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October 23, 2006

Jane Eyre

At Overdue Books Michelle has been pondering how to review Jane Eyre and what with the new BBC dramatisation, and the fact that I can waffle about Jane Eyre to my heart's content (ah! my heart) I thought I'd put in my ha'penny's worth over here.

My first encounter with Jane Eyre was with yet another TV series, the one with Timothy Dalton. I sat and watched it with my mum and then asked for the book. She bought me the Ladybird heavily-abridged-for-kids and devoid-of-passion version which I read and then asked if I might not borrow that nice hefty old-fashioned blue hardback on my mum's bookshelf.

'Oooh it might be a bit heavy for you...' my mum suggested but I demonstrated that I could lift it perfectly well and she didn't have the heart to explain that it wasn't quite what she meant.

I read it one half term for a sponsored read-athon where the emphasis was supposed to be on quantity rather than quality, needless to say I never made it to book number two on the list but everyone was so impressed that I'd read Jane Eyre that they gave me lots of money anyway.

I'm not sure how much of it I understood, but I admired Jane's sprit, her courage and her determination, was disturbed by the animal woman in the attic who made Mr Rochester go blind (what was she doing there?) but most of all I was of course in love with Rochester and dreamed that one day I too would marry his dark, brooding modern day equivalent.

After that I was presented with Little Women and Lorna Doone and I never looked back. My Famous Fives were banished to the loft for evermore.

And with each reading it held something new for me. In my early teens I learned whole passages off by heart. For instance;

'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 automation? - 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 soul as you, - and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty, and much wealth, I should 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!'

And then as I got older it began to make me feel just a little uneasy, that woman in the attic again, who had to die so we could have that happy ending. Oh and while we are on the subject of that happy ending, as much as I sigh every time I read the words 'Reader, I married him', wouldn't it really have been so much better if she had started that girls' school after all?

But there is so much more to Jane Eyre than romance. Let us not forget Jane's rant on the battlement about the lot of women; let us not forget her refusal to be dressed up and jewelled like the odious Blanche Ingram; not to mention her rebellion in the Red Room I am barely scratching the surface.

So here I am, having come full circle again, watching yet another BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre, which wasn't at all bad really. I cannot deny that Ruth Wilson's awkward gawkiness was perfect for Jane and I was faintly impressed with the way in which Toby Stephens played up Rochester's humorous side, even if I felt that this was a little overdone at times. I could even see what they were doing with that erotic 'beating of the flames' scene. That was very clever and arty and stuff.

You see, Michelle was right, it is immensely difficult to write a review of Jane Eyre. I know that when I tried to write an essay on the novel I ended up with one of the lowest marks of my degree, I think because I cannot detach myself from my own emotional response to the work.

Posted by purple elephant at October 23, 2006 10:43 PM