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For many readers, the most absorbing chapters of Jane Eyre are XIII, XIV and XV, each of which contains a long conversation between Jane and Mr. Rochester. These talks reveal Rochester’s unusual personality traits and establish an affinity between him and Jane, in spite of the difference in their age and social class. Charlotte Brontë structures the dialogue so as to give the reader numerous hints of Rochester’s growing attraction to Jane, while keeping his feelings opaque to Jane herself. By the end of Chapter XV, Jane has become aware of his erotic interest in her, as well as her own desire for Rochester and the need to restrain it.

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Ciarán Hinds as Mr. Rochester (1997).

Many clues suggest that Charlotte Brontë originally conceived of Rochester as a wicked, deceitful seducer. Perhaps she had in mind Gothic novels like The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), which told of a brooding, haughty villain who adopts a disguise in order to lure a woman into marriage, then imprisons her in his mouldering castle. Early in Jane Eyre, Jane’s tour of Thornfield includes a visit to the attic hallway “with its two rows of small black doors all shut, like a corridor in some Bluebeard’s castle.” Bluebeard, of course, is the folktale villain who gives his new bride the keys to all the rooms in his castle, except for one forbidden room where he keeps the corpses of his former brides. Unbeknownst to Jane, the parallel with Rochester is uncomfortably close.

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An illustration for “Bluebeard” by Walter Crane (1875).

Finally, Brontë took the name “Rochester” from the real-life John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, a Restoration rake who was notorious for sexual debauchery, disguises (including disguising himself as a woman), rejection of religion, and extremely profane poetry. Lord Rochester took an actress as mistress and had an illegitimate daughter by her–another parallel with the fictional Mr. Rochester. Although Wilmot’s work was suppressed, the early Victorians often wrote approvingly of his deathbed repentance.* It was probably in a religious essay or tract that Brontë learned about Wilmot’s life.


Portrait of John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester (1647-1680) with a monkey. National Portrait Gallery.

Through Brontë’s creative process, the wicked Rochester was transformed into a man decent by nature (he is good to his tenants, for example) whose dire misfortunes have led him to rebel against God. (Like most Byronic heroes, he is part Lucifer.) His rejection of social conventions holds appeal for Jane, who is herself something of a rebel. Ultimately, like John Wilmot, he will become a penitent, but not until his willfulness draws down divine punishment. Until then, he remains fascinatingly seductive, and like another of his real-life antecedents, Lord Byron, he is “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” The contrast between Rochester’s magnetic qualities (deep perception, intelligence, sexual charisma) and his flaws (deceitfulness, harshness, selfishness) creates a conflict for the reader, as it does for Jane. Is Rochester’s creep factor (as it has become known online) too high? Is he, as some readers insist, a psychopath? Or does the old adage hold, that a reformed rake makes the best husband?

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The wicked and devastatingly handsome Lord Byron. Detail of a portrait by Richard Westall. National Portrait Gallery.

Let us commence this installment of our Janian adventure (“Janian” being an adjective coined by Mr. Rochester himself) with an examination of Chapter XIII, to be followed by its interpretation in our five feature-length films. When re-reading this chapter, it is useful to recollect a truth which Brontë discloses only at the end of the book: Mr. Rochester was obsessed with Jane virtually from the moment he first laid eyes on her. His seeming indifference and harshness in the early chapters conceal an all-consuming fascination. Still, we and Jane are not to know this… yet.

The day after Mr. Rochester’s accident, Adèle is restless, and confides her hope that her guardian has brought them both presents. Innocently, she reveals that Rochester has questioned her about Jane: “Monsieur asked me the name of my governess, if she was not a small person, quite slender and a little pale. I said, yes, because it’s true, isn’t it, Mademoiselle?” [My translation of Adèle’s French.] Jane and Adèle receive an invitation to tea that evening in the drawing room; Jane dons her black silk gown for the occasion. When she enters the room he is contemplating Adèle and Pilot, who are on the floor in front of the fire.

