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The namesake of Charlotte Bronte’s novel, “Jane Eyre,” is a heroine for the ages. She begins life as an orphan, attends a miserable school, becomes a governess, and eventually marries her true love. And she does it all with a sense of integrity and independence. Perhaps that’s why her story, first published in 1847, still resonates with readers today. When Charlotte Bronte published her novel under the pseudonym Currer Bell, it became an instant hit. Jane was a new kind of character, who defied class and gender. In a key scene she proclaimed, “Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?” A Readers’ Review of Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre.”
- Maureen Dowd New York Times columnist
- Syrie James Author of "The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte" and "The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen"
- John Pfordrescher Professor of English, Georgetown University
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Charlotte Bronte's novel, "Jane Eyre," is a story filled with dark secrets, gloomy moors and a mysterious woman in the attic. Against that backdrop is the love story of the fiercely independent Jane and the brooding Mr. Rochester. A new film adaptation of the book has renewed interest in the gothic tale. It was first published back in 1847. Joining me in the studio for this month's, "Reader's Review," New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, Georgetown University English Professor, John Pfordresher and Syrie James, she's the author of a new book, it's, "The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte."
MS. DIANE REHMAnd we're going to take your calls throughout the hour. Do join us, such a wonderful novel to be talking about in this day and age. Join us by phone, join us by e-mail, send us a tweet, join us on Facebook. Good morning to all of you.
MR. JOHN PFORDRESHERGood morning.
MS. MAUREEN DOWDGood morning.
MS. SYRIE JAMESGood morning.
REHMJohn Pfordresher, the novel is narrated by an older Jane, but when we first meet her, she's, what, about 10 years old?
PFORDRESHERTen, yes, yes. And it begins with a problem she has. She is an orphan and she is being cared for by an aunt who doesn't love her and regards her as a burden. And in the first scene, which I'll just say briefly, in a sense anticipates so much of the novel. She's trying to hide from the family by sitting next to a window on a rainy, cold day behind the drapes. And she's looking at a book called, "Buick's British Birds," and the older boy, who is to inherit, comes in and assaults her.
REHMThis is John Reed?
PFORDRESHERJohn Reed. Literally throws the book at her and knocks her head against the floor and she starts to bleed. She assaults him. She's locked up in a room where...
REHMAs punishment for...
PFORDRESHERWhere the father of the family had died and had been laid out and has experience so terrifying that she doesn't, in the narrative, put it into words. In a way, the whole rest of the novel is Jane defining what her space is. Challenging those who wish to oppress her, finding out who she really is and finally becoming the woman who was in that little girl from the first pages, but it's a 400-page struggle to get out.
REHMAnd Maureen Dowd, she never feels like or behaves like a damsel in distress?
DOWDNo, exactly. That's what's so remarkable about a 19th Century heroine. She is interested in the self, which women in those days, the self was considered unholy for women to pursue too much of it and also it's just drenched in interest in sex and sexual repression, which was also considered very coarse in those days.
DOWDAnd The Dublin Review said this was not a book for children. And even Mrs. Gaskell, her biographer, said she wouldn't let her daughter read it until she was 20. So, you know, I think that's why -- the experts would know, but I think that's why Charlotte had to sort of pretend to be a little more timid than she was in person because it was considered so wild in those days.
REHMBecause she is so quiet, so self-contained and yet this raging fierce spirit, where does that fierce streak come from, Syrie James?
JAMESWell, Charlotte was, in fact, a very shy timid person and she lived in a very obscure life in the middle of nowhere in the very small village of Haworth, surrounded by her father, her brother and her sisters and she never got out into society at all until at age 26, she went to Brussels to study for two years to improve her French and German in the hopes of opening a school.
JAMESThat was the earthquake that really shattered her world and changed her life and opened her up to finding out who she was and what she wanted. But she had a fiery streak always, always and this determination that Charlotte felt to live a more full life, to have a richer experience and to find out what she could do that was meaningful with her life as a woman, in a society that gave a woman nothing to do. This was something that she gave to Jane.
