I’m eagerly awaiting the upcoming MASTERPIECE show, To Walk Invisible The Brontë Sisters (check out a preview). Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë is close to a perfect story to me- like most of my favorite stories, the main character is a strong-willed woman determined to carve out a fulfilling life, despite her hardships. The plot combined with a character named Mr. Rochester (my hometown) and his gloomy, mysterious house that may or may not contain ghosts is just good storytelling. I have heard that this novel was at the forefront of the “invention of Self” idea but it’s hard to believe that this concept was so revolutionary in the late 19th century when the novel was published.
A recent article in The Atlantic, concedes that other authors used the first-person narrator but “[i]t was the narrative voice of Jane—who so openly expressed her desire for identity, definition, meaning, and agency—that rang powerfully true to its 19th-century audience.” Based on how many times the story has been adapted, on the big and small screens (not to mention reworked like Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye, where Jane Eyre is an ethical serial killer), I would say that it continues to resonate with audiences.
It’s not just the narration though, it’s the method that Jane uses to form her opinion of herself. Jane turns inward when she realizes that she has to develop her own sense of self, rather than rely on how others perceive her. Also, her identity is complex it involves more than just feeling attractive or kind or trustworthy; she considers her place in society as a poor woman living in a patriarchal culture. She is vocal about societal injustices, which was not well received by critics when the book was initially published, as Jane was seen as a character too rebellious and “anti-christian.”
I’ll be interested to see in the MASTERPIECE show, how the sisters’ upbringing and relationships impact their writing. Did the sisters share their story ideas? Did they discuss the concept of self around the dinner table? Who were their major influences, literary or otherwise? First episode airing 3/26!
*Update* PBS released this image on Facebook, which is a nice little graphic to keep the sisters’ pseudonyms and most famous novels straight!