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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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”:
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:
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:
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:
Next, Rochester tests Jane’s ability to play the piano:
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:
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.
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.”
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.
Clearly fascinated, Rochester asks for more details about the pictures:
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”:
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.
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!
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.”
“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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
“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.]
“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?”
“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.
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.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).
Finally Rochester says, “Let Miss Eyre be seated.” Adèle asks the question about presents and he responds as expected:
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?
“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.
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.
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.
(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.”
“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.”
“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.)
“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.”
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.
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).
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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?”
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!”]
(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!”]
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.
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.
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?”
“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.
Mrs. Fairfax judges this the right moment to put in a good word for Jane:
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.”
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.”
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?”
“Where did you get your copies?”
“Out of my head.”
“That head I now see on your shoulders?”
“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.”
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.
(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.”
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.
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!
No one could appreciate such a thorough examination of Jane Eyre and all its film incarnations more than me. Long a favorite, and read multiple times, I too have lamented on the common omission of the many intense, revealing, and truly sexually charged conversations that Jane and Rochester have throughout the book. I never knew of the strong and likely connection to Wilmot. I found those parallels really interesting here and would like to read more on him.
I have never been much of a fan however of the cross dressing aspect of the fortune teller in the story, because I just can’t imagine that someone who has spent so much time, face-to-face, as Jane has with Rochester, could be so duped. But it is fantasy, and an interesting catalyst in the story all the same, so I accept it.
But I have never tired of the book, they story, those lovely, long and deeply intimate conversations (that no one ever really has) and I will go to each and every single film, play, or reading that is ever done.
The only thing I haven’t done is an audio book. I’m waiting on Richard Armitage on that one. 😉
Thanks for the great comment, Crystal! I agree that the case of the gypsy woman requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but I didn’t find it all that different from Sherlock Holmes disguising himself as an old woman or the like. In my re-reading for this project, I see a surprising number of gender reversals. It reminded me of Brontë and her sisters giving themselves gender-neutral but male-sounding names when they first published.
An Armitage JE audiobook would be good fun. Someone tell Audible.com!
So naturally I am late in responding. And int his meantime, this lovely thing happened … https://twitter.com/audibleuk/status/722029628668284928 (Also, a pingback.)
Wow, very nice! Thanks for the link 🙂
Due to my erratic blog-reading of the past months I’ve missed your previous posts on Jane Eyre. Congratulations for your thorough work! I’ve seen the “Fassbender” and William Hurt’s Rochesters, of these you talk about; I’ve loved also the way Toby Stephens played the character. I didn’t know Mr. H played him too!
Thanks Barsine. The Mr. H. version is a favorite of mine for obvious reasons, but I’m trying to be objective in my analysis 🙂
I’ve not seen the Toby Stephens and I’m holding off till I finish this project (in order to make valid comparisons, I did not include any of the miniseries).
Great post! Just wish it included 1973 (Cusack/Jayston), 1983 (Clarke/Dalton) and 2006 (Wilson/Stephens) as well. 🙂
Thanks for the comment, Traxy! In order to be able to compare apples to apples, I stuck with only the feature-length films and did not include any of the miniseries, fascinating as they are. The first Rochester I saw on screen was Timothy Dalton and that version has remained a favorite for me.
Ahh, yes, that makes sense! 🙂 The good thing about miniseries is that they have the time to be able to delve into the story more than a film, as time is less restricted. Now continuing to read more of your comparison posts. Loving it!
Thanks so much. I am glad to know there are others out there who share my appetite for *in depth* analysis, LOL.
I don’t really have the patience to write them myself, because I’d just get lost in fangirling. *cough* 😉
Heh, heh. I have to suppress my fangirl instinct in order to do this. But at least I get to spend lots of time making delicious screen caps.
Sylvie G said:
This is such an impressive and thorough analysis Linnett. Thank you so much ! I love the paintings
Thank you, Sylvie! I was thrilled to find that people have tried to (re)create Jane’s paintings. They are, as Rochester says, “elfish” and strange, but beautiful.
Unable to comment yesterday, but thoroughly enjoyed your analysis and other readers’ comments. The art is grand, especially the piece by Bronte herself. I did not know before about Wilmot or the name Rochester, am amazed once more of how she pulled so much of herself into her writing. The charcoal piece reminds me of my own grandmother, born at the end of Jane’s era, in 1884, who also drew in pastels and charcoal, usually scenes she imagined. I was too generous in giving the drawing I had to another family member, but it was one of my “Jane” connections when young and reading the book.
An anecdote about role play: television has shaped a lot of our time as to how we entertain ourselves, but when I was young we used disguises to entertain ourselves with each other. When ten, my sister rinsed my hair a flame red, dressed me in a trench coat, heavy make-up, and drove me to the home of my other sister where my mother, dad and brother all were, waiting for us to join them. On the trip across town, we practiced how to present myself, and I became an insistent sales lady, who “got my foot in the door” by bringing my brother into the joke. My mother and older sister were fooled enough to threaten to call the police to get rid of me. At this point, our middle sister, waiting outside the room, joined us and identified this brazen woman to actually be their 10 year old relative.
