When I first read Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre in my junior year of high school, I thought it was the most passionate book I’d ever read. And when I considered that it had been written 140 years ago when women were discouraged from expressing even their tamest emotions, let alone their most ardent passions, it made Brontë’s achievement all the more stunning. From a 21st century perspective, there are definitely some thorny little problems such as the mad wife in the attic and perhaps even the poignant yet slightly anti-feminist ending; however, the romance between the shy yet resolute Jane and her gruff, wounded Rochester is so intimate and real that it has stood the test of time. No matter how often I read the novel, the slow burn of feelings between Jane and Rochester never fails to move me. Each time, I sit with Jane in the firelight, studying Rochester’s rugged face until I grow to love it. And each time, I listen--rapt with longing--as Jane and Rochester’s relationship grows from a tentative friendship simmering with tension to a deep and abiding love.
It is this restrained but fiery romance that probably accounts for Jane Eyre’s timeless appeal and its recent revival in modern literature and pop culture. In 2010, April Lindner’s Jane retold the classic love story with Jane as a modern-day nanny for her rock star Rochester. Sherri Browning Erwin’s campy Jane Slayre transformed Jane into a feisty orphan pitted against zombies, vampires, and one pissed off werewolf. This spring also saw the release of Cary Fukunaga’s moody and lush adaptation of Jane Eyre for the big screen (although the 2006 BBC version still holds my heart). And this time next year, I'll throw my hat into the ring with my first young adult novel, A Breath of Eyre.
In honor of Charlotte Brontë’s birthday and the genius that is Jane Eyre, here is one of my favorite passages from the novel:
“My master's colorless, olive face, square, massive brow, broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm, grim mouth,--all energy, decision, will,--were not beautiful, according to rule; but they were more than beautiful to me: they were full of an interest, an influence that quite mastered me,--that took my feelings from my own power and fettered them in his. I had not intended to love him: the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously revived, green and strong! He made me love him without looking at me."
Sigh, and swoon…