Origins: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre

Novels just don’t get any more Gothic than Jane Eyre. This was another fifth grade book fair purchase, and it made an indelible impression on me. Have you read it? Yes, it’s full of melodrama, but it’s narrated in the first person in an unsentimental yet powerfully affecting voice.

Jane, an unhappy, unattractive orphan suffers mistreatment at the hands of an unsympathetic aunt and is sent away to Lowood, a religious school for girls. Soon after arriving, she is unfairly branded by the director of the school as a liar and a troublemaker. But she remains there until adulthood when she takes the position of governess to the young ward (Adele) of the gruff and mysterious Edward Rochester of Thornfield Hall. Thornfield Hall is a great English house with a history of secrets and a number of strange inhabitants. Jane falls in love with Edward, but on the day of their wedding, she learns that he is hiding his mad first wife, the stunning Bertha Mason Rochester, in the upper reaches of the house. Jane runs away, but is plagued by her memories and love for Edward. It all works out in the end–sort of. Bertha ends up dead and Jane, now an heiress herself, gets her man, though he’s badly damaged and nearly blind.

What more could a mousy, spectacles-wearing, preteen girl want? I identified completely with Jane–and who wouldn’t? She speaks to the insufficiently cuddled child in us all. It’s that intimate, first-person voice that does it, I think. Jane isn’t lovely, or insincerely gracious. How heartening to a young girl to read about a woman who is treasured for her true wit, intellect and lack of pretension.

I love the scope of this story, the early history of Jane’s life through to the birth of her first child. At the risk of sounding trite, I’ll describe it as a satisfying book: all the questions are answered. Though now that I write that, I do recall wondering about Jane’s parents. They are so long off stage and Jane doesn’t speculate much about them.

Jane Eyre is one of those books I wish I could go back and read for the first time once again.

My favorite film adaptation is the 1944 version with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. While hardly homely, Joan Fontaine played the role with quiet assurance; Welles was homely enough and obnoxious enough to make the perfect Edward–what Welles had going for him was intensity and passion. Let’s not even discuss the fact that Timothy Dalton played Edward Rochester in one version. Ellen Page, the lead in the recent film, Juno, will play Jane. She’s just too attractive, though. Ruth Wilson was perfect as Jane in the 2006 mini-series. Edward is difficult to cast–for me, anyway. Who, then? Clive Owen is too pretty. Ditto for Daniel Craig and Colin Firth.

Any thoughts?

11 thoughts on “Origins: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre”

  1. The Chameleon…Edward Norton. Not pretty and a good underlying ability to project security and menace.

  2. Pinckney says:

    Two words: Meat Loaf.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly that this is definitely one I wish I could go back and read for the first time again. I didn’t read it until I was in college. I’ve been trying to figure out the best time to get my teenage sisters to read it as well. I loved it when I read it and I thin I would have enjoyed it just as much at a younger age, but I don’t want to give it to them at the wrong time and have them not love it like I did.

    As for films, I too love the Joan Fontaine version. Don’t know who I would cast today either. I love Matthew McFayden in the latest P&P, though, and could see him as my Rochester as well.

  4. I love this book as well – it was given to me by the stepmother of someone I went out with for a time and the copy is a little bitty book with tiny print which I don’t think my eyes could handle now. The book I remember reading in the fifth grade was Flowers In The Attic. I think that age is perfect for the gothic and dramatic, although my age (22 almost –ha ha!) now seems fairly rife with it.

  5. Becky, I think that you should give it to your teenage sisters immediately–I’m sure they’ll love it!

    Miss Michelle, Flowers in the Attic was totally creepy–in fact, the whole series was. And didn’t VC Andrews die after the first couple books, but the books kept coming….

    WM–I love Edward Norton! And he is a chameleon.

    P– *sigh* Meat Loaf is too short, silly thing.

  6. Tom says:

    “Meat Loaf is too short . . . “

    HEY!! You’re a fine one to talk! At least Mr. Loaf makes up in width and volume what he lacks in height!

    Honestly, you young ‘uns got no respect fer the elders.

  7. VC Andrews died after My Sweet Audrina (I think – not clear on exact publication dates, but Audrina was a stand alone that came after the Flowers books).

    I have a book here called Magic Bullet by Andrew Neiderman. He wrote Devil’s Advocate and, according to his bio, has been the official VC Andrews ghostwriter since 1990.

  8. Thanks, Becky. I went and looked him up. Amazing– He’s written over 40 novels!

  9. AnswerGirl says:

    This is one of my top five books, too, and I reread it at least once a year.

    Vincent D’Onofrio would be the perfect Mr. Rochester.

  10. Yes! He’d be perfect! I’d love to see him do something besides Law and Order again. He’s so talented. And kind of creepy–In a good way!

Join the conversation!