Social, political and cultural context
Historical surveys of the period in which Charlotte Brontë was writing
||The Age of Improvement. London: Longman 1959
||The Age of Capital, 1848-1975. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1975
|F. M. L. Thompson
||The Rise of Respectable Society. A Social History of Victorian Britain. 1830-1900. London: Fontana, 1988
General surveys of various aspects of the literary and intellectual history of the period
||The Victorians. The Oxford English Literary History 1830-1880. Volume 8. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002
|Jerome H. Buckley
||The Victorian Temper: a Study in Literary Culture. London: Cass, 1966
||The Victorian Period. The Intellectual and Cultural Context of English Literature 1830-1890. London: Longman, 1993
|William F. Houghton
||The Victorian Frame of Mind 1830-1870. London: Yale University Press, 1957
||English Fiction of the Victorian Period. 1830-1890. London: Longman, 1985
General discussion of the world of Victorian publishing
||Victorian Novelists and Publishers. London: Athlone Press, 1976
Classics of the new feminist literary history of the 1970s and 1980s
|Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar
||The Madwoman in the Attic. The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Imagination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984
||A Literature of their Own. Princeton University Press, 1977
Three useful studies relating to a central motif in the novel
||The Image of Childhood. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967
||Guardians and Angels. Parents and Children in Nineteenth-Century Literature. London: Faber & Faber, 1978
||A Child's World. A Social History of English Childhood 1880-1914. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982
Works by Charlotte Brontë and her sisters
Currently available annotated editions of the novel
|Ed. Stevie Davies
||Jane Eyre. London: Penguin Classics, 2006
|Ed. Richard J. Dunn
||Jane Eyre. London: W. W. Norton, 2000
|Ed. Sally Minogue
||Jane Eyre. Ware: Wordsworth Classics, 1992
|Ed. Sally Shuttleworth
||Jane Eyre. Oxford: Oxford World's Classics, 2000
A useful selection of Charlotte Brontë's published letters
|Ed. Margaret Smith
||The Selected Letters of Charlotte Brontë. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007
Other completed novels by the Brontë sisters
||Agnes Grey, 1847
||The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, 1848
||Wuthering Heights, 1847
All are widely available in good editions in such paperback series as Everyman, Penguin Classics, Oxford World Classics and Wordsworth Classics.
All three sisters wrote poetry and there are several paperback selections in print.
General guides to the Brontës
|Heather Glen (ed)
||The Cambridge Companion to the Brontës. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002
||Authors in Context: the Brontës. Oxford: Oxford World's Classics, 2006
||A useful and wide-ranging book, which makes an excellent starting-point for study
||The Brontës. London: Phoenix, 2001
||An exhaustive (1000+ pages) study which demolishes many myths and includes some interesting new material
|Elizabeth Gaskell, Ed. Elisabeth Jay
||The Life of Charlotte Brontë. London: Penguin, 1998
||First published in 1857; has many shortcomings as a biography but it was written by someone who actually met Charlotte Brontë
||Charlotte Brontë: a Passionate Life. London: Vintage, 1995
||A sympathetic and interesting biography
Critical works on Charlotte Brontë
||Charlotte Brontë. East Sussex: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990
||General discussion with a particular emphasis on gender issues
||The Brontë Novels. London: Methuen, 1968
||An excellent and helpful introductory study
||Myths of Power. A Marxist Study of the Brontës. London: Macmillan, 1975
||Pioneering Marxist reading of the sisters' novels
||Their Proper Sphere: A Study of the Brontë Sisters as Early-Victorian Female Novelists. London: Edward Arnold, 1966
||A very sound contextual examination
||Charlotte Brontë: The Imagination in History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004
||An excellent study placing Charlotte Brontë's work in the context of early Victorian writing and culture
||Charlotte Brontë and the Mysteries of Love: Myth and Allegory in Jane Eyre. East Sussex: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989
||Detailed exploration of the novel's use of imagery
|R. B. Martin
||The Accents of Persuasion: Charlotte Brontë's Novels. London: Faber & Faber, 1966
||A thorough general exploration concentrating on narrative style
||The Brontë Myth. London: Vintage, 2002
||An entertaining and perceptive history of the development of the sisters' reception and reputation
||Charlotte Brontë and Victorian Psychology. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1996
