“Reader, I Married Him”: 19th Century Reading Practices, Reading, and Readers in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre

By Corinna Norrick.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The reading experience is connected irrevocably to the novel: without a reading audience, what use is writing and publishing a book? However, some authors write as if there was no reading public, whereas other authors consciously include the reader – and the act of reading – in their narrative as a recurring motif. This paper discusses the motif of reading in Jane Eyre, which is employed by Charlotte Brontë in several ways: Jane Eyre contains an unusual number of literary references and (mis)quotations, a fact which has been duly noted by readers, critics and scholars alike. Furthermore, there are appendices and articles dedicated to Brontë’s own library and reading. Finally, Brontë addresses the reader throughout the novel (“Reader, I married him”). This paper however argues that Brontë’s incorporation of the act of reading into her novel Jane Eyre goes beyond addressing the reader. Brontë presents 19th century reading practices and readers, namely Jane herself and readers whom Jane meets and judges according to their reading habits. Jane shows a palpable empathy with those who read, and a rejection of others who do not. This analysis of examples from the novel, connected with a look at the cultural understanding of reading at the time of its publication, sheds new light on the motif of reading in Jane Eyre.

Keywords: Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, Reading Practices, Readers

International Journal of the Book, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp.67-76. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 827.810KB).

Corinna Norrick

Research Assistant, Instructor, Institute for the History of the Book, Johannes Gutenberg-University, Mainz, Mainz, Germany

Corinna Norrick received her M.A. in Book History and English Literature in the fall of 2009. She is currently working at the Johannes Gutenberg-University in Mainz as an instructor at the Gutenberg-Institute for the History of the Book and as a research assistant for the interdisciplinary research focus “Media Convergence”.

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