REHMSyrie James, she's the author of, "The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte," and, "The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen." John Pfordresher, he's professor of English at Georgetown University and New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd. We are, of course, talking about Charlotte Bronte's novel, "Jane Eyre," and invite you to join us, 800-433-8850. John, Jane is at 10, because she is perceived as just totally uncontrollable, she's sent to Lowood School. Tell me about Lowood School.
PFORDRESHERYes, of course. As Syrie knows, and Maureen as well, this is an echo of a school that Charlotte and her sisters were sent to, a charitable institutions for the daughters of the clergy. Jane Eyre's father, before he died, had been a clergyman. In the new movie, but certainly in the novel as well, it's a sort of a model of the repressive society that we're all talking about in the last few minutes.
PFORDRESHERGirls in the school are disciplined to be passive. They are beaten if their fingernails are dirty, they are shamed if they read interesting books. In this school, Jane meets two women are will become crucial to her growth as a person. One is another pupil named Helen Burns. She meets her reading Johnson's, "Rasselas," which is an 18th Century narrative, philosophical narrative, about the bleak character of life.
PFORDRESHERAnd Helen Burns has this extraordinary self-discipline, which Jane really needs to learn, as to say when to break out and when not to. The other person she meets, not in the current movie, is a woman named Miss Temple, who is the headmistress and who has the learning and the self-confidence that Jane needs that have. She is associated with the moon, she's seen with the moon. And throughout the rest of the novel, whenever the moon shines, Jane becomes counseled, as it were, by the spirit of Miss Temple, but the name itself is indicative.
REHMMaureen, talk about Helen Burns and how much she and Jane mean to each other.
DOWDWell, it's interesting. In one of the Hollywood versions, the one with Orson Wells and Joan Fontaine, Helen Burns is played by little Liz Taylor and she wasn't -- she didn't have red curls as in other situations, but she is very luminous. Naturally, she's Elizabeth Taylor and they, in fact, that version adds a scene that is worthy of Jane Eyre.
DOWDIt's not in the book, but they have the little girls marching around in the rain, one with a sign that says, vain and one with a sign that says, arrogance. That where Helen, in the movie, you know, gets the chill that ends up with her dying. And Helen, I guess, was based on Charlotte's older sister and mother substitute, Maria, and who apparently was very saintly and even-tempered and suffered the same sort of indignities and cruelties at the school and, you know, got tuberculosis and died.
REHMAnd there is such corporal punishment throughout this experience at this school. I mean, it's as if though whatever you do, it cannot quite be right, so you get hit.
JAMESAnd every bit of was based on Charlotte's experience, either what happened to her or to her sisters. And I think she was burning with resentment for decades so that when she finally sat down to write this book all of her feelings just came pouring out. It must've been a very therapeutic experience.
JAMESYes, and then so traumatic to lose her dear, beloved, two older sisters. She had two sisters who died, Maria and Elizabeth.
REHMHow did they die?
JAMESThey became ill with tuberculosis, as many of the other girls did and they were sent home to die.
REHMAnd what about her brother?
JAMESWell, that's whole other story. Branwell become an opium addict and a drunkard. He did die eventually of tuberculosis, but they were so confused, they thought that he had various other things wrong with him and that it was really the flu and his opium and alcohol addiction that he was suffering. And for months and months, he had consumption.
REHMWhat about marriage for Charlotte Bronte? How did she feel about marriage?
JAMESCharlotte always said that she would never, never marry except for love and, in fact, she wrote to her friend, Ellen, once in 1843 and she said, it is an imbecility which I reject with contempt for women who have neither fortune nor beauty to make marriage the principle object of their wishes and hopes and the aim of all their actions.
JAMESAnd she famously turned down three proposals because she insisted that she was going to only marry for love. And that's such a wonderful story because Arthur Bell Nicholls, he moved in and became a curate, helping her father, who was blind at the time and he fell in love with Charlotte immediately and for seven years, burned with the silent passion for Charlotte Bronte and never said anything about it. And when he finally proposed it was incredible.
REHMIncredible? How did she accept?
JAMESWell, she didn't like Mr. Nicholls at all.
