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.