Is there a more iconic novel than Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte? Beloved by generations of teenage girls who identify with the eponymous Jane, her suffering, her fortitude and generosity, Jane’s parents died of typhus several years before the story begins. Jane’s story is told in the first person making this a powerful, personal account of an orphan’s life.
When the novel starts, Jane is 10 and living with her maternal uncle’s family but her uncle has since died. He was the only member of the Reed family who was kind to Jane. Emotionally and physically mistreated by her relatives, Jane’s only comfort is a doll and some books.
She is sent to Lowood Institution, a charity school for girls. Life is harsh here, but she finds friends and role models. Jane makes a friend, Helen Burns, but during an outbreak of tuberculosis, Helen dies. Conditions at the school improve when local benefactors fund a new building and a more sympathetic management style is introduced.
On leaving Lowood, Jane secures a position as governess at Thornfield Hall to the ward of the mysterious Mr Rochester. Here, the normally self-controlled Jane falls in love with her employer. But Rochester’s complicated love life make this difficult.
Unable to live with Mr Rochester without being married, Jane leaves Thornfield Hall. Exhausted and starving after horrendous journey during which she loses her possessions and must sleep rough, she arrives at Moor House, the home of her cousins, clergyman St John Rivers and his sisters Diana and Mary. When St John proposes they marry and travel to India as missionaries, Jane declines. And then she hears to mystical voice of Mr Rochester calling her.
She returns to Thornfield Hall and finds the house in ruins, Mr Rochester is now disabled. They finally are free to marry.
The book was published in 1847.
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Depending on your age, you will be familiar with at least one film or television adaptation of Bronte’s book. The first was made in 1910 , a silent movie [below] produced by the Thanhouser Company and starring Marie Eline as Jane and Frank H Crane as Mr Rochester. Unfortunately the reel of this is presumed lost.
The most recent adaptation in 2011 starred Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska. Watch the trailer.
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Joan Fontaine 1943
Ingrid Bergman 1948
Susannah York 1970
Sorcha Cusack 1973
Charlotte Gainsbourg 1996
Samantha Morton 1997
Ruth Wilson 2006
Mia Wasikowska 2011 [above]
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