Because role playing is something people I know did to entertain themselves, I have always accepted the concept of the gypsy thinking that it’d be a great way for Rochester to not only entertain himself, his guests, and to question the girl.
I do love this Jane series.
Great comment, Ellen. I have a “lost heirloom” piece of art too. Maybe knowing it existed is enough.
That’s an amazing story about your family being fooled by a disguise, and when you were so young, as well! (I think you must have had an aptitude for acting.) You make a good point about people’s entertainments before there was television and radio. They used to play charades and put on theatricals, just as they do in the book. Rochester’s gypsy is an extension of the parlor game, but with a deceptive twist. If he presented himself in the dark with the fire behind him, and with a generous covering for his head, and if he was able to mask his voice convincingly, I think he could pull it off and fool even Jane–for a time.
A side note to comment on the generational difference in terms and implied judgment from from my and earlier generations, that what the gypsy did was “role playing” but today’s the term is “cross dressing”.
Yes, I think there are big generational (and cultural) differences in how it’s perceived when one gender wears the clothing considered proper to another. In England, for example, there is a long music hall tradition of men dressing in women’s clothing. So the “men in drag” in Monty Python were probably somewhat familiar to 1970s viewers in Britain, but when I saw them as a child, I was quite shocked. That was something you never saw in the US, and if you did see it, you associated it with sexual practices that -em- deviated from the norm. But I don’t think the music hall tradition was about homosexuality or transvestism in that sense. I think it was more about getting laughs from the gender reversals and exploring the boundaries of gender as performers.
Times have changed. I recently attended a meeting with student activists, and when we did introductions, we were asked to say which pronouns we identify with (“she/her/hers,” “he/him/his” or some combination thereof…)
I like that idea. Why not, Heshe? or Shehe? Or, Misrms? As long as it isn’t misery loves company? 🙂
Well, I was getting worried that my memory could not accommodate the unique pronoun preferences of ten people at once, but it turned out that they all had “standard” preferences 🙂
Karen Anspach said:
Linnet, as ever I am impressed with the comprehensiveness of your analysis, and how “on target” it is – at least for the versions I’ve seen. I’m tempted to fill in the gaps by finding and watching the other versions, so I can see if I agree or disagree! I suspect I would be agreeing, though. Thanks for all the work; I’m enjoying these so much.
Thanks for reading, Karen. I find this a very rewarding project, even if it’s a lot of work. I wish I could find better prints of 1970 and 1997. Both were made for TV and it shows. 1970 is on Amazon Prime video, supposedly in a “digitally remastered” version, but the picture quality is terrible.
I consider the ‘tale of woe’ dialogue in the 2011 version as Rochester trying to figure out about Jane’s past. In the book he finds out about Brocklehurst and Lowood, in this version Jane is rebellious and refuses to be pitied and stays vague. I quite like that.
Interesting bit about the Earl of Rochester and Bluebeard!
I’m thinking – you could turn this whole thing into a thesis, become “Doctor in Jane Eyre studies”! 🙂
LOL, I like that. A Je.D.!
The way 2011 struck me was that they unnecessarily make it an issue whether Jane should be pitied, and in the end Rochester forces her to admit that she has a “tale of woe.” She tries to hide it, as you say, but in the end she fails. It’s very different from book, where she is very matter-of-fact about her past and not shamed by it. I am a stickler for fidelity (in spirit at least), but the 2011 version works very well on its own terms.
A further thought: I think Jane should be rebellious and spirited too. I just wish 2011 would let her get the upper hand once in a while. Actually, there is one moment later on where she does score a direct hit on Rochester. And instead of doing what the literary Rochester would do (acknowledge the point and comment further on it, drawing her out), the 2011 Rochester refuses to acknowledge it and changes the subject. I think that in the book, Jane knows herself to be his equal already. She doesn’t need to get up her courage the way Mia Wasikowska does in the film. She always looks like she’s speaking up in spite of being terrified, trying to overcome her fear. And Fassbender is soooooo dominant that it doesn’t leave room for the other side of Rochester’s character. But I’m getting ahead of myself 🙂
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Thanks for the ping, Crystal!
Derron B Rose said:
In the book “The Bridge”,Karen Kingsbury has a character quote Jane “I would do anything for you sir; anything that was right”.
I’ve been trying to locate the quote. I’ve even looked in a Bronte concordance.
Is that quote in the book or is it an invention of a movie screenwriter. Where in the book is the quote?
I love your site.
Hi Derron, that quote is not in the book. I think it comes from the Orson Welles movie version. It’s a good fit for the Jane in the book, though. Thanks for reading!