Paula Rego has long had a fascination with Charlotte Bront's "Jane Eyre" and Jean Rhys' "The Wide Sargasso Sea". In 2002 this culminated in the production of twenty-five lithographs, reproduced here in a large-format artist's book, along with excerpts from the novel. Marina Warner, in her eloquent and perceptive introduction, examines why "Jane Eyre" should have inspired Rego's new work. Charlotte Bront and Paula Rego share an imaginative ardour that abolishes the veil between what takes place in fact or in fantasy. As storytellers, they really are kith and kin: Rego reproduces the psychological drama in the book through subjective distortions of scale, cruel expressiveness of gesture and frown, and disturbingly stark contrasts of light and welling shadows.Again and again in the story, Jane Eyre is closeted in a small, confined space, sometimes most terribly against her will, sometimes secluded of her own accord: in an early piece of powerful scene-setting, she is locked in the dark chamber where John Reed died and is so terrified by the dead man's presence that she has a fit.
This is only the first of a sequence of experiences when, for better or worse, imagination takes over Jane's being. Such an emphasis on the fire in the mind and the dark outside might perhaps reveal, without saying much more, how Paula Rego of all artists would respond to "Jane Eyre".Paula Rego has been making images out of made-up stories since she herself was a child, and if anything can be said to offer a consistent thread through her astonishing, fertile and multi-faceted production it is this: she has been a narrative artist all along, and one whose stories are not reproduced from life as observed or remembered, but from goings-on in the camera lucida of the mind's eye. Rego has not lost in adulthood the energy of the child's make-believe world: 'It all comes out of my head,' she says, 'All little girls improvise, and it's not just illustration: I make it my own.'