Top 8 quirkiest adaptations of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre
Charlotte Brontë was born 200 years ago on Thursday (April 21). Unfortunately for her, William Shakespeare was born 400 years ago on Saturday, so Charlotte’s anniversary is liable to be overlooked to some extent – and that would be a shame.
This daughter of an Irish-born clergyman was, along with the likes of Jane Austen and George Eliot, a pioneering figure in literature, as one of few women published back in those “Father knows best” Victorian times. (Her little sis Emily also wrote a bit; you may have heard of her novel Wuthering Heights, based on a Kate Bush song.)
Charlotte only brought out three novels during her lifetime – in fairness, her death at the young age of 38 may have had something to do with that – and of those, by far the most famous is Jane Eyre. More accurately, the only one anyone has ever heard of, outside English Lit faculties, is Jane Eyre.
But what an impact that one book has had on the culture. Wikipedia lists no less than 109 movie and stage versions, literary retellings, prequels, sequels and assorted other adaptations of Jane Eyre. And we’ve picked out some of the most interesting:
1. Legends Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine starred in a 1943 film version, directed by Robert Stevenson. Which is pretty impressive, though not as impressive as if the director was Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island who had died 49 years earlier.
2. Daphne du Maurier’s classic Gothic novel Rebecca, from 1938, was partially inspired by Jane Eyre. Two years later, it was made into an equally classic film by Alfred Hitchcock, whose main actors were Laurence Olivier and…Joan Fontaine.
3. Welles also appeared in radio adaptations of Jane Eyre in 1938, 1940, 1944 and – stay with me here – 1946, as have Madeleine Carroll, Bette Davis, the aforesaid Joan Fontaine, Ingrid Bergman and the Irish actor Ciarán Hinds. (He also played Rochester on screen, in a 1997 TV drama opposite Samantha Morton.)
4. Speaking of Irish actors, the mighty Michael Fassbender played Rochester in a 2011 version directed by Cary Fukunaga – he who helped make True Detective Season 2 so great – and co-starring Mia Wasikowska.
5. The late, great writer Angela Carter was working on a sequel to Jane Eyre at the time of her death in 1992. She’s best-known for her reimagining of fairytales in The Bloody Chamber (one of them, The Company of Wolves, was later filmed by Neil Jordan). Going on that book, Carter’s putative story of Jane’s stepdaughter Adèle would have been blimmin’ brilliant. In stark contrast to…
6. Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys’ 1966 prequel which recasts the character of Bertha – you know, the mad wan up in the attic – as Caribbean hot tamale (with medium-to-serious mental illness issues) Antoinette. I had to study this in college, and found it an absolute ordeal: over-heated, over-written and over-rated, a depressing, disturbing fever-dream of a novel.
7. In cinema there have been Hindi versions (Sangdil, 1952), Cantonese (The Orphan Girl, 1956), Czech (Jana Eyrová, 1972), Tamil (Shanti Nilayam, 1972), whatever version of Spanish they speak in Mexico (El Secreto, 1963) and whatever version of Spanish they speak in Argentina (El Ardiente Secreto, 1978). Need an Irish version, though: Sinéad Aer, maybe.
8. In the “legitimate theatre”, Jane Eyre has been mined as source material for ballet, opera, musicals, farce, straight drama and even a symphony. But none of these hifalutin endeavours can compare to literary reworkings such as Jenna Starborn (Jane Eyre in space), Jane Slayre (Jane Eyre battles vampires) and Jane Eyrotica (Jane Eyre does erotica). Help – I’m having flashbacks of Antoinette now…