Charlotte Bronte’s literary masterpiece of Jane Eyre is a classic for good reason. It’s a little bit of a Cinderella story, somewhat a message of repentance, an illustration of learning through life and a good deal romantic. Yes, the story is a melodramatic one, but it is great melodrama. This memorable novel from one feminine perspective has been a cherished favorite of mine for more than forty years. Beyond the compelling tale, the writing is superb. This is great literature.
In her first number of years of life, Jane Eyre the orphan grows up without love or much in the way of liberty. At the tender age of ten, she finally rebels against her relation oppressors and is soon sent away to a dismal schooling situation. But there, in that new dire life, Jane finds, learns from and then loses a true and noble friend, and lives amid an unnecessary and terribly deadly tragedy that ends in ultimately improving the institutional circumstances she and other fellow orphans live with.
Reading Jane Eyre is certainly like stepping back in time. The reader is given a sense of the middle of the nineteenth century in England. Like her Bronte sisters and their laudable abilities, Charlotte’s writing is genius. She is a master of the English language. There are sentences upon sentences that beg to be reread again and again. I can never read Jane Eyre quickly. I must slowly enjoy it’s every word. There are descriptions that amaze, and the first person account via plain and simple Jane is compellingly real. You feel with Jane. You see what she saw. She becomes real to you. You can imagine being her, and you can surely imagine knowing her as if a true friend of yours. Jane is human and therefore flawed slightly, but she is certainly of noble character and craves justice and what is right.
Charlotte’s story of Miss Eyre plays out in several stages: Jane’s underprivileged youth at her aunt’s house and then the orphanage, Jane striking out as governess and then falling in love with the brooding master Edward Rochester, Jane running away and then in hiding as teacher at a humble village school for girls, and then falling into riches plus her sudden escape from a pressing marriage proposal to finally find happiness for life with her true love after all. If you have any heart, you will hunger and grieve with Jane, and then you will romantically find joy with her in her final happiness. The romance of ‘beauty is in the eye of the gazer’, ‘opposites attract’ and ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’ are surely a part and parcel of the story. Now, some virtuous ladies don’t prefer the fallen state or traits of Rochester, therefore making him not an ideal hero to them, but, the story shows that there is repentance and recovery in the end. The spanning age difference of the couple is another matter I will leave alone for the present.
Once upon a television time in my youth, in an age when most households only had a couple of channels to choose from, I luckily chanced upon an old movie. I fell in love. Passionately. Yes, I was at the romantically budding age of about twelve years old when I just happened to discover Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ in the form of the Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine movie. Was it somewhat or even highly melodramatic? Yes. Quite like the original story. But I loved the melodrama, the characters, the plotlines, the tragedy, the happy ending, and, yes, of course I loved the romance of it all. Throughout many years and perhaps even a decade or two, that wonderful cinematic effort remained my favorite movie and story, though I had only seen it that once. ‘Jane Eyre’ was indelibly imprinted upon my memory and spirit. Yes, I can’t recall being lucky enough to see the movie again until possibly as much as a couple of decades later when videos were born and widely available, and yet, Joan Fontaine as Jane Eyre had impressed my romantic heart enough to remain on top through all the other stories and movies over that span of time.
A number of years ago, I happened upon another version of ‘Jane Eyre’ starring Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds, which I enjoyed very much. She is quite a perfect Jane Eyre and he seems a perfect Edward Rochester to me. This version was very well done and is more than worth seeing at least once if you adore the story of Jane Eyre like I do. A few years later, I was happy to discover the other worthy production starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. Now, I wager that Toby Stephens is far too handsome to play the ‘ugly man’ Rochester, but he does brooding quite well enough to make up for his too good looks for the part. Ruth Wilson was a fine Jane Eyre. Another rendition worth seeing more than once. The more recent version starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender was enjoyable enough, though the entire work ended up a little too compressed and left my neighboring movie goers who didn’t know the story beforehand a little audibly and quite verbally confused here and there. Still, he was an interesting Rochester and she did Jane plenty well, though she may have been a little too pretty to pass as this quintessential plane Jane. My main and only real complaint is that their ‘falling in love’ montage was far too rushed. Other details could have been sacrificed a little to allow more time to stretch out Edward and Jane’s getting to know and love each other better.
Nevertheless, I’m always up for a new interpretation of a favorite story, and if it is in keeping with the original key characters and spirit of the tale, I will be satisfied well enough. Although, I am still waiting for the perfect BBC style miniseries that doesn’t leave out any important elements or characters and doesn’t rush or squish the story of Jane Eyre. I would love to see the vision of Jane Eyre done in entirety and done exceptionally. In the meantime, I have my favorite movies to view in-between reading the original novel.
For many varied reasons such as ‘hands free’ and ‘eyes resting’ for other tasks or relaxation, I have become a true fan of a good audio-book. I don’t know how many audio-books are worth listening to because I do know that there are some real stinkers out there, but I have gradually discovered a few top favorites. Beyond being a cherished novel to read, the audio-book version of ‘Jane Eyre’ by Juliet Mills is way up there amongst my top beloved audio-books. There aren’t many readers that I have found who can do a book complete justice like Juliet Mills has done with this classic. A good actor is certainly a plus if not a must as an audio-book reader. Being read to by a master in that way becomes a major theatrical treat to one’s imagination: much like a really good radio play. They can be theater and movies for the ears and mind. Juliet Mills’ voice is consistently pleasant to listen to and her laudable skills in reading the varied character parts convincingly treats you to a believable and thoroughly enjoyable experience. Oftentimes, when a woman reads a man’s part (or vice versa), it can be unpleasantly distracting to suggest the least, but not at all in this case. As Juliet reads Rochester, for example, I forget that a woman is reading the part of a man: I am lost in the story and characters and what they have to say, as well as what they are experiencing. Throughout ‘Jane Eyre’, Juliet Mills’ acting and voice skills take you away into Jane’s fictional world as if it were real. Dare I say that Ms Mill’s reading of Miss Eyre’s story is better than reading it for yourself? Few audio-books rise to this level of expertise and genius. It is a rare thing when an audio-book surpasses what you might imagine within as you read the novel for yourself. Bravo, Juliet Mills, BRAVO! Thank you for a top notch rendition of ‘Jane Eyre’!