Check out our episode here! My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows
You think you may know the story of the penniless, orphaned young woman who becomes a governess in a wealthy household, catches the eye of the master of the house and falls in love. Sigh. Tragedy, treachery, fire, and despair befall our couple before they can be wed, but thankfully in the end, our heroine and hero live happily ever after. Hahahahaha nope. That is not exactly how things went down. This is the true story of two girls, Miss Jane Eyre and Miss Charlotte Bronte…
Way back in 1788, King George III could see ghosts, but he always had been able to, so it was no big deal. One day the ghost of the King of Prussia visited and rattled the branches of a tree, whilst this was nothing to the king who greeted the visiting ghostly dignitary, the Lords and Ladies of the Court thought their liege shaking a tree and having a nice conversation with no one was a bit… well ... mad. From that point on he was known as Mad King George, a title he greatly resented, so he put together a team of people to rid the country of ghosts and thus the Royal Society for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits was established. The Society worked well until King William IV ascended to the throne. He did not believe in ghosts, so the Society fell into decline through lack of funding. The Duke of Wellington, the President of the Society, took exception to this. Now the background stuff has been covered, let's start our story in 1834 at Lowood School in England.
Mr. Brocklehurst has been murdered! Poisoned over a plate of cookies! No tears were shed as he was a horrid man who believed that starvation was good for the soul… and his finances. The girls speculate over who could have done it, but frankly it could have been anyone because he was just that dreadful. Charlotte Bronte thinks all this gossip and mystery is delightful and useful fodder for a future story. Charlotte has her own suspect, her dearest friend Jane Eyre. Charlotte and Jane are kindred spirits, plain and unassuming in appearance, poor as church mice, but kind. As Lowood girls Jane and Charlotte don’t have the best futures ahead of them. Maybe they could become school mistresses or governesses, but it doesn’t stop them from dreaming of bigger, more exciting things. Speaking of exciting... the Society is visiting Tully Pub nearby Lowood to relocate a ghost. While Charlotte thinks it would be jolly good for them to come and solve Mr. Brocklehurst’s murder, Jane seems more reluctant.
Jane can see ghosts. She was treated very harshly as an orphaned child, and lived with her horrible aunt. She had in fact died of fright at one point after being locked in the Red Room at their house. It was only for a moment, but when her eyes opened, she could see her dead uncle hovering next to her. Now standing in front of Tully Pub, Jane is very nervous. She enters the pub and meets the aptly named Shrieking Lady who becomes transfixed by Jane and her beauty. The Society men show up and manage to trap her in a pocket watch then turn their gazes to Jane who promptly escapes back to the school where she finds Charlotte writing by candlelight. Jane does not want to reveal to Charlotte that she was at the pub, so she makes her second escape of the night and goes to her room. In her room is Helen Burns, her best friend and favorite ghost. The story of the night spills out and Jane insists they should both leave.
Alexander Blackwood, esteemed member of the Society and capturer of ghosts in pocket watches, goes to Lowood school, hoping to find the mysterious-ghost attracting girl from the pub and invite her to join the Society. He has been part of the Society since age 4 when his father was killed. He started to see ghosts then and The Duke of Wellington took him in. Also since age 4 Blackwood has been in the revenge business, revenge for his father's murderer. He hasn’t had much luck yet. Upon arrival at the school, he finds that it is haunted. By 27 ghosts. 26 of them claim the 27th killed them by various means, because, as you see, Mr. Brockhurst was a murderous dick. Charlotte greets Mr. Blackwood and asks him to solve Mr. Brockhurst’s murder, more out of curiosity than to apprehend - the murderer did the school a great service, really. Blackwood identifies Jane as the girl from the pub and offers her a job with the Society, but she declines. After some cajoling, Mr. Blackwood traps the ghost of Mr. Brockhurst in the teacup used to poison him (which takes several tries as there are a lot of tea cups) then returns to the inn to send a letter to the Duke of Wellington to inform him he has found a seer.
Lowood has moved on from the murder of Mr. Brockhurst, and into adoring Mr. Blackwood - a man! So dashing! (please remember, these are sheltered times and these girls are desperate for more than just food and warmth). Charlotte for her part is interested in Blackwood for his career. The Society seems so adventurous and intriguing. Blackwood continues to visit Lowood, speaking to Jane in private and whilst most of the girls conjure images or romance, Charlotte is more circumspect and is sure his visit has something to do with Tully Pub - she could feel the story in her bones! When Charlotte finds out the Society is recruiting females, she is beyond excited and sees an opportunity and offers herself for their employ which is resoundingly rejected. While the Lowood girls turn the whole affair into a romantic tragedy (they are starved of gossip too), Jane refuses to disclose why Mr. Blackwood is so single minded to have her and no other. When the newspaper arrives, Charlotte finds an advert for a governess, written it seems, with Jane specifically in mind. A week later, Jane is leaving Lowood to become that governess, just like she claims she has always wanted.
