reveals that Richard Phene Spiers (1838–1916) was born in Oxford (hence the Bodleian connection) and was a notable English architect. Charlotte Spiers (1844–1914) was his younger sister and herself an artist. Charlotte lived with her brother in London and remained unmarried — perhaps allowing her the freedom to pursue her art. The photograph selected for this edition of Jane Eyre seems especially apt. It shows the young Charlotte Spiers in classic Victorian dress sitting and regarding herself in the mirror — the angle of the mirror reflects her face back out at us with a bold direct gaze. This image is a perfect fit for the young Jane, the pose hinting at a steely inner resolve and the mirror echoing the themes of doubling explored in the novel.

On page 120 of this edition when Jane and Helen Burns are discussing their mistreatment at the hands of others (Mrs Scatcherd’s treatment of Helen and Mrs Reed’s of Jane) the reader has underlined part of Helen’s speech in which she says:

Would you not be happier if you tried to forget her severity, together with the passionate emotions it excited?

The reader has then written ‘The Helen Mentality’, a pleasingly succinct summation of  Helen’s doctrine on selflessness.

Helen mentality

The next passage of interest comes on page 175, where two hands have noted different additions to the text. The passage concerns Jane’s exploration of Thornfield, when she first hears the strange disembodied laugh of the first Mrs Rochester. One annotator has noted: ‘mystery, fear, gothic’ thus listing out the themes and emotions evoked by this section. The other writer has underlined the reference to Thornfield as ‘Bluebeard’s castle’ noting that this is ‘Ominous wife stealing’.

Bluebeard was a French folktale, most famously retold by Charles Perrault in 1697, in which the title character is a powerful, wealthy but ugly man whose beautiful wives have all mysteriously disappeared. The tale follows the story of his last wife, a young neighbour who is forced into marrying him. Bluebeard leaves her alone in the castle, warning her not to enter a certain room. Naturally as soon as he is gone she opens the forbidden room and there finds the mangled dead bodies of Bluebeard’s many wives. Fortunately just as Bluebeard returns and is about to dispatch his latest wife, her brothers turn up and kill Bluebeard, freeing her to inherit the castle and his wealth.

Ominous wife stealing

This reader then has noted that by likening Thornfield to Bluebeard’s castle Bronte would have been reminding her readers of the gruesome yet familiar folktale thus ramping up the oppressive atmosphere and foreshadowing the mad hidden wife.

Having now inspected numerous copies of Jane Eyre is it always heartening to see how strongly modern readers relate and empathise with Jane and her story. This is demonstrated here on page 282 of this edition, where the reader has underlined the words ‘the desires may imagine all sorts of vain things but judgment shall still have the last word in every argument…’ to which they have added the emphatic scrawl ‘yep!’ indicating this has struck a particular chord with this reader.

Yep

This same reader (judging by the handwriting) is again prompted to share the impact of Jane’s experience. The reader has underlined Jane’s assertion to Rochester ‘I am a free human being with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you.’ to which they have appended ‘bang!’, likely signalling their happy approval of Jane’s steely resolve.

Bang

The One in which Jive Bunny Makes an Appearance

This copy of Jane Eyre has, like many family copies of the novel one imagines, been shared between generations, so that the novel’s history becomes a small part of a family’s history. It has no publication date but it is published by Collins. Flic Louise Everett’s mother bought it from a second-hand bookshop for seventy pence.Jivebunnycover

Flic, a writer and magazine editor, explains that this, became her copy of Jane Eyre when she plucked it from her mother’s bookshelves in the nineteen eighties when she was sixteen and took to Menorca to read on holiday. ‘I have no idea why, I probably just wanted to read “a classic’’.’

She remembers being completely gripped and, while she didn’t write in the book, selects the scene ‘where Jane finds out that Rochester is already married and the wedding’s called off’ as one that she ‘always found devastating’.