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Rochester is slow to acknowledge Jane, saying only “Let Miss Eyre be seated.” As in the encounter in Hay Lane, however, Rochester’s “harsh caprice” only puts Jane at her ease. She need not worry about matching an elegant show of sophisticated manners. And she is curious to see what he will do next. Adèle predictably asks whether he has brought Miss Eyre “un cadeau”:

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Rochester observes that Miss Eyre has done a good job with Adèle (for he has examined her; “She is not bright; she has no talents” and yet she is much improved). Jane replies that she now has her cadeau: praise of her pupil’s progress. Unimpressed, Mr. Rochester takes his tea in silence. Afterwards, he questions Jane, and she says she has come from Lowood School:

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Jane accepts all this rather rude commentary in calm serenity, answering Rochester’s questions tersely and contributing an occasional remark in response. Now Rochester expands on a topic which will become one of his favorites, the idea that Jane herself is a fairy who has bewitched him:

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Jane’s willingness to entertain Rochester’s theory of the fairies, and to rebut it, creates an intimacy between them from which the prosaic Mrs. Fairfax is excluded.


A fairy ring in a lawn (caused by various species of fungi).

Mrs. Fairfax attempts to put in a good word for Jane, but Rochester rebuffs her, grumbling that he will judge for himself; he has Miss Eyre to thank for his sprain. He then asks about her religious education:

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Rochester again challenges Jane, and again she gives an unconventional response.

Next, Rochester tests Jane’s ability to play the piano:

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The evening concludes with Rochester’s examination of Jane’s portfolio. He singles out three watercolor paintings for special scrutiny, and questions her closely about when and how she produced them. At first he assumes she has copied engravings from books:

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Jane describes the three pictures in detail. The first is an image of a cormorant sitting on a half-submerged mast at sea; it holds a jeweled gold bracelet which it has taken from a drowned woman’s corpse. 

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Charlotte Brontë’s drawing of a cormorant on a rocky seashore (detail). She copied it from Bewick’s History of British Birds. Brontë Parsonage Museum.


Artist’s imagining of Jane’s cormorant painting (apparently copied from a scene in the 1970 film adaptation). Picture by Liltaurus; click for source.


Another version of the cormorant painting, by Square-Ball. Click for source.

The second picture shows a hill with a dark sky; rising into the sky is a woman’s face and bust; her neck shines with moonlight, and there is a star on her forehead. Jane describes her as a “vision of the Evening Star.”


Jane’s Evening Star painting, by Caitlin Kuhwald. Click for source.

The third picture shows an iceberg under Northern Lights; a huge head leans against the ice wearing a black turban crowned with a ring of white flame; two hands seem to support the head. Jane’s quotation from Milton reveals that this is an image of Death.


Jane’s painting of Death. Click for source.


Jane’s third painting, by Caitlin Kuhwald. Click for source.

Clearly fascinated, Rochester asks for more details about the pictures:

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Finally he comments that Jane has “secured the shadow of [her] thought,” but had not enough of the artist’s skill and science to fully execute her ideas. Those ideas are “elfish”:

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Rochester recognizes Mount Latmos, which he knows from his travels, in Jane’s picture. It is a mountain in Turkey, the setting for the erotic myth of the beautiful youth Endymion, who was loved by the moon goddess Selene.


Endymion on Mount Latmos, by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1879).

Mr. Rochester abruptly dismisses Jane at this point–aware, perhaps, that his reaction is too emotive, too enthusiastic? Rochester, it appears, is a cultured man, well read, and knowledgeable about music. He is also a deeply romantic man, a visionary himself (as we will see) who is irresistibly attracted to Jane’s dreams and visions. He sees them as evidence of her fairy origins, as an “explanation” for the erotic bewitchment he feels. The film adaptations tend to play down this aspect of Rochester, his tendency to describe his mental state in terms of visions, and his preoccupation with the supernatural, the weird, the pagan. Yet it is one of the most striking and consistent features of his personality. Either Rochester is slightly mad himself– or (like Hamlet) he adopts a strange, riddling mode of expression because it gives him the freedom to speak his innermost thoughts.

After they are dismissed, Jane tells Mrs. Fairfax, “You said Mr. Rochester was not strikingly peculiar… he is changeful and abrupt.” Mrs. Fairfax replies that “allowances should be made” because he has “painful thoughts” and “family troubles.” She explains that Rochester, a younger son, was estranged from his father and brother because of some unknown injustice they practiced upon him. He only came into possession of the estate nine years ago upon the death of his brother Rowland; usually he shuns Thornfield and travels abroad.

In the book, Mr. Rochester receives his guests for tea half-reclining on a daybed, with his foot up. All of the movies place him instead in an armchair (because, visually speaking, a daybed is not perceived as masculine enough for the Master of Thornfield?). In the 1943 version, Rochester looks around the back of the chair as Jane enters the room (having just doffed her bonnet, and anxiously patting her hair). He silently snaps his fingers at Jane, and motions toward the kettle at the fireplace. Jane obediently refills the hot water in his footbath.