Jane has arrived at Thornfield Hall huzzah! But it’s a bit odd… no one comes to meet her at the station, the driver of the hired hack rushes off without payment, and the house seems empty. Thornfield Hall is an imposing place that Helen is convinced is haunted (ironic?). Eventually Mrs. Fairfax answers the door, ushers her in and introduces the meager staff. While Jane is eating the first stew she has ever had, a bloodcurdling scream pierces the air. Mrs Fairfax dismisses it as wolves or the wind. Errr no. Oh and as an aside, please lock your door (what?!). With those cryptic occurrences it’s off to bed. The next day isn’t much better but she does learn that Mr. Rochester is a good master as he pays his staff on time, unpredictable moods notwithstanding. While carrying out a chore for Mrs. Fairfax Jane meets a man on a giant horse who promptly falls to the ground when the horse is spooked by Helen. Jane introduces herself but the man remains a grumpy mystery until she reaches Thornfield Hall, and there he is in the masters study because of course he is Mr. Rochester.
We finally meet Blackwood’s assistant who has been hovering, corporeally I might add, in the background. Mr. Branwell is a bumbling fellow with poor sight and good intentions. After a debacle with a ghost, a runaway carriage and Branwell’s loose mouth we reach Westminster and the offices of the Society where Blackwood admits that Branwell might not be up to snuff even though he is a seer. Blackwood must also admit his lack of success with Miss Eyre and in describing the scene at Tully Pub and the ghost fawning over Jane, Blackwood discovers that Jane is a Beacon - a seer with extra abilities. They are especially attractive to ghosts and can make the ghost follow their instruction without question. Meanwhile Charlotte finds her brother Bran sitting at the end of her bed... figured this one out yet? Yup, Blackwood’s assistant is Branwell Bronte. He’s come to tell her his marvelous news, he has been recruited by the Society. They had heard about his accident which had resulted in him being dead for a moment and now he can see ghosts. Charlotte is rather jealous. Branwell also lets slip that they are trying to recruit a new member - a girl! But it’s too late. Jane has left Lowood. Charlotte has a plan though, and she will help them... for a price!
Jane is meeting with Mr. Rochester to discuss her charge, Adele, but it turns into an interrogation: her family-none, friends-one or two, and lessons at Lowood- starvation with the usual math and history. Then Adele performs several operatic songs of a scandalous nature in French with Jane awkwardly translating. Meanwhile Branwell is breaking the bad news to Blackwell, Miss Eyre is gone. While Blackwood ignores Branwell, Charlotte turns up. She is there to offer her services as his assistant’s assistant. Genius! Blackwood insists that is not happening, but then it does, and soon enough Charlotte discloses that Jane is working at Thornfield Hall for Mr. Rochester who denies every missive Blackwood sends. Charlotte devises a convoluted plan to gain them entry at Thornfield Hall involving secret identities, Mr. Rochester’s neighbors the Ingrams, and the town beauty.
Back at Thornfield Hall, Mr. Rochester’s bed is on fire… while he is sleeping in it. Jane heard banging noises, crazed laughter and footsteps in the middle of the night and upon inspection, found smoke coming from the master suite. Jane inappropriately and frankly, out of the blue, begs Mr. Rochester to love her while he is asleep in a burning bed. (Seriously what the hell?) With Helen's ghostly assistance, Jane finally wakes him up and they have the strangest almost encounter in the hall. Does Mr. Rochester like-like Jane? Jane is hopeful, Helen is skeptical.
The following afternoon the Ingrams with their expanded party descend on Thornfield Hall. Upon seeing Mr. Rochester, Blackwood realizes he remembers him laughing with his father, were they friends? He also has vague recollections of seeing him at the Society office. The afternoon and evening are entirely boring and awkward for different parties at different times. It ends with Helen getting mad at Lady Ingram for calling Jane plain and her recommending the Society be called to deal with that dreadful ghastly wailing. In the end, they decide to get out a ouija board which gives Charlotte the opportunity to talk to Jane... behind a curtain... the best place to have a secret natter! Charlotte reiterated Blackwood’s offer of employment and it is declined again, but Charlotte at least gets Jane to consider it. Blackwell sends a note to Wellington requesting he advance his offer to £5000 a year to which his reply is “Return to London immediately”. How very strange.
Charlotte tells Jane about the £5000 a year and about her being a Beacon but Jane will hear nothing of it which makes Charlotte mad - an opportunity like this does not happen to women and her instant refusal for something which any girl would kill to have is infuriating. Eventually Jane admits her feelings toward Rochester which answers a lot, “Love trumped everything in a woman’s life.” In an unexpected turn of events, a fortune-teller comes to Thornfield and insists on reading the fortunes of all the women in the house. The fortune-teller is Mr. Rochester in disguise! He reveals she went to Lowood, and appreciates a warm fire, he then tries to nudge her to reveal any feelings towards a member of the party in the house. As Jane knows it’s Rochester this ruse doesn’t really work and frankly is a bit creepy. Helen points out he could just have had a conversation. (we’re with you there Helen.)