REHMAll right. We'll stop right there and come back to that after a break.
REHMAnd welcome back to this month's "Readers' Review." The book, "Jane Eyre," by Charlotte Bronte. Three wonderful people are here in the studio with me. Syrie James, she's the author of, "The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte. John Pfordresher, he's professor of English at Georgetown University and New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd. We invite your calls, 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to email@example.com, feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Just before the break, Syrie, you were talking about the love affair that Charlotte ultimately had with Mr. Nichols.
JAMESWell, Charlotte dreamt all her life of marrying for love and experiencing the kind of fiery passion that she gave to Jane and Mr. Rochester. And so she turned down marriage proposals waiting for that kind of love. Now, Mr. Nichols, she didn't like him at all when she first met him. She saw him as very stern and stiff and reserved. He was in love with her from afar. And when he finally, after seven and a half years, had the nerve to admit his feelings, here was this man who she thought of as being so shy and had no passion at all and revealing his heart with such feeling. It was an incredible moment. And her father absolutely forbade the match. He said, no poor curate is going to marry my famous daughter.
JAMESEventually she did accept his proposal. And when she married him, it was with affection and respect. And on their honeymoon is where she fell deeply in love with Mr. Nichols. Their -- her feelings for him grew over the years, but there was great depth to Mr. Nichols. And on their honeymoon, she learned things about him that he'd been too modest to reveal. It's a wonderful story.
REHMAnd Maureen, in the novel, "Jane Eyre," Jane is pursued by a man who says he wants to become a missionary, a priest, move to India. He wants her to come with him as his wife. She says she'll go with him, but will not marry him because he does not offer her love.
DOWDWell, yeah, so it's very idealistic seeking out of love. In a way, it's a little bit like in, "Gone With the Wind," Rhett and Ashley, where the supposedly "nice guy" she determines to be -- have flaws and the "rake" turns out to be the nice guy and that's always a flip. That's very appealing in fiction.
REHMAnd of course, once she gets to Thornfield Hall, what happens, John?
PFORDRESHERIt's so elegantly done because there's a lot of repression in the narrative. She responds to an invitation to be a governess. She gets to Thornfield Hall and thinks that the woman who has written to her, Mrs. Fairfax, is the owner of the house.
PFORDRESHERAnd when Mrs. Fairfax suddenly says, oh, you know, I'm not the owner, I'm just the housekeeper, then the questions start. Well, who does own it? And this is an element of what we can easily call the governess novel. Governesses occupied this very difficult position in the 19th Century in the English speaking countries and elsewhere. They had to be as well educated, as well dressed, as well-mannered as the members of the household, but they also had to be poor. And it was expected of them to be simultaneously almost class equals, but also employees. So it was always the case that if a young governess comes to a family, the men in the household are interested in her. And for Jane, when she arrives and thinks that Rochester has no wife, things are even much more...
REHMYeah, of course.
PFORDRESHER...filled with possibilities.
REHMOf course. How do Jane and Rochester actually fall in love?
DOWDWell, it's interesting, you know. They have -- she uses bird metaphors. When he meets her and gets to know her, he calls her a curious sort of bird. Through the close-set bars of the cage, a vivid restless resolute captive is there. And then later, when he's kind of mutilated and she comes back to him and blinded, she calls him a caged eagle. And I think they're both in cages and they're able to set each other free, so.
REHMBut they really fall in love through talking, don't they?
REHMSort of the -- a meeting of the minds. He looks at her, but he holds back. She looks at him, she holds back, but they do sort of wrestle verbally.
JAMESI truly believe that in real life, people fall in love through conversation. And I was so moved by this novel that every one of my books, my hero and heroine fall in love through conversation and shared interests. It's really a wonderful thing that she did and it was unique.
PFORDRESHERI was just going to add this discussion of conversation, there's an interesting sort of sadomasochism that goes on between the two of them.
PFORDRESHERThey're constantly teasing each other...
PFORDRESHER...in the conversations.
