Jane Welsh Carlyle (14 January 1801 - 21 April 1866) was a Scottish writer. She did not publish any work in her lifetime, but she was widely seen as an extraordinary letter writer. Virginia Woolf called one of the "great letter writers," and Elizabeth Hardwick described her work as a "private writing career."
Jane Baillie Welsh was born in Haddington, East Lothian, 14 January 1801. She was the daughter of Dr John Welsh MD (1770-1819) and his wife, Grace Caplegill. She was the wife of essayist Thomas Carlyle.
Jane had been introduced to Carlyle by her tutor Edward Irving, with whom she came to have a mutual romantic (although not sexually intimate) attraction. The couple married in 1826 and for the first six years lived on a farm in Scotland; the marriage was often unhappy. Thomas was always busy writing and Jane remained dutiful in doing the housework. After the couple moved from Scotland to London in 1834, Jane took on the added job of keeping the neighborhood quiet so that her husband could write undisturbed. Phyllis Rose wrote "the quintessential expression of Jane's role within the marriage was her continuing battle to protect her husband from the crowing of cocks." In an 1844 letter to her husband, Jane wrote about this arrangement. "I slept much better last night, in spite of cocks of every variety of power, a dog, and a considerable rumblement of carts. But the evil of these things is not doubled or tripled for me by the election that you were being kept awake by them."
Their voluminous correspondence has been published, and the letters show that the couple's affection for each other was marred by frequent quarrels. Samuel Butler once wrote: "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". Carlyle's biographer James Anthony Froude posthumously published his opinion that the marriage remained unconsummated.
Historian Paul Johnson notes in Creators that she not only irked her husband but made prickly comments about others, such as fellow female writer George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), of whom she said: "She looks Propriety personified. Oh, so slow!"
Their long marriage was complicated by other relationships on both sides, though these appear to have been platonic. The Carlysle marriage itself was believed to have been platonic by some of their contemporaries.
Jane was jealous of a friendship her husband had with the socialite and hostess Lady Harriet Mary Montagu (later Lady Ashburton). The friendship was non-sexual yet they still spent a lot of time together. Jane expressed her jealousy and anger in a letter dated in 1856.
Jane had a long and close friendship (1841-1866) with fellow writer Geraldine Jewsbury. The two women first met when Thomas invited Geraldine to Cheyne Row, where Thomas and Jane lived. Geraldine had written to Thomas prior to the invitation admiring his work, and also expressing her religious doubt. Geraldine was going through a depressive time, but she also contacted Thomas in the hopes of entering the literary realm in England. When Geraldine and Jane met, their friendship turned out to be more of a romantic relationship. It is evident both women had feelings for each other, but there is no evidence of them being lovers. Jane always remained dutiful to her husband and neither had acted upon any romantic feelings. This caused a lot of jealousy between the two women as Jane always remained married to Thomas and Geraldine had lovers of her own. However, they both had passionate feelings towards one another and that passion is expressed in their many letters to one another: as Geraldine wrote, "I feel towards you much more like a lover than a female friend".
They often had disagreements about common social issues of the era such as the place of men in women's lives and the purpose of women in general. Geraldine wasn't opposed to marriage, but she thought man and woman should be equal in marriage; she didn't witness that with Jane and Thomas, and criticised the great man for it. Jane often tried to set up Geraldine with suitable bachelors in London. However, none of them stuck (Geraldine never married).
When they were on good terms, Jane helped Geraldine with many of her literary works, including two of Geraldine's most popular novels, Zoe: the History of Two Lives, and The Half Sisters, which Geraldine wanted to dedicate to her.
In 1857, Geraldine became romantically involved with Walter Mantell. The two women became distant. But near the end of her life, when Jane was very ill, the two reconnected. When Jane died, Geraldine spoke of Jane as "the friend of my heart".
These two women had a very interesting relationship from a romantic, literary, and friendly perspective. Virginia Woolf based a 1929 article in the Times Literary Supplement on Geraldine's letters to Jane Carlyle, later published in ''The Second Common Reader''. Their passionate relationship was recognized among their literary peers despite the ups and downs of their friendship.
Throughout her life, Jane Carlyle valued letters. "A newspaper is very pleasant when one is expecting nothing at all; but when it comes in place of a letter it is a positive insult to one's feelings."  Francis Wilson writes that "Jane's letters, which have lost nothing of their freshness and mischief, take us immediately into her world, or rather into the world as she chose to construct it. She saw her letters as a roman fleuve ...in which she recorded conversations, sketched what she called 'dramas in one scene' and reshaped her days for comic effect."
After Jane's sudden death from a stroke or heart attack in 1866 Thomas Carlyle published a highly self-critical "Reminiscences," based on her diary. He expresses remorse for the neglect and mistreatment evident in the diary. Phyllis Rose writes that "few women in history - or even literature - were more successful at making their husbands feel guilty than Jane Carlysle.
The Scottish philosopher David George Ritchie, a friend of the Carlyle family, published a volume of her letters in 1889 under the title The Early Letters of Jane Welsh Carlyle. Since then a number of the Carlysle letters have been collected and published, including the multi-volume collection of the correspondence of both Jane and Thomas.
In 1973, American scholar G. B. Tennyson described her as "one of the rare Victorian wives who are of literary interest in their own right...to be remembered as one of the great letter writers (in some respects her husband's superior) of the nineteenth century is glory beyond the dreams of avarice."
She died in London on 21 April 1866 and is buried with her father in St Mary's Collegiate Church, Haddington. The grave (railed off) stands inside the church close to the west end.
A plaque to Jane stands on the west side of George Square in Edinburgh.