The romantic friendship of Jane Carlyle and Geraldine Jewsbury

Geraldine Jewsbury

We're marking 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality by exploring the LGBTQ heritage at many of our places. At Carlyle House in Chelsea, a romantic friendship flourished between two women: Jane Carlyle and Geraldine Jewsbury.

Jane Carlyle moved to Cheyne Row in Chelsea, west London, in 1834 with her husband Thomas, the essayist, historian and biographer. Carlyle’s House became well known as a literary salon and was visited by many writers and thinkers. Amongst them was the novelist Geraldine Jewsbury. She and Jane struck up what has since been described (not least by Virginia Woolf) as a passionate romantic friendship which lasted until Jane’s death in 1866.

Love letters 

Letters between Jane and Geraldine reveal the depth of their affection – and also the points of tension. Jewsbury was more radical – often wearing men’s clothes, smoking and espousing the controversial view that men and women should be equal in marriage. Jane meanwhile took a relatively conventional role in her marriage, which was affectionate but also fraught with argument and jealousy on both sides.

There is no evidence, however, that the relationship between Jane and Geraldine was ever consummated. Their romantic friendship was perhaps more acceptable because of that, especially since Jane did not destroy or hide her letters from Geraldine, whereas same-sex lovers or their families often did.

Photograph of Miss Geraldine Jewsbury
Photograph of Miss Geraldine Jewsbury
Photograph of Miss Geraldine Jewsbury

Bohemian London

The bohemian reputation of Chelsea was just starting at the time the Carlyles lived there. Bohemians were generally artistic and creative, and took an unconventional approach to life, including their relationships.

Robert Tait's painting of Jane and Thomas Carlyle in their parlour
Robert Tait's painting of the Carlyle's in their Parlour
Robert Tait's painting of Jane and Thomas Carlyle in their parlour

Prejudice and Pride

This is just one of the stories we’re exploring as part of a programme called Prejudice and Pride. Throughout the year you can discover more with events, exhibitions and installations which tell the stories of the men and women who challenged conventional notions of gender and sexuality and who shaped the properties in which they lived. We’ll also be taking part in community celebrations including Pride festivals around the country and Heritage Open Days to build an understanding of LGBTQ histories in local communities. 

This article is adapted from our new guidebook, ‘Prejudice and Price: Celebrating LGBTQ Heritage’ by Alison Oram & Matt Cook. It is available now at National Trust shops and our online store.