JiveBunny2On page 360 in this edition, it is easy to see why the scene would have had such an impact on a sixteen-year-old girl reading it for the first time in the Mediterranean sun. ‘My hopes were all dead…real affection he could not have for me…it had only been a fitful passion.’ Jane’s extremes of emotion at this point have a sweeping modern teenage feel to them. While she believes that all is lost, we the wiser reader, like a knowing mother, know that it will all work out in the end.

Of further interest in this particular copy, are the mysterious jottings on the inside cover. This is the handwriting of Flic’s mother, a playwright and writer for TV, then called JE Everett (now Janey Preger) which is written rather hurriedly in the top right hand corner – artistically for our purposes she shared Bronte’s heroine’s initials. The nature of the notes tells Flic that it had nothing to do with Jane Eyre the story, but it was more likely that her mother had the book out and by the phone when she had a work related call for which she needed to take some notes.

While the story Jane Eyre still has a ‘devastating’effect on the heart of the modern reader, many copies are now not so valuable, such that another female writer would not necessarily think twice before using a blank part of one of her predecessor’s books as note paper. But this not to say that note-taking is frivolous, for important details are recorded, such as the ‘June 1st deadline’, the need for ‘five or six stories’ and the intention of thinking of the ‘American Market’. Is the ‘end of next week’ when the ‘concept’ needs to be delivered? History does not record.JiveBunnynotes

Much of what is underlined ‘ideas’ ‘characters’ seems unnecessary for a writer to remind themselves to include so perhaps this part of the writing down was merely helping her concentrate on the conversation. As for what was needed to be ten inches and what twenty five, this is a mystery, as is the inclusion of ‘Jive Bunny’ – a pair of record producers who brought out a string of hits in the late nineteen eighties comprising souped-up stapled-together excerpts from classic tunes of the nineteen forties and fifties.

It is baffling to imagine in what work of fiction Jive Bunny would be the ‘main character’. What the reference to Jive Bunny does tell us however, is that the work conversation which Flic’s mother Janey recorded in her copy of Jane Eyre took place no earlier than nineteen eighty-nine which is when the first Jive Bunny record came out, meaning that these notes were written after Flic’s trip to Menorca and that therefore the book must have come back to mother after daughter read it, only for it end up back in daughter’s book collection where it resides still. Such is the fluid nature of a family possession.

Flash-forward and Flash-back

This hardbacked 1969 Oxford University Press copy of Jane Eyre presumably once had a dust-jacket, but now sits on the shelves of Birkbeck Library naked in its navy-blue cloth cover.Spine

The inside of the front cover reveals the source of the book: The International University Bookseller on Store Street, London and the price (which at over £4 for 1969 seems rather steep).bookseller

The introduction includes an insert with Corrigenda from this edition. The correction for page 202 advises that ‘unequal’ should be rendered as ‘unequal’ which had me reading and re-reading the word over and over trying to see a mistake that isn’t there.errors

Page 30 shows a seeping mark of water damage on the top left corner of the page. Was this due to damp in the library? A trip out in the rain? Or a beverage spillage? We can but speculate.

water damage

This edition contains some rather baffling pen marks (marginalia in pencil I can understand for it can be erased but marking a library book with pen, and red pen at that, is more like vandalism!). At a number of points in the text the reader has marked red dots next to passages. At first I thought they might be highlighting or correcting the punctuation as they often seemed to appear next to a full-stop, dash or comma. However as I continued through the book the dots revealed no pattern in their placing and their meaning was obscured, their significance known only to the scrawler themselves.flashback

Aside from the dots that same person has used their red pen to write ‘F. B.’ on page 92 next to a passage recalling Jane’s time at Lowood as Helen Burns fell ill, the meaning of which came clear when I got to page 97 and they had written out the full word in red capitals ‘FLASH FORWARD’, indicating that F.B. stood for ‘flashback’. The flash forward referring to the device by which Jane as narrator of her autobiography furnishes the reader with the information that fifteen years after Helen Burns’ death she finally gets a headstone on her grave.flashforward

