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10 Moody Facts About Jane Eyre

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When Charlotte Brontë sat down to write Jane Eyre, she didn’t know she was writing a major work of literature. The gothic novel about a governess’s romance with the brooding Mr. Rochester was an instant classic in its time and is still much loved today, 168 years later. After all, who can resist a tale featuring a madwoman locked in an attic?

1. Like Jane, Brontë Worked As A Governess.

Jane Eyre was a provincial girl hired to work as a governess among strangers. So was Charlotte Brontë. In 1839, the wealthy Sidgwick family employed Brontë to live in their country estate and educate their children. She hated the job, writing, “I had charge given me of a set of pampered, spoilt, turbulent children, whom I was expected constantly to amuse, as well as to instruct.” She became depressed and withdrawn, causing Mrs. Sidgwick to scold her.

2. The Madwoman In The Attic Was Inspired By Real Life.

That same year, Brontë visited Norton Conyers House in North Yorkshire. There she learned that 60 years before, a mentally ill woman had been confined in “Mad Mary’s Room” in the attic. The story was inspiration for Bertha Mason, Rochester's insane wife. In 2004, the owners of the house discovered a blocked staircase connecting the attic and the first floor, just like the staircase described in the novel.

3. The Harsh School Jane Attends Was Also Based On Experience.

When Brontë was five, her mother died, leaving her poor clergyman father to care for six children. He sent Charlotte, Emily (author of Wuthering Heights), and their two older sisters to the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge, Lancashire. It was a harsh, disciplinary environment with bad food, cold buildings, and physical abuse. Brontë later drew on these memories when creating Lowood, the school Jane attends. The cruel headmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst, was drawn from a real person, Reverend William Carus-Wilson. (More on him below.)

4. Helen Burns Is Based On Brontë’s Sister, Maria.

Like Helen Burns, Jane’s friend who dies at Lowood, Maria Brontë was neglected and abused when she got sick at school. Brontë’s biographer Elizabeth Gaskell wrote that when the child wanted to rest in bed, a teacher “took her by the arm, on the side to which the blister had been applied, and by one vigorous movement whirled her out into the middle of the floor, abusing her all the time for dirty and untidy habits.” Both Maria and the second-eldest Brontë daughter, Elizabeth, contacted tuberculosis at the school and were sent home, where they later died.

5. Brontë Wrote The Novel While Nursing Her Blind Father.

While Brontë was writing Jane Eyre, her father Patrick had a pre-anesthetic operation to have cataracts removed from his eyes. He was left blind and helpless while his eyes healed. It’s no coincidence that Rochester is blind at the end of the novel, and that, like Brontë’s father, he eventually regains his sight.

6. Before Mr. Rochester, There Was The Duke Of Zamorna.

As a child, Brontë made tiny books with her brother Branwell they called The History of the Young Men. They were based on toy soldiers that Branwell received for his 9th birthday. The children loved these soldiers and made up elaborate worlds surrounding them. Charlotte’s invention was Alfred the Duke of Zamorna, a petulant, Byronic character with an illegitimate child from an affair—all characteristics he shares with Rochester. As such, the British Library says that “the Duke of Zamorna can be seen as a precedent for Rochester in Jane Eyre.”

7. Love Triangles Were All Around Her.

When Jane discovers that Rochester is married to Bertha Mason, she leaves him rather than commit bigamy. In real life, not only was her younger brother, Branwell, having an affair with a married woman, Charlotte herself had fallen in love with a married professor named Constantin Heger. The crush was unrequited—Heger even tore up the love letter Brontë wrote him—but the situation may have inspired aspects of Jane and Rochester’s relationship, as well as the novel Villette.

8. She Was Forced To Apologize To Her Cruel Schoolmaster.

When Jane Eyre became a success, Reverend Wilson recognized himself in the character of Mr. Brocklehurst and threatened to sue Brontë. She avoided a lawsuit by writing him an apology. Wilson’s grandson described it as a “sketch … retracting a good deal of what she had formerly written about the school in Jane Eyre.” She even gave Wilson permission to publish this sketch under her name. Curiously enough, he never did. The apology has since been lost.

9.Jane Eyre Was Published Under A Male Pseudonym.

In 1846, Anne, Emily, and Charlotte published a poetry book under the pseudonyms Acton, Ellis, and Currer Bell. They knew they would be taken more seriously if the public believed that they were men. Charlotte also published Jane Eyre under the name Currer Bell. When it became a bestseller, the literary world became consumed with learning more about the mysterious Bell brothers.

10. Even Her Publisher Didn’t Know She Was A Woman.

Having corresponded by letter, Brontë’s publishers, Smith, Elder, and Company, had no idea that Currer Bell was a woman. In 1848, circumstances forced Charlotte and Anne to go to London and meet their editors in person. She wrote later:

Neither Mr. Smith nor Mr. Williams knew we were coming—they had never seen us—they did not know whether we were men or women, but had always written to us as men. "Is it Mr. Smith?" I said, looking up through my spectacles at a tall young man. "It is." I then put his own letter into his hand directed to Currer Bell. He looked at it and then at me again. "Where did you get this?" he said. I laughed at his perplexity—a recognition took place. I gave him my real name: Miss Brontë.

A year after Anne and Emily died, Brontë outed all three of them as women writers in the preface of the combined edition of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey. You can read the whole thing here.

