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The Fire Scene is a turning point in Jane Eyre. It is the first time Mr. Rochester calls our heroine “Jane” rather than “Miss Eyre.” He and Jane find themselves sharing a sudden, unexpected intimacy. The events of the night create an almost unbearable sexual tension, broken by Rochester’s abrupt departure the next morning. It is also the first time that Bertha Rochester becomes an agent in the narrative; Rochester’s dark secret is nearly revealed.


Ciarán Hinds as Mr. Rochester (1997).

Structurally, the fire scene recapitulates Jane’s “rescue” of Rochester after his fall in Hay Lane, and it anticipates the fire which Bertha will set in order to destroy Thornfield. Stylistically, it mingles Gothic horror and romance with (I shall argue) a touch of humor, but most of all, it is an erotic fantasy, made all the more potent because of the lack of consummation.

On the very night after the Beech Avenue conversation with Rochester, Jane hears “a vague murmur, peculiar and lugubrious,” and sits up in bed to listen. It is two in the morning, and someone sweeps past her chamber door, audibly touching it. “Who is there?” she asks, but no one answers. Jane calms herself with the thought that it might be Pilot, who often finds his way up to Mr. Rochester’s chamber. But no:

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Jane dresses, fearful that Grace Poole is up to no good and anxious to find Mrs. Fairfax. She opens the door to find a burning candle on the floor, and sees smoke issuing from Mr. Rochester’s room.


Jane finds the candle. Illustration by Edward A. Wilson for the 1943 Modern Library edition.

Forgetting everything else, she rushes in:

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Illustration of the Fire Scene by Anna and Elena Balbuso, on Pinterest.

The room is completely dark now, but Jane knows Rochester is finally awake because she hears him “fulminating strange anathemas” at finding himself soaked.

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Simon Brett 1991

Illustration by Simon Brett for a 1991 edition of “Jane Eyre.” Few if any of the older editions include an illustration of this provocative scene. Click for source (Jane Eyre Illustrated).

The Fire Scene would not be out of place in a classic Hollywood screwball comedy, a genre in which the heroes were regularly put into humiliating situations. The joke is on Rochester, who wakes to a rough “baptism” of cold water and can only wonder whether there has been a flood. The power advantage he enjoyed during his Beech Avenue conversation with Jane (Part 6) has suddenly been erased. The exasperated Rochester uses profanity (“fulminating strange anathemas”), invokes the elves, and accuses the sorceress “Jane Eyre” of bewitching him and devising a plot, not to burn but to drown him! He then warns her not to fetch a candle just yet; he is naked, or about to strip and change into dry clothing. Notice that Jane herself is fully dressed (she put on both her frock and a shawl before exiting her room). She has single-handedly saved Rochester from a fiery death with no help from him; she is his rescuer even more decisively than in Hay Lane. Of course, Rochester’s state of undress hints at Jane’s sexual “peril,” but the total effect is one of titillating gender reversal. No doubt many a man has imagined saving his love object from a fire. She would be suitably grateful, and then… well, she would have to get out of those wet clothes, wouldn’t she? The difference is that in the male-saves-female scenario, the woman’s femininity is not challenged.


“What is it, and who did it?” he asked. Illustration for “Jane Eyre” by F. H. Townsend (1897).

Jane suggests calling Mrs. Fairfax, but Rochester immediately vetoes this: “What the deuce would you call her for? What can she do?” Instead, he asks Jane to wait in his room while he goes to check on something.

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Rochester now begins to regain the manly role, seeing to Jane’s comfort and (of course) issuing orders. Jane does not “see the use of staying” but obeys although she is tempted to flout his instructions. (Presumably Rochester wants to check on the cause of the fire, and if it was Bertha, to find out how much Jane knows.)

Finally he returns, “pale and very gloomy,” and begins to question Jane. She mentions Grace Poole and her odd laugh, and Rochester quickly replies, “Just so. Grace Poole–you have guessed it.” He tells Jane to say nothing; he will account for the shocking state of the bed, and she may now return to her room. But as soon as Jane rises to leave, he exclaims, “What, are you quitting me already, and in that way?”

