Jane Eyre is one of my favourite books. I’ve read it at least 20 times &, after seeing the latest movie adaptation last weekend, I had to read it again! My original 1970s Penguin paperback is so fragile that I had to buy a new reading copy a couple of years ago. I enjoyed the new movie version. The music was beautiful & I thought Mia Wasikowska was very good as Jane. It’s so difficult for an actor to convey Jane’s passion as outwardly she’s so quiet & still, but she did a good job. The first person narration of the novel is full of fire & passion but it’s almost all interior. I was less excited by Michael Fassbender as Rochester. I liked the structure, it begins in the middle of the story as Jane leaves Thornfield after the aborted wedding & uses flashbacks to show her childhood. I was pleased that the later section of the book at Morton with the Rivers family was there because that’s often left out of a 2 hour movie. But, what I noticed most was the dialogue. They used some of the original dialogue & conflated some scenes but changed quite a bit where I thought they should have left Charlotte Brontё’s words intact. I sat there hearing the original words from the novel in my head & I could hardly wait to get home & start reading the book all over again.
Jane Eyre is the story of a passionate, uncontrolled child who grows into a passionate, controlled woman. Jane is an orphan, left to the care of an unfeeling aunt & cousins. She is sent to a charity school, Lowood, where she is first starved & neglected but eventually gains an education. She becomes governess to the ward of Edward Rochester of Thornfield Hall, an abrupt, ugly but fascinating man. Jane falls in love with her employer but he seems to favour a beautiful, haughty woman, Blanche Ingram. There are also mysteries at Thornfield. Jane hears strange laughter from the upper stories, Rochester is nearly burnt in his bed in the middle of the night. A visitor from Jamaica arrives & is stabbed in mysterious circumstances. Rochester proposes to Jane but their wedding is interrupted by the revelation that Rochester is already married. Jane leaves Thornfield after refusing to become Rochester’s mistress & wanders, starving, on the moors for three days before being taken in by a clergyman, St John Rivers, & his sisters. Jane becomes a village schoolmistress until she receives an inheritance & discovers that she does have a family with whom to share it. She cannot rest until she discovers what has happened to Rochester & so she returns to Thornfield Hall.
I tried not to reveal too many spoilers in that summary but surely there can’t be too many people who don’t know the story. When I reviewed Villette recently, I said that it’s the narrator’s voice that is so beguiling. So, I’m just going to quote some of my favourite passages.
Jane’s time at Lowood is famous because it’s based on the experiences of Charlotte & her sisters at the Cowan Bridge School. Her two eldest sisters, Maria & Elizabeth, left Lowood suffering from tuberculosis & went home only to die. The chapters at Lowood are so searing in their condemnation of Mr Brocklehurst & his version of Christian charity, so horrifying in the depiction of mental cruelty & bodily suffering, that the fact that this period of Jane’s life up to the death of her friend, Helen Burns, is only about the first few months of her time there, is often forgotten. The chapter after Helen’s death skims over the next eight years of Jane’s life as a student & teacher at Lowood until the day when her kind friend & mentor, Miss Temple, marries & leaves.
I went to my window, opened it, and looked out. There were the two wings of the building; there was the garden; there were the skirts of Lowood; there was the hilly horizon. My eye passed all other objects to rest on those most remote, the blue peaks: it was those I longed to surmount; all within their boundary of rock & heath seemed prison-ground, exile limits. I traced the white road winding round the base of one mountain, and vanishing in a gorge between two: how I longed to follow it further!…I tired of the routine of eight years in one afternoon. I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing. I abandoned it , and framed a humbler supplication; for change, stimulus: that petition, too, seemed swept off into vague space; “Then, ” I cried, half desperate, “Grant me at least a new servitude!”
Then, out of all the scenes between Jane & Rochester as they fall in love, the proposal in the garden at midsummer is one of the most beautiful scenes in literature. Rochester has tried to make Jane jealous by pursuing Blanche Ingram & she tells him that she must leave Thornfield after he is married,
“I tell you I must go!” I retorted, roused to something like passion. “Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton? – a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? – You think wrong! – I have as much souls as you, – and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty, and much wealth, I would have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: – it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal – as we are!”
“As we are!” repeated Mr Rochester – “so,” he added, enclosing me in his arms, gathering me to his breast, pressing his lips on my lips: “so, Jane!”
Finally, when Jane has fled Thornfield & ended up at Morton with the Rivers family, she rejects St John’s cold proposal that she should marry him & go with him as a missionary to India.
I saw nothing: but I heard a voice somewhere cry –
“Jane! Jane! Jane!” Nothing more.
“Oh God! what is it?” I gasped.
I might have said, “Where is it?” for it did not seem in the room – nor in the house – nor in the garden: it did not come out of the air – nor from under the earth – nor from overhead. I had heard it – where, or whence, for ever impossible to know! And it was the voice of a human being – a known, loved well-remembered voice – that of Edward Fairfax Rochester; and it spoke in pain and woe wildly, eerily, urgently.
“I am coming!” I cried. “Wait for me! Oh, I will come!” I flew to the door, and looked into the passage: it was dark. I ran out into the garden: it was void.
“Where are you?” I exclaimed.
The hills beyond Marsh-Glen sent the answer faintly back – “Where are you?” I listened. The wind sighed low in the firs: all was moorland loneliness and midnight hush.
Every time I read Jane Eyre, I find something new in it. Every time I watch a TV or movie adaptation, I want to read the book again because no adaptation can ever really satisfy. My favourite is the 1980s BBC version with Zelah Clarke & Timothy Dalton. There was real chemistry between them & they used lots of the original text. I may have to find time to watch it again!