Bronteana: Bronte Studies Blog Archives

October 20, 2005


Filed under: Uncategorized — by bronteana @ 9:23 pm

Radio Times article on Jane Eyre 1973

Here’s the longest article I have on this particular production and it isn’t really about the production at all. It carefully sidesteps it entirely! Instead we get to hear two pretty nutty views on Jane Eyre. Some of it even crosses the line from nutty to offensive.

As BBC2 begins a new serialisation of Charlotte Brontë’s classic, two Yorkshire writers, John Braine and Phyllis Bentley, talk about the novel to Ruth Inglis

A JANE FOR ALL GENERATIONS”Jane is really a liberated girl, but not immoral- far from it- a staunch Christian.”

John Braine, author of Room at the Top, thinks that Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre had a great influence on his own writing- and on his own Yorkshire childhood generally.

I met him at his office in Woking, Surrey, a cramped broom closet kind of a room which just manages to hold his own desk- a place of work a long way from Joe Lampton’s idea of the de luxe.

Speaking of Charlotte Brontë, the 51-year-old author mellows and almost the apolectically angry television pundit one so often sees ripping the innards out of left-wing ideas fades away.

Charlotte Brontë made me realise that the only real materail for a writer is what he knows best. There’s no need to go looking for exotic backgrounds you don’t understand. I came from Bingley, Yorkshire, and from my attic window I could see the beginning of the moors to Haworth where the Brontës lived, and I used to walk the road that Charlotte used to take to get out there, the very self-same road.

‘Jane Eyre is really a liberated girl,’ he says admiringly, ‘but not an immoral girl- far from it- a stauch Christian. But though her morals are conventional enough, she doesn’t have any feelings at all about Rochester’s lurid past. She knows Rochester is a middle-aged rake, but in this she’s curiously modern. She goes for the old rake with a bit of experience. But she always appeals to Rochester on exactly equal terms and when they’re talking as man and woman.

There is a theory that in Jane Eyre we have the perfect example of the repressed Victorian woman’s fantasy emasculation of the overbearing male (she did after all, s it’s exponents explain, end up with a blind, half-maimed man she had to lead by the hand). Braine dismissed this with a return to his gritty, angry Yorkshire persona.

‘What a load of rubbish. Rochester was quite able to find one part of her. Theirs is a genuine, overwhelming passion- something there wasn’t much of in the English novel of the 19th century. Jane didn’t have any desire to make him helpless. Even blind, he had the same appeal for her because he was still so masculine.

The more feminine a woman, the more masculine there is in her and the more masculine the man, the more feminine there is in him… I’m not talking about unisex. You measure things by their opposites. What makes a man more masculine is a quality of tenderness. A cruel man is effeminate and a woman who caves in at adversity isn’t a true woman.’

While admitting that Jane was a modern woman, Braine felt she still knew the best way to get her mana nd that this ruse was age-old. ‘Morals haven’t changed much since Jane’s time. Very often the way still to get your man is to hold out. Putting a high price on the commodity still holds the most attraction for a man.’

~interview with Phyllis Bentley~Phyllis Bentley, a spry, white-haired Yorkshirewoman just turned 70, spoke affectionately of Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre’s creator, as she drove me at a brisk pace around the steep hills of her native Halifax in her bright new red car.

‘I was born eight miles from the Brontë Parsonage in Haworth and I have a great sympathy for the family, especially Charlotte.’

With some satisfaction, Miss Bentley said that the thousands of American tourists who come to visit the Haworth pasonage where the Brontës lived tend to buy one of her Brontë biographies on the way (she has written two of them).

‘Like Charlotte, I had a great difficulty in finding satisfying work.’ she says. ‘I was always eager to work for my living and at that date it was not always easy. The social atmosphere was much against women taking degrees. But I went ahead and got one, anyway at London University, this after going to Cheltenham. Now, mercifully, most every Yorkshire girl can find a job if she wants to.’

Miss Bentley is convinced tht Jane Eyre would not have felt out of place working in Leeds or Halifax today. Not only was she fully modern, but she was spirited. In many ways, the Halifax authoress prefers ‘spirited’ women to the more militant variety.

‘Being a governess was about all a woman could do in Jane’s day- a governess, how awful! But she wouldn’t submit. When Rochester asked if she thought him handsome, she snapped out, “No, sir!”

