English, Department of


First Advisor

Laura White

Second Advisor

Beverley Rilett

Date of this Version



Gupta, Madhumita. "Reading Charlotte Bronte Reading". Thesis. MA. 2018


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: English, Under the Supervision of Professors Laura White and Beverley Rilett. Lincoln, Nebraska May, 2018

Copyright (c) 2018 Madhumita Gupta


This essay considers the significance of undirected childhood reading on an author’s mind and the reason some authors reference specific real books in their fiction. I argue that independent reading (as against schooling or formal education), and the direct and indirect references to certain books in Jane Eyre[1] were deliberate, well-thought-out inclusions for specific purposes at different points in the story. When a title pointedly says Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, it is probable that a significant part of the author’s life has seeped into her creation which makes it essential to consider the relevant parts of her life to analyze my claim. To do this, this essay considers the childhood reading in the Brontë family and focuses on some of the Bronte siblings’ favorite readings, which happened to be popular in the Victorian era. It then considers their powerful impact on Charlotte Brontë’s mind. After briefly considering the general attitude towards the reading woman in the era and how the Brontë family was different in that regard, this essay considers the long-lasting impact of Arabian Nights and Thomas Bewick’s The History of British Birds on Jane Eyre. Both books were the Brontë children’s favorite readings and had a significant impact on their writings from the juvenilia to the novels that they wrote as adults. By referring to these books in Jane Eyre Brontë was paying a tribute to the act of reading and to those specific books. While acknowledging that there are always multiple influences on a writer’s mind, I will be considering the impact of Arabian Nights[2] and Bewick’s The History of British Birds as two major influences on Jane Eyre because these issues have not been theorized as much as some other aspects of Brontë’s work. The Eastern link and debt to the Arabian Nights is especially interesting to me as an Indian.

[1] I have used the text of Jane Eyre from A Norton Critical Edition edited by Richard J. Dunn, referred here onwards as JE.

[2] For this essay I am using Sir Richard Burton’s translation of the Arabian Nights, which would not be the one the Brontës read; nonetheless the essential stories would still be the same. They may have read the earlier versions which Burton derides in the introduction to his translation.

Advisors: Laura White, Beverley Rilett