Jane Eyre and the Real Housewives of Old England

"Money can't buy you class," sings New York "Housewife" Luann de Lesseps. Penniless Jane Eyre proves the point in stirring new adaptation.

By , Columnist

Focus Features

Mia Wasikowska stars as Jane Eyre.

The excellent new Jane Eyre DVD stars Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) and Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class), but like all the old versions of Charlotte Bronte's heart-melting classic, this adaptation serves up goth plot twists and gorgeous scenery as backdrop to a fateful romance between plain-spoken governess Jane and her sharp-tongued employer Rochester. 

“What’s your tale of woe,” Rochester asks her.

"I don't have a tale of woe," Jane lies. 

“All governesses have a tale of woe.” Rochester insists. 

In fact, stalwart Jane spent her youth in a cruel orphanage.  She earns 15 pounds a year and owns two dresses. And she's a pioneer in the realm of domestic melodrama, making television's Real Housewives look botox-shallow by comparison.

Modern day housewives might want to consider the hardships experienced by 19th century heroines concocted by novelists Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Jane Austen, and Thomas Hardy. Their plucky characters continue to exert a hold on our collective imagination long after reality-based Teresa and her rivals kiss and make up or go bankrupt trying.  

Meet the Real Housewives of Old England:

Jane (born: 1847)

Jane Eyre would so flop on reality TV.  For starters, she's thoughtful and penniless, but what a backstory! Hated by her mean aunt and bullied by a cruel cousin, she finally meets kind friend when she's dispatched to an orphanage, only to see her best friend die young.  No matter the adversity, you won't see Jane Eyre bawling in public. Director Cary Fukunaga creates a sense of place and draws understated performances by Wasikowska and Fassbender. Earlier versions paired Charlotte Gainsbourg with William Hurt, while the black and white oldie cast Orson Welles as Rochester opposite Joan Fontaine.

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Cathy (born: 1847) 

Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights heroine married the wrong person and we all know how painful that can be. Cathy gives birth and dies. Handsome Heathcliff, left behind, is haunted by her ghost. Kate Bush explained it best years ago when she sang  “Wuthering Heights” on her The Kick Inside album. Juliette Binoche fired up the tragic chemistry with Ralph Fiennes in 1992's Wuthering Heights, while Laurence Olivier went dark as Heathcliffe opposite Merle Oberon in the 1939 melodrama. 

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Tess (born: 1891)

Thomas Hardy makes his  Victorian heroine trudge down muddy roads and bear illegitimate babies as she struggles to rise from humble beginnings en route to a fate that's even bleaker than the rainy moors she grew up in. Memo to former New York Housewife Danielle:  Tess tries to sweep her history under the rug but the past always catches up with her.

Best Tess: Nastassia Kinski, in Roman Polanski’s 1979 adaptation.  


emma_paltrow_380.jpgEmma (Born 1815)

Jane Austen created a spoiled meddler who could easily command her own reality TV series. She's a spaced-out matchmaker who gives bad advice to lovelorn friends and disses her most ardent supporter, Mr. Knightley because he's the only one who dares tell her the unvarnished truth. Still, Emma dotes on her family and really learns from her mistakes (take note New York Housewife Jill Zarin)  

Gwyneth Paltrow stars in the 1996 movie adaptation, while PBS’ sublime Masterpiece 2010 version featured Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller. 

Jane Eyre will be released on DVD August 16. 

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Los Angeles-based writer/musician Hugh Hart covers movies, television, design, art and miscellaneous slices of pop culture for publications including Wired Magazine, Los Angeles Times and New York Times. When he's not interviewing people like Quentin Tarantino or Lindsay Lohan, Hugh likes to glug blackā€¦

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