1943: Rochester snaps his fingers…while holding a cigar…


… and Jane meekly obeys. In a real household of the time, this task would have been beneath the governess, entrusted to Rochester’s valet or a maidservant. In this context, it puts Jane in a submissive position (literally and figuratively) but it is also unexpectedly intimate.

There follows a fabricated conversation in which he blames her for his accident (blue text indicates lines with no source in the book):

“Well Miss Eyre, have you no tongue?”
“I was waiting, sir, until I was spoken to.”
“Very proper. Next time you see a man on a horse, don’t run out into the middle of the road until he’s passed.”
“I assure you sir, it was not deliberate.”
“It may not have been deliberate; it was nonetheless painful.”

Neither Adèle nor Mrs. Fairfax is present, which simplifies the scene; talk of cadeaux is omitted. Rochester bids Jane be seated and commences his questioning by asking where she came from. The ensuing lines are lifted almost verbatim from the book, except that Jane says she spent ten years at Lowood, rather than eight:

“Ten years. You must be tenacious of life. No wonder you have rather the look of another world. I marveled where you had got that sort of face. When you came on me in the mist, I found myself thinking of fairytales. I had half a mind to demand whether you had bewitched my horse. Indeed, I’m not sure yet.”

The extra years may have been added for propriety’s sake, to yield a twenty-year-old Jane rather than a teenager. In any case, Welles had to play a character twice Jane’s age, yet he and Fontaine were 28 and 26 at the time of filming!


The interview is filmed mostly from Rochester’s right, with Jane facing the camera. This way, the viewer can see both their faces.

Rochester learns of Jane’s orphan status through her brief answers. As in the book, Jane feels no need to make excuses for her past; she simply states the facts.

“Who are your parents?”
“I have none sir.”
“Your home?”
“I have no home sir.”
“Who recommended you to come here?”
“I advertised and Mrs. Fairfax answered my advertisement.”
“Hmm! And you came posthaste, in time to throw me off my horse! Hmmph!”

The last line is a good Rochesterian comment, though he doesn’t say it in the book. Next Rochester orders her to play the piano, asking her to excuse his tone of command because he “cannot alter his customary habits for one new inmate.” Again the lines are from the book; however, Jane is made to seem anxious and worried at Rochester’s belittling evaluation of her skill.


1943: Jane goes to the piano…


…and almost winces when Rochester calls “Enough!”


After the interview, Jane looks worried; the ominous music reinforces her concern about her strange, harsh employer.

1943 spends slightly under 3 minutes on this scene, and makes multiple cuts (Adèle, Mrs. Fairfax, Rochester’s examination of Jane’s portfolio, etc.). The scene is highly condensed, but it earns points for maintaining portions of Brontë’s original dialogue, and for including the crucial lines from Rochester about how Jane has “the look of another world,” how he was put in mind of fairytales when he saw her, and his belief that she bewitched his horse. The overall thrust of the scene, however, is to place Jane at a disadvantage vis à vis Rochester, by having her kneel at his feet, look worried by his disapproval, and so forth. In the book, Jane is not at all discomposed (having been accustomed to harshness from her earliest years, no doubt, she doesn’t take it personally). She finds Rochester “peculiar” but also intriguing. She feels no need to challenge or contradict him, but neither does she act submissively. Fontaine comes off as too passive and vulnerable, but it is the result of the script and direction more than any flaw in her acting.


1943: That evening, Mrs. Fairfax asks how Jane “got on” with Mr. Rochester. Jane asks whether he is always so abrupt, and the housekeeper explains that he has “painful thoughts” and “family troubles.”

1970 lavishes almost four and a half minutes on the drawing room interview, the longest of any of our films. Jane enters a smallish, rather cozy room in which Rochester is seated in an armchair before the fire, with his foot on a stool. Mrs. Fairfax introduces her.

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1970: “Here is Miss Eyre, sir. She has just arrived.” “Let Miss Eyre be seated.”

The scene continues with Adèle’s question about whether he has brought un cadeau for Miss Eyre. The dialogue is faithful to the book (“‘Who talks of cadeaux?’ he said gruffly”) up to a certain point:

“You would do better to be more like Adèle; she demands her presents; you beat about the bush.”
“I have less confidence in my deserts, sir than she.”
“Generally, Miss Eyre, or in this instance?”
“In this instance, sir. Generally I know what to expect.”

These new lines are difficult to interpret: does Jane mean that she knows she is deserving, but that her expectations of being remembered with a gift are low? In any case, her answer is rather intriguing, and well-delivered.

