On November 6th, 1847 Charlotte Brontë wrote to the critic and writer George Henry Lewes, later to be best known as the companion of George Eliot (Mary Anne or Marian Evans).
You warn me to beware of Melodrame (sic) and you exhort me to adhere to the real. When I first began to write, so impressed was I with the truth of the principles you advocate that I determined to take Nature and Truth as my sole guides and to follow in their very footprints; I restrained imagination, eschewed romance, repressed excitement: over-bright colouring too I avoided, and sought to produce something which should be soft, grave and true.
My work (a tale in 1 vol.) being completed, I offered it to a publisher [the book is The Professor, published posthumously in 1857]. He said it was original, faithful to Nature, but he did not feel warranted in accepting it, such a work would not sell. I tried six publishers in succession; they all told me it was deficient in “startling incident” and “thrilling excitement”, that it would never suit the circulating libraries, and as it was on those libraries the success of works of fiction mainly depended they could not undertake to publish what would be overlooked there – “Jane Eyre” was rather objected to at first [on] the same grounds – but finally found acceptance.
I mention this to you, not with a view to pleading exemption from censure, but in order to direct your attention to the root of certain literary evils – if in your forthcoming article in “Frazer” [Fraser’s Magazine] you would bestow a few words of enlightenment on the public who support the circulating libraries, you might, with your powers, do some good.
You advise me too, not to stray far from the ground of experience as I become weak when I enter the region of fiction; and you say “real experience is perennially interesting and to all men ...”
I feel that this also is true, but, dear Sir, is not the real experience of each individual very limited? and if a writer dwells upon that solely or principally is he not in danger of repeating himself, and also of becoming an egotist?
Then, too, Imagination is a strong, reckless faculty which claims to be heard and exercised, are we to be quite deaf to her cry and insensate to her struggles? When she shews us bright pictures are we never to look at them and try to reproduce them? And when she is eloquent and speaks rapidly and urgently in our ear are we not to write to her dictation?