‘She would have the same intesity and passiont today. Even now you have to put up quite a fight to get a really top job. After all, woman’s emotions haven’t changed much since then. You can fall in love in any century, you know.’

She feels that today’s women still long for a man like Rochester who is strong spirit and soul.

“He would be the wishfulfilment of every spinister then and now, the hero to whom they can deliver saucy remarks to show their independent spirit. That kind of dominating man appeals particularly to the woman who’s not eager to surrender. I think this is why single women are so permissive today. They are searching for someone to fulfil these very fantasies.’
(Michael Jayston, who plays Mr Rochester, in front of Norton Conyers. Sorcha Cusack, who plays Jane, in front of Brontë cottages at Cowan Bridge).



  1. some comments:
    I always understood “masculine” to mean “more NOT-like-a-woman” as in having less feminine qualities (or what is deemed more feminine such as tenderness of emotion). The same applies to women where being “feminine” means being less “masculine” (as in being delicate, and too emotional). Basically I didn’t quite understand Braine’s definition of masculinity and feminity.

    That said, he makes a point about how Jane went for Rochester knowing he was a middle class rake and hard to get. However, I would diagree with that and say that really Jane was isolated in Thornfield with Rochester and this is what made them get closer to each other. It is not as if Jane DID NOT have much of a choice, but rationally speaking, her contact with men of understanding was very limited considering her position in society. If she hadn’t met with people like the Rivers, she might not have met her ideal match if Rochester had not come along. I don’t think it was that Jane rushed and pounded on Rocheser, but that their isolation brought them inevitably closer to each other. for Miss Bentley’s remarks…single women are going for permissiveness??? They are searching for fulfillment of fantasies of being dominated???huh??? I SO don’t agree with that. In my opinion, Rochester is appealing not so much because he was dominant, but because of the intensity and passion he had in his love for Jane. Also, he was the only one who noticed her when others dismissed her. If anything, you can’t be that dominant if someone is able to snap and make you hold your tongue-as Jane is able to do to Rochester.

    I can see how the dominace factor would apply considering the case with Bertha and if we think of the duality between Jane and Bertha. The tale in Wide Sargasso Sea also further complicates this…but it could server for another discussion …which I’d love to have if I had more time than at present…(got homework to do)
    wow! I think I’ve had a good brain work-out.
    Thanks for posting! Keep up the awesome work on your blog!!

    Comment by mysticgypsy — October 20, 2005 @ 11:07 pm |Reply

  2. I have a lot of problems with people using terms like ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. You can almost never understand fully what someone means by those terms. And applied to Rochester the terms really lose any meaning, if you look at the criticism out there. I’ve read articles labelling him totally emasculated and feminine, or androgynous, and on the other hand hyper masculine.

    I haven’t considered their isolation much. To me it was that here she found someone who was stimilating on a level that she had not encountered before- what she calls “an expanded mind” but, then you have St.John who is ‘thoroughly educated’ but obviously narrow of mind. He is more physically attractive, and I suppose her isolation with him might have more impact… I think. Yet she doesn’t ‘go’ for him. Above all, I firmly believe Jane’s attraction is based on him being so very like herself- if she’s his ‘second self’ then so much is he hers also.

    I found the comment about Rochester being able to ‘find one part’ of Jane really off. It would be absurd to deny that there’s nothing sexual about their attraction but really… This is clearly not the focus. Otherwise she would have trotted off with St.John, despite his coldness (remember, women want to be dominated! 😀 )

    I totally agree with your statements about the domination issue. To go one further, he often refuses to excercise what is his legitamate control of Jane. He starts this immediately after he learns she is the new governess. He tells her that he ‘cannot commission’ her to fetch help- of course he can, especially since she is his employee but instead he asks for her assistance. I would also add that he not only notices her, but he has a deep understanding of her sufferings. It’s hard to pick up on since usually (at least when I read) you miss the small details about how he considered that her melancholy must have been caused by being shut up in the schoolroom.