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1970: The camera this time keeps Jane’s profile in the foreground, with Rochester in the middle distance. The shot is similar to 1943, but with the genders reversed.

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1970: A few closeups of their faces are intercut. Jane remains calm and self-composed. We gather that she is annoyed by Rochester’s rudeness, but she herself is too polite to show it.

When Rochester asks Jane’s origins, she volunteers (with a hint of bitterness in her voice) that Lowood is “a charitable institution.” As in 1943, she states that she was there for ten years (again, the director may have felt the need to add a couple of years to Jane’s age, especially given the casting of the 31-year-old Susannah York). Rochester remarks that she “must be tenacious of life” and adds “No wonder you have the look of another world… in your face.” Nothing is said about the fairies.

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1970: During the interview, Rochester is shown in profile, from two directions. Throughout this scene, George C. Scott is shockingly rigid, as though wearing a neck brace. He barely moves from this position, and only occasionally turns his head to look at Jane.

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1970: Mrs. Fairfax and Adèle look on as Rochester sits moodily before the fire, often with closed eyes.

When Mrs. Fairfax tries to put in a good word for Jane, Rochester (as in the book) insists that he will judge for himself, because “she began by felling my horse.”

“What did you learn at Lowood? Music? Can you play?”
“A little.”
“Of course: they all play ‘a little.’ Go to the piano–play something.” [The literary Rochester’s half-apology–“Excuse my tone of command”– is omitted.]

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1970: During the piano test, Rochester places his fingers over his temples, as though the playing gives him a headache.

“Enough!… You do indeed play a little.”
“I was not wrong then in my assessment.”
“You are very cool…an orphan child of low degree. Where do you find such coolness?” “Out of my head, sir.”
“The one I see on your shoulders?”
“Yes, sir.”
“And has it other furniture of the same kind within?”
“It is well stocked, I hope, sir.”
(Abruptly) “What are you about Miss Eyre to let Adèle sit up so late? Take her to bed.”

To prevent Jane from seeming too passive, the script allows her to respond to Rochester’s criticism of her piano skills by observing that her own assessment was correct. Rochester then identifies what he sees as a contradiction between Jane’s ladylike “coolness” –her poised air of confidence– and her inferior social status. Interestingly, the lines which follow are adapted partly from the Brocklehurst conversation (“You are very cool”) and partly from the conversation in the book about Jane’s paintings, when Rochester asks if she has more ideas for pictures in her head. Earlier in the film, when Jane questions Mrs. Fairfax about Rochester, there is a “hidden” reference to this scene. Jane is working on a painting, and a closeup of her canvas shows that it is the cormorant.

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1970: Jane’s cormorant painting is transferred from the interview scene to an earlier one, and is shown but not discussed. Nor does Rochester see it.

1970 touches on many of the topics in Brontë’s interview, but it almost completely does away with Rochester’s fanciful side. Only “the look of another world about you” is retained. (His skeptical assessment of the pious Brocklehurst is also cut).  George C. Scott’s characterization of Rochester is misjudged, because he is too stiff and restrained. He barely registers any interest in Jane, indeed, he barely looks at her. He is coldly severe and withdrawn rather than “ireful” and intensely engaged, like the Rochester of the book. That said, he manages to make his character quite memorable, even if different in personality from the literary Rochester. On the plus side, Susannah York more than holds her own, projecting Jane’s calm self-confidence even in the face of insults and put-downs.

After the interview, Mrs. Fairfax asks Jane not to hold Rochester’s rudeness against him. Jane replies that she is not offended, but that it would hardly make a difference to Rochester if she were.

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1970: “He doesn’t *mean* to be rude. It’s partly his nature and…” [significant pause] “Partly what, Mrs. Fairfax?” “Partly because he has painful thoughts to harass him.”

The 1996 version, which is usually faithful to the book, cuts the interview scene into two parts. The first is conducted in the drawing room (2:30). It is followed by a brief scene of Jane teaching Adèle to play the piano, which dissolves to Jane and Rochester in his study (2:00, for a total of 4:30).

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1996: As Jane enters, Rochester ignores her, apparently playing a game of chess… with himself. Does this suggest his loneliness?

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1996: Adèle sits beside Jane on the sofa to show her the gift she has received. For most of the scene, the camera cuts back and forth from Rochester to Jane.