This preoccupation with shifting time was again highlighted on page 105 with the note ‘fore shadow’, as Jane notes her worry that by advertising for a position as a governess could get her into ‘some scrape’ — a premonition (and an understatement) indeed.Foreshadow

The final note by this annotator comes on page 125 as we get a description of the dining-room of Thornfield. In the text Mrs Fairfax is dusting a ‘some vases of fine purple spar’ and the mystery reader has written in ‘Blue John Vases’. A quick Google reveals that in the eighteenth century Blue John was known as ‘Derbyshire Spar’ as the semi precious mineral was found in the caves of the Peak District. The reader perhaps thought this was significant as it could place Thornfield Hall in Derbyshire, indeed Haddon Hall near Bakewell has been suggested as the model for Thornfield and in fact has been used as a location in a number of filmed versions of the story. Blue John

Romance and arguments

This 1949 Heather edition of Jane Eyre published by Allan Wingate, London and found on the shelves of Senate House Library was littered with notes, underlining and annotations. Numerous readers had over the years, in their own distinctive pen and style, added their thoughts and ideas to the text — some reflecting critically on the novel’s influences (To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf and Henry James both flagged up) and others just reacting emotionally to Jane’s story (someone noted ‘I would take this as an insult!’ next to a passage where Blanche Ingram describes her fantasy husband).1949cover

Analysis of the annotations from this copy could take this blog post in any number of directions but the story that really jumped out from the page was one reader’s noted reaction to their fellow annotator. As the romance between Rochester and Jane starts to stir, a reader writes plaintively in pencil at the opening to Chapter XVIII:

‘Let’s not forget that the wonderful Mr R is the first and only man that our heroine has had the pleasure to meet. She’s 18, a virgin, and no doubt bursting with hormones, would it not be foolhardy to wed and bed Mr R, thereby relinquishing all hopes of seeing what love and life beyond the sheltering confines of Thornfield and the surrounding hills?’

argument1This heartfelt note clearly caught the attention of a later reader, who was moved to respond (in a somewhat vulgar fashion, but let’s not forget these are students we spy on):

‘Let us also not forget that in a pre-Aids society, a stiff British upper lip was as good a deterrent for sex as any coupled with conventional social attitudes and strict conformations to female coquettry. Having said that however, and being a red-blooded male I masturbate fervently in the hope that Jane swallows gallons of Mr R’s spunk.’

reply1Later when the great horse-chestnut tree is split in half by lightning, the original pencil annotator returns to note:

‘Romantic perhaps, but certainly such imagery does not bode well for the future of Jane’s marriage — that institution, like the old and venerable tree, can be split and destroyed by the forces of nature. And what of Mr R’s mysterious past? Are his motives sound, or selfish? With 200 pages to go I wouldn’t bet on holy matrimony.’

argument2

The note-maker’s perceptive scrawls clearly struck a chord with our vulgar annotator, who was moved to once again respond:

‘Wise words my graphite-tipped friend, whom I suppose from your earlier dissertation to be a person of female stock. What do you do now, as I write, and who will in future years leaf over our fond comments and [indistinct] camaraderie. Be my bride pencil-woman and we shall reside in cotton caves for a sensational series of hormone filled frolics.’

reply2

Sadly we shall never know if this admiration remained unrequited or if indeed the original pencil note-maker ever knew that her words had so enticed another. But we can be glad that we got to encounter this love-affair played out in marginalia and fanned by the story of Jane Eyre.

To finish this post I will also include another pair of note-makers from this edition, however it was not love that sprung from their annotations but discord!

When Jane first encounters the Rivers’ she makes up a false name ‘Jane Elliott’, one reader was clearly unhappy about this, writing ‘of all pseudo…’ then adding ‘She adheres to the dogmas of the church and yet lies?’.

This assertion clearly riled a later reader who replied ‘She doesn’t adhere to any dogma, and she is lying to protect herself, you moralistic smart-arse.’smartarse

This note-filled copy of Jane Eyre is a delightful reminder of how affecting the novel is on a first reading and it is a treat to witness the numerous readers engage with the text and each other, uncovering passions for both the character of Jane, and for each other.

