This essay places Elizabeth Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Brontë in the context of responses it provoked from contemporaries, including their retrospective rereadings of Jane Eyre. By 1857, the novel form had come a long way from its eighteenth-century origins in the roman à clef, but some parts of Gaskell's Life return to and invert that tradition, reading almost like a clef to Jane Eyre—so much so as to force a printed retraction and substantial revisions. Gaskell wrote the Life well after fictionality emerged as a concept distinct from history and journalism. Nevertheless, in its intersection with Jane Eyre, the Life reveals the traces of fictional realist convention in factual accounts and, conversely, shows how far the novel, fictional form par excellence, retained an aura of facticity.

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