As you may know, today marked the bicentennial of Charlotte Brontë’s birth. In the new biography Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman, I found this passage about Brontë and Dickens:
She turned down invitations to meet Dickens socially, though the two seem to have been introduced, fleetingly, after a play that [George] Smith took her to. In later life Smith said he had introduced them, and Charlotte told John Stores Smith, an early fan, that she had met Dickens but didn't like him (although she admired his books). The contact of their imaginations, however, went much deeper. Dickens's description of systematic negligence and cruelty in Nicholas Nickleby had impressed Charlotte and, as we have seen, probably contributed to her picture of Lowood School in Jane Eyre. Dickens told [J.G.] Lockhart that he had never read Jane Eyre, "and never would,"* but he didn't need to read such a talked-about book in order to be influenced by it in turn. His friend [John] Forster, who had read Jane Eyre and was struck by the astonishing power of the early chapters being told from the oppressed child's point of view, suggested to Dickens that it would be an interesting experiment to try the same thing, and Dickens, with his keen appetite for novelty, took up the idea immediately in the composition of David Copperfield. Between them, these two great novels marked a sea-change in how the developing consciousness was represented in art and how writers showed adult psychology being forged from childhood experience. We think nothing now of stories told from a child's point of view, but Charlotte Brontë was the first to do it, and Dickens the second. (p. 323)
It's rather a pity these two great novelists didn't get on well, and it's a great shame, I think, that Dickens never read Jane Eyre. But it's fascinating and inspiring to see how the two still managed to influence each other in ways that led to such important breakthroughs in literature!
*In a note, Harman, quoting from a 1975 article in The Dickensian, elaborates that "he disapproved of the whole school." I'm not certain what school is meant by this, as the Brontës' books (Dickens didn't read Wuthering Heights either) could be said to belong to more than one school or genre.