“Do you have any books by Jane Eyre?” Many potential customers ask this at bookstores. They mean Jane Austen, but instead of referring to the early 1800’s author they say the name of the mid 1800’s heroine. Apparently, those two are easy to mix up.
The stories by Jane Austen and the narrative of Jane Eyre are compared in other ways too. On IMDb, the suggested movies for those who enjoyed the 2011 Jane Eyre adaptation include Pride and Prejudice (2005), Becoming Jane (2007), and Mansfield Park (1999), all of which are Jane Austen related.
This may confuse readers of both; Jane Austen’s works are far removed from that of Jane Eyre. Austen wrote light romance aimed to tease, while Jane Eyre is a dark-toned, self-discovery passion.
The dissimilar love interests highlight Austen’s and Eyre’s differences. In Austen’s most popular work, Pride and Prejudice, the male lead’s largest fault is haughty pride, which he overcomes as soon as it is pointed out to him by Elizabeth. In Sense and Sensibility, another of Austen’s novels, the only flaw assigned to Edward Ferrars, one of the love interests, is occasional dispassion. The only obstacles between Colonel Brandon, another love interest in Sense and Sensibility, and his object of affection is a scoundrelous suitor and his age.
Mr. Rochester, the heartthrob in Jane Eyre, is far different. He possesses so many flaws that many wonder why Jane puts up with him. He lies about the fact he’s already married, manipulates Jane to get her to like him, and had a ‘long list of ex-lovers’ (to quote Taylor Swift) accumulated before meeting Jane. Compared to the morally upright men of Austen, Rochester is a scoundrel.
Because of the contrasts between the men, the romances must be handled differently. Jane Austen’s heroines rarely hold conversations on-screen with their male counterparts, and the most ‘physical’ the couples get is dancing together and holding hands. The largest obstacle the couple must overcome is their differences in rank or income. All their walks together take place during the day and in sunshine. Austen’s romances are always conventionally appropriate.
Jane and Rochester, however, are quite the opposite. They kiss each other multiple times, Rochester wraps an arm around her shoulder while they speak, and Jane sits on his knee. One of the many obstacles they need to overcome is Rochester’s first wife, whom he lied about. The weather is often gloomy and dark, and Jane and Rochester get caught in a nighttime rainstorm after confessing their love to each other. While Austen’s romances are proper and right, Eyre’s romance is wild, passionate, and challenging to both participants.
Through these differences, the purpose of each story emerges. Austen writes to poke fun at the silliness of society, at the silliness of common pursuits, at the silliness of people. She employs subtle irony to highlight society’s flaws. Despite the fact her heroines generally strive towards marriage, few happy marriages are portrayed. Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, Mr. and Mrs. Palmer, and Sir and Lady Middleton are severely mismatched.
Also, Austen shows clear disdain at the common pursuit of conversation. Her main characters in Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice tease those they’re forced into company with, often without their companions’ knowledge.
Austen often portrays people’s silliness through minor characters, who tend toward flightiness and flirtiness if female and irascibility if male.
Jane Eyre is far different. Throughout it, Jane must fight to stay true to herself. When she’s unable to live by her personal morals while with Rochester, she leaves despite having nowhere to go. Rochester has to overcome his selfishness to win Jane’s hand, even though he has her heart. Jane wishes to not be dependent on Rochester, and only goes back to him when she has a living of her own to sustain them.
Throughout the novel, Rochester tries to drag Jane down to his level, but Jane proves to be the stronger of the two and lifts Rochester to hers. Their struggles lie above the surface ones Austen enjoys playing with.
Is There a Winner?
Of course not.
These differences aren’t bad. How boring would it be if every author wrote about the same thing? Austen plays with life’s trivial trials to point out that they are, in fact, trivial. Jane Eyre delves deep into human emotions to prove that they are deep indeed. Although many relate Jane Austen and Jane Eyre on the basis they’re nineteenth century romances, they are far different in characters, romance, and themes.
Your story doesn’t need to be like your favorite novels to be good. Just because you’re not writing a Jane Eyre doesn’t mean you’re not writing a Pride and Prejudice. Write what you want to write, say what you want to say, and for goodness’s sake, when wishing to read Jane Austen, don’t ask for Jane Eyre.