Obsession of the Week: Jane Eyre

OK…OK..I know you are saying to yourself ‘Jane Eyre?’  ‘Jane Eyre?’  What does Jane Eyre have to do with fantasy, science fiction or time travel?  First of all, I am a multi-dimensional lover of literature, thank you very much.  I am traditionally trained with a fairly broad (not encyclopedic, just broad) knowledge of ‘classic’ literary works.  I appreciate masterpieces across all genres and periods.

That said, I just LOVE fantasy, romance and period pieces.  Jane Eyre has all of the above.  Give me a chance to win you over.

I have always imagined myself to be Cinderella. I believe that hiding beneath this unremarkable persona there exists a person of incredible beauty and talent.  At 53 I am still waiting for said person to show herself, but I am sure she is in there somewhere.  My hero, Jane Eyre, finds her inner Cinderella early on.  Oppressed by her wicked aunt and cousins (Can we say wicked stepmother and evil stepsisters?), she is shipped off to a Dickensian boarding school every bit as oppressive as Oliver Twist.  She survives with stunning inner strength and unshakable defiance towards those who would break her spirit.  Fellow “inmate” Helen Burns saves Jane’s humanity by showing her that real love does exist in the world, and it is a great treasure worthy of great sacrifice.

So far I have an oppressed heroine of incredible fortitude.  That alone would be enough…but wait there is more…

Having survived the wretched Lowood School, Jane accepts a job as a governess.  This is where it starts to get really good.  Thornfield Hall is magnificent and mysterious, two great qualities for an English manor.  With so few residents in so many rooms, shivers run up your spine with the sense that the place is haunted, inhabited by ghosts both literal and spiritual.  Guess what?  There really are things that go bump in the night, and if it were me, I’d be pulling the covers over my head, afraid of the monsters under the bed.  Jane herself, however, is the ghostly figure that startles the master’s horse and lands her Prince Charming, Edward Rochester, flat on his back.  A truly wonderful expression of the effect she actually has on his life.

Honest, direct and intelligent, Jane steals Edward’s heart.  When one of the ‘night crawlers’ sets Edward’s bed on fire with him in it, Jane rescues him and earns his devotion beyond his attraction for a young, just-discovering-her-womanly-desires governess.  He teases her high school style by bringing in a much more attractive woman to make her jealous; which works, by the way.  In the end, however, he reveals to her what we have all known all along–that physical beauty is only skin-deep, and spiritual beauty is where the real value lies.

Nagging at the back of our minds, however, is that troublesome ‘night-crawler.’  Edward loves Jane, Jane loves Edward, but there is someone or something in that house that is trying to kill him.  What’s up with that?  In the true, blinded-by-love fashion of the very young, Jane agrees to marry Edward without first resolving the murder in the bed issue.  That is when she discovers the ‘ghost’ is really his clinically insane wife who lives upstairs.  Bummer.  Jane does the only thing she can do: she runs away.  True love being true love, however, he calls to her across the miles (or kilometers), and she hears his voice floating on the breeze. How could anyone turn that down?

The book is wonderful, definitely one of my top ten.  The movie versions have been pretty good, too, and certainly recommend themselves to anyone who loves a good Cinderella story, even someone who doesn’t like to read.  The William Hurt version has Rochester a bit too handsome and Jane a bit too plain for my tastes, though the movie is still very entertaining and both actors do a great job.  The George C. Scott version nails the look for Rochester but Susannah York is really too beautiful for Jane.  I like the most recent one with Michael Fessbender and Mia Wasikowska.  The director hit the vision perfectly, in my opinion:  Thornfield is deliciously dark and spooky; Jane is a wonderfully plain exterior over a pulsating, passionate spirit; Rochester is a teasing schoolboy at the same time as he is a tyrannical master;  their sexual attraction ignites and smolders within the constrains of proper victorian society.

A lifelong obsession for me, but one well worth having.

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