PFORDRESHERSparring. And there are intervals -- reading it this time, I was more aware than ever before of the cruelty of the way Rochester treats her. He sets up, for example, a house party where a presumed possible wife is present, forces Jane to come to every evening gathering and then asks her pointed questions about her feelings, as if to force her to finally admit that she loves him. And ultimately, if I remember correctly, my colleagues will help me out, it's she who says, I love you, not the other way around. I'm almost -- have I got that wrong?
JAMESShe says it first, but then...
PFORDRESHERShe says it first and then he responds.
JAMESBut he responds. But all of these things that he does, which do seem a little bit cruel...
JAMES...we forgive him in the end because he is absolutely besotted in love with Jane and that's what every woman wants.
REHMBut he's also tormented by the reality and it's those two conflicting emotions that, it seems to me, sets up this kind of teasing that goes over the edge. But men do tease women a fair amount, Maureen.
DOWDYeah, it's an extreme...
REHMAs a way of flirting.
DOWDRight, right, right. It's an extreme version of what you would see in Preston Sturgis movies where, you know, Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda and he would say, you're the darnedest girl. You keep putting me down and then bumping me up. And that's what they do in their interplay.
REHMIt's interesting as you say that because I'm even thinking of Spencer Tracy and...
REHM...Kathryn Hepburn. But in this particular case, you're right. He brings in a woman that everybody else is assuming he is going to marry. And he sort of hints he's going to get married. And of course, there is Jane suffering within.
PFORDRESHERThat's the word. She is suffering terribly because of this and the writing beautifully renders that, it seems to me. And then I don't know when you want to get to this, Diane, but then there is the other woman in the story who is one of the most fascinating elements in the novel, which is Rochester's actual wife.
REHMAnd she's hidden away upstairs in an attic and we really don't learn very much about her until the end of the novel.
PFORDRESHERIt's -- and the most recent film is very tender with this, I think. I take Charlotte Bronte's book to float this character, Bertha, on the typical prejudices of mid-19th Century readers. So she's a Creole. She's a person of mixed race. And when Jane finally sees her, she's scrambling around this locked room on all fours with her hair falling down to her waist and she -- when she can, she jumps on men and bites their neck, so she's virtually a vampire, she's a beast. And there's some interesting writing about how her bloodline, her mother went crazy and they're all drinking and they're all mad and that Rochester is tricked into marrying her when he's living in the West Indies at the past of his father.
JAMESAnd, you know, this mad woman in the attic was inspired by a real life event. When Charlotte was in her 20s in 1845, she visited this incredible mansion, which is one of the two very old estates that inspired Thornfield Hall. And it's called North Lees Hall and it had a mad woman's chamber in the attic. And there was the story that the first owner of this house, his wife went mad. He locked her up in the attic...
JAMES...and there was a horrible fire. She died in the fire, which burned most of the house to the ground. And it was owned by a family called Eyre, so all of these things...
REHMOh, my goodness.
JAMES...were simmering in Charlotte's mind.
REHMWhoa. I should say. What's the appeal of Mr. Rochester, Maureen?
DOWDOh, yeah, I agree. You know, every woman loves a man who is obsessed with them.
DOWDAnd even when you get it, you get it for such a short period of time...
DOWD...I think that Jane is getting it for her whole life, but these guys would know better than I, but I've read that Mr. Rochester perhaps was based a little bit on Charlotte herself.
JAMESOh, he was based on Monsieur Heger?
DOWDHeger, but also the fact that Charlotte had some of these qualities. She was afraid that she was ugly and she could be a little malicious about the students that she was the governess of...
DOWD...calling them fat headed oafs and dolts.
JAMESWell, also he was based on a youthful creation of hers that she wrote about in all of her juvenilia called, "The Duke of Zamorna (sp?)." She had all these exciting, passionate qualities in this character. And then she fell in love with her Belgian professor, who was also married and unattainable and small, dark, irascible and cigar-smoking. All of these qualities she blended together in creating Mr. Rochester.
PFORDRESHERAnd then elevated him a bit. He's a lot nicer than any of them.
REHMYeah, I should say.
JAMESI can tell you why we love Rochester.