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12 Facts About Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
George C. Beresford/Getty Images
George C. Beresford/Getty Images

Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella about venturing into the moral depths of colonial Africa is among the most frequently analyzed literary works in college curricula.

1. ENGLISH WAS THE AUTHOR’S THIRD LANGUAGE.

It’s impressive enough that Conrad wrote a book that has stayed relevant for more than a century. This achievement seems all the more impressive when considering that he wrote it in English, his third language. Born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in 1857, Conrad was a native Polish speaker. French was his second language. He didn’t even know any English—the language of his literary composition—until age 21.

2. HEART OF DARKNESS BEGINS AND ENDS IN THE UK.

Though it recounts Marlow's voyage through Belgian Congo in search of Kurtz and is forever linked to the African continent, Conrad’s novella begins and ends in England. At the story’s conclusion, the “tranquil waterway” that “seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness” is none other than the River Thames.

3. THE PROTAGONIST MARLOW IS CONRAD.

The well-traveled Marlow—who appears in other Conrad works, such as Lord Jim—is based on his equally well-traveled creator. In 1890, 32-year-old Conrad sailed the Congo River while serving as second-in-command on a Belgian trading company steamboat. As a career seaman, Conrad explored not only the African continent but also ventured to places ranging from Australia to India to South America.

4. LIKE KURTZ AND MARLOW, CONRAD GOT SICK ON HIS VOYAGE.

Illness claimed Kurtz, an ivory trader who has gone mysteriously insane. It nearly claimed Marlow. And these two characters almost never existed, owing to their creator’s health troubles. Conrad came down with dysentery and malaria in Belgian Congo, and afterwards had to recuperate in the German Hospital, London, before heading to Geneva, Switzerland, to undergo hydrotherapy. Though he survived, Conrad suffered from poor health for many years afterward.

5. THERE HAVE BEEN MANY ALLEGED KURTZES IN REAL LIFE.

The identity of the person on whom Conrad based the story’s antagonist has aroused many a conjecture. Among those suggested as the real Kurtz include a French agent who died on board Conrad’s steamship, a Belgian colonial officer, and Welsh explorer Henry Morton Stanley.

6. COLONIZING WAS ALL THE RAGE WHEN HEART OF DARKNESS APPEARED.

Imperialism—now viewed as misguided, oppressive, and ruthless—was much in vogue when Conrad’s novella hit shelves. The "Scramble for Africa" had seen European powers stake their claims on the majority of the continent. Britain’s Queen Victoria was even portrayed as the colonies' "great white mother." And writing in The New Review in 1897, adventurer Charles de Thierry (who tried and failed to establish his own colony in New Zealand) echoed the imperialistic exuberance of many with his declaration: “Since the wise men saw the star in the East, Christianity has found no nobler expression.”

7. CHINUA ACHEBE WAS NOT A FAN OF THE BOOK.

Even though Conrad was no champion of colonialism, Chinua Achebe—the Nigerian author of Things Fall Apart and other novels—delivered a 1975 lecture called “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” that described Conrad as a “thoroughgoing racist” and his ubiquitous short classic as “an offensive and deplorable book.” However, even Achebe credited Conrad for having “condemned the evil of imperial exploitation.” And others have recognized Heart of Darkness as an indictment of the unfairness and barbarity of the colonial system.

8. THE BOOK WASN’T SUCH A BIG DEAL—AT FIRST.

In 1902, three years after its initial serialization in a magazine, Heart of Darkness appeared in a volume with two other Conrad stories. It received the least notice of the three. In fact, not even Conrad himself considered it a major work. And during his lifetime, the story “received no special attention either from readers or from Conrad himself,” writes Gene M. Moore in the introduction to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness: A Casebook. But Heart of Darkness managed to ascend to immense prominence in the 1950s, after the planet had witnessed “the horror”—Kurtz's last words in the book—of WWII and the ramifications of influential men who so thoroughly indulged their basest instincts.

9. T.S. ELIOT BORROWED AN IMPORTANT LINE.

Though Heart of Darkness wasn’t an immediate sensation, it evidently was on the radar of some in the literary community. The famous line announcing the antagonist’s demise, “Mistah Kurtz—he dead,” serves as the epigraph to the 1925 T.S. Eliot poem “The Hollow Men.”

10. THE STORY INSPIRED APOCALYPSE NOW.

Eighty years after Conrad’s novella debuted, the Francis Ford Coppola film Apocalypse Now hit the big screen. Though heavily influenced by Heart of Darkness, the movie’s setting is not Belgian Congo, but the Vietnam War. And though the antagonist (played by Marlon Brando) is named Kurtz, this particular Kurtz is no ivory trader, but a U.S. military officer who has become mentally unhinged.

11. HEART OF DARKNESS HAS BEEN MADE INTO AN OPERA.

Tarik O'Regan’s Heart of Darkness, an opera in one act, opened in 2011. Premiering at London’s Royal Opera House, it was reportedly the first operatic adaptation of Conrad’s story and heavily inspired by Apocalypse Now.

12. THE BOOK ALSO SPARKED A VIDEO GAME.

In a development not even Conrad’s imagination could have produced, his classic inspired a video game, Spec Ops: The Line, which was released in 2012.

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Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

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