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NA308612 - BRONTE, C.: Jane Eyre (Abridged)
Charlotte Brontë was born in 1816 in Thornton, near Bradford in Yorkshire. The daughter of a Northern Ireland-born Church of England clergyman — Patrick Brontë — and the Cornish-born Maria Branwell, Charlotte and two
of her four siblings (Emily and Anne) have long been recognized as among the greatest novelists in the English language, and Jane Eyre as perhaps
the most important of their works.
The experience of Jane Eyre is partly modeled on Charlotte’s own life. Her father moved to Haworth in 1820, the year before his wife’s death, when Charlotte was still a small child. The bleakness of the moorland surrounding Haworth, the relative poverty of the family’s existence, and the sense of early personal loss — all features that are to be found in Jane Eyre — must all have colored Charlotte’s upbringing. Moreover, a harsh aunt — Elizabeth Branwell — soon came to live with the Brontës, after the death of her sister. It is evident that Mrs. Reed, in the novel, is a very lifelike figure.
Perhaps the most influential episode in Charlotte’s brief life — she died when just 39 — was her time in Brussels between 1842 and 1844, where she stayed in a pension in order to improve her French and German, and to develop her skills as a teacher of English. There she developed what seems to have been
an unrequited passion for the married owner of the hotel, Constantin Heger.
By 1845, back in England, Charlotte was encouraging her sisters Emily and Anne in their writing, both poetry and fiction. She tried to publish her novel,
The Professor, but it was rejected and did not appear until 1857 after her death. But her publisher encouraged her, and Jane Eyre appeared in print in October 1847 under the pseudonym Currer Bell. She published Shirley in October 1849 and in 1853 Villette, a novel that drew heavily upon her life in Brussels.
Jane Eyre, the novel, is a remarkable exploration of the mind and emotions of a passionate, strong-willed woman who is determined to live by her own principles and ethics. If that sounds a remarkably contemporary summary of a novel published almost 150 years ago, that is to the credit of Charlotte Brontë’s astonishing maturity and lasting genius. Although the core of the novel is Jane Eyre and her own internal life, the other characters — Mr. Rochester in particular — are wonderfully depicted. The tale is also a splendid debunking of earlier 19th century gothic fiction, yet manages to tingle the spine and stir the hairs on the back of the neck. It is unbeatable, both as pure entertainment and as a lasting example of subtle imagination. We should not forget, of course, that it is also one of the greatest love stories ever written. Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre will last forever.
Notes by Gary Mead
Emma Fielding trained at RSAMD. She has worked for the Royal National Theatre in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia and the RSC in Twelfth Night and John Ford’s The Broken Heart, for which she won the Dame Peggy Ashcroft Award for Best Actress. A frequent reader on Naxos AudioBooks, Fielding has also appeared in numerous radio plays.
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