Thursday, January 8, 2015

Enduring Love Stories: Jane Eyre Revisted part 1

If you are a romance reader, you likely have read the book or seen a movie version of Jane Eyre. Maybe you were forced to read it in high school lit class. Maybe you missed it.  The storyline is a classic one, and many, many romance writers today like to use the plot line of Jane Eyre for Gothic or historical romances.  Why not, the storyline is brilliant. 

Recap:  For those who haven't experienced it in book or film form:  

Jane Eyre is an orphan girl, raised by an indifferent aunt who has three of her own children. Jane endures the abusive talk and behavior of not only the aunt, but also the aunt's son, who is slightly older than Jane.  He's mean to her, and brutal. Always conniving to get Jane in trouble with his mom by staging things so he attacks her and then when Jane stands up for herself and retaliates, the Mom accuses her orphan niece of harming her 'precious boy.'  Yeah, like a nine year old girl could actually bully a adolescent boy, but you get the picture--she's oppressed. 


One day, the conflict between Jane and her mean older cousin gets auntie so worked up she sends Jane to a nasty boarding school. It's a religious school, and it seems that dear auntie might have paid the cold and cruel headmaster on the sly to continue to punish and humiliate the poor girl. Jane is ostracized by all due to the underhanded headmaster's machinations. Our poor orphan girl is alone in the world, friendless, and without a bright spot to look forward to in life. She's beaten down in body and in spirit. She takes a job teaching at the school when she matures, continuing to reside in that bleak place as she has no other option. 

Jane and her new charge, Adelle

And then, wonder of wonders--Jane finds a teaching job far away from the horrible school. A teaching job as a governess in an isolated manor house in the English countryside.  It is here that she finds acceptance and friendship by the housekeeper, human kindness and some freedom. She will teach a little French orphan named Adelle, the ward of a rich man, Mr. Rochester.


Jane's employer, Mr. Rochester, is handsome, brooding, and mysterious. He's gone a lot, and when he's home, he's mostly in a foul mood. But, through their odd interactions, Jane falls in love with him. He's a mixed up guy, a true Gothic hero, tortured and prone to dark moods. Some times he's nice to her, other times, he's a bit peevish. Jane's heart is broken when he starts courting a very rich neighbor,  Blanche, and it looks like Mr. R will be marrying soon. Jane is convinced she will be dismissed and Adelle, Mr. R's charge, will be sent to boarding school by the soon to be new Mrs. Rochester. 

plain Jane hasn't a chance against beautiful Blanche

Strangely, the anticipated romance between Mr. R and Blanche never comes to pass. 

It turns out he's just toying with Blanche and parading her in front of Jane as a way to vex Jane, comparing Blanche to plain Jane. He does weird things, like summoning Jane to come and sit in the parlor with his guests when Blanche and her family are visiting, making Jane uncomfortable, as well as the guests, because, well--she's a servant. Love is simmering beneath his dark exterior. What is actually happening is he is comparing the quiet, sweet, but spirited Jane with the empty headed and vain society girl, Blanche. Mr. R finally confesses his love for Jane, citing he cannot live without her in his life. As things progress, Jane and Mr. R are set to marry. At the wedding,  a stranger shows up and tells all Mr. R can't marry Jane, he's already married. It's true. Mr. R  brings Jane and the wedding party back to the house and reveals to all his legal wife, a pathetic creature, crazy and violent, who is locked in a secret room upstairs in his Gothic manor hall with a keeper to manage her. 

Jane runs away. She's humiliated, emotionally devastated. She wanders the harsh moors for a time, begging for food at doors. A stranger finds her weakened from exposure and near starvation, and takes her home. He's  St. John, a Reverend. He has two sisters. They nurse her to health and help her out. She lives with them for a time and is given the example of a true home where kindness rules. St. John wants her to marry him and go to Africa with him to be missionaries. He sort of badgers her about it, making her feel it's her Christian duty and her calling to complete him. 


They almost marry, but our spirited heroine Jane comes to her senses, realizing she still loves Mr. R. with all her heart and does not love St. John. Nor does she find the prospect of poverty in Africa appealing.  She has haunting dreams of Mr. R calling out to her for help. She leaves the siblings and returns to Thornfield, the manor where Mr. R. lived.  She arrives to find the house is charred remains. A fire destroyed it. Upon questioning locals, she learns Mr. R. survived and is living nearby. The crazy wife died in the fire, as it was she who set the fire in the middle of the night in the first place. Mr. R. tried to save his poor wife, and was badly burned in the fire. He's become blind, it seems. Jane goes to him, and they have their happy ever after. They marry and have children. He gradually regains sight in one eye.


A timeless love story!  

Governess falls for stern single (she thinks) employer. Mysterious happenings (a haunting it seems) at the manor house make the man leave frequently and return in a bad mood. The two find love, and they are driven apart. But--in the end, the governess and the master are given a happily ever after. It's a Gothic tale of endurance, and hope. It's dark at the beginning, and has many dark parts, but love triumphs against all in the end. You can see why so many people would adore this dark romance, and why this romance trope (the lord and the governess)  has been used time and again by romance writers.  It is a classic. Rich employer with social status/poor governess with no one, not even family to help her.  It's ripe for dark things to happen. 

Will he take advantage of this poor waif? In the real world this would more than likely be the case. 

Will she be misled by him and give in to his dark desires?  Again, a real world outcome is that would unfortunately would happen, and often did as wealthy, powerful men could take advantage of female servants. The women had little recourse in those times, as they were 'ruined', and could not get a court to prosecute a rapist, especially a rich, titled rapist.  

But as romance readers, we have but one question----Will he rescue her? 


Perhaps not as gallantly or as passionately as we might prefer, as this was written in the nineteenth century, when men were more stoic and less touchy-feely as we like our romance heroes today---but yes--ultimately the couple end up rescuing each other from dark, painful pasts!  Ah, the magical, healing properties of true love!

This story has been so popular with the ages that there are several movie versions of it. Each generation seems to revisit it and give Jane and Mr. R  new faces.  My favorite version stars Timothy Dalton. He makes a delightfully dark and compelling Mr. Rochester. 

Dalton as Rochester in the 1980's


However, there are so many versions of the movie your head could spin. There is one with Dalton, above. 

And one with Ciarn Hinds as Rochester,



Then we have one with William Hurt as Rochester; 1996

And few others. I think I even recall seeing Liam Neeson in the role once, many years ago.  You get the picture, this story just does not go out of style. It's remade every decade, and with new actors taking up the role of the moody, broody heart-throb, Mr. Rochester.  The most recent, with Michael Fassbender continues the haunting drama of a a Gothic rich dude and the feisty governess he hires. 

The main part of the story, aside from the forbidden romance, is the spirit of Jane Eyre. She's not broken. She's learned to depend upon herself and this helps her survive in a bitter world where there are no hand outs and no compassion. She's mousy looking, true, but she is a strong woman.  You gotta love her for that.  

Next time, I'll reach a little more into the characters of this enduring story, and share some romance stories I've enjoyed based on this classic.  Until then, here is a delicious peek at the movie version;

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