“My eyes passed all other objects to rest on those most remote, the blue peaks. It was those I longed to surmount; all within their boundary of rock and heath seemed prison-ground, exile limits. I traced the white road winding round the base of one mountain and vanishing in the gorge between two. How I longed to follow it further!”
It was the voice of a little girl, orphaned and abandoned, speaking of her longings for liberty and self-fulfillment, a short but indicative message from English novelist Charlotte Bronte’s classic Jane Eyre, which was first published in 1847. More than 160 years later, I was standing at the very spot where Jane’s school stood, looking out at the blue peaks in the far distance and visualizing what it must have felt like in her shoes back then.
The views of the idyllic English countryside in early September are astonishingly beautiful, especially when the sun is shining and the skies are blue and white. I remembered reading Jane Eyre in my dormitory in China when I was a teenager, having the same dreams as Jane, my burning desire for freedom, attempts to expand my intellectual horizons and expression of my independent spirit. For Jane, it was considered extraordinary and even subversive, because at that time women’s position in society was limited to that of home, her duties that of service to her husband and children. For me, independence of the mind and spirit was in total conflict with the Chinese norm, as the only accepted way of life was to conform and to obey the rules initiated by Confucius and other thinkers, observed and enforced for thousands of years.
Jane Eyre spoke to me, and millions of other women world-wide, despite our cultural and racial differences. Her messages were as relevant to her generation then as they are now, many generations later. That relevance must explain its enduring significance and popularity; for today, this book is still widely read by people from all over the globe and translated into many different languages. Interestingly, the Chinese translation of Jane Eyre is SIMPLE LOVE, Jane = Simple, Eyre = Love, perfect!
I think it might be difficult, even though not impossible to count the times that Jane Eyre has been published over the years, but it is easy to see its lasting impact through the number of times it has been made into films and TV series. There has been 12 TV adaptations and 16 big screen interpretations in English-speaking countries alone, not to mention numerous musicals, ballet, operas, radio show versions, graphic novels, prequels, sequels, re-tellings and re-workings. Most notable of all, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca was partially inspired by this literary masterpiece. Many movie critics have complained about how unfaithful Hollywood and other film makers have been in making the original ‘Plain Jane’ not plain at all, and almost all actresses who have played her are pretty, if not utterly glamorous and beautiful, including the enchanting beauty queen Joan Fontaine, followed by Susannah York, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and mostly recently, Mia Wasikowska. Personally, I don’t care. They can remodel Jane whichever way they like and she will always remain the same to me in my heart: Simple Love!
Believe it or not, it was this dream that I shared with Jane Eyre that took me from China to England, and to eventually find love with my very own Mr Rochester. He may not be the dark, brooding Orson Wells, but he is Simply Love to me.
Now if you would excuse me, I am off to watch the brand-new remake of magnificent Jane Eyre. Come along if you like:)
If you wish to find out more about how Jane Eyre brightened up my days while studying in China, try The Same Moon :)