Finally Rochester says, “Let Miss Eyre be seated.” Adèle asks the question about presents and he responds as expected:

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1996: “Are you fond of presents, Miss Eyre?” “I hardly know; I have little experience of them. They are generally thought pleasant things.” “Generally thought… but what do *you* think?”

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1996: “A present has many faces to it, does it not?”

Torn from its context, a lengthier discussion of gift-giving, Jane’s response seems a bit opaque. Rochester fails to respond, instead changing the subject to ask how long Jane has been in his house and where she came from. As in all the previous films, Jane reports ten years at Lowood, rather than eight. I am not sure why 1996, usually so faithful to the letter of the book, preserves this relic of 1943. This time, could it be squeamishness about the age difference between Charlotte Gainsbourg, who can pass for a teenager, and the 46-year-old William Hurt?

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1996: “Ten years? You must be tenacious of life.”

“No wonder you have rather the look of another world. When you came on me in Hay Lane last night, I thought unaccountably of fairy tales, and had half a mind to demand whether you had bewitched my horse: I am not sure yet. (To Mrs. Fairfax) It is she who is responsible for my sprain.”
“There was ice on the roadway sir. It was that which caused your horse to slip.” “Perhaps; I am not sure yet.” (Mrs. Fairfax looks in confusion from one to the other.)

The 1996 Jane is made to dispute Rochester’s version of events, to deny his fairytale imaginings by substituting a prosaic explanation for the accident. Rochester refuses to relinquish his theory; then he abruptly ends the interview.

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1996: “Very well Miss Eyre. I bid you good night.”

This section suffers from a too-severe pruning of the text, so that the conversation seems somewhat disjointed. As Mr. Rochester, William Hurt lacks the “harsh caprice” and grimness of his literary counterpart; he is more eccentric than intense. Nor does he seem particularly interested in Jane at this point; because of the briefness of the scene, his questions appear almost random. There is no post-drawing room discussion with Mrs. Fairfax about Mr. Rochester’s changeful moods, perhaps because Mr. Rochester is not rude enough to require it. (That conversation takes place later, after he explains how he came to be Adèle’s guardian.)

The second interlude (2 minutes) is more successful. 

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1996: After the drawing room, we see the ornamented ceiling of a long gallery, and the camera pans to an alcove where Jane is teaching Adèle to play the piano. After a few moments, the scene suddenly shifts to Rochester’s study.

In words taken directly from the book, Rochester tells Jane that he has examined Adèle and approves of her progress. Jane replies that Adèle has worked hard.

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1997: “I gather you’re teaching her to play the piano. Are you fond of music? Do you play well?”

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1996: “I’m very fond of music; I play a little.” Jane smiles slightly as she says this.

(He smiles in return): “A little, like any other English schoolgirl. Perhaps better than some, but not well.”

Although his remark is lifted from the book, its sting is removed because Rochester is not critiquing Jane’s actual playing; there is no test. Instead, he seems to be commenting on her (too conventional?) modesty in refusing to claim she plays “well.”

“Adèle showed me some sketches. She said they were yours. I don’t know if they were entirely of your doing.”

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(Jane rises and speaks emphatically):”No one helped me, sir.”

“Ah, that wounds your pride. These pictures must have taken much time and thought. When did you do them?”
“In the last two vacations I spent at Lowood.”

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1996: Jane’s picture of Death. I like the fact that Jane is permitted to be quite an accomplished artist.

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1996: The cormorant picture.

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1996: The Evening Star.

“Did you copy them?”
“No sir, they came out of my head.”
(Quizzically): “That head I see now on your shoulders?”
(Jane smiles.) “Yes sir.”
“Has it other furniture of the same kind within?”
“I think it may have. Better, I hope.” (He smiles at this.)

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1996: Jane approaches Rochester’s side of the desk.

“Were you happy when you painted these pictures?”
“I didn’t have the skill to paint what was in my imagination. I always wanted to achieve more.”
“Well, you may have insufficient technique, but the thoughts are magical.”
“Nine o’clock—is Adèle in bed?”
“Not yet, sir.”
(Suddenly more formal): “She should be in bed long before this; I don’t approve of these late hours. See to it, Miss Eyre.”

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1996: Rochester watches Jane closely as she leaves the room.

This scene deserves praise for an unusually faithful rendering of the book. One could quibble with omissions (Jane is not permitted to say that painting is her keenest pleasure), or substitutions (the trite “magical” for the key word “elfish”), but the major elements, and most of the original wording, are present. Instead of a battle of the sexes, the scene develops an intimacy between Jane and Rochester through a friendly discussion of her pictures. In keeping with the “gentle Rochester” approach, Hurt smiles, and so does Jane. In this scene, there is a real connection between them. Hurt also ably conveys his sudden realization that he has revealed too much interest; he dismisses Jane, and his face grows serious as he gazes after her for a long moment.