||Includes a discussion of phrenology
||The Brontës and Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999
|| Full-length studies of crucial dimensions of the sisters' lives and works
||The Brontës and Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007
||Novels of the Eighteen-Forties. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954
||Pioneering decade study that reads Jane Eyre alongside other novels from these years
||The English Novel from Dickens to Lawrence. London: Chatto & Windus, 1970
|| Classic general account of the novel in its 1840s context
Criticism of Jane Eyre
Most of the books listed in the previous section have chapters or sections on Jane Eyre easily found from the contents page or the index. Good starting-points for exploring the variety of critical approaches to the novel are:
|Heather Glen (ed)
||Jane Eyre (New Casebooks). London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1997
|Elsie B. Michie (ed)
||Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre: A Casebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006
|Beth Newman (ed)
||Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Bedford: St Martin's, 1996
As well as their useful booklists, these guides include a survey of the history of the critical reaction to the novel since it was published.
[Note: Remember that websites – including this one – are secondary resources like any other. It is important to check the source of the site and to find out about the author(s). Also, remember that any material you draw from the site should be clearly referenced in essays or project work.]
- A good general site for Victorian literature, with specialised information on a variety of contextual topics as well as individual authors.
- This is the site for the Brontë Parsonage Museum and the Brontë Society and contains some useful information.
Jane Eyre on film and television
Jane Eyre has proved popular with makers of both feature films and television adaptations. It offers some strong characters, changes of scene, hints of the supernatural, opportunities for dramatising suffering and pathos and has at its centre an intense, brooding love story. BBC Television seems to screen a new version about once every 10-15 years! All the versions listed here are currently available on DVD.
||Directed by Robert Stevenson. 1944
||This version lays emphasis on the novel's Gothic elements; Rochester is played by one of the greatest of film actors, Orson Welles; very good at catching the mood of the novel
||Directed by Delbert Mann. 1970
||Quite faithful to the novel, but a very polite version; George C. Scott, an American, seems out of place as Rochester
||BBC Television. 1973
||Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston play the leads: quite solid and moving
||BBC Television. 1983
||Made a star of Timothy Dalton as Rochester, but generally rather dull
||Directed by Franco Zeffirelli. 1995
||A faithful adaptation that takes few chances. However, there's an extremely strong central performance from Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane and while William Hurt is rather subdued as Rochester, there is excellent support from a strong cast of English actors
||Reduces the novel to the length of a feature film, so inevitably much is left out; the leads are played by Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds
||BBC Television. 2006
||Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens: attracted a lot of favourable attention when it was first screened
Working with adaptations
The obvious question to ask about any adaptation is:
- How faithful is this version to the original?
- Although it is interesting and sometimes amusing to identify what is omitted or changed, there are other, more challenging, questions to be asked. Some, for instance, concern the history and structure of the film and television industries:
- Why was this version of the novel made at this time? In what ways might it be speaking to contemporary concerns?
- Who were its likely viewers?
- What were the motives of the studio or television company and the director?
- What significance is there in the casting of the various roles?
Perhaps the most important questions relate to the way in which the story is interpreted, and here the answers to that original question about fidelity to the original can be reformulated as new questions:
- Why might the director have omitted some parts of the plot (including some characters)?
- Are there any ‘new' characters or incidents? Why are they in this version?
- How is the story interpreted? Where does the emphasis lie?
- How are the characters presented? Are they shown as more, or less, sympathetic than in the novel?
- What might the director's interpretation tell us about contemporary attitudes towards the issues raised by the novel?
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