Monday, April 12, 2010

Jane Eyre and “An Education”

Jennifer and I watched Lone Scherfig’s “An Education” this weekend and found it quite memorable and worthwhile. The inestimable Nick Hornby wrote the thoughtful screenplay, which was an adaptation of what I’m sure was an equally thoughtful memoir of the same name by the British journalist Lynn Barber. Set in London in the early 1960s, the story follows one Jenny Mellor, presumably the fictional stand-in for Barber, and her personal struggles as she finishes up her academic career at an all-girls prep school and aspires to gain admittance to Oxford. The film is an intriguing bildungsroman modeled on Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The narrative sheds light on the parallel education that young adults often receive in a world apart from the mortar and brick educational institutions, and which, in many ways, is the real force that molds their character.

One of the great aspects of the film for me is its numerous references to Jane Eyre, another classic coming-of-age story. Jenny Mellor very much resembles Jane beginning with her name, the similarity of which can hardly be seen as coincidental. In her English class, the teacher and class are discussing—drum roll, please…Jane Eyre. Like Jane, Jenny finds her home life very stifling to her intellectual interests and independence, though it would be a trifle unfair to compare her parents to the Reeds. Like Jane, Jenny marches to the beat of her own dream pursuing her own route in life and frequently resisting her parents’ attempts to mold her into some cookie-cutter clone of what a prospective Oxonian should be.

Like Jane, Jenny experiences the first bloom of romantic love with a much older Rochester-like figure, Jack, whose age and life experiences are enticing to the young woman. Like Jane, Jenny fully believes that Jack is sincere in his professions of love and alacrity for marriage. Like Jane, Jenny’s world comes crashing down when she learns that Jack is already married! Like Jane, Jenny emerges from the ashes of humiliation a mature woman. She seeks out the assistance of her former mentor, which she previously lashed with her tongue (another similarity to Jane who frequently sticks her foot in her mouth), and works hard to earn a spot in Oxford. Finally, like Jane, Jenny assumes her place in society meeting the expectations of herself and her family, but definitely on her own terms rather than someone else’s.

“An Education” is a wonderful modern retelling of Bronte’s masterpiece. Not having read the memoir, I am not sure whether it was Barber or Scherfig or Hornby that saw in Barber’s life striking convergences with and affinities for Jane Eyre, but I’m sure glad they chose to unfold their story in this fashion. For lovers of Jane Eyre, I highly recommend “An Education” for your enjoyment and edification.

No comments:

Post a Comment