Jane Eyre is my favorite book.
I had to read the Charlotte Bronte novel the summer before my senior year of high school and since then I have re-read the it at least seven times (purchasing the Out Of Print t-shirt and wearing it proudly somewhere in between).
While I haven’t seen all of the theatrical versions of the novel – which go as far back as 1934 – one of my favorite movies of all-time is the 2011 adaptation with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.
Some may scoff at adaptations (especially when the movie poster is the book’s new cover), but I enjoy comparing what the filmmaker, in comparison to the author, believe to be significant to the story. Cary Fukunaga brings Charlotte Bronte’s beloved novel to life, illuminating everything I love about Jane Eyre to the big screen.
Given the opportunity, Jane Eyre can teach young girls about the complexities of love, life, and the self.
1. Once you love yourself, you can love others.
Jane had a rough childhood – her parents died when she was little; she was forced to live with her awful aunt, and then was shunned by her schoolteachers. The people who were supposed to love her told her that she was wicked and would burn in hell for having such a fiery passion. By the time she escapes to Thornfield Hall, she is a young woman with many talents worth praising, but it is difficult for Jane to believe that she is deserving of such attention, especially from Edward Rochester.
But she is – the reader/viewer knows this from all that she has overcome – and she must realize this before she can truthfully be with another person. It is not until after Jane is on her own, away from Thornfield Hall, that she is able to find herself and realize what she wants in life – a singular, respectable, and passionate love with Edward.
2. Don’t compromise your morals.
…even if he does look like Michael Fassbender.
Edward might have discretely mentioned something about having a crazy wife locked up in the attic, but so long as he was still married to Bertha, Jane could not stay at Thornfield; staying there would signify that she does not mind that Edward lied to her, that their marriage would have been a sham, and that there does not need to be mutual respect in their relationship.
Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you!
As much as it hurts her to leave Edward, she is able to find refuge with the Rivers siblings, a family that loves and respects each other in the ways that Jane realizes she deserves.
While St. John Rivers may view Jane as an equal, he wants her as a wife, one who he could share “enough of love” with. Having had a glimpse of true love already, Jane is not willing to lower her standards of what she believes a union should be – passionate.
Jane teaches her audience that one should not settle, especially when it comes to love; it might have made Edward happy if she stayed at Thornfield, or St. John should she travel with him as a missionary, but it would not make her happy.
3. But realize what’s worth “fighting over” versus “fighting for.”
Jane leaves Edward because she believes she should not be constrained by someone else’s perception of how she should be living (while under the assumption that Edward merely wants her as his mistress while trapped in the marriage to Bertha); she knows that she cannot live a fulfilled life under someone else’s will.
It is not until Jane meets St. John Rivers that she realizes she does not have to sacrifice Edward’s love in order to be independent; she should not be bound by what society (or St. John’s savior) believes to be a respectable person. Jane finally understand that she is worthy of love, Edward’s love, because he is the other part of herself, and together they are wholly and perfectly happy.
“Reader, I married him.”