The third edition of Jane Eyre included a section entitled “Opinions of the Press” which reprinted 25 reviews from the journals and newspapers of the time. This section is included as an appendix in the Oxford World’s Classics paperback edition of Jane Eyre. Here are some telling excerpts:
Almost all that we require in a novelist the writer has: perception of character and power of delineating it; picturesqueness, passion, and knowledge of life. The story is not only of singular interest, naturally evolved, unflagging to the last, but it fastens itself upon your attention, and will not leave you. The book closed, the enchantment continues: your interest does not cease. Reality—deep, significant reality, is the characteristic of this book. It is an autobiography—not, perhaps, in the naked facts and circumstances, but in the actual suffering and experience. This gives the book its charm: it is soul speaking to soul: it is an utterance from the depths of a struggling, suffering, much enduring spirit: suspiria de profundis.
The incidents, though striking, are subordinate to the main purpose of the piece, which depends not upon incident, but on the development of character; it is a tale of passion, not of action; and the passion rises at times to a height of tragic intensity which is almost sublime. Tt is a book to make the pulses gallop and the heart beat, and to fill the eyes with tears.
Jane Eyre is a remarkable novel, in all respects very far indeed above the average of those which the literary journalist is doomed every season to peruse.
Jane Eyre contains much that is fresh and good, and evidently reveals the experiences of a thoughtful and reflective mind. It has that strong and powerful interest which arises from truth clearly developed, and from that strong delineation of characteristics derived from individuals, and not the result of looking at human nature through the spectacles of books.
The story itself is unique. There is much to ponder over, rejoice over, and weep over, in its ably written pages. Much of the heart laid bare, and the mind explored; much of trial and temptation, of fortitude and resignation, of sound sense and Christianity—but no tameness.
Jane Eyre is a very remarkable work. The style is bold, lucid, pungent; the incidents are varied, touching, romantic; the characterisation is ample, original, diversified: the moral sentiments are pure and healthy; and the whole work is calculated to rivet attention, to provoke sympathy, to make the heart bound and the brain pause.
The style is fresh and vigorous, and the whole tone of the work is earnest. The knowledge of human nature displayed throughout, shows that the author’s power of observation and analysis of character are at once minute, close, discriminating, and comprehensive. In power of individualization, as well as in dramatic constructiveness of plot, the author excels.
—Church of England Journal
We know no author, who possesses such power as is exhibited in these three volumes—no writer, who can sustain such a calm mental tone, and so deeply interest without having recourse to any startling expedients, or blue-fire colouring, so prominent in modern literature. We do not know who ‘Currer Bell’ might be, but his name will stand very high in literature. We were tempted more than once to believe that Mrs. Marsh was veiling herself under an assumed editorship, for this autobiography partakes greatly of her simple, penetrating style, and, at times, of her love of nature; but a man’s more vigorous hand is, we think, perceptible.
The word most frequently used to describe the writing was “vigorous,” which is why many thought Currer Bell was male (Currer was both a man’s and a woman’s name). They seem to have missed the lesson Jane taught Rochester and St John: never underestimate a woman!