Lady Jessica of the Atreides (10154 AG-10256 AG), born as either Jessica Nerus or Jessica Harkonnen, was the official concubine of Duke Leto Atreides I, and the mother of his son, Emperor Paul Atreides, and daughter, Alia Atreides. She was also a Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood.
As a result of the Bene Gesserit breeding program, Jessica was the illegitimate daughter of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and Tanidia Nerus. Due to this, prior to becoming Leto's concubine she was probably referred to as Jessica Nerus in Bene Gesserit records, as opposed to Jessica Harkonnen, which was top secret information and her lineage remained a secret according to Bene Gesserit tradition.
She was raised from birth by the Bene Gesserit, who intended to breed her to the House Atreides heir Leto Atreides I, to produce a daughter who would then breed with Feyd Rautha Harkonnen in order to produce the Kwisatz Hadarach, the one who would not only possess the genetic memories of all male and female ancestors, but also see into the future. Consequently, Jessica was provided with the most intense and advanced Bene Gesserit education and training.
With Duke Leto
Relationship with Leto Atreides I
The Bene Gesserit plan to couple Jessica with Duke Leto Atreides I initially appeared to work perfectly. Jessica became the official concubine of Leto Atreides I, which allowed him to also marry, should such a political union prove advantageous for the Great House.
The relationship between the two quickly evolved into genuine love, and due to this love, Jessica disobeyed her orders and gave birth to a son, Paul Atreides, who would be heir of House Atreides, and ultimately ruined the Bene Gesserit plans.
Migration to Arrakis
In 10,191 AG, when House Atreides was given the fiefdom of Arrakis, Jessica relocated there along with Leto and their son Paul. However, their rule was short-lived, thanks to the scheme orchestrated by Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV and Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.
When House Harkonnen seized control of Arrakis, Leto was killed, and Jessica and Paul became renegade, and escaped into the deep desert, eventually joining the Fremen. Her grief over losing Leto, who was killed during the Harkonnen attack, was somewhat muddied by the knowledge that she was pregnant with her daughter Alia Atreides.
The Fremen of Arrakis were encouraged by Jessica's arrival, for two reasons. Firstly, their own Reverend Mother Ramallo was old and near death. With Ramallo's training Jessica was the perfect choice to replace her. Secondly, the coming of the Fremen messiah was foretold many eons prior (through Bene Gesserit mechanisms), and that he was to be born of a Bene Gesserit. Despite knowing the repercussions of becoming a full-fledged Reverend Mother, Jessica undertook the process of ingesting the toxic liquid of a young sandworm to produce the Water of Life. This act not only elevated her to Reverend Mother status but also fundamentally changed the fetus she was carrying, causing Abomination in her daughter Alia.
After the Death of Paul
Immediately after the supposed death of Paul, Jessica returned with Gurney to Arrakis, out of concern for her grandchildren, Leto and Ghanima. She was also dismayed about the rising cruelty that her daughter Alia used in consolidating her power for her own gain after Paul's "death". She watched with alarm as Alia created the Mahdinate, a super-religious organization based on the Atreides family. Jessica was also concerned about how Alia banned all forms of opposing expression, and had executed Bronso of Ix for his writings of the changes that Paul had gone through. She eventually returned to Caladan in deep concern for the Empire.
Jessica returned to Arrakis, long after Paul's believed death, to again inspect his children Leto II and Ghanima Atreides, in the hope of them not being Abomination and of returning control of the bloodline to the Bene Gesserit. However, while on her mission she discovered that her own daughter, Alia, who was acting as regent, was possessed by the late Vladimir Harkonnen, who was driving her to destroy the Atreides Empire out of revenge.
For her protection against her murdering daughter, Duncan Idaho (the ghola formerly known as Hayt) "kidnapped" Jessica and took her to Salusa Secundus, home of the exiled Corrino House. There, she taught Farad'n Corrino the ways of the Bene Gesserit, unwittingly preparing him for his role as husband to Ghanima and royal scribe to Leto II.
In the thousands of years after her death, Jessica's legacy remained far-reaching. The Bene Gesserit Sisterhood attibuted her universe-changing decisions (and the loss of control of the Kwisatz Haderach) to having fallen in love with "her Duke." Her falling in love became known, in millennia afterwards, as "the Jessica Crime." For the Sisterhood, Jessica's experience was regarded as a valuable lesson in showing restraint for the good of the Sisterhood and of humanity in general.
Jessica is a tall, slim woman with bronze-colored hair that she often wore tied with black ribbon at the crown. She had an oval face with eyes as green as the morning skies of Caladan, a small, slightly upturned nose, and a wide, generous mouth. In her later years her hair became flecked with silver.
Behind the Scenes
- Alejandro Jorodowsky wanted Geraldine Chaplin to portray Jessica in his unsuccessful attempt to produce a film adaptation of Dune.
- Francesca Annis played Jessica in the 1984 movie. In an interview with her son in 2021, she claimed she was wary of taking the role and accepted it on producer Dino De Laurentiis and director David Lynch's insistence.
- Glenn Close turned down the role of Jessica in the 1984 adaptation.
- Charlotte Rampling, who portrays the Reverend Mother in the 2021 film, was a favorite to portray Lady Jessica in Alejandro Jodorowski's production. She eventually turned the role down due to a scene that involved 2,000 extras defecating at once.
- Saskia Reeves won the role in the 2000 Dune miniseries when Alice Krige (the director's original choice) proved unavailable. Krige took over for the 2003 Children of Dune miniseries when Reeves was unavailable to reprise the role.
- Rebecca Ferguson played Jessica in the 2021 movie, and is set to reprise her role in its sequel.