In her NYUS blog of May 20, Building a Character—One Trait at a Time, Sharon Calvin ended with a question: “Do you have any favorite character(s)? What . . . makes them memorable to you?”
For me there could be only one answer, Jane Eyre. And that set me thinking. Why was Jane Eyre my all time-favorite character?
Well, for one, she fulfills that basic requirement for any protagonist—she’s sympathetic (exception, the anti-hero, but that’s a subject for a different blog). As the story unfolds, heartless Aunt Reed treats Jane with what today would be called child abuse, siding with her bullying son, locking poor Jane in a dark, gloomy room. That alone puts the reader squarely on the child’s side. But Bronte doesn’t leave it at that. Her heroine fights back. Alone, orphaned, unloved and unwelcomed though she is, Jane has the courage to defy Mrs. Reed and, of course, is punished.
The punishment-- Jane fans know this already--is banishment to the harsh
(isn’t the name
perfect?) under the cruel direction of Mr. Brocklehurst. Lowood
But for a kind teach,
, Jane would have
died there as does her friend Helen (in the 1944 movie version famously played
by a preadolescent Elizabeth Taylor). Miss
When adult Jane leaves Lowood to strike out and see something of the world that has been denied her for so long, we cheer her on as we read. Despite all she’s endured, her childhood spunk is alive and well. And as governess of little Adele, Mr. Rochester’s ward—and unacknowledged daughter—she lavishes her with kindness. In this case, an abused child has not grown up to become an abuser.
So what impact did my favorite character have on writing a favorite character of my own? At first glance, not much. When the reader meets Deva Dunne, the protagonist and amateur sleuth in my Murders by Design series, she is an adult, was never mistreated as a child, and is now a sexy, twenty-first century woman with a talent for solving crimes. But Deva, like Jane, lost her mother as a child, so she knew sorrow early in life and as the series opens, she is a young and recent widow still mourning her beloved husband.
Yet part of the joy and, yes, the fun in reading about Deva is how she fights, like Jane, to rebuild her life. As Jane left Lowood, Deva leaves familiar surroundings to seek a brand new life. Not Thornfield Hall--
. And that doesn’t include a Mr. Rochester but
a guy named Rossi. Like Mr. Rochester,
Lieutenant Rossi is also irascible, difficult and—this is very important—smoldering. Though a feminist before the word became an
everyday term, Jane like Deva ultimately finds much happiness in a life with
her man. I like to believe this is part
of the reason the reader enjoys knowing them.
They’re both independent-minded women who face death, and life, with
Okay, I don’t want to push the comparisons too far here. Jane and Deva are entirely different people. What remains similar, though--and what inspired me about Jane--is her ability to rise above her problems, and not permit them to defeat her. Deva doesn’t either. Ask Rossi.