Blackwood and Branwell are snooping around. Blackwood finds some interesting papers in Rochester’s desk about his late wife, her illness and death, and something with his father’s name on it. It could be a clue to his death, it was sent mere weeks before the explosion that killed him. Charlotte is poring over her notebook, writing the story inspired by Jane, but her mind drifts to Mr. Blackwood. Who happens to knock at her door and she invites him in. How very inappropriate. Blackwood admits his suspicion about Rochester playing a part in his father’s murder and shows her the letter. Thankfully Charlotte has a clear head and talks Blackwood out of confronting Rochester and killing him based on circumstantial evidence. Then a shrill scream echoes through Thornfield, which Mr. Rochester claims is a servant having a bad dream.
Jane is in her room, she was intercepted by Mrs. Fairfax on route to locating the scream and told to wait for Mr. Rochester to send for her. When he arrives he tells her he needs her help. Again Helen is skeptical, again Helen is all of us. They rush through the house to a room where Mr. Mason, a suspicious guest of the house we’ve not mentioned yet because so far he's been a very minor character, is covered in blood. He asks Jane to tend to him while he goes for a doctor. On one wall is a door that keeps rattling. This is weird and odd and all the things wrong. Rochester comes back with a doctor and asks Jane to go for a walk, which she agrees to! Seriously, what in the actual hell? At this point, Rochester uses very flowery words that to a young inexperienced girl would be wonderful to hear, but then abruptly changes course and tells her he is satisfied with Adele’s teaching because someone else appears in the garden. Bloody hell. Charlotte and Blackwood find Jane sitting in the garden confused and alone, but she continues to defend Mr. Rochester, who hears the exchange and kicks Blackwood and Charlotte out.
They decide to chase down Mr. Mason who obviously also left the manor to find out what happened to him. They follow him all the way to London docks. While Blackwood does the foot work he leaves the Brontes at the dockyard exit, Charlotte is scribbling away while Branwell is giving a street urchin a teacup. The teacup. The teacup with Mr. Brocklehurst's spirit in and he was not wearing gloves and is promptly possessed. (We did say he was kind but bumbling.) Teacup and tea and shouting takes place, Charlotte then bashes her brother over the head with a plank of wood knocking Mr. Brocklehurst out of him and allowing him to escape. Blackwood takes the Brontes back to his home, Branwell is in a funk because he messed up again and caused them to lose a ghost and Mr. Mason. They must make a report to the Society. Wellington mistakes Charlotte for Jane which is embarrassing for everyone. Blackwood proposes she be inducted anyway which is nice and Branwell is fired, but we don't find that out right away.
Charlotte is shown the Collections Room where the talismans that house the ghosts are kept, and learns that they need a Beacon to read from the Book of the Dead to convince the ghosts inside each talisman to Move On. They have a room for that too, conveniently called the Move-On Room. Charlotte reveals that Jane can not be induced to leave Thornfield because of love, although knowing about the Move-On room may convince her, or at least offer her comfort.
Jane receives a letter that her Aunt Reed is dying so she goes to visit her. Her aunt confesses that she believes her about seeing ghosts (which is fair given that she died herself and can now see her late husband who is scolding her into confessing.) Aunt Reed also tells Jane that another unknown uncle had intended to bequeath her £20,000, but she just never gave it to her. What a hag. But Jane forgives her and leaves. When she returns to Thornfield, the guests have left. Mr. Rochester takes her for a walk and shows her a string of pearls he intends to give to his betrothed. He confesses he wishes to marry her, but Jane cannot believe her ears and asks for time to think. Angrily, Rochester grabs her and throws the pearls around her neck. The Pearls are a talisman that holds a spirit which takes possession of Jane. Oh no!
Blackwood presents Wellington with his suspicions about Rochester being his father’s murderer. Wellington is skeptical and tells Blackwood that Rochester and his wife were two of the finest agents, and in fact, Mrs. Rochester was that last beacon the Society had until she went mad and died. Wellington then dispatches Blackwood to capture a ghost in a very odd talisman, a ring of heavy gold with the King of England’s crest engraved on top. When Blackwood reaches his destination, he finds the unassuming ghost of Mr. Mitten waiting for him. He was once the Society's liaison to the King, so that loosely explains the connection he would have to the royal signet ring.
