On Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre
by Mark Wallace
Cary Fukunaga’s 2011 version of Jane Eyre is a pretty good adaptation, and Mia Wasikowska’s portrayal of the central character has been generally well-received. One thing that struck me about Wasikowska was her physical resemblance to representations of Charlotte Bronte herself. Wasikowska was wearing a wig for the shooting, one which accentuated the facial similarities.
An attempt is being made here to elide the distance between the author Charlotte Bronte and her heroine Jane Eyre. Why should this be the case? Perhaps because it lends a sense of realism to the plot, implying that Jane Eyre provides an attainable model of romance for its audience. Of course, Charlotte Bronte never had any relationship remotely analogous to Jane’s with Rochester; for Bronte’s biographer Lyndall Gordon:
[Jane Eyre] is a creative truth: not woman as she is, but as she might be. (169)
At this distance in time, however, Bronte can be safely romanticized, and so Jane can become more than “a creative truth”. One is reminded of the film Becoming Jane, which determinedly mythologized Jane Austen’s life till it approximated that of one of her heroines. It’s not enough that Jane Austen created Elizabeth Bennett, the modern audience wants the comfort of knowing that she more or less was Elizabeth Bennett, as well. And Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre works by suggesting that Jane Eyre was Charlotte Bronte, and Charlotte Bronte was Jane Eyre: this could really happen then!
Rather than drawing its intensity from the frustration and isolation of its author, it is more pleasant to believe Jane’s tale had some relation to reality. Just because Bronte could write Jane Eyre, doesn’t mean she could have lived it. Rather the contrary. But it is part of the purpose of wish-fulfilment served in modern culture by stories like Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice to believe that they can be read autobiographically.
Lynall Gordon, Charlotte Bronte: A Passionate Life, London, Virago, 2008.