JAMESHe's strong and masculine, yet tender and turns out to be incredibly sympathetic because he's haunted by this terrible inner wound and he needs someone like Jane to save him. And his infatuation with Jane is really appealing. He covets her thoughts and yearns to penetrate her mind to find out what she thinks of him and he is drippingly romantic. He calls her across the moors. But, you know, in 19th Century, men were taught to believe that women were fallible, weak creatures who needed smelling salts. And here was Rochester who fell for plain Jane, intellectual, faithful and loving. It gives hope to the rest of us.
REHMSyrie James and her book is, "The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte." You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." It's time to welcome our listeners. Let's go first to Rochester, N.Y. Good morning, Barbara, you're on the air.
BARBARAGood morning. I just thought the panel would be interested, if they don't already know, I'm calling, of course, from the hometown of Susan B. Anthony. And you're saying that the novel was written in 1847. And the first women's rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, N.Y., which is about 45 minutes from Rochester, in 1848 with the great Elizabeth Katy Stanton and others. And I just thought, you know, there was a lot burbling under the surface of all of those 1800s women.
REHMYou're right about that. Maureen?
DOWDYeah, that's absolutely right. I mean, there's this one part in the novel where Jane has this amazing feminist sort of (word?) and she says, you know, it is narrow minded and there are more privileged fellow creatures to say that women ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. And then she herself writes her girlfriends, you know, I want a life of action.
REHMI wonder what she meant by a life of action?
JAMESWell, it's interesting because, you know, the template for a lot of -- for male adventure stories is the odyssey where the man, like Joseph Campbell myths has to go out into the world and conquer all the dragons and strange worlds and then come back a hero. And although Jane Eyre often is thought of as her inner life, she actually had a similar journey where she had to conquer -- you know, she had to go from home to home and conquer petty cruelties and hypocrisies. And there is a lot of action in it.
REHMYeah, that's an interesting comparison there. All right. To there in Springs, Mich. Good morning, Martin.
MARTINGood morning. I am calling to say that you're talking about one of my favorite books. I may be the only male in America -- I'll be 80 this summer -- but I read it when I was 10. Everything my mother brought into the house she read, I read it. And, "Jane Eyre," is one of my -- I think she was my first heroine.
REHMIsn't that Interesting? And you, John Pfordresher, how old were you when you first read this novel?
PFORDRESHERI was shamed into reading it. I was already teaching college and I did a lot with Emily Bronte. And one of my students said, and, "Jane Eyre?" And I said, I haven't read it yet and she said, you go home and read that book and I did. And of course, I was smitten just like our caller.
REHMYeah, I think an awful lot of people really look at her -- male or female, look at her and think truly she had power, she had integrity, she had a great mind. She knew what she wanted and she stuck to her principles, which is a guide for anybody.
JAMESYou bet, and this is a book that appeals to men as well as women. Her publisher -- the publisher's assistant read it, couldn't put it down, the manuscript that is, and gave it to the publisher himself who cancelled an entire day's engagement to sit there and read it overnight 'til he finished it. And...
JAMES...and it was thrilling. And the public loved this book when it first came out and it's become -- you know, it's never been out of print.
REHMWhy did she write it under a pseudonym?
JAMESWell, especially in those days it was looked down on women to be authors. And this book was so passionate that, in fact, when it later came out that it was written by a woman then the negative reviews started appearing. She...
REHMThat's interesting, 'cause she wrote it -- the name she used was rather androgynous.
JAMESVery androgynous. And her sisters also picked androgynous names because they put out a book of poetry a year before. And they all together took their collections of poetry and they each chose names with the first letter to fit with their own names. So Charlotte was Currer Bell and Emily was Ellis Bell and Ann was Acton Bell and they had this wonderful book of poetry, which ended up selling two copies and now is incredibly invaluable.
REHMSyrie James, author of, "The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte." We'll take a short break and then be right back.
REHMAnd here's an e-mail on, "Jane Eyre," from Michael in Oklahoma City. He says, "At my high school in the late '90s, 'Jane Eyre,' was required summer reading for the Junior English class. I greatly disliked the book. It was so traumatic to be forced to read it while on vacation, that I literally cried about it, as my mother often likes to remind me. With fresh more mature eyes, I might be able to enjoy it, but my chief complaint was Bronte's use of super long winding sentences. By the time I got to the end of a sentence, which seemed to last two pages, I forgot what she was talking about." Michael, I think you ought to go back and read it again. What do you think?