    I don’t think I’ve mentioned my take on WSS. Will have to have a go at that later 😉

    Comment by Brontëana — October 20, 2005 @ 11:28 pm |Reply

  3. Oops… I meant that it would be absurd to deny that there IS something sexual about Jane and Rochester’s attraction!

    Comment by Brontëana — October 20, 2005 @ 11:30 pm |Reply

  4. Yeah, I agree that there is indeed a sexual attraction between Jane and Rochester. However, it is not the only reason they go for each other. Oh and yes, Jane is indeed his second half, which is what makes their story even more poignant and beautiful, in my opinion 😀

    I have a question (or more of a concern) regarding the isolation issue. If Jane had NOT been isolated in Thornfied with Rochester, if the two of them did not come into close contact, would he have fallen for her? Would she have stood out among a crowd of people, would Rochester have noticed her had this been the case?
    My answer to that is actually two fold: I mean one could argue saying that he would have found her anywhere, because they were meant to be, each were two parts of a whole etc etc.
    On the other hand, if much of their attraction also has to do with getting to know each other’s minds and having good conversations (and NOT a merely physical attraction), then it is harder to do in a crowd than if two people were just isolated. I mean Jane does not look like a typical woman Rochester would have gone for. If they had both NOT been in Hay, perhaps Rochester would not have seen how assertive Jane can be. She might have just been a silent shadow because she is not a loud person by nature, and neither is she consciously artful. Its not impossible, but just harder to do so in a crowd as opposed to being isolated together. Now even though she was isolated with Rivers, things don’t work out between them because they don’t mesh for intellectual and emotional reasons.
    I think then that if you are like Jane, the stakes would be higher for you to meet ur Rochester if it was only the two of you isolated somewhere (the isolation theme goes well with the ending of JE where both Jane and Rochester literally live in Ferndean Manor isolated from the rest of the world-I think this is Charlotte Bronte’s way of reiterating the isolation theme, saying that perhaps such a union as Jane and Rochester’s could not exist in any place other than in isolation)
    meh…just my thoughts ;-D

    OMG yes!!! I totally agree with what you said about Rochester not taking advantage of her, and about him understanding how much she must have suffered. Their converstation by the fireside having tea in Thornfield clearly shows that, when he asks her questions about her childhood and remarks about the difficulties she must have endured in the past. Also , the scene about the presents was touching, I thought, when Jane says she doesn’t expect presents, I am sure Rochester understood where she was coming from and his heart ran out to her. so sweet!!!!!!!!!
    sigh….I *heart* Rochester 😀

    oh yes, WSS..more deep stuff!!! and for all we know, Antoinette’s husband may not even be the Rochester from JE! (I’d like to keep my JE Rochester seperate lol)His name is NEVER mentioned in the novel, no matter how close the last chapter in the book resembles the attic scene in JE 😉
    Would definitly love to discuss it sometime!!

    Comment by mysticgypsy — October 21, 2005 @ 6:16 am |Reply

  5. I don’t think there’s enough in the text to work out what would have happened if she had not been a governess at Thornfield. It would be pure conjecture. Likewise, I wonder how big a role was played by the isolation. I would have to re-read it with that in mind to be certain on that. Right now I don’t see it. Mr.R leaves her behind for quite some time, and she also leaves for a month. How long she is actually at Thornfield with him, I don’t recall off the top of my head but then there were the troop of guests and all. Very unlike…

    Ferndean- which is another story! If his blindness, as she says, might have been a factor in strengthening their bond, then it’s fair to say the isolation did as well.

    In short, my thoughts on WSS is that it has little to add to JE. Too much of it contradicts the basic facts of the narrative beyond the realm of “pretend character X made Y up” into revision. I love intertextual studies, but you cannot pretend that changes made can just cancel out things in the primary text. What I mean is, for example, Mr Rochester loves nature and growing things. In WSS Antoinette’s husband LOATHES nature. It’s interesting so see what’s going on there… maybe, but what can that say abotu JE? Nothing at all. But it works in her building up of negative relationships between him and Jamaica and Antoinette.

    But my major issue with it… is how she treats Bertha. In my opinion Bertha has NO voice left at all. If she accuses A’s husband of taking her name, what about Rhys’ renaming of Bertha? Her name is clearly on the marriage certificate as Bertha Antoinetta, right? She doesn’t give her a past and a life of her own- she erases anything she had in JE and substitutes HER own life.

    So much for ‘in short’ 😉 to be continued… 😀

    Comment by Brontëana — October 22, 2005 @ 8:52 pm |Reply

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