Jane Welsh Carlyle

Jane Welsh Carlyle (née Jane Baillie Welsh, 14 January 1801 – 21 April 1866) was a Scottish writer.

As a child, she was given private tuition at home, and later attended a school in Edinburgh, where she befriended poet Robert Burns’ nephew and niece. As a child, Jane is said to have been a tomboy.  She was a very precocious girl, and wrote her first novel at thirteen, then went on to write a five-act tragedy.

Her father died in September of 1819, when she was living in Edinburgh. In 1826, she married the essayist Thomas Carlyle, whom she had met through her tutor in 1821. The Carlyles moved to London in 1834, and their home was the centre of a literary circle whose guests included Dickens and Ruskin. Jane and Thomas quarrelled often, and Samuel Butler once wrote about them: “It was very good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs Carlyle marry one another, and so make only two people miserable and not four“. From 1840 until her death in 1866, Jane had a long lasting relationship with fellow writer Geraldine Jewsbury. Geraldine once wrote to her, “I feel towards you much more like a lover than a female friend”.

Jane Carlyle was known for expressing herself vividly and forcefully, in speech and in writing: “All the men take fright sooner or later at my violence – tant mieux!”, she wrote in one of her letters. Some friends suspected that she was the writer of Jane Eyre and, when Shirley appeared in 1849, Carlyle was keen to get hold of it, as she wrote in another letter: “I get the credit with certain critics in style of writing these Jane Eyre books myself – and I was curious to see whether the new one was up to my reputation!” Adam Bede was also thought, by some, to have been written by her. Her friend Margaret Oliphant wrote that Jane’s letters kept “half-a-dozen men of letters—the best of their time, Mill, Darwin, Forster, many more—in delighted attention.

However, Jane never published books in her lifetime, nor sought to publish them, and burnt many of her journals and private papers. Fulfilling the promise she made to Jane, Geraldine destroyed all the letters she received from her. More than two thousand letters written by Jane survived.

Virginia Woolf wrote a portrait of Jane and Geraldine, published in her Second Common Reader, where she suggested that the relationship between them had been a romantic one.

Since childhood, Jane had had a frail health, she suffered from mysterious pains and took morphine. Her condition deteriorated badly with age, and she died in London on 21 April 1866, from what is believed to have been either a stroke or a heart attack.



  • The Early Letters of Jane Welsh Carlyle, edited by David George Ritchie (1889, available here)
  • Selections from the Letters of Geraldine Endsor Jewsbury to Jane Welsh Carlyle, edited by Annie Alexander Ireland (1892, available here)
  • I Too am Here: Selections from the Letters of Jane Welsh Carlyle, edited by by Alan Simpson & Mary McQueen Simpson (1977)
  • Jane Carlyle: Newly Selected Letters, edited by Kenneth J Fielding & David R Sorensen (2004)
  • The letters of Jane Welsh Carlyle and Thomas Carlyle (available here)
  • New Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle (available here)
  • The Carlyle Letters Online

About her

  • “Mrs. Carlyle,” by Margaret Oliphant, in: The Contemporary Review, XLIII, 1883, pp. 609–628 (available here).
  • Jane Welsh and Jane Carlyle, by Elizabeth A. Drew (1928)
  • “Geraldine and Jane”, by Virginia Woolf, in: The Bookman, February 1929, pp. 612 – 620 (available here)
  • “Geraldine Jewsbury and Jane Carlyle”, by Margaret Cruikshank, Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. 4 (3), 1979: 60–64
  • Necessary Evil; the Life of Jane Welsh Carlyle, by Lawrence Hanson & Elisabeth Hanson (1952)
  • The Carlyles: A Biography of Thomas and Jane Carlyle, by John Stewart Collis (1971)
  • The Carlyles at Home and Abroad, by K. J. Fielding, David R. Sorensen & Rodger L. Tarr (2004)
  • Jane Welsh Carlyle, by Virginia Surtees (1986)
  • Ambitious Heights: Writing, Friendship, Love: The Jewsbury Sisters, Felicia Hemans, and Jane Welsh Carlyle, by Norma Clarke (1990)
  • Thomas and Jane Carlyle: Portrait of a Marriage,by Rosemary Ashton (2001)
  • “George Eliot and Jane Welsh Carlyle”, by Annie E. Ireland. The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol. CCLXIV, 1888, pp. 229–238.
  • Jane Welsh Carlyle and Her Victorian World: A Story of Love, Work, Marriage, and Friendshipby Kathy Chamberlain (2017)
  • Life of Jane Welsh Carlyle, by Annie E. Ireland (1891)
  • True Minds: The Marriage of Thomas and Jane Carlyle, by Nancy Brysson Morrison (1974)
  • Jane Welsh Carlyle, by Townsend Scudder (1939)

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