Illustrations for the Age

Monro Scott Orr’s sixteen detailed and full-page colour plates adorn a beautifully presented 1921 edition (from the British Library), published by George G. Harrap & Company Ltd., a company that specialized in English classics, and became well-known for the high standard of its illustrated books. The illustrations are clear and stand out freshly on the glossy paper. The strong line definitions and particular attention to detail mark them out as early twentieth-century pictorial interpretations of the certainty of a nineteenth-century narrative, or are they? This was a time when the aim of modernist art and literature was to make the familiar unfamiliar. Orr’s work as painter, illustrator and etcher straddled a period of transition. He was born in 1874 and trained at The Glasgow School of Art from 1894 to 1900. Although he also illustrated an edition of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights in a similarly restrained style, his illustrations for such well-loved classics as Grimm’s Fairy Tales and The Arabian Nights show the darker side of the imagined other, grotesques and haunting, unfamiliar figures. (For more images see ‘Monro S Orr illustrator’ online). His characters in Jane Eyre nevertheless also hint at subversions of the accepted norm.CSblo2.1

I can find no account of what part the publishers played in the choice of particular scenes for Orr’s illustrations, but they mark several of the significant occurrences in the narrative, each captioned with a quote from the text. However, on closer inspection they are a freer interpretation than a glance would first suggest. If you compare Jane’s first meeting with Mr Rochester in the text with that of the illustration, you will see that although his foot is painfully sprained after his fall, and Jane says that ‘he rose from the stile’, Mr Rochester is posed in a commanding, aggressive stance, rather than in a weakened, seated position. Both feet appear painless, planted firmly as he leans on his knee with hand on hip. He is depicted as master of all he surveys, including the doll-like Jane, who demurely avoids all eye contact with him. In her characterless stasis she appears to have no ability to interact with him at all, a far cry from the Jane readers know her to be.

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Orr has chosen a muted colour-palette, restricting himself to sombre browns, greys and subtle greens. This seems to signify Jane’s earthly trials and tribulations, and only the final plate shows the more hopeful glimmers of a bright, verdant Spring on the tree trunks of the woodland walk enjoyed by Jane and Mr Rochester. But again Jane appears oddly disconnected as she gazes into the distance. This time she has a knowing smile, which may acknowledge her new-found purpose in life. However her elongated, strong jaw, mirrored in Mr Rochester’s depiction, is also strangely similar to those of Orr’s more fantastical, fairy-tale creations, and gives an oddly unsettling effect.

An equally disproportioned but more overtly dynamic Jane challenges the reader to join her in this Bancroft Classic 1967 edition, found on a private bookshelf. To judge from the list of classics listed on the back cover, it was aimed at the younger reader, and was meant to educate as well as entertain. With her sixties, styled, possibly back combed pony-tail and enormous hair bow and white collar, Jane stares out at the reader, while a diminutive Mr Brocklehurst glowers threateningly but ineffectually behind her.IMG_0659

The overblown size of her head denotes her importance, and there can be no doubt that she is the heroine. Although she will face opprobrium, she is a child of the sixties; confrontational, and with her slightly parted mouth, freely able to engage with anyone and to speak for herself. Disconcertingly, the illustration opposite the title page shows a seemingly much older Jane having had to suffer one of many cruelties, this time at the hands of John Reed, as she lies prostrate on the floor with what is probably Bewick’s History of British Birds.IMG_0661

No attribution is given to what appear to be the two illustrators of this volume who have failed to find a common style or purpose. The illustrations are there to entice a new readership into the pages, unlike Orr’s creations, which set out to entertain and enhance. But none of the illustrations suggest that the reader’s experience should be a complacent, untroubled, and unquestioning one.