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Rochester is on the verge of a declaration of love, a seduction attempt, or both, but he restrains himself, unsure as always of Jane’s response. He craves physical contact. Touching hands, of course, is anything but a neutral social gesture in this context; it stands in for the acts he would like to perform. In the meantime, Rochester declares, “I have a pleasure in owing you so immense a debt.” With any other person, such a position of disadvantage would be intolerable to his pride, but the sensation of humbling himself to Jane, and being bound to her by the obligation, is pleasurable. The sexual tension grows…

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Once again, Rochester bids Jane goodnight, then balks at her willingness to leave him. It is as though he secretly hopes that she will fall into his arms, protesting that she cannot leave. Or perhaps he is battling his own will: Shall I let her go, as I know I ought, or keep her with me, as I desire? Once again, I find a touch of humor mingled with the passion in this scene, especially when he tacitly contradicts himself for the third time:

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By this time, needless to say, a new “fire” has been kindled in the bedroom (“strange fire [was] in his look”). If Jane wishes to retain her virtue, standing in the dark with this overexcited man wearing nothing but a dressing gown, she must leave before it is too late. The suggestion of discovery by Mrs. Fairfax does the trick, and she escapes.

And what of Jane’s feelings? Till now, Brontë has kept the focus squarely on Rochester, revealing by numerous hints (“words almost visible trembled on his lips”) that he is deeply moved and feels a powerful, almost overwhelming passion for Jane. Only once she safely regains her room are her sensations described, in the remarkable description of ecstatic sexual frustration which concludes the chapter:

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Only one night before, during the walk in the Beech Avenue, Rochester had predicted that Jane would one day be caught in a stormy sea, first experiencing love, and then jealousy: “But I tell you—and you may mark my words—you will come some day to a craggy pass in the channel, where the whole of life’s stream will be broken up into whirl and tumult, foam and noise…” The shipwreck image recalls Jane’s painting of a female corpse in the sea, watched over by a solitary cormorant.

The first part of Rochester’s prediction has come true, and the second is soon to follow.

Turning to our five feature-length films, we will discover an interesting and universal deviation from the book: Jane is never permitted to put out the fire by herself.

1943 devotes about four minutes to the scene, which begins with ominous music and a shot of the battlements at night. In bed, Jane suddenly hears a loud, maniacal laugh, like the stereotypical cackle of a witch. “Who’s there?” she asks, but hears only running feet. She jumps out of bed, puts on her wrap and opens the door.


1943: Jane asleep in bed…


1943: She picks up a candle which has been left in the hallway outside her door.

Jane sees smoke coming from a door down the hall. In a panic, she rushes down the hallway. When she opens the door, the flames on the bed are visible.


1943: The camera observes from behind Jane as she opens the door on Rochester’s room and sees the fire. The music swells.


1943: “Mr. Rochester!”


1943: Rochester is asleep at first, but at Jane’s call he quickly opens his eyes and sees the flames. He leaps out of bed.


1943: Rochester pulls down the flaming bed curtains.


1943: Jane helps by splashing water from a jug onto the bed.


1943: Rochester continues to fight the fire until it is extinguished.

Rochester: “That’s done it.”
“I think someone must have tried to kill you. I heard footsteps along the gallery. Shall I call Mrs. Fairfax?”
(Off camera, he has put on his dressing gown. He strides toward her.)
“Mrs. Fairfax? What the deuce d’you want to call her for? Let her sleep.”

As in the Hay Lane scene with the rearing horse, 1943 sets the visual standard for the Fire Scene. 1943 makes Rochester pull down the bed curtains to extinguish them, a tradition followed by each of our other four films. I don’t think Jane’s demotion from rescuer to helper is entirely due to sexism. It’s partly that the filmmakers want to show a big, scary fire, and it is more visually interesting to have Rochester leap up and work to put out the raging flames together with Jane. On the other hand, we have already seen that 1943 insists on Rochester’s masculinity. In Hay Lane, he shows scarcely any pain, and needs very little help from Jane. Likewise, here he is not passively “stupefied by the smoke” as in the book. Instead, Jane only needs to call out once to wake him, and he swings into action. Nor is he “baptized” with a humiliating splash of water to the face. His manly dignity must be carefully maintained, and I attribute this to the gender expectations for the Hollywood stars of his day.