Later, as Charlotte waits for her train, she bumps into Mr. Mason! Excellent! Now she has a reason to return to Mr. Blackwood's apartment. As they are waiting for Mr. Blackwood to properly attire himself Charlotte looks through the newspaper and sees the announcement of Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester of Thornfield Hall's engagement to Miss Jane Eyre. Mr. Mason points out this should not be possible as Mr. Rochester is currently married to his sister who is slightly bonkers because she's been locked in the attic for 15 years. They immediately head for Thornfield Church but, too late! the ceremony is currently happening. All hell breaks loose, possessed-Jane tries to throttle Charlotte, Rochester denies everything and goes for Blackwood. In the battle, Charlotte breaks the pearls from Jane’s neck and it is revealed that she was possessed. At Thornfield Hall they meet Mrs. Bertha Rochester who denies Mr. Rochester as her husband. Charlotte takes Jane back to her room but they are interrupted by an enraged Rochester. He’s demanding to see Jane but they escape and make plans to meet at Haworth, the Bronte estate, while Blackwood holds him off. During their battle he notices a little key on a chain around his neck. Slicing through it with his sword (yes, it’s degenerated to a sword fight). Rochester slumps and the ghost of Rowland Rochester appears. TWIST! He has been possessing his brother for years. Before Blackwood can get answers, everyone seems to disappear and he receives a summons to Westminster where some uncomfortable truths are made clear.
It turns out the string of pearls belonged to an opera singer and was in the collection room and Wellington gave them to the possessed Rochester. Oh and Wellington killed Blackwood’s father and is going to have to kill him too. Meanwhile, after going round in circles on the moors, Charlotte and Jane have finally made it to Haworth. Bran is there as are Charlotte’s sisters. Time passes and Mr. Blackwood never shows, Charlotte is forced into taking up a teaching post at the local school, and Jane is at a loose end when Bran awkwardly offers to marry her which she obviously declines. Haworth then receives a visitor, the Duke of Wellington. He has come to tell them that Mr. Rochester killed Mr. Blackwood (liar, liar, pants on fire!) and that Jane is needed for King and Country. Read the room Duke! The next day Jane accepts his offer as Society Agent.
Instead of being dead, Blackwood has been held prisoner and we find him floating on the Thames (which is absolutely disgusting considering what is in there in pre-Victorian London). Bertha Rochester and the now unpossessed Mr. Rochester have come to his rescue. They left Thornfield immediately after everything for London to confront Wellington. Blackwood finds out that his father was killed after he discovered that Wellington was betraying the Society by keeping talismans “for emergency use.” Wellington is power hungry, he had King George possessed and he’s going to do it again with Mr. Mitten who is inside the signet ring.
Charlotte has an idea that she and Bran must return to Thornfield Hall to speak to the ghost of Mr. Blackwood. When they get there, the house is in ruins and there is no ghost of Mr. Blackwood. Bran finds out from the ghostly Rochester that Blackwood went to London so they follow suit. And they find him! Stories are brought together and a plan is hatched. Jane is on her way to St. James and Charlotte, Blackwood and Bran intend to intercept her. At Wellington’s behest, Jane meets with the king with the intention of helping the king see ghosts, and she does so by reading from The Book of the Dead. As she and Helen are leaving St. James, Helen spots Blackwood who gives her a message for Jane, don’t put the ring in the King’s study. Too late. Wellington is appointed Prime Minister and Parliament is dismissed by the possessed King, meanwhile our intrepid group is hiding in a warehouse. How are they going to save the day?
Well, they plan to storm the castle, use The Book of the Dead to make everyone see ghosts, invite the ghosts of London to the castle to cause enough chaos to distract the king and get the talisman ring off his finger. Easy. And everything goes according to plan really, except the one ghost, who is standing next to a radiant red-head holding a book, who turns into a horse. Most disconcerting. Wellington shares some evil bad guy banter, threatens Blackwood’s liberty and confirms all suspicions that he intends to rule Britain through possession of the king. Then he escapes and Charlotte cuts the king’s ring finger off ending the possession.
At the Collections Room of the Society, Wellington makes his last stand which is a terrible place really when you have two beacons able to control the spirits held in the objects. More chaos later, Charlotte enters the room only to be shot, Wellington is tackled and Rochester shoots him dead. Blackwood holds on to Charlotte, her spirit watching on. He declares his love now that she's dead but then Jane orders Charlotte's ghost to get back inside, she is restored and much un-pre-Victorian kissing occurs.
A few days later, Helen has decided to move on, Mr. Blackwood reveals his real name is Alexander Currer Bell and Bran will return to Haworth. A little bit after that in a convoluted turn of events it turns out that Jane is actually a cousin to the Brontes through Wellington’s deceased sister. Yes we know. Oh! And she’s loaded. Oh hey! It's that 20000 she was bequeathed! Oh! And the Rochesters had a son before all the possession business who grew up in the West Indies with Bertha’s family. And he’s devilishly handsome and a more appropriate age for Jane. A happy ending for everyone.