You know that we have spoken of the Brontës, those poor, strange, and secret creatures we read too early, too often, believing in their portraits of love, and passion, and suffering, as we believed in little else at whichever of the tender feminine ages we happened to be when first we chanced upon their fat, flooding novels. We have spoken of Catherine, and of Jane; of Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester, choosing to align ourselves with the version we felt most encapsulated what we were certain was to be both the nature of our incipient womanly selves—wild, long-haired, glorious—and the character of our eventual true loves—brooding, raven-eyed, devoted to none save us. And having cast ourselves in the vast movie that each novel performed inside our extravagant minds, we have looked askance at actual cinematic portrayals, for how could anyone other than we—those bursting stars we flamed as—inhabit fully the jealous vicissitudes of Catherine Earnshaw, the fierce modesty of Jane Eyre. Impossible! We thought at twelve, at fifteen, at twenty. The Brontës wrote for us, and us alone, and neither the BBC nor Orson Welles nor Juliette Binoche nor, diminishingly, Anna Paquin nor Joan Fontaine nor Ralph Fiennes could understand this. And thus they doomed themselves to failure.
And yet now, my good gentle women, we find an adaptation perhaps worthy of our intelligence, and our distressing youths. Jane Eyre! Jane Eyre! Mia of the long last name is Jane Eyre! As Michael Fassbender’s Mr. Rochester—his eyes glowing with the unearthly passion we have sought ourselves—sputters to her pale, braided Jane, “You transfix me quite.” It was as though, and finally, he spoke from out the screen to me. Delicious in its dialogue, its snatches of late Early Modern agony, its loving sweep of moor and estate, Cary Fukunaga’s version of our beloved Charlotte’s tale stayed my heart, my brain, my nerves, corseting me in the pleasantest, most despairing dream I ever dreamt. Watching this elegant candelabra of a film flicker and illuminate the dark corridors of my girlhood reading, I recalled my own nascent and dim understanding of the powers of eloquence, responding with a thrill to Rochester’s ability to articulate Jane to herself as I turned the pages on a long-ago family trip out West. To be seen, and seen truly, is the one wish of love—to be told mellifluously, the second. We have all of us waited most patiently through these last two decades of Jane Austen—the squabbles, the silliness, the oh-so-clever modernizations. But these are less glad times, we understand, as too the Brontës understood. The world darkens; the plots assemble, and thicken. We sit in our rooms and wring our hands and feel ourselves at once uncontainable and too easily dismissed. We pick a book from off the shelf. We purchase tickets and take a seat. We run out to meet ourselves.