It is also due to the genre expectations, because 1943 emphasizes the dramatic and Gothic elements of the story. Moving seamlessly from drama (the fire) to comedy (the flood) to Gothic mystery (Rochester’s questioning of Jane) to romance (his near-declaration), as Brontë does within a single scene, might be much more challenging in the visual medium.


1943: (Taking her by the shoulder): “Come here and sit down. I’m going to leave you here. Be still as a mouse.”

Once Rochester is gone, Jane disobediently gets up and looks out the window. She sees Rochester’s candle light moving diagonally up the stairs in the tower. This is one of the most memorable scenes in the film–very Gothic.


1943: The light moves diagonally upward to the tower room.


1943: Reaction shot of Jane watching the light; soon it comes down again.


1943: Rochester is shown locking the door behind him. Jane hears his footsteps and returns to her seat.

Rochester begins to question Jane about how much she knows:
“When you came out of your room, did you see anything?”
“Only a candlestick on the floor, but I… I heard a door shut.”
“Anything else?”
“Yes, a kind of laugh.”
“A kind of laugh. Have you heard it before?”
“There’s a strange woman here called Grace Poole…”
(Quickly) “Just so. Grace Poole. You’ve guessed it. Well, it’s a bit… meanwhile say nothing about this to anyone… Adèle! We forgot the child!” [Text in blue has no source in the book.]


1943: Rochester questions Jane, then is suddenly seized with fear for Adèle.

Uniquely of all our five versions, 1943 permits Rochester the set of dodgy questions he asks Jane in the book to gauge how much she knows. This is in keeping with the Gothic theme: Rochester’s actions are suspicious. Is he a villain hiding a Bluebeard-like secret? For a moment, anything seems possible.

Director Robert Stevenson (or his screenwriters) made the bold choice to interrupt the Fire Scene with an interlude in which Rochester and Jane rush to check on Adèle (treated in my post number 6). This allows an exposition of her history (the Beech Avenue material from the book). Given Welles’ heartfelt delivery of the line “I had an awful fear,” the scene seems meant to show the pair in the role of concerned “parents” to the orphaned girl, and strike a sentimental chord with the audience. Unfortunately, it also neutralizes the sexual charge of the scene. Was this by design? As if to counteract the impropriety of a lady charging into a gentleman’s bedchamber at night, the costume designer has Rochester covered from head to toe in a very modest nightshirt, and while he is off camera, he quickly dons an elaborate dressing gown–with no titillating comment on his state of undress. Jane herself is not fully dressed, as she is in the book; she has a nightgown and wrap (as well as horrendously fake braids attached to her 1840s up-do).

The continuation of the Fire Scene lasts one additional minute:

(Rochester escorts Jane back to her room.)
“Adèle has had so little love. I shall try to make up for it.”
“Are you always drawn to the loveless and unfriended?”


1943: “When it’s deserved.” (She takes the candle and uses it to light the one in her room.)


1943: “Would you say that my life deserved saving?”

“I should be distressed if harm came to you, sir.”
“But you did save my life tonight. I should like to thank you for it. At least shake hands.” (She takes his hand.)


1943: “I knew you’d do me good, some way, some time. Good night, Jane.”


1943: “Good night, sir.”

After the scene with Adèle, Stevenson tries to recapture the sexual tension by having Rochester light Jane to her room. There, at last, Rochester is able to deliver a much-condensed version of the bedchamber conversation (“You saved my life”; “Shake hands”; “I knew you would do me good.”) Welles contrives to make the scene suggestive by stepping into the doorway of Jane’s room, as though he might decide to stay a little longer, and (significantly) he addresses Jane by her first name. Jane’s feverish passion afterwards is omitted, although Joan Fontaine manages to look convincingly dewy-eyed: lovestruck rather than sexually frustrated.

Responsive to the changing times, 1970 (just over five minutes) permits Jane to take a much more active role in putting out the fire. In fact, it is the only one of the five films in which Jane could be said to share equally with Rochester in the task.

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1970: Jane hears the “vague murmur.” She asks who is there, but nobody answers. Then she hears the “demoniac laugh.”

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1970: Outside the door, she smells the smoke. Note the candle left on the floor.

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1970: Instead of a shot through the door, we see the bed aflame as Jane runs into the room.

