The Visual Bronte – Yes, I love them too

It may seem odd, but I had never actually read any of the Bronte’s novels before I was thirty one years old. For a Bronte devotee, this is rather late. Up to this point in my life, I felt as if all the movie and small screen adaptations had ruined the books for me. This is not to say I wasn’t in love with the storylines. Quite the contrary, I adored the early Hollywood attempts at Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I watched both of these movies over and over on a program broadcast Sunday afternoons in Chicago, Illinois called “Family Classics.” As a small girl, I fantasized about running through heather and all things English; I was born an American Anglophile.  

When I was an adolescent, sometime in the early 70’s, I saw another version of Wuthering Heights. It was more troubling, wilder and titillating than the 1939 version. If anything, it made my desire to actually read the book even more remote, because by this time I had seen Wuthering Heights at least once a year since I was five years old.

When I saw the 1983 BBC Jane Eyre production, I was enthralled but it seemed so thorough, I was convinced reading the book was completely unnecessary.

I came to my love for the actual novels of the Bronte’s rather late. I discovered them through the back door, so to speak. Being a great reader of biographies, I stumbled upon Rebecca Fraser’s book The Brontes, Charlotte Bronte and Her Family in 1990 and fell into the world of this remarkable family with a layman’s interest that has never abated. It was Rebecca Fraser’s biography which made me want to, no; need to read the books for myself.

Reading Jane Eyre at the ripe old age of 31 was amazing. In many ways, I was grateful none of my English teachers required the Bronte’s for any high school reading assignments. Reading Jane Eyre in the wake of the Fraser biography felt like one must feel when making an archeological discovery. For me, reading Jane Eyre for the first time felt like opening the tomb of King Tut. It seemed remarkable to read this novel and discover writing so present, so alive in spite of it having been published in 1847. I was amazed to hear Charlotte Bronte’s voice in my own head.

I went on a Charlotte Bronte spree, Shirley, Villette and when the Juliet Barker biography The Bronte’s was published, I devoured it even while I continued my self education by reading the novels of Emily and Anne.

When the 1996 film, Jane Eyre, was released, I was first in line at the movie theatre. I loved this version, and forgave its shortcomings. The look of Charlotte Gainsborough enchanted me and having a degree in costume design, I adored the costumes throughout.

This movie kindled a memory I had from Fraser’s biography. It was a picture of Charlotte Bronte’s wedding bonnet. For me, the visual aspect of the Bronte Myth had always played a powerful part in my measured self education of all things Bronte.

Perhaps this is what prompted me to make my very own adaptation of Jane Eyre. After finding some very old lace in an antique store, I felt compelled to create my own idea of Jane based on the bonnet pictured in Fraser’s book. I recreated Jane in doll form and in an attempt to interpret her inner purity, dressed her in white. Whatever the reasons; my Jane doll is an outgrowth of my early visual response to the Bronte mystique. My life long Bronte journey began by watching Hollywood’s visual re-creations of the novels. My Jane Eyre doll brings me full circle.

4 thoughts on “The Visual Bronte – Yes, I love them too

  1. What a lovely discovery to have made later in life. My very favorite Bronte novel is Jane Eyre. The lovely doll you made is wonderful!! You definitely captured the feel of Jane. I love that you said she brings you life. Many years ago I needed to make some important decisions and a very wise person told me you need to focus on what brings you life! Reading your blog has been such a pleasure.

    Thank you!

  2. How delightful to have found a kindred spirit that enjoys the passions of England and costume.
    The Bronte sisters’ novels are dark, mysterious and captivating. If they had not passed from this earth so young I’m sure that their gift of writing would have been even more gratifying. Anne’s lesser known ‘Agnes Grey’ somehow intrigues me most.
    I shall read on, having now discovered your delightful musings.

  3. A beautiful post Dody Jane,
    And your doll is very pretty too.
    Like you, I came to the Bronte sisters late and never regretted it! The books have so much to offer about human nature and social conditions.

    Thank you for coming to visit Rochambeau.

  4. I also love the book ” The Bronte Sisters”, however, they certainly have quite a bit of self pity. Granted the time did not give women opportunities to pursue their life’s vision, but they could have found some kind of pleasure in the life they were dealt instead of solely finding comfort in a fantasy kind of life. I also love, loved MiddleMarch. I have several antique books by Georg Elliot and treasure them. Have you visited the Nicol Sayre dolls and dolls by Christine Crocker? Your work is similiar and delightful!

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