1997 devotes a generous amount of time to the interview scene, just under 4 minutes. Screenwriter Kay Mellor shapes a very different Rochester from the ones we have seen so far, and seems to deliberately include portions of the dialogue which were not previously adapted. She also adds elements which are not in the book.


1997: Our first view of Rochester is a long shot from Jane’s perspective as she enters the room. He sits in an armchair with his foot on a stool. (NB: I have increased the exposure on these screen shots to make details more visible.)

From his armchair, Rochester speaks:

“Ah, the helpful governess, Miss Jane Eyre. Come in; don’t hover by the doorway, I won’t bite you.
“Though you might deceive me.”
“Only by omission. I was angry with you for bewitching my horse.”
“I was simply walking—”
“Yes, yes, in the mist. All right, it’s done now. Be seated.”

Instead of initially ignoring Jane, as he does in the book, Rochester immediately greets her, but he speaks harshly and his manner is sullen–especially after Jane reproaches him for misleading her about his identity. She does nothing of the kind in the book, so the question is why these lines were introduced. Perhaps the idea was to continue the “battle of the sexes” motif set up in the Hay Lane scene. By continuing a mild conflict between Rochester and Jane, the script lets her assert her own personality. Her serenity and self-assurance are foils for his volatility and insecurity, which he covers with verbal aggression and sarcasm (Mellor’s interpretation of the “harsh caprice” of the book).


1997: From his chair, Rochester glares at Jane–a challenge.


1997: Rochester insists that Jane sit “where I can see you.” Then the camera cuts back and forth between them in closeup as they speak.

“So, where d’you come from, Miss Eyre?”
“Lowood school, in Yorkshire. I advertised, and Mrs. Fairfax wrote to me.”
“Did she, indeed. Well, I hope you’re suitable. No doubt you’re full of Brocklehurst’s religious claptrap, and believe the man to be no less than a saint.”
“I do not. Indeed, I dislike Mr. Brocklehurst.”


1997 (mockingly): “Careful! That sounds like blasphemy.”


“He is a harsh and pompous man. But I have studied the Bible since and have found my own faith in the Lord.”

“And what faith do you place in arithmetic and geography?”
“I have taught classes of twelve-year olds, Mr. Rochester. And for your information, I have also studied history, music, art and French.”
“Very impressive.”
“I did not tell you to impress. It is a fact. That is all.”
“Oh a fact, I see.”

1997 is the only one of our five films to tackle the Brocklehurst portion of the conversation. In the book, Rochester knows something of Brocklehurst’s brand of piety, and he’s worried that Jane might share it. The literary Jane does not discuss her own faith, but calls Brocklehurst “harsh, pompous and meddling,” describing how he starved the Lowood students. This is the first of a series of interludes in which Rochester tests Jane to learn whether she might be sympathetic to his own view of the world, which involves the pursuit of pleasure, the repudiation of religion, and the rejection of social conventions–up to and including marriage.

“So, can you play?”
“A little.”
“Yes, that’s what all the schoolgirls are told to say. Well go on then, play ‘a little’ for me now. (She hesitates.) Show me.”
(Sophie brings in Adèle, who shouts in delight and jumps in his lap): “Mr. Rochester!”
Ah, la petite diable! Attention, mon pied… [“Ah, the little she-devil! Watch out, my foot!”] …Are you going to play, Miss Eyre?”


1997: “So have you been a complete brat while I’ve been away, or have you been good?”


1997: From the piano, Jane watches Adèle with Rochester.

The scene is extensively rewritten to make it more visually dynamic. Jane’s playing is interrupted by the entry of Adèle, whom Rochester greets indulgently, speaking to her in French, asking if she has been good, and so forth. Significantly, he dismisses Adèle’s maid, Sophie. This can only mean he wants Jane and himself to be the only adults in the room (Mrs. Fairfax is cut from the scene).

(To Adèle): “What do you think of your new governess?”
“She makes me work very hard, but I like her.”
“Do you have a present for her?”
“I don’t know if Miss Eyre likes presents. D’you like presents, Miss Eyre?”
“I have little experience of them, Mr. Rochester. They are generally thought pleasant things.”
(Adele): “I like presents.”
“Really? Then what a shame I forgot to bring you one. (Adèle wilts.) Carry on, Miss Eyre. (To Adèle): Regarde, sur le piano. [“Look, on the piano.”]
“Mon cadeau!” [“My present!”]
“I think that’s enough piano playing for one evening. Clearly you do play only a little.”
(Jane, almost smiling): “I’m sorry if my playing offends.”
(To Adèle): Et voilà.” [“And there it is!”]