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1970: Rochester is lying face down on the bed. Jane calls him and violently tries to shake him awake, to no avail.

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1970: In a long shot, Jane dashes the basins of water onto Rochester, then the jug. He slowly wakes up and says “What?”

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1970: Rochester and Jane work together to put out the flames. He pulls down the bed curtains; she smothers the fire with a pillow.

Notice that (as in 1943) Rochester has nothing to say about floods or sorceresses. This version is faithful to the book in that Jane splashes him with water, but there is no comic element. The implication is that Rochester has passed out from excessive drink after dinner. He is fully dressed, still in his dinner clothing. Furthermore, the fire is too far gone for Jane to extinguish on her own. Unless he can be roused, he may die.

Once the fire is out, Jane says “I’ll get the candle.”

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1970: Jane bends down to retrieve the candle in the hall; she looks at it thoughtfully.

“I heard a sound outside my door… laughter. I came out into the passage and… (He gives her a grim look.) Shall I fetch Mrs. Fairfax?”
“No, no. Let her sleep, say nothing. I want no one to know what you’ve heard.”
(She comes slightly closer to him and the camera moves in.)
“Was it Grace Poole, sir?”
(He hesitates.) “Yes, I think so.”

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1970: “Why must she remain?” Rochester: “I can’t explain.”

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1970: (He stands over her with the candle.) “You saved my life.”

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1970: (Jane smiles in pleasure at Rochester’s remark.) “Well, good night, sir.”

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1970: She makes to get up and he stops her with a hand on her shoulder. She looks up at him, questioningly.

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1970: “I knew you would do me good. I felt it always. There’s something about you, Jane.”

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1970: Jane looks down at the hand on her shoulder and he sees it. His expression changes, and he removes the hand.

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1970: “Well, good night, sir.” (He gives a small, curt nod, and she leaves.)

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1970: The camera comes back to Rochester’s face for a long moment as he reacts to what has just happened.

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1970: Meanwhile, Jane stops just inside her room and leans on the door, overwhelmed. She touches the spot where Rochester had his hand.

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1970: Closeup of Jane’s reaction.

1970 is the only one of our five versions in which Rochester does not leave the room in order to check on Bertha. This is rather bizarre, given that she could still be running about wreaking havoc; perhaps director Delbert Mann thought it would interrupt the flow. Certainly the point of this scene in his view was to establish (at last) that Jane and Rochester feel a powerful desire for each other. Instead of shaking hands, there is the erotically charged touch on the shoulder, and the clear recognition of its meaning, by both parties. Rochester uses her given name, but in an unfortunately trite and flabby line: “There’s something about you, Jane.” Still, this is George C. Scott’s most romantic scene. He looks attractively sexy, and not so rigid as usual. His icy reserve has been broken, at least for a moment.

The Gothic mystery is kept to a minimum here. Rochester does not resort to dodgy questioning of Jane to find out how much she knows; in fact, he doesn’t even check on Bertha. Jane wonders at the placement of the candle, but she meekly accepts his statement that he “can’t explain.” She goes back to her room. The Fire Scene is also a triumph for Susannah York, whose face reveals the play of her emotions during the exchange with Rochester, and especially afterwards, when she is clearly longing to be in his arms.

1996 (5 minutes 30 seconds) is much more faithful to the letter of the book than either 1943 or 1970. Like 1943, it dulls much of the erotic impact of the Fire Scene. It begins with a shot of Jane’s window swaying to and fro in the wind. [Note: For the sake of visibility, I have increased the exposure on several of these screen shots.]

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1996: Jane rises to shut the window.

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1996: While she is facing away, the door latch moves, and her door spookily opens slightly, then closes again.

Jane goes out in the hall to see if anyone is there. (There is no candle.) She realizes there is a fire and rushes to Rochester’s room.

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1996: (First view of the fire. She rushes around the bed to shake him awake.) “Mr. Rochester, Mr. Rochester, wake up, wake up!”

Rochester is unresponsive. A quick shot of his hand, visible in the smoke beside an empty cup, suggests that he (like the Rochester of 1970) has passed out from drink. As in the 1970 version, he is fully clothed except for his coat.