 

Fire and Gods

Another copy that I stumbled upon yielded some ephemera.  On page xiv of the introduction a yellow post-it note was affixed.  It directly announced: ‘Fire/Ice/death/cold’; evidently, key themes of the novel. IMG_0743

The post-it was situated on a page all about interpretations of the novel, just above the key sentence: ‘…Jane, whose character is akin to the elements of fire, brightness, warmth, purity.  Characters with whom she is in sympathy share these qualities to some extent; Rochester indeed must go through an ordeal by fire to attain union with Jane.’  This reader has focussed on central elemental parts of the novel in order to interpret crucial character traits and thematic resonances.  Interesting.  Although, our annotator has added in both ‘death’ and ‘cold’ from their own thoughts.  Looking more closely, I can see that these are expounded on in a later paragraph and this student has linked all these ideas together in a litter of extremes.IMG_0742

The front cover is very creased with the opening side crushed into a side vanishing-point, almost like the sun’s rays breaking out in an attitude of intense heat and solar power.  The bleached edge is like the peeping solar disc attempting to strain itself over a black horizon—creating a stark chiaroscuro.  ‘Jane’, on the cover, looks demurely down.  This is actually a portrait of Mary Isabella Grant c. 1850; this painting hangs in the Leicester Museum and Art Gallery.  The subject is knitting a shawl.  The artist’s father painted this as part of a series of three identical pictures.  Mary Isabella died only four years later, at the premature age of 22.  It is believed the duplicate images were painted after her death as memorial pictures.  The subject wears rings, to indicate her marriage.  Mary Isabella’s life differs considerably from Jane’s, thankfully for her long-time readership, but her youth and absorption in domestic duties echo many of the themes within Jane Eyre.

One particularly harsh crease on the cover cuts right through her forename—almost like the splintered chestnut tree in the novel is split asunder.  The crevice points to the nethermost corner where it is only met by a fissured and whitened spine.  It appears to be a well-worn and enjoyed copy.IMG_0746

The issue was adorned by an especially unusual page-maker.  A plastic/sticky clear-and-blue tape marked page 453.  It included the words: ‘Rochester spiritual god’.  This was next to a passage where the hero calls to Jane supernaturally through the dark night in those memorable words: ‘Jane!  Jane!  Jane!’  Any reader will know that page well.  It is the climax that precedes the long-awaited reunion and eventual fairy-tale happy ending.IMG_0747

A brief examination of this copy’s reading history shows a troubling lack of adherence to that central column.  The periods between 1999 and 2001 saw a dearth of lending, furthermore one incomplete date on 12AUG ???? was a mystery year—unable to be recorded in my sample.  The plot thickens.  We won’t know when and where the novel went for that period yet its silent pages do.chart3

Library Series

A number of the early twentieth century copies of Jane Eyre I looked at in Cambridge University Library were part of a publishing series so I thought it would be interesting to look into the history of some of these series a bit further.

New Century Library series

(Thomas Nelson & Sons, London)

This series dates from 1899 to 1950 and was introduced to celebrate the dawn of the new century, with the majority designed and printed between 1899 and 1910. Nelson and Sons released a huge number of great Victorian novelists including box sets of key writers: Scott had a beautifully boxed series of 25 volumes, Dickens 15 volumes, Thackeray 14 volumes. They also produced individual copies of novels by Austen, Lytton, and, as here, Bronte. This copy was in Cambridge University Library and was published 1902. It had a plain red cover with a gold peacock feather on the spine. It is quite a small book with very thin bible paper. You can read more on the history of this series on this excellent blog.JE27

York Library Series

(George Bell and Sons, London)

This series dates from 1904 to 1909. (They also published the beautifully illustrated ‘untouched’ copy in earlier post). A quick search of the British Library catalogue suggests this series encompassed a large variety of works, including: Amelia by Henry Fielding (1906 edition), Transformation or the Romance of Monte Beni by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1906 edition), Evelina by Fanny Burney (1904 edition), Adam Bede by George Eliot (1906 edition) and this 1906 edition of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte which has a blue cover with a gold leaf/vine design.JE33

The New Universal Library

(Routledge, London)

This series was published from 1884–1931 one of the many library series Routledge produced in the twentieth century, including (the intriguing) Half-forgotten Books series (1903–1907), Library of Standard and Historical Books (1908) and Broadway Medieval Library (1928–1931). This edition of Jane Eyre was published in 1907 and has a plain green cover with golden embossed spine (the dust jacket, if there was one, has not survived).