PFORDRESHERThis is, I think, a temporary attention deficit syndrome. He needs to get accustomed to reading long sentences.
JAMES...and Charlotte said famously, can there be art without poetry? And she and her sister used to take these walks around the dining room table at night and talk about how to write a wonderful novel. And they believed that what was missing from novels was poetry.
REHMHere's an e-mail from John in Manchester, Missouri. He says, "Jane cannot have Mr. Rochester until she suffers at Lowood School, at Rochester's estate, finding out about his wife wandering the moors, putting up with St. John and finally, when Mr. Rochester is rendered less dangerous with blindness and infirmity. Nothing comes easily to Jane. In the Victorians, you have to work hard to get what you want." I tend to disagree with this 'cause she fell in love with him before all of that happened.
DOWDWell, it's interesting. There's a passage at one point early on in the relationship where she says she regards him as her religion and she has as her idol. And, you know, in a way, it's almost like she has to be punished for that, for putting him above God in her life.
JAMESAnd that's Charlotte speaking from the heart about Monsieur Heger.
JAMESThat's how she felt about the professor she loved and couldn't have.
DOWDAnd that was a big scandal when those letters were...
JAMESIt was. It wasn't known during her lifetime, thankfully, for Charlotte, but it was a scandal that came out.
REHMTo Tallahassee, Fla. Danny, you're on the air.
DANNYOh, yeah, hi. Well, the reason I'm calling is because it seems like in all the Bronte sisters' books, and especially in, "Jane Eyre," Rochester really professed his love, but it didn't seem like enough for Jane. And I'm just wondering why it doesn't seem like a total coincidence that her kinda self-imposed exile and suffering seems to happen just when the main male character suffers some great tragedy or...
JAMESNo, he was married. She found out he was married, so she couldn't have him. He begs her to stay and be his mistress and she had high moral principles. She loved him with all her heart, but she could...
JAMES...not be with a man and be his mistress.
PFORDRESHERThere's a really fascinating pattern that goes in the book where whenever it's called, Jane's happy, whenever it gets warm, she's in danger. And the offer that he makes, as you're saying, Syrie, is that they'll go to the south of France and they'll live a life of what we would -- the reader understood to be sexual abandon outside a marriage and Jane won't have it. She...
JAMESShe couldn't be true to herself.
PFORDRESHERExactly. She can't be a passive secondary member...
PFORDRESHER...of the couple.
REHMRight. To Louisville, Ky., Nathanial. I'm fascinated...
PFORDRESHERIt's all men.
REHM...with all these men calling.
REHMGo ahead, Nathanial.
NATHANIALYeah, I was just calling because it seems like with the latest and like kinda the series of Bronte's works being made into a movie, like they did with, "Pride and Prejudice," I can't help but wonder if maybe there's maybe some more relevant, maybe more recent female characters in fiction that we could raise the notoriety, perhaps like the female robot psychologist in Asimov's, "I, Robot." Whereas someone like, you know, Bronte's characters generally seem just to manage to marry above their station after a long suffering bout. We have other novels of great literary importance that have female characters excel in their fields and kind of break into new boundaries that you wouldn't normally think women would even have an interest in like...
DOWDWell, I think, you know, when I read this when I was a teenager and it was a very important message for a teenager, because she told her sisters that she wanted to make a heroine that was not beautiful and to prove a heroine who was not beautiful could be interesting. And in a way, you know, she was a great fan of Shakespeare. And Shakespeare, she quotes in there, all that glitters is not gold and her message in this is all that doesn't glitter may be gold. And that is a really important message for teenage girls and I guess, according to the calls we're getting, a lot of guys. 'Cause we all feel unattractive and unloved at times and she proves that you can be loved.
REHMWhat is your recommendation, all of you, as to the age at which a girl or a boy might read this book?
JAMESI'd start at 10.
