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Tag Archives: Jane Eyre

In honor of Charlotte Bronte’s birthday and as a followup to last week’s post about the latest movie version of Jane Eyre, I’m recycling a post from 2005 about the book.

Even people who haven’t read Jane Eyre know what it’s about. They know who Mr. Rochester is, they know about the mad wife in the attic, they know the heroine is a friendless governess. I found this out after writing an alternative erotic novella based on JE (called Reader, I Married Him, one of the book’s most famous lines)–and I showed it to a few other writers for critique. They immediately knew what it was about whether they’d read JE or not. (In my version, btw, it’s Mr. Rochester who’s chained up in the attic.)

[Update: I did finally publish Reader, I Married Him, and it’s a finalist in Passionate Ink’s contest for pubbed books, The Passionate Plume. Huzzah!]

It’s not my favorite Bronte–that’s Villette, also by Charlotte Bronte, a real kick-ass book that is even more brave, puzzling, difficult, and frustrating than JE.

I hate the fact that JE runs away from Rochester because he wants her to become his mistress–the fact that he’s lied through his teeth to her and taken advantage of her lowly status and lack of connections doesn’t really seem to bother her as much. The sexiest part of it is not the love scenes with Rochester (which I find cringeworthy), but life at Lowood. I remember reading it during adolescence and getting all steamed up in the early part of the book and bored with the rest of it, and couldn’t really understand why. Wasn’t it Mr. R who was supposed to float my boat? Although I have to admit that first meeting with the hound and the mysterious figure on horseback has a wonderful, mythic quality to it. The first sentence of the book is extraordinary for an era that specialized in purple prose (in which Charlotte Bronte did pretty well)–blunt, atmospheric, spare:

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

Very fitting for a book that is about repression, choices made from necessity, and the lack of opportunity for action.

My daughter, a tough, cynical sophomore (and English major) [in 2005] told me she was quite shocked by JE. Why? Well, there’s all that talk about mistresses, she said. It is an extraordinarily frank book in that regard–although of course all of Mr. R’s messing about took place on the Continent, where Englishmen went to behave like, well, foreigners. That makes it all the more shocking when he sets out to entrap Jane into a bigamous marriage. As for the fate of the first Mrs. R, it does make you wonder how many mentally ill female family members were quietly tucked away under the eaves. Better than sending them to a mental hospital, of course, but the same treatment could be meted out to disobedient or eccentric wives.

JE may be the first historical regency gothic. It was published in 1847, and is placed somewhere in the regency period. There are a few hints–a reference to a novel by Walter Scott, for instance–that place the novel anywhere in the first twenty-five years of the nineteenth century. I think Bronte is being deliberately obscure–it’s set in that period when England hovered on the brink of change that came about with the 1832 reform bill. It was a period that fascinated the Victorians–much of Dickens and George Eliot is set in the late 1820s–because afterward, everything was different. She’s writing about a time that is now history, from the perspective of the present, deliberately manipulating fact to fit fiction.

So, I really can’t avoid this: JE as a great love story. Well, yes, but… There’s Jane’s capitulation and surrender (on an emotional, not physical level) to Mr. R–almost–she’s always holding herself back, playing it safe, exercising caution and control. Jane is constantly reminding us of Mr. R’s brooding physical presence, his size, and ugliness, a Beast she cannot tame. It’s only when he’s debilitated by the fire that he become safe enough to domesticate. I don’t necessarily agree with the favorite theory that it’s more than his arm and eye that got damaged in the fire (and then how on earth did Jane get pregnant–I mean, I wonder anyway, but really, that’s just dumb…), but now Jane is the strong one, the heroine who makes the choice to begin her journey with him.

Comments, anyone?

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The housekeeper came; a respectable-looking elderly woman, much less fine, and more civil, than she had any notion of finding her.

After Amanda’s exotic and glamorous plans to open a vampire bar, I thought I’d like to describe my ideal Regency job as a housekeeper.

Just imagine it. All that power! Solely in charge of the nutmeg and other spices and maybe even the tea, gliding silently around the corridors of the great house and coming upon servant hanky-panky, unless the slight jangling from your chatelaine betrayed your presence. This lovely example is from early eighteenth century Holland (I think. An ebay find which I couldn’t afford) with a St. Christopher motif.

Just the position if you were a gentlewoman widowed and down on her luck, like Mrs. Fairfax in Jane Eyre (and then I’d be Judi Dench too!).

Or even the unmarried and troublesome member of the family who needs to be shuffled off somewhere to learn the folly of her ways and spend some time brewing stuff in the stillroom.

Housekeepers got nice, fat salaries, too, augmented with tips from tourists if they worked in a great house. When Darcy’s housekeeper (the one described in my opening quote) finished showing Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle around, you may be absolutely sure she had her hand held out. It was quite a cottage industry.

What’s your ideal Regency job?

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Maybe I’m still living under a rock, so apologies if this has been discussed here before. I just found out about this new version of JANE EYRE, starring Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska and due out in theatres on March 11.

But I won’t get my hopes up too much. I’ve had a rough relationship with JANE EYRE on film. I have liked all the actresses who’ve played Jane but too often the casting of Mr. Rochester or some other factor don’t quite work for me.

The 1943 version (Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine) version captured some of the feeling of the book but tampered too much with the plot and dialogue for my taste.

I have not seen the 1970 (George C. Scott, Susannah York) version. How did that happen? Should I look for a copy?

The 1983 (Timothy Dalton, Zelah Clarke) miniseries was pretty good, I thought, but he came off a bit too handsome for Rochester. I find this cover amusing, relegating the title character to the background!

As for the 1996 (William Hurt, Charlotte Gainsbourg) version, all I can say is I like Hurt much better in other roles.

I had high hopes for the 1997 movie with Ciaran Hinds and Samantha Morton, but I was disappointed. I like both the actors but the film felt rushed to fit a target length.

Finally, I loved the 2006 miniseries with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson. It is easily my favorite adaptation.

Hopefully this new version will be at least as good. Check out the trailer. What do you think? Which versions will it have to contend for to be your Favorite Jane Eyre Adaptation?


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How can someone who reads or writes romance have not read Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice?

Particularly writers. Not because these books are the “first romances ever written” (questionable on so many levels, and Jane Eyre was actually the first Gothic Regency, but never mind that) but because they are part of our cultural heritage. And by our I mean the community and mindset of romance readers and writers. And by of I mean…

And no, the movies do not count. There are specific areas of the brain that deal with language and hence with reading and writing. Movies are something else entirely besides being a collaboration of people other than the author pooling their talents and vision and creating something that is (if they’re lucky) another work of art.

To play devil’s advocate to myself, does anyone actually need to read the books? Popular culture has given us all the clues. We all know what they’re about, so why is reading them so important? You read, you absorb, you stow bits and pieces away in your writer’s toolbox, and it seeps out in a good sort of way in your work. I firmly believe that reading well written books is the only way to become a writer.

And you’ll enjoy them, which is why we read what we read, isn’t it?

So what do you consider essential reading?–outside of romance as well as within the genre.

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