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1996: (Jane grabs the water pitcher, tossing the contents toward the head of the bed. This does not accomplish much, so she runs to the bed and shakes him again.) “Wake up, sir, please!”

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1996: Finally, Jane takes a vase of long-stemmed roses, rips the flowers out, and splashes the water directly into his face. The camera shifts momentarily to the ruined roses on the floor (symbolic, but of what??)

(Waking and sputtering): “Is there a flood?” (He notices the fire and jumps off the bed.
“Help me, sir!”

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1996: Coughing from the smoke, Rochester pulls down the bedcurtains.

“More water!”
(Jane brings another basin. They both cough. The fire is out. They leave the room and make their way into the adjoining study. He takes a bottle of liquor from his bar stand and pours drinks.)

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1996: Rochester needs another drink after his harrowing experience.

1996 begins on a note of Gothic mystery with the chillingly creepy movement of the door latch, but the candle on the floor is unaccountably omitted. The tone shifts to high drama with the fire, but here 1996, usually so faithful to the book, disappoints. Rochester says his assigned line (“Is there a flood?”), but the humorous point is entirely lost because the fire is still raging! Director Zeffirelli did not have the courage to show Jane putting out the fire by herself and Rochester waking in a pool to find he has already been quite thoroughly rescued. Perhaps the filmmakers didn’t believe audiences could accept such a powerful gender reversal. Is Charlotte Brontë, whom many have denied the status of feminist foremother, still too radical for the modern world?

The erotic charge is reduced by the fact that Rochester is fully clothed and (as in all five of our films) Jane is the one in her nightie. This version is the only one to move the action out of the bedroom, further weakening the sexual tension. Yes, in a real fire, it would have been wise to retreat from the smoky room. But the other versions rightly ignore this, relying on artistic license. The scene must be played in Rochester’s bedroom. He doesn’t want Jane to leave the place, and he has his reasons.

“What happened?”
“I don’t know… I heard a strange laugh.”
(Angrily, in a low voice) “Grace!” (He makes for the door.)

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1996: “Where are you going?” (Pointing his finger at her.) “Stay here. Don’t move.” (The middle-length shot emphasizes the distance between Rochester and Jane.)

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1996: (On second thought, he gets his cloak and places it on Jane.) “Wrap yourself in my cloak. You’re soaked.”

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1996: Jane stands forlornly in the study as the camera follows him down the hallway. He hesitates, looking back, then continues on.

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1996: “Grace! Open the door, Grace.” (The door opens and we hear the strange laugh, but we cannot see what is inside.)

(Cut to Jane, nearly asleep in the easy chair in the study. Rochester enters and closes the door behind him.)
“It is as I thought.”
“Grace Poole, sir?”

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1996: “I’m afraid so.” (Kudos for the puffy shirt with braces! If Rochester must be fully clothed, this is a good way to manage it.)

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1996: “You should send her away.”

(Deep breath.) “Say nothing of this business. I will answer for all this. You can go to your room now. There’s nothing more to fear.”

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1996: (She takes off the cloak.) “Good night then, sir.”

(He seems dazed): “What? Are you leaving me?”
“You told me to go.”
“Well–in that brief, dry fashion? Without taking leave? At least shake hands.”

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1996: (Rochester takes her hand and sees that there is blood on her palm.) Jane says “The roses had thorns.” (Rochester places his handkerchief over the wound.)

“I am in your debt.”
“There is no debt. No obligation.”
“I knew you would do me good in some way, some time; I saw it in your eyes when I first beheld you.” (The camera slowly moves closer.)
“I’m glad I happened to be awake.”
“What’s the matter, you’re shivering.”
“I’m cold.”
(Barely audible): “Cold. You’re cold?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Go then, Jane. Go back to bed.” (Jane turns and leaves immediately.)

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1996: The camera slowly moves in as the dialogue becomes more intimate, then lingers on Rochester’s face after Jane has left.