PFORDRESHERThere you go. I'd say maybe 18 or 20.
PFORDRESHERAs the earlier caller said or writer, person who got to us, the long sentences, the complicated literary illusions. A 10-year-old is not going to know what morasalis is.
REHMWhat do you think, Maureen?
DOWDWell, I think now that parents are taking their kids to see, "The Book of Mormon," on Broadway, you can read, "Jane Eyre," at any age.
REHMI would hope so.
JAMESI read it when I was 10 and...
PFORDRESHERThere you go.
JAMES...I think you get something different out of it at every age...
JAMES...and that's what's so wonderful.
REHMLet's go to Oklahoma City. Good morning, Emily.
EMILYYes. I just was wondering if you could comment on the significance either cultural or metaphorical of Jane's art in the book. It's something I've always wondered about and it seems a little bit mystical or supernatural. And I always wondered why they were such strange drawings.
JAMESCharlotte actually believed that her true profession was going to be as an artist and she loved to draw and paint and she was really very good at it. In fact, she ruined her eyesight by painstakingly doing these little detailed drawings for years. And the types of paintings that she drew, I think she brought to life in the novel, "Jane Eyre." She gave Jane her passion for drawing. And it was really sad for Charlotte when her brother, Branwell, was given all of the expensive art lessons because he was a boy and he had no talent whatsoever.
PFORDRESHERIt seems to me that the pictures that she described several times in the book anticipate what we now call symbolist painting. And to me, it's one of the most exciting things in the novel. These pictures that are really renderings of the inner state, the dream state of the person. And Diane, when you asked earlier about the passion, where did it come from? Yes, of course it's from her experiences with her life with men, but it's also her inner life, which is a life of dreams and fantasies. And any reader who lingers over the description of those pictures in the novel will begin to get a sense for the strangeness of Jane's psychology.
REHMI love the writing in this book. I did not find the sentences overly long. In fact, I found them fascinating to parse and to make sure I knew where I was going. How about you, Maureen?
DOWDYeah, I loved it, too. I'd love to know -- I thought it was funny. I hadn't remembered that she'd sometimes get to the end of a long graph and go et cetera ampersand.
DOWDI mean, why would you do that (laugh) in such a...
PFORDRESHERYou know, the novel begins with the sentence, "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day." And the last chapter begins famously with the sentence, "Reader, I married him."
REHMIt's just great. All right. To Salt Lake City. Good morning, Stephen.
STEPHENMorning. This is my first experience with, "Jane Eyre." I did not read the book. I had not seen previous movies and traveled to Utah to visit a friend and she took me to see the movie. And the part -- one of the parts that really impacted me was when she was saying that she's had fear of looking at the horizon and not going there. And I think the horizon is more of her insight into not being in love or not finding a man or not finding family.
STEPHENAnd not only -- there were parts in the movie where she wanted desperately to have a family, to be part of that sisterhood. And when she had the loss of the young girl in the schoolhouse where she was so attached to her, it was her extended family, and all these fears were coming about that she had looked at the horizon and said she had these great fears of not being a part of something and finding the love of a man or the touch of a man. And that impacted me greatly. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. And of course, I'm now going on to reading the book.
REHMOh, good. I'm glad. Maureen.
DOWDWell, that's interesting in this latest movie they cut out, which to me is one of the most moving scenes in the book, where at the end she says that they have a baby and that his eyesight comes back enough for him to see their baby and they just cut it before that.
REHMIn one eye, yeah.
REHMYeah, I think in one eye. Go ahead.
PFORDRESHERI think the caller's quite right about Jane needing to have a family. And her struggle is in part throughout the whole novel to find her family. And one of the most amazing and in a sense credibility straining elements of the plot is that when she flees Rochester, as we all know, she goes just randomly running into the moors, she's nearly dying of exhaustion, she's in a rain storm, she sees a light, she comes to a house. It turns out to be her relatives.
