I have always been a fan of dystopian novels and stories. I actually started with the Utopia by Thomas More in high school, which is an old classic that considered what a perfect society might be like. After that, I started devouring any kind of Utopia/Dystopia I could find: Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, A Clockwork Orange, The Giver, the list goes on. The dystopian novel that has really haunted me, however, has been The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
I was 19 and overconfident in my knowledge of feminism. Despite this, I had only ever read the “classics” (focused on white male dystopias). This was assigned reading in my Women in American Society class(I dove into the deep end of critical theory and struggled greatly). Besides the other challenging, mind-blowing revelations in that class, this book focused on the fragility of women’s rights and how easily rights can be taken away. Reproductive rights, property rights, the right to not be sold as property in marriage, the right to participate in the same virtues and vices as men (jury duty, smoking and drinking in bars, running marathons, etc). Not only this, but also that many of these rights were only granted within living memory. I remember the novel mentioning women not being allowed to have credit cards without a male co-signer up until the 1970s. At first, I thought this was an alternative history timeline until I asked my mother about it and then proceeded to research it. This is the truly haunting part of the book, especially for those not the most well versed in recent history. I recommend this book for everyone, but especially young women, as often we can take for granted rights and liberties that were fought hard for.
This movie is my favorite adaptation of my favorite novel. For those unfamiliar with the novel, it is written by one of the Bronte sisters (basically the Gothic cousins of Jane Austen). It is set in the 1800s in England, where poor little orphan Jane Eyre is just trying to make her way in a world that wants to crush her willful, wild spirit. After her family dies of a terrible disease she goes to live with her aunt and her children and they all are absolutely terrible to her and mistreat her. So they send her off to boarding school, namely, an extremely hard-nosed, straight-laced boarding school with a penchant for telling little girls they are going to roast in hell for minor character flaws. Jane Eyre survives 10 years in this place and seeks out employment at the mysterious Mr. Rochester’s mansion to be a governess to an adorable little girl named Adele. Jane Eyre begins to develop feelings for the very dark and brooding Mr. Rochester and of course he has a dark secret hidden away.
This adaptation is my favorite mainly because of the casting. The young Jane Eyre is played by a young Anna Paquin, and she definitely captures the young punk attitude of the young and wild Jane Eyre before she has to keep her feelings bottled up inside herself. Jane Eyre is never described as beautiful in the book, she is described as plain and almost bird like. Neither is Mr. Rochester described as handsome. I thought William Hurt did an excellent job of portraying him.
The script is wonderful and includes the important parts in the beginning of Jane’s life that are very important to understanding her character. Other film adaptations skip over her childhood trauma to get to the romance parts. While I liked the 2011 adaptation, the actors were too beautiful (looking at you, Fassbender) and blonde (?!) and so it was hard to see that Jane felt ugly and unwanted as opposed to the 1996 version, with the beautiful mirror shots in several parts of the movie. The 2011 adaptation definitely highlighted the gothic/horror elements of the novel, which I do wish was more in the 1996 version.
Ultimately, though, the 1996 adaptation of Jane Eyre is my favorite! I recommend everyone to watch it if you’re into tortured souls trying to find love despite circumstances and their duty obligations.