Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 September 2009
Charlotte Brontë, visiting London following the publication of Jane Eyre and Shirley, attended a party held in her honor by William Thackeray. His daughter Lady Ritchie explains how guests, conflating the author with her most famous protagonist, felt themselves invited “to meet Jane Eyre”:
[O]ne day Mrs. Proctor asked me if I knew what had happened once when my father had invited a party to meet Jane Eyre at his house. It was one of the dullest evenings she had ever spent in her life, she said. And then with a good deal of humour she described the situation – the ladies who had all come expecting so much delightful conversation, and the gloom and the constraint, and how, finally, overwhelmed by the situation, my father had quietly left the room, left the house, and gone on to his club.(Brontë, Shakespeare Head, p, 50)
Greeted as a literary celebrity indistinguishable from her most famous fictional creation, Brontë retreated into near-silence: “It was a gloomy and silent evening. Every one waited for the brilliant conversation which never began at all. Miss Brontë retired to the sofa in the study and murmured a low word now and then to our kind governess” (Shakespeare Head, p. 49). Boredom and disappointment are inevitable when the author of a great novel turns out to have nothing to say, no “brilliant conversation” to offer her lionizing fans.