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The People’s Library

(Cassell, London)

This series was published 1907 to 1933 and was extremely popular for Cassell reaching 120 volumes and selling more than 3 million copies. The books were relatively cheap and the library was intended to allow people to collect classic volumes at a relatively low cost. According to this website on publishing series the books were colour-coded with red covers for ‘fiction’ and green for ‘serious works’ – it is interesting to note that this copy of Jane Eyre in the Cambridge University Library from 1907 has a red cover (whereas today I think it would be classed as a ‘serious’ work of fiction). The paper in this copy certainly seems much thinner and cheaper than in other editions I looked at and the cover is more lightweight and only has a bit of embellishment on the spine, making it a noticeably lower quality volume.

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Continental Recollections

For those nineteenth-century readers living abroad, keen to keep pace with the latest works in English by emerging and leading authors of the day, the publishing house of Bernhard Tauchnitz, Leipzig, was at hand. The ‘Tauchnitz Collection of British Authors’, published in English, covered 5,370 volumes over a century from 1840, and here I was in the British Library handling two of their editions of Jane Eyre.Caro1

Both show signs of age, and with their broken spines have been much handled and read. Each book has been personalized, according to the tastes of their original readers. The basic editions came in paperback, but most buyers, including Aggie Chichkine in Moscow with her third edition, and Helen Rainforth Tozer in Cologne with her second edition, decided to ask their bookbinders to create their own unique copies. However, this can be fraught with potential errors. The Moscow bookbinder’s spelling of Jane Eyre as Jare Eyre has created a unique, alternative title to his client’s book.Caro2

Nevertheless, Aggie’s copy does look sumptuous in its red leather cover, with an embossed spine and gold tooling. Her initials ‘A.C.’ make this incontrovertibly her copy for all time. She confirms this with an extravagant flourish to her signature on the first leaf of the front matter. While she proudly displays her name, I wonder if she knew that the author’s name, ‘Currer Bell’ which she also has tooled on the spine, is the pseudonym of an author less anxious to have her real name revealed? Aggie’s family name, Chichkine, is stamped at the bottom of the title page. If this was a copy she lent to friends, she could be sure of its return.Caro3

Helen has chosen leather, marbled covers with a smooth chocolate-brown spine and corners. Like Aggie’s copy, Jane Eyre is embossed in gold on the spine, this time for extra clarity on a black background.Caro6

She opts not to claim ownership on the cover, but in a beautifully neat, sloping hand signs her name at the top of the first page, and confirms she bought her copy in Cöln, in August 1850. Her misspelling of Köln perhaps indicates that she was new to life in Germany.Caro8

A quick internet search shows a Helen Rainforth Tozer to have been buried at East Clevedon, on the Bristol Channel, in 1887, aged sixty-five years. If this is our Helen, she read Jane Eyre in her late twenties, and did return to England, and hopefully, like Jane, found a peaceful and fulfilling life.

There is only one marking of either text, and this is a pencil underlining on page 321 in the penultimate chapter of Aggie’s copy. Here Jane Eyre’s hopes and desires are finally realized in the prospect of a life with Mr Rochester, and she exclaims: “Delightful consciousness!” I would like to think that it might have been Aggie who felt the emotion of Jane’s heartfelt words and emphasized them with her pencil.Caro9

Both women’s copies came to be part of the extensive collection of Tauchnitz editions of American bibliographers William Todd and Ann Bowden, which they donated to the British Library. They also left their mark on the their copies, as you can see from Todd’s library label on Aggie’s copy, alongside that of the Moscow bookseller’s.Caro4

Was it Todd, or yet another reader, who left an amended translation of the bookseller’s address on a slip of paper below the title to the Preface, or the librarian, who penciled the date 30.10.92 at the bottom of the facing page?Caro5

These copies may have travelled thousands of miles, but throughout their journeys they have evidently been cared for and rightly treasured.

