Monday, November 24, 2008
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.