1997: “Oh it’s so beautiful! Oh I love it, thank you!”

(As Jane turns quietly to leave): “Where are you going, Miss Eyre?”
“To my room, sir.”
“I see. I am so tiresome, you wish to leave me already… Never mind, go on. Go to your room.” (To Adèle): Tourne! Et encore une fois. Avec joie [“Turn around! And one more time, with joy!”]


1997: Rochester reveals his insecurity: “I’m so tiresome, you wish to leave me already!” …This after deliberately doing everything possible to annoy Jane.

Rather than quoting lines directly, screenwriter Mellor often interprets the book for the modern viewer by rewriting, not just pruning. This works well when she catches the spirit of the original, and what is an adaptation, after all, if not an interpretation? Yet the method can backfire, and there is the danger of over-interpretation, of imposing meaning and denying ambiguity, of not letting the viewer judge for herself. On the plus side, the scene allows Rochester and Jane some verbal jousting, which builds their chemistry. Jane is clearly up to the challenge of dealing with this difficult man, and even seems amused by his need to be dominant. When Jane rises to exit the room, discreetly leaving Rochester and Adèle to their reunion, he misinterprets her action and his vanity is bruised. As we will see, this is truly Rochesterian. He is jealous, possessive, and insecure about his ability to attract a woman. Although he tries to hide it, Rochester is vulnerable. None of the other film versions shows this aspect of his character so clearly, yet in my opinion it is premature to reveal this so soon.

1997 makes Rochester behave quite affectionately and paternally toward Adèle, teasing her and addressing her in French (perhaps to take advantage of Ciarán Hinds’ fluency in that language). Is the intent is to suggest that she is his natural daughter? The Rochester of the book is quite different; while in no way unkind to Adèle and willing to indulge her with gifts, he appears to have little interest in children and does not want her pestering him. Rochester’s camaraderie with Adèle works in this scene, however, because it tempers his unpleasantness.


1997: Rochester holds Adèle on his lap and pretends at first that he hasn’t brought her a present.

Interestingly, 1997 omits two elements which all our other films include in some form: (1) Jane’s admission of her 8-10 years at Lowood with Rochester’s response: “You must be tenacious of life!” and (2) Rochester’s comment about fairytales and Jane’s “look of another world.”

Like 1997, 2011 presents a fresh, original approach to the interview scene, to which it devotes four minutes. When Jane enters the room, Rochester is smoking by the fire and looking at her portfolio.

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2011: “Let her sit.” In contrast to the greyish color of the film up to this point, the interview scene is shot in a golden light.

Once Jane is seated, Rochester makes her wait another moment or two, then gets right down to business:

“I’ve examined Adèle and I find you’ve taken great pains with her. She’s not bright; she has no talents. Yet in a short time, she’s improved.”
“Thank you, Mr. Rochester.”
“You have been resident here three months?”
“Yes, sir.”
“And from whence do you hail? What’s your tale of woe?”
“All governesses have a tale of woe. What’s yours?”

Jane replies that she was brought up by her aunt, Mrs. Reed of Gateshead,in a house even finer than this,” and received “as good an education as I could hope for.” She declares, “I have no tale of woe, sir.” But Rochester’s questions elicit the fact that her parents are dead, that her aunt cast her off, and that Lowood was a charity school. “No tale of woe?” he asks skeptically. After a moment, Jane cannot meet his gaze and she looks down.

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2011: “No tale of woe?”


2011: Jane has no answer.

Mrs. Fairfax judges this the right moment to put in a good word for Jane:

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2011: “I daily thank Providence for sending us Miss Eyre. She’s an invaluable–“

Rochester interrupts her, saying “Don’t trouble yourself to give her a character. I’ll judge for myself. I have her to thank for this sprain.” (He looks intently at Jane): “You bewitched my horse.”


2011: Rattled, Jane replies “I did not!


2011: “Were you waiting for your people in that lane?” “I have no people, sir.” “I mean for the imps, the elves… and the little green men.”

The unexpected question is very Rochesterian. Jane recovers herself and answers  with a revised, more assertive version of her reply in the book: “The sad truth is they are all gone. Your land is neither wild nor savage enough for them.”

