The disturbing world of Jane Eyre in paperback

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I felt it a misfortune that I was so little, so pale, and had features so irregular and so marked.

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre

I’ve never come across any really good paperback designs for the Bronte books – they must exist somewhere, but not here, not today. A key fact about Jane Eyre is that Jane is, in that word all the more crushing because it usually applies to scones, plain – and all the better for it. It’s also a story about misfits and mental illness.

Not all these things get considered when it comes to Jane Eyre in paperback (click to enlarge image). It starts to go wrong in the forties (top left): a waxenly sophisticated blue-eyed Jane is pursued by what seems to be a friendly-looking science teacher. But by the early sixties (top, second left) she has morphed into a voluptuous Hammer Horror beauty pursued by a lecherous werewolf.

By the eighties (bottom left) we’re back on plainer ground – Jane has turned into an enormous carpet bag, and Jenny Agutter from The Railway Children has wandered in, attracted by the gothic railway station posing as Thornfield.

Another sixties version (bottom, second left) is trying harder, with an effective Bertha Mason gazing wanly out at us. But while the Jane in the background looks suitably thwarted, judging by her gaze and expression it’s all due to an unsuitable green glove.

Moving into the seventies (bottom, second right) and at last someone has the sense to really get to the theme at the heart of the novel – the gigantic moth of doom which follows any plain governesses intent on wedlock. Rochester knows what’s going on and assumes a look of resignation.

We’re back to vampires for the Pan version (top right), or indeed something more sinister; while the Everyman Library artiness (bottom right) is pretty good, though I’m assuming this is Grace Poole – the only possible candidate for an octagenarian in the novel, but I could be wrong.

The Signet version is the one I like, and that’s because even though Jane appears more like a Russian countess, she’s looking miserably enigmatic, and so is Rochester. It’s also dark, fluid and stylised in a particular type of illustration that’s perfectly of its era.

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7 thoughts on “The disturbing world of Jane Eyre in paperback

  1. You have definitely chosen the best cover! I also like it. The others are pretty awful! Obviously whoever designed them had not even bothered to read the book. I agree that the cover of the bottom right is OK though- it certainly gets across that creepy atmosphere.

  2. Great post! What a motley crew of covers – the mind boggles! The ‘gigantic moth of doom’ made me smile – and made me start imagining some kind of Bronte spoof by the Goodies (Bill Oddie being chased by a massive winged creation from the BBC props department!) But, at least, as you say, it’s an attempt to engage with the themes. I suppose it’s a reference too to Mr Rochester’s natural history specimens in his study. It looks like an emperor moth to me (maybe the illustrator was a lepidopterist or a frustrated wildlife field guide illustrator, who was stuck unwillingly in the fiction department!)

    The ‘Hammer Horror’ version really made me chuckle too – and the ‘science teacher’. Great stuff!

    • I can see the Goodies sketch now… I never picked up on Mr Rochester’s natural history collection – I wonder if that inspired John Fowles gruesome ‘Collector’, what with Bertha and the attic? More fuel for the Rochester/Maxim de Winter as evil patriarchal oppressors campaign. (I had a tutor who hammered that theme home endlessly and the prequel about Rebecca by Sally Beauman was old hat when I read it…)

      I’ve found an interesting part two to this post – watch this space…

      • It’s a really interesting thought. I’ve not read The Collector, so I’m completely in the dark as to whether the trail does in any way lead back to Mr Rochester! Not much of a book detective in this case, am I – sorry! We have The Collector on our bookshelves (when I asked my husband about it, he couldn’t offer up any clues either. He’s not read Jane Eyre!) I know that John Fowles was a keen natural historian though… (his nature writing is superb) – so the motif may have come from that interest and knowledge…

        I’m trying to remember some details about Mr Rochester’s interest in natural history. It could be fraught with symbolic possibilties/ interpretation, couldn’t it…

        Their shared interest in nature seemed to be a factor in increasing Jane’s affinity with Rochester, so the strong contender could be a link to the theme of true natures trapped and limited by society…

        Who knew that a gigantic moth of doom could provoke so many musings!

        I shall pop over to your other post, to take a look at Part Two!

      • I think there’s a danger in blogging that links appear thick and fast and before you know it there’s a thesis that could eat your hours like the moth in a bag of wool, I have to keep it in check! My partner found me a ridiculous cover illustration paperback copy of The Collector at the weekend in another coincidence (worth 10p)… John Fowles is a favourite of mine, though I wouldn’t want to read it again (great book, but too chilling).

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