Jane Eyre 1983 Miniseries

One of literature’s great classic romances, Jane Eyre is beautifully captured on film in the 1983 BBC miniseries. Timothy Dalton (prior to his more famous role of James Bond) and Zelah Clark are exceptional together – one of the best Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester pairings I’ve seen. Zelah Clark, although she looks a good bit older than Jane’s 18, perfectly captures Jane’s spirit. Independence and intelligence, a sharp wit and a tongue to match, an iron will that borders on stubbornness, glimpses of a passionate nature, with just the right touch of whimsy and girlish innocence. Timothy Dalton’s Rochester, while still dark and brooding, is a bit more charming and funny than how he is traditionally portrayed on screen. Playing Edward Rochester is a balancing act; Dalton seems to have intuitively found the center of who Rochester is.

Despite a somewhat dated feel, this version of Jane Eyre is one of the best primarily because it stays true to the original material. The book is a long-standing classic for good reason, and the creators of this miniseries had sense enough not to deviate much from Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece. All the points of the story remain the same, whole sections of dialogue are lifted straight from the book, and each actor completely inhabits his or her role. Perhaps the reason Jane Eyre has been translated into movies and TV series so many times is that, being primarily a dialogue-driven story, it lends itself well to the medium of film. Being a great story is another big reason of course.

The basic points of the story are well-known. Jane Eyre, a young orphan left to the care of an aunt, is cast off and sent to Lowood, a charity school. This venerable establishment is run by Mr. Brocklehurst, a grim, stern, disagreeable character who mistreats those unfortunate enough to come under his dangerously oppressive rule. After surviving 8 years at Lowood, our plucky heroine advertises, offering her services as a governess. Mrs. Fairfax, housekeeper at Thornfield, engages her to teach young Adele Varens, ward of Edward Rochester. Thus begins Jane’s life in the mysterious and sinister world of Thornfield. Jane and Rochester’s relationship slowly evolves from an uneasy trust, to respect and familiarity, to deep friendship, finally blossoming as true love. Torn apart by a cruel blow of fate, Jane leaves Thornfield, vowing never to return. How the story ends and what happens to Jane and Rochester – well, if you don’t already know, then I won’t give it away. Watch it for yourself; it will probably inspire you to read the book as well.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. One of the greatest books ever written and one of my personal favorites. Certainly my favorite romance novel. Exceptionally well-written in an easy conversational tone, Brontë’s choice to use a first-person narrative style was spot-on. She, speaking as Jane, makes the reader feel as if she were an old friend who dropped in for a pot of tea and a nice long talk.

Perhaps one of the reasons for the poignancy of Charlotte Brontë’s writing in Jane Eyre is the semi-autobiographical nature of the story. As a child, she attended a harsh boarding school which she would later base Lowood upon. Both of her older sisters died there of tuberculosis, just as Jane’s young friend Helen Burns died at Lowood. Charlotte blamed the harsh and unhealthy conditions of the school for her sisters’ deaths. Charlotte and her younger sister Emily were removed from boarding school after Maria and Elizabeth died. They returned home to their clergyman father, younger sister Anne, and brother Branwell. Charlotte later attended a much better boarding school, where she eventually became a teacher. Again, this correlates with Jane Eyre’s history. So too, does the fact that Charlotte worked as a governess when her days as a teacher were over.

Published under the nom de plume of Currer Bell (both for anonymity’s sake and to hide her gender), Jane Eyre was initially a huge success. Critics adored it and it was immediately a commercial smash hit. Once the critics suspected that Jane Eyre had been penned by a woman, the reviews were less than favorable. Sales remained strong, however, whether in spite of or because of the criticism no one can say. I maintain that Jane Eyre’s success is due to its first-rate writing, gripping plot, and innovative first person style.

Our story begins with young orphan Jane, her hateful Aunt Reed, and 3 horrid cousins. Cast off by Mrs. Reed and sent to Lowood, a charity school, Jane Eyre survives hardship and privation and the wretched Mr. Brocklehurst for 10 years (8 as a student and 2 as a teacher). When she advertises her services as a governess, she is hired by Mrs. Fairfax to teach Adele Varens, ward of Edward Rochester. Thornfield, the Rochester estate, is a grim and gloomy place; and Adele, but lately arrived from France, speaks little English and has even less discipline. But Mrs. Fairfax is kind and Adele is sweet and Jane is determined to make the best of it. At the end of 3 months, Adele is much improved and Thornfield has begun to feel like home. Just as a comfortable routine is formed, the absent master returns and tumbles Jane’s world topsy-turvy.

Intelligent, well-educated, and widely travelled, Edward Rochester is life and nourishment to Jane’s hungry soul. She, in turn, is a breath of sweetness and innocence to world-weary and heart-sick Rochester. They two form an unlikely friendship and, as time passes, settle into a new routine. The first upheaval comes in the form of Miss Blanche Ingram and her party of friends and family, who come for a several-week stay at Thornfield. Mr. Rochester seems much taken with Miss Ingram, and rumor has it that the engagement will be announced any day. The second twist is Mrs. Reed’s deathbed request to see Jane. Before she dies, she confesses to Jane that she has a wealthy uncle who, through Mrs. Reed’s deception, believes Jane to be dead.

When Jane returns to Thornfield, the Ingram party has left, but there is no talk of an impending marriage. This puzzles her for some time, until Edward Rochester declares his love for her and asks her to be his wife. One month of nearly-perfect bliss follows. Until, on her wedding day, a secret is revealed that tears Jane irrevocably from her beloved’s side. Dark days follow for our plucky heroine, but she ultimately finds peace and, eventually, happiness, although not in the way one might expect. Jane Eyre is truly a masterpiece of narrative fiction.