This final section of the 1996 Fire Scene is pleasingly romantic. Most of the credit goes to William Hurt, who manages to convey Rochester’s desire in spite of everything Zeffirelli does to sabotage the sexual tension. Jane is even given a wounded hand, so that the mood of the scene becomes tender and sweet rather than sexy and dangerous. Clearly, this is far from the moment for a seduction, and Rochester seems lovestruck and longing, rather than passionate and almost out of control. Rochester’s self-contradictions are retained in this version, which is theoretically a good thing, but the humor of the original is again lost. Hurt’s Rochester is not a man struggling against his darker angels, one whom Jane finds it necessary to fend off with the “expedient” of claiming she hears Mrs. Fairfax in the hall. Instead, Rochester seems dazed and confused, and Jane seems truly to want to leave because she is cold and tired, not because she is overwhelmed with barely-suppressed passion. Her feverish (lack of) sleep afterward is omitted.

In my opinion, 1997 does the best job of portraying the swift changes of mood and genre in the Fire Scene, in spite of one rather glaring failure in fidelity and a heaping helping of Kay Mellor’s revisions to the dialogue. As in the other versions, the scene is allotted about five minutes.


1997: In bed, Jane hears the “vague murmur.” The doorknob is touched, and the “demoniac laugh” follows.


1997: An inspired shot shows Jane entering the hallway from the level of the candle sitting on the floor.

Jane bends to pick up the candle, then sees light and hears a crackling from the adjacent door. No need to run down the hallway; it appears her room is quite close to Mr. Rochester’s chamber. [Note: exposure has been increased on several of the screen shots.]


1997: (The first, terrifying view of the fire. Flames have reached several spots on the bed.) “Mr. Rochester! Wake up, wake up!”

Jane grabs the basin from the chest and throws it on the flames closest to him. He is unresponsive (apparently stupefied by the smoke, as in the book).

“Mr. Rochester! Wake up!”


1997: A dramatic shot of Rochester nearly engulfed by flames (compare the similar shot in 1943).


1997: (Jane grabs the water jug and splashes it directly in his face.) “Mr. Rochester! Wake up!” (Finally, he splutters and wakes.)


1997: Rochester leaps out of bed and pulls down the flaming bed curtains. He wears a nightshirt open at the neck.


1997: Jane watches passively and does nothing. Zero. Nada.


1997: Rochester rushes to the other side of the bed as he continues to fight the flames. Jane still does nothing.


1997: Rochester pulls the flaming bedclothes off the bed and smothers them. With no help.

(Kneeling on the floor, exasperated, still putting out the last of the flames in the bedclothes): “What in God’s name is going on?!!”
“Somebody here tried to set fire to you.”
“What, so you thought you’d drown me as well, did you?”

Here at last we have a hint of humor, as well as the delicious puncturing of Rochester’s ego. Of course, we pay a steep price for this. Rochester may be roused by a splash of cold water to the face, but he gets to redeem his masculinity by energetically putting out the fire while Jane stands there like a moron, doing nothing. Not surprisingly, Rochester is in a bad mood. “What in God’s name is going on?” takes the place of the literary Rochester’s “fulminations” and his question “In the name of all the elves in Christendom, is that Jane Eyre?” Like the Rochester of the book, he sarcastically suggests that Jane’s real plan is to drown him.

(Jane): “I’ll call Mrs. Fairfax.”


1997 (Flatly): “You’ll do no such thing.” (Then, more persuasively) “What could she do?”

“I found this.” (She picks up the candle.) “On the floor outside your room.”
(He looks at the candle and his expression changes.)
“I heard a scratching at my door. I thought Pilot must have broken free from his leash.”


1997: “You’re trembling, Jane. Come and sit down.” “No, I mustn’t.”

Jane’s negative answer is not in the book, but here it serves to call the viewer’s attention to the titillating impropriety of her remaining in Mr. Rochester’s bedchamber, now that the immediate crisis has passed. Notice the physical proximity of the two actors.


1997 (Angrily): “What, you are to leave me already, after you’ve just saved my life? Do as you’re told and sit down!” (She looks into his face, then sits.)

So far we have had Gothic mystery (the laugh, Jane’s doorknob moving, and the mysterious candle), high drama (the fire), and comedy (Rochester’s discomposure). Now Rochester reasserts the role he normally plays in 1997: bossy and hotly passionate. He combines close observation of Jane and concern for her welfare (“You’re trembling”) with insistence that she follow his orders. Notice that he calls her “Jane” not once, but several times during this scene. As usual, Hinds’ Rochester is angrier than his literary forebear. He is very dominant, but in a hot and flustered way, quite unlike Michael Fassbender’s coolly dominant Rochester, or George C. Scott’s frozen volcano.


