I have a biography of Charlotte Bronte, as well as a collection of letters between the Bronte sisters and their friends. Being a huge fan of the Brontes, I have devoured all I can about their life and how it influenced their writing. I first read Jane Eyre when I was a young teenager. I have since returned to the tale again and again. It is one of few books that I can read and, knowing the story, still have a hard time putting the book down. I remember how surprised I was to learn from biographers that Charlotte Bronte was incurably, ostensibly shy her whole life (as were her sisters, to varying degrees). This simply didn't mesh in my mind as possible for the author of one of the most passionate, enduring (and unlikely) love stories ever written in the English language. How could someone so reserved, with such little life experience, write about a man as dark, brooding, and passionate as Mr. Rochester? Who could ever have conceived of such a protagonist for a romantic story? Yet the love between him and shy, plain Jane Eyre (undoubtedly Miss Bronte, though she may not have realized how much she mirrored her own life into her famous heroine) is not only believable, but has changed the way we see marriage. Thanks to the Bronte's (and others who championed love conquers all), Victorian society began to think about the possibility of marriages that can bridge classes and defeat societal expectations, and not merely arranged for profit, connections, or blood lines. The Bronte's may have been quiet, shy, and content to be away from the lime light (once Charlotte hid herself behind curtains in a friend's parlour during a dinner in her honor), but they felt deeply the injustices they perceived in a cruel society and the life they could never have - they were caught between the genteel life of being the curate's daughters - above the notice of the poor and below the notice of the rich. They lived lonely lives, despite being celebrated authors, and all died young with only one – Charlotte – ever experiencing what they wrote so deeply of: love and marriage.
Reading the Bronte books is like catching brief glimpses into their life, real and imagined, and putting together pieces of a puzzle found in their novels that only end up telling us more about them than their biographers ever could. Most of all, you come away feeling an affinity and connection with them through their stories. In fact, you can only come away feeling as though you know them very well - almost as if you were their friend long ago.
My favorite film adaptation to date (it's old and bad quality - somebody please make a version as faithful to the book as this one!)
Charlotte's wiki page