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A Week To Remember: The Many Faces of Jane Eyre

Keith Chaffee, Librarian, Collection Development,
a drawing of Jane Eyre's face

On October 16, 1847, Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre was published in London, under the pseudonym "Currer Bell." The first American edition was published a year later.

The novel is Jane's coming-of-age story, taking us from a childhood spent in the home of a cruel aunt, through several years at a harsh boarding school, to her employment as a governess as Thornfield Hall. It is at Thornfield that she meets the dark and brooding master of the house, Edward Rochester, whom she finds both fascinating and disquieting.

Jane Eyre was harshly received at first. One critic described it as "anti-Christian" and claimed that it "violated every code human and divine." But it has become one of the enduring classics of English literature, and has inspired a remarkable number of adaptations, remakes, prequels, sequels, and spinoffs. This week, we're going to take a quick tour through some of the many Jane Eyres.

We start, of course, with the original. You can enjoy Bronte's Jane Eyre as an e-book or e-audio, in print, or as an audiobook.

There have been at least thirty adaptations of Jane Eyre for film and television. We have several of them on DVD or streaming video:

  • Virginia Bruce and Colin Clive star as Jane and Rochester in the 1934 film (streaming)
  • Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles in the 1944 film (DVD)
  • Susannah York and George C. Scott in the 1970 film (DVD, streaming)
  • Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton in the 1983 BBC TV miniseries (DVD)
  • Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt in the 1996 film (DVD)
  • Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender in the 2011 film (DVD)

Perhaps the best-known novel inspired by Jane Eyre is Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, a prequel which imagines the pre-Eyre life of the first Mrs. Rochester. We have not only the book, but the 2006 film adaptation on DVD.

Some authors have borrowed Bronte's characters and setting to tell their own stories.

  • Elizabeth Newark's Jane Eyre's Daughter is a sequel in which young Janet Rochester, like her mother before her, finds herself in a mysterious manor. (e-book)
  • Jane Eyre Laid Bare is Eve Sinclair's erotic retelling, which adds more explicit passages to Bronte's original text (e-audio, print)
  • Sherri Browning Erwin adds vampires and werewolves to the mix in Jane Slayre (e-book, e-audio, print)
  • Joanna Campbell Slan imagines Jane and Rochester as amateur detectives in Death of a Schoolgirl (e-book)

Other authors take more liberties, updating the story to the modern day (or beyond) and finding new settings. The anthology Reader, I Married Him (e-book, e-audio, print) is a collection of Eyre-inspired short stories. Other variations at novel length include:

  • Patricia Park's Re Jane (e-book, e-audio, print), in which Jane is a Korean-American orphan growing up in Queens
  • Lyndsay Faye re-imagines Jane as a heroic avenger in Jane Steele (e-book, e-audio, print)
  • Sharon Shinn's Jenna Starborn sets the story in deep space for a science fiction version (e-book, print)
  • The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde, uses Eyre as the backdrop for a comic fantasy about detectives solving crimes against literature (e-book, e-audio, print)

The adaptations of Jane Eyre stretch into a variety of other formats. There's the Los Angeles Theater Works radio-play adaptation, and a Classics Illustrated version. The music from Julia Gomelskaya's 1994 ballet is available for streaming or download, as is the cast recording of Paul Gordon's 2000 Broadway musical.

Jane Eyre has proven to be an unusually flexible story. Whatever your favorite genre, format, or era, there's a good chance that somewhere out there, there's a Jane Eyre for you.

Also This Week

  • Oct 22, 1925:  Robert Rauschenberg was born. Rauschenberg was a painter and sculptor, with occasional ventures into photography and printmaking. His work of the 1950s often combined painting and sculpting; he attached objects to his canvas, either before or after painting, to create what he called "combines." The documentary Robert Rauschenberg: Retrospective looks at his life and career; it's available for streaming.
  • Oct 18, 1927: George C. Scott was born. Scott won the Academy Award in 1970 for Patton, but refused to accept it, saying that film roles were so individual that it was absurd to judge one against another. Scott appears in one of the Jane Eyre films mentioned above; you might also enjoy They Might Be Giants, in which he plays a judge who believes himself to be Sherlock Holmes. It's available for streaming.
  • Oct 22, 1948: The first In-N-Out Burger fast food restaurant opened in Baldwin Park, California. The original building was demolished a few years later for the construction of the San Bernardino Freeway. The chain has remained small, with only about 300 restaurants, none further east than Texas. Stacy Perman's In-N-Out Burger (e-book, e-audio, print) is a history of the chain.
  • Oct 19, 1957: Dorinda Clark-Cole was born. Clark-Cole and her four sisters began recording as The Clark Sisters in the early 1970s, and were one of the most successful gospel acts of the 1980s; among their most popular songs are "Is My Living In Vain," "Time Out," and "Name It Claim It." The group was inactive for about fifteen years as several of the sisters, including Dorinda, pursued solo careers, but reunited for a final tour in 2007. Music by Dorinda Clark-Cole and The Clark Sisters is available for streaming.