Note: Brontë's letter is adressed to a David Waldie Esq., a well-respected pharmacist who, it is commonly accepted, first suggested the use of chloroform in midwifery. Indeed, Professor James Y. Simpson of the Department of Midwifery at Edinburgh University, acknowleged Waldie's suggestion in a footnote in his account of discovery. Although the letter was adressed to Waldie in Liverpool, where he first encountered chloroform, he is still remembered in his home town of Linlithgow, where the Annet House Museum currently has an exhibition relating to his life and work.
The letter tells us that Waldie was impressed by Jane Eyre, published in 1847 under the pseudonym 'Currer Bell', and was inspired to write to Brontë of his appreciation of the book. Brontë replies:
The sincere affection of a reader's gratification is - I scarcely need to say - one of the much acceptable favours in which an author can be repaid for his labours. I shall be glad if any future work of mine gives you equal pleasure to that you speak of having found in "Jane Eyre".
The date of the letter can be ascertained from a photocopy of the original franked envelope (not present), with a postmark reading 1853. Indeed, it should be noted that Charlotte has signed the letter, 'C. Brontë', signifying that she was now using her own name, and therefore admitting her gender (although in the letter she does refer to the generic author as male). This fits in with what we know about the later years of Charlotte Brontë's life. In 1848, following the publication of Jane Eyre, Charlotte and Ann Brontë had revealed their true identities to their publishers. In a bibliographical note of her sisters in an edition of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, Charlotte explains the reasons for the rather masculine-sounding pseudonyms used by the three siblings:
Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names, positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because without at the time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called 'feminine,' we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.
Charlotte's rejection of, "personal publicity" seems to have extended beyond the gradual outing of her sex. Even in 1849, when Charlotte, "...paid her first visit to London in her own proper person as a woman of distinction and literary fame," (in the words of Auguste Birrell), she did not rush to be the centre of attention amongst her fellow writers. She declined to meet with Charles Dickens, for example, although she did visit William Makepeace Thackeray, of whom she was a great admirer.
However, it was between this point and Charlotte Brontë's untimely death in 1855, whilst pregnant with her first child, that the author writes this very appreciative and gracious note to Waldie. Despite what seems to be Charlotte's slight resistance to fame, it does suggest an author who has found, and is comfortable with, her own popularity.
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