JAMESIt is a great coincidence. But, you know, what's wonderful about that section of the book, it's based on her home life at the Haworth Parsonage with her sisters. The characters of Jane, Diana and Mary, they're absolute reflections of Charlotte, Emily and Anne in their taste, dispositions and characters just pursuing their daily occupations at the parsonage. The old servant is the Bronte's servant, Tabby. And even St. John Rivers is, you know, a very stiff clergyman without a shred of passion and he is based on a rejected suitor of Charlotte's who's named Henry Nussey, so...
REHMHe -- Charlotte finally marries. And seven months later, what happens?
JAMESIt's such a tragic story. She becomes pregnant and in the second or third month of pregnancy, she suffers so much from morning sickness that she can't eat and she ultimately dies and such a tragedy because she was so in love with her husband. And she wrote to her friend at that point, my heart is knit to his. And when she realized that she was that sick, she said to her husband, oh, no, God will not part us now, not now, we are so happy.
REHMWhat a tragic story.
JAMESAnd yet she did find love in the end, the passion that she always...
REHMYeah, and somehow, she knew through writing this book that she would find love.
JAMESWell, I don't know that she knew it, but I'll tell you something, it is uncanny the ending of, "Jane Eyre," there's a passage where Charlotte writes about Jane's relationship with her husband and how happy she is. And it's so much like the feelings that Charlotte had for Mr. Nicholls that I just have to read this little excerpt. It's in chapter 38.
JAMESShe writes, "I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blessed, blessed beyond what language can express because I am my husband's life as fully as he is mine. I am evermore absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. We talk all day long. To talk to each other is but a more animated and an audible feeling." It's just so romantic. And that is how she and Mr. Nicholls felt about each other.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's take one more call. And it's from Melinda in Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, you're on the air.
MELINDAHi. I watched several versions of the movie and I've read the book a few times and I've always been very disappointed, more or less, with the casting. It seems like Rochester turns out to be very handsome, which he isn't necessarily in the book. He's more like a brooding kind of old-fashioned man's man. And Jane is always either much too tall, much too old, but mostly, I don't think that they really get her character right (unintelligible).
REHMHave you seen -- have you seen, excuse me, have you seen the latest movie?
MELINDANo, I have not.
REHMOkay. Tell me what you think of it, Syrie.
JAMESThe new film from Focus Films is just wonderful and I think they finally got the casting right. They cast a very young actress as Jane who's fantastic and we have a brooding Rochester, but I have to say my favorite version is still the 2006 version starting Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson because...
JAMES...it was a four-hour mini-series from the BBC. It's fantastic. And they gave -- they had enough time to really tell the story. And the acting is wonderful and it's got all the passion that Charlotte Bronte wanted.
REHMWhat do you think?
PFORDRESHERI was crazy about Mia Wasikowska, did we say?
REHMYes, the new film.
PFORDRESHERAnd I wanted -- yeah, and it's filmed in a way there's a lot of echoes of Julia Margaret Cameron's 19th Century photographs of women in the way in which she's photographed. And so the look of the film is very much of the art of the moment, as it were.
REHM...I gather several paragraphs of the book have really been used in the film.
PFORDRESHEROh, again and again, yeah.
PFORDRESHERMuch of the script is just translated from the book.
REHMHave you seen the new film?
DOWDYeah, I've seen all the versions and I think the new film is great. The Jane is great. The Rochester is a little bit too handsome, but I love it. I still like -- sorry, I still like the Hollywood version because I love the fact that in those days, Hollywood had aspirations. They would do literary novels. They would do -- you know, now if they did Emma Bovary, it would be called, "He's Just Not That Into You."
REHMOh, Maureen, you came up with quite a phrase, I must say. Here's a final e-mail. This from, let's see, Leticia. She says, "My husband and I always make a pilgrimage to Haworth whenever we visit his family in Lancashire. We ramble across the moors enjoying the Bronte highlights. An interesting note, the town of Haworth, especially in summer, is often full of Japanese tourists. Signs in the shops may be English and Japanese. They love the gothic Bronte's." And there we are. Charlotte Bronte's, "Jane Eyre," our "Readers' Review" for April. Thank you all so much, Maureen Dowd, John Pfordresher, Syrie James. Thanks for listening, I'm Diane Rehm.
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