When I first met Jane:
Jane Eyre first clambered and thumped wildly against the doors of my heart when I was around 13 or 14 years old. From the moment the bedraggled orphan was cruelly banished to ‘The Red Room’ in Gateshead, the house of her callous Aunt Reed, I felt a deep affinity with this little fettered, mocked and misunderstood bird. The Red Room was Jane’s punishment for no longer being able to endure the bullying of her cousin, Mrs Reed’s son, John. The tethered bird struggled against the injustice of bullying only to find herself subject to an even further injustice with her punishment administered by Mrs Reed being solitary confinement within the foreboding Red Room, the very room in which her late Uncle Reed had died.
My choice of summer reading was an ambitious one for my age. However, it took me into Jane’s world which resonated so deeply with feelings of injustice from bullying from my own world, caged yet impassioned pitiful bird tormented by fear that I also was, and continued to resonate with me deep into adult life. I fell in love with the misfit Jane Eyre, with Charlotte Bronte, and with these kindred spirits I shared that passionate desire to break free from my own fetters and those cruelly placed upon me. I revisited Bronte’s novel a couple of times during my undergraduate University years as a student of English Literature. The passion for higher, immortal things that drove Jane’s soul further than the confines of her unimpressive frame was a fire to my own passionate desire to discover my place and meaning in life, in a hunger for something beyond the temporal and disappointing realm of a world that would seek to confine me too.
Years have passed, and I realise that I have not revisited my dear friend Jane in The Red Room, nor at the abode of Sinjin (St John) and his sisters Diana and Mary Rivers, nor at Thornfield, the home of Jane’s ‘Mr Rochester’.
Therefore, when the opportunity arose to see ‘my’ Jane again, I could not resist. However, this time, I would see Jane through fresh eyes, and through someone else’s interpretation of her life, and in the form of a theatre play. Yes, today was that day that I met with Jane, none other than Jane Eyre herself, again. I went to the theatre alone for this encounter and shared the experience with hundreds of strangers. I had suggested that my father, also an ardent reader of literature, accompany me, however, he declined the offer not wanting to ‘spoil’ his own treasured experience of Charlotte Bronte’s novel.
I can understand that feeling. For book lovers I’m sure there is always that tension when an adaptation, be it in the form of a film, theatre or radio play or production comes out. There is sometimes a sense of disloyalty to one’s ‘first true love’ of the book itself. A betrayal of the author? And yet, I find that when done well, adaptations can greatly enhance one’s experience of and love for a well treasured book.
I must say, seeing the National Theatre’s performance of Jane Eyre was not a disappointment for me. Far from it.
Revisiting Jane….to be continued….