'You Must Try Now to Forget...'
I realise that I have never posted these letters by Charlotte Bronte before. This is a shame because they are among my favourites. Her letters make wonderfull reading, especially when she's angry and being a snark. Here she wonders what it would be like to see an adaptation of Jane Eyre, and then her reaction to a review of one of the first adaptations (if I remember correctly the first adaptation appeared only months after the novel's publication).
TO W. S. WILLIAMS
‘February 5th, 1848.
‘Dear Sir,—A representation of Jane Eyre at a minor theatre would no doubt be a rather afflicting spectacle to the author of that work. I suppose all would be wofully exaggerated and painfully vulgarised by the actors and actresses on such a stage. What, I cannot help asking myself, would they make of Mr. Rochester? And the picture my fancy conjures up by way of reply is a somewhat humiliating one. What would they make of Jane Eyre? I see something very pert and very affected as an answer to that query.
‘Still, were it in my power, I should certainly make a point of being myself a witness of the exhibition. Could I go quietly and alone, I undoubtedly should go; I should endeavour to endure both rant and whine, strut and grimace, for the sake of the useful observations to be collected in such a scene.
‘As to whether I wish you to go, that is another question. I am afraid I have hardly fortitude enough really to wish it. One can endure being disgusted with one’s own work, but that a friend should share the repugnance is unpleasant. Still, I know it would interest me to hear both your account of the exhibition and any ideas which the effect of the various parts on the spectators might suggest to you. In short, I should like to know what you would think, and to hear what you would say on the subject. But you must not go merely to satisfy my curiosity; you must do as you think proper. Whatever you decide on will content me: if you do not go, you will be spared a vulgarising impression of the book; if you do go, I shall perhaps gain a little information—either alternative has its advantage.'
He did go to the performance. His report does not survive, but this is Charlotte's response to his review:
TO W. S. WILLIAMS
‘February 15th, 1848.
‘Dear Sir,—Your letter, as you may fancy, has given me something to think about. It has presented to my mind a curious picture, for the description you give is so vivid, I seem to realise it all. I wanted information and I have got it. You have raised the veil from a corner of your great world—your London—and have shown me a glimpse of what I might call loathsome, but which I prefer calling strange. Such, then, is a sample of what amuses the metropolitan populace! Such is a view of one of their haunts!
‘Did I not say that I would have gone to this theatre and witnessed this exhibition if it had been in my power? What absurdities people utter when they speak of they know not what!
‘You must try now to forget entirely what you saw.'