There are a few novels that stand alone, without ancestry, without affinity in literature. One of the few is "Jane Eyre", a book that has had innumerable descendants, but no traceable descent.
Charlotte Brontë was not shaped by any influence that we can discover among her predecessors and contemporaries. Out of her curious and varied reading she formed a style exclusively and inimitably her own, and sent forth from her remote Yorkshire village a book only less wonderful than "Wuthering Heights".
To realise its unique and startling quality it should be remembered that Jane Eyre was written in 1846-7, and published in the same year as "Vanity Fair". Mrs. Gaskell's "Mary Barton" had not then appeared. George Eliot did not begin to write till about ten years later. A great gulf divided Charlotte Brontë from Jane Austen. Jane Austen would probably not have appreciated Charlotte Brontë. We know that Charlotte did not appreciate Jane. She asks George Henry Lewes, "Why do you like Miss Austen so very much?" She cannot see why. She finds her only "shrewd and observant," and asks again: "Can there be a great artist without poetry?" There is something alien and unsympathetic to her in Jane Austen's finish and reserve. She has no patience with her exquisite art. For her it is finished because there is no more behind it, and reserved because the best part of life is kept out of it. For Charlotte Brontë the best part of life is the passion that exalts and transfigures it. Passion is poetry: poetry is passion. It is the truth of men and women. Some people have none of this truth in them, such are Jane Austen's ladies and gentlemen. To Charlotte they were not real people.
To be sure there are in Jane Austen two exponents of passion, Lydia Bennett and Mrs. Rushworth. She uses her Lydia very effectively to show what a vulgar thing passion is. Of Mrs. Rushworth she says less, intimating that the less said the better.