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2011: Mrs. Fairfax is puzzled by the strange drift of the conversation.

In the original screenplay, Rochester replied, “You lie, but in the actual film, he silently accepts Jane’s comment and changes the subject, asking about Jane’s portfolio:

“Adele brought me these; are they yours?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Where did you get your copies?”
“Out of my head.”
“That head I now see on your shoulders?”
“Yes sir.”

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2011: “Who’s this?” “The Evening Star.” (According to the script, the image has the face of Helen Burns.)

“Were you happy when you painted these?”
“Yes. To paint is one of the keenest pleasures I have ever known.”
“Then your pleasures have been few. Are you satisfied with them?”
“Far from it. I imagine things I am powerless to execute.”
“You have secured the shadow of your thoughts, yet the drawings are for a schoolgirl, peculiar.”

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2011: “Good night.”

2011 (like 1996) omits the piano test and Brocklehurst, but touches on most of the other topics in the interview, including Rochester’s positive evaluation of Adèle’s progress. I like it because it includes what I consider the two most crucial elements in the original dialogue: Rochester’s insistence that Jane is a bewitching fairy (his enigmatic way of admitting his attraction to her), and his intent examination of her portfolio. As in the book, Rochester’s questions about Jane’s state of mind when she painted the pictures are unexpectedly intimate, revealing that he wants to know much more than whether the new governess has adequate skills for art instruction.

On the other hand, the “tale of woe” exchange feels like a mistake. It seems intended both to humble Jane and to suggest that Rochester feels compassion for her sad life (his words do not support this, but Fassbender’s acting does). As in the Hay Lane scene, Rochester remains dominant; Jane is not able to hold her own with him. In fact, her claim that she grew up in a house “finer than this” is false bravado. This is a very un-Janian remark, and this Jane’s flash of resentment when he says “You bewitched my horse” does not reflect the literary Jane.

After the interview, we see a new scene (perhaps the next day) when Jane, Adèle and Mrs. Fairfax are eating. They hear Mr. Rochester brilliantly playing the piano.


2011: (Rochester plays as Jane, Mrs. Fairfax and Adèle begin their meal.)

(Suddenly he switches to Mozart’s lively “Rondo alla Turca,” then quits all together and goes outside, slamming the door and shouting for Pilot and a manservant. They hear gunshots and Mrs. Fairfax winces.)

(Jane): “He’s very abrupt and changeful. What manner of man is he?”
“Oh, he’s a good master. He’s fine company too…(another shot) except when he’s in an ill humor.”


2011: (Adèle runs to the window and Jane follows. They see him shooting off the edge of the terrace.)

This is a clever way to present the “changeful and abrupt” exchange between Mrs. Fairfax and Jane, except that it no longer refers to his conversation, but to his erratic behavior. On the plus side, it reveals that Rochester is a highly accomplished musician, as the book indicates. Rochester’s angry shouts and his sudden desire to shoot his gun–immediately!– suggest his sexual frustration.

*For Mr. Rochester and the notorious Earl of Rochester, see Murray G. H. Pittock (1987) “John Wilmot and Mr. Rochester,” Nineteenth-Century Literature, 41.4.462-469.

Time for the rubric! NB: For Fidelity of original elements, I counted as key elements (1) the presence of Adèle and Mrs. Fairfax; (2) Talk of “cadeaux”; (3) Rochester’s assessment of Adèle’s progress; (4) Jane’s time at Lowood and Rochester’s reaction; (5) the fairies/fairytales; (6) Brocklehurst/religion; (7) the piano test; (8) the portfolio.

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1943 scores Poor on all measures of fidelity, except for retaining some original dialogue. It scores Good to Excellent on everything else except Fontaine’s portrayal of Jane.

1970 is consistently Good to Excellent on fidelity, screenplay, direction and Susannah York’s acting, but Scott’s acting is misjudged, there is not much of a spark, and the set is poor.

1996 is Good to Excellent on fidelity, with the fatal flaw that Rochester is neither harsh nor capricious. William Hurt outacts Charlotte Gainsbourg. Direction, set and screenplay vary from Fair to Excellent. Extra points for including Jane’s pictures.

1997 rewrites and interprets, scoring low on literal fidelity but high on fidelity to the spirit of the book. Direction, set, chemistry, screenplay and acting are all Good to Excellent.

2011: Fair to Good on every measure except screenplay, which scores Excellent. Extra points for including Jane’s pictures.

Coming Soon: More conversations with Rochester!