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The Secret Life of Books: Jane Eyre

Updated Tuesday, 12th August 2014

Novelist Bidisha Mamata uncovers the darker, crueler side to Charlotte Bronte’s classic Victorian novel, Jane Eyre.

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Bidisha Mamata sits by a window holding a copy of Jane Eyre Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: BBC Bidisha Mamata

About the episode

Presented by Bidisha Mamata

Novelist Bidisha first read Jane Eyre as a teenager and was immediately captivated by the iconic orphaned heroine. She immersed herself in Jane’s world of loss and love, of rebellion, and redemption.

For Bidisha, Eyre’s perilous, but ultimately liberating, passage into adulthood showed that a young woman could find happiness without compromising her essential self. Jane got to have it all. 

On her own terms. Or did she? Revisiting this classic Victorian novel seventeen years on, Bidisha sees her erstwhile role model, and the society which spawned her, through very different eyes. Is Jane really such a proto-feminist?

Is the supposedly dashing Mr Rochester little more than a bully and an abuser? And what of his – and Bronte’s – treatment of the Creole wife in the attic?

Bidisha now considers the nexus of sex and race and the inherent cruelty in the novel to be much darker and more disturbing than her teenage self ever imagined.

In revisiting the book, Bidisha questions the idea of Jane Eyre as a heroine but also celebrates Charlotte Bronte’s radicalism, both in the book’s innovative first person narrative form as well as its bold and liberated portrait of female desire.

This episode was first broadcast on Tuesday 30th September 2014 on BBC Four.

 

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