‘Come to Me’

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Image: copyright: Bradford Museums & Galleries, Cartwright Hall.

The lithograph print, measuring 88.5 x 59 cm, ‘Come to Me’, by Paula Rego, is in the Print Room at Cartwright Hall. It is one a number of signed limited prints, purchased by Bradford Museums and Galleries, and is one of a set of prints by Rego in their permanent collection.  The print is numbered 1/35.

Paula Rego, was born in Portugal in 1935, and has worked as a painter and printmaker in London for over 50 years; her work is noted for its often dream-like depiction of scenes. ‘Come to Me’ is an episode taken from the Charlotte Bronte novel, Jane Eyre’ representing the moment Jane believes she hears Rochester voice crying out to her:

‘O God! What is it? I gasped.  I might have said, ‘Where is it? for it did not seem in the room – nor in the house – nor in the garden: it did not come out of the air – nor from under the earth – nor from overhead. I had heard it – where, or whence from, for ever impossible to know! And it was the voice of a human being – a known, loved, well-remembered voice – that of Edward Fairfax Rochester; and it spoke in pain wildly, eerily, urgently.   ‘I am coming!’ I cried. ‘Wait for me! Oh, I will come!’

A set of over 20 prints by Rego illustrating the novel were originally displayed at the Bronte Parsonage and later reproduced in the book, ‘Paula Rego. Jane Eyre’ (2003) published by Enitharmon Editions, with an introduction by Marina Warner.

Rego’s graphic interpretation of the novel must rank as one of the most original in the history of ‘Jane Eyre’ book illustrations. There is a surreal quality about the images, and in those depicting Jane the artist makes no attempt to prettify her, but remains true to Bronte’s own description of Jane Eyre as plain, or ‘a little toad’, as she is described early in the novel.

In ‘Come to Me’, Jane is shown as if in acute distress, head thrown back, mouth and fists clenched, body coiled defensively. The dark colours of Jane’s dress and her shadow are juxtaposed with white foreground and backdrop crimson, emphasizing Jane’s anguish. It is an anguish of love and dilemma of moral conscience, in that it captures the moment before Jane releases her inhibitions – and accepts her profound love for Rochester.

It is a transitional moment for her. She returns to him, not at this point knowing that Rochester’s mad wife, Bertha, is dead.  Her return to him – and his bigamy – hence overturns the conventions of the day and the constrictions of social and sexual propriety that has hitherto governed her life.

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