Infringing adverts

This flimsy paperback edition published by Frederick Warne in 1894 (and found in the collection of the Bodleian Library in Oxford) sees Jane Eyre squarely aimed at a readership of middle-class mothers, with the inclusion of multiple advertisements for domestic need on the inside and outside covers; a ‘nursery book’ series for ‘Young England’, ‘Mellins food to infants and invalids’, bunion removers, Pears Soap and, as an insert sewn into the middle of the book, a coloured duck egg blue, two page card advertisement for Brooke’s ‘Monkey Brand’ soap.JE Bod cover

The opportunity to own her own copy of Jane Eyre signifies that the middle-class woman reader had some money to spend on reading and some leisure time in which to read; the thin paper quality of this particular edition, the close type and slightly larger than A5 page size, allowing the whole book to be printed in just 168 pages (keeping costs down), makes it clear that this was not a book that would have been held in an upper-class library. The only evidence of this book’s ownership history is a partially ripped off sticker on the front cover, which advertises a bookshop called ‘Grattan’, in ‘Borough’, (London?) Bridge’.

Monkey Brand soap was exceedingly popular in the late nineteenth century. Sufficiently well recognised to feature as a joke in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion when Henry Higgins tells his housekeeper to take Eliza Doolittle upstairs and clean her up, and to use ‘Monkey Brand, if it won’t come off any other way’. The joke was that ‘Monkey Brand’ was for cleaning objects not people, thus working-class Doolittle must be scrubbed like an object in order to fit into upper-class society. By the time of the film adaptation, My Fair Lady, in the 1960s, cultural sensitivity and presumably the fact that the product was no longer a household name saw the line changed to ‘sandpaper, if it won’t come off any other way.’JE insert ad

Anne McClintock in Soft-Soaping Empire[1] identifies the popular use of monkeys in advertising as ‘simian imperialism’; the use of anthropomorphised monkeys was a common trope in advertising of domestic products at the time, and from the 1860s onwards soap sales soared, due both to the increase in advertising and consumerism and also access to source products such as cheap palm oil from overseas farmed by slaves. The monkey image suggested the exotic to an audience of Victorians who would never get to see the empire first hand. Aside from the obvious racist undertones, a leaflet like this in the middle of Jane Eyre is explained thus by McClintock: ‘The appearance of monkeys in soap advertising signals a dilemma: how to represent domesticity without representing women’s work[2]

The irony here is that a picture of an innocent, clean, naked infant surrounded by winged monkey heads (monkey angels?) is at once an aspirational picture of domestic purity and gleaming hygiene (achieved not with physical effort but rather thanks to the powerful cleaning product from distant shores) but also a gentle reminder, while the poor woman reader is curled up with her good book, that she cannot entirely forget domestic duties. The card is attached to the story in the middle of the dramatic chapter twenty, where Grace Poole/Bertha attacks Mr Mason in the middle of the night, to which blood-spattered scene Jane is alerted by the eerie screaming. The dramatic tension is rudely interrupted by a garish advertisement for soap. It is ironic that the advertisement is printed on harder wearing card than the words of the book, and in a bright colour, so that it survives in much better condition than the book itself – in fact the heavy ad card has produced a rip in the page of the book. It feels almost like an aggressive intrusion, capitalism tearing at the pages of the work of art by Charlotte Bronte. Jane Eyre was written in 1848 before the era of mass marketing, it is instructive that an edition published fifty years later communicates a changed world of commercial reality that is literally pulling at the pages of the work.

[1] Anne McClintock Soft-Soaping Empire: Commodity Racism and Imperial Advertising Routledge 1994

[2] ibid

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