1997: (Rochester takes a blanket from the wardrobe and puts it about her shoulders.) “Here. Keep warm. I’ll be back in a moment.”


1997: Jane covers herself and curls up in the chair.


1997: The camera shows the light traveling on the stairs, shot from the exterior. This is an homage to 1943.


1997: (Rochester returns. Jane does not move from her position in the chair, facing the camera. She begins to speak.) “Why do you keep her here? And why does she hide herself away up on the third floor? Does she mean something to you? Is Grace Poole another one of your grand passions?”

Rochester (slowly realizing he is off the hook): “Grace Poole…”
“She drinks. And laughs loudly. She disturbs me. I have asked Mrs. Fairfax about her, and she told me that she has been with you for a long time.”


1997 (Rochester speaks gently): “Grace Poole is one of the servants, Jane.”

Instead of the dodgy Rochester of the book, who interrogates Jane to find out how much she knows about Bertha, we have a Rochester who listens silently as Jane asks a series of questions which seemingly spell doom for all his plans. Finally Jane reveals her true fear: “Is Grace Poole another one of your grand passions?” This question actually has a basis in Chapter XVI, when the literary Jane considers, but rejects, the possibility that Grace had been Rochester’s lover.


1997: (Jane finally turns her head): “Yes, well, she might have killed you.”


1997: “But you were there to save me. You were my guardian angel. I knew you’d do me good the first day we met. I could see it in your eyes. The expression, the smile was so lovely.” (Suddenly remembering): “And now I am in your debt.”

As usual, the 1997 screenplay not only condenses but re-words Brontë’s dialogue. Why replace “my cherished preserver” with the clichéd “guardian angel”? Why have Rochester say “I could see it in your eyes” when he could say “I saw it in your eyes when I first beheld you“? Worst of all, instead of uttering the erotic declaration “I have a pleasure in owing you so immense a debt,” Rochester suddenly realizes and rather grumpily admits the debt. Nevertheless, there is plenty of sexual tension in this scene.


1997: “There is no debt.” (She gets up.) “Good night, sir.”

“Where are you going?”
“To my chamber.
“What, without taking leave? Look at me, Jane.” (She looks.)
“Are we suddenly strangers again? Are we? Take my hand.”


1997: “I can’t.”


1997: “Am I so repulsive to you?”

“Even strangers shake hands.”

When Rochester asks to take her hand, Jane refuses at first, clearly worried that she is about to be seduced. Rochester’s reply reveals his insecurity about his looks, a theme sounded several times in this adaptation, and responds to her concern, pleading the innocence of the gesture.


1997: Slowly she puts her hand in his and he grasps it firmly. Jane begins to breathe harder. The closeup of their hands is very effective.


1997: (He strokes her right hand with his left.) “Such little, warm, delicate…”

The literary Rochester does not praise Jane’s fingers in the Fire Scene, but he speaks with deep emotion of her delicate “fairy fingers” in a number of other scenes, so I rate this moment true in spirit.


1997: “Oh! I must go!” (She flees.)


1997: After a moment he makes a gesture of anguish and frustration, then pulls his robe about himself.


1997: Cut to Jane inside the door of her room, sitting on the floor in an absolute fever of emotion and sexual frustration. Compare Susannah York in the 1970 version.

The mutuality of this scene is very pleasing; both Jane and Rochester are nearly overwhelmed by their desire. As in the book, Rochester is emotionally expressive and seems to waver somewhere between a declaration of love and a seduction, while Jane is highly aroused but also acutely aware of her peril, and the need to escape him before it’s too late.

2011 allots five minutes to the Fire Scene, which is simplified and stripped down; screenwriter Moira Buffini makes no attempt to capture the original’s mercurial changes in tone. We begin with Jane lying in bed, wide awake. [Explosure has been increased on some of the screenshots.]

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2011: Jane is enduring a sleepless night when she hears the strange voice outside her door.

There is no scary brushing against her door, and Jane finds no mysterious candle in the hallway. Instead, she carries a candle to light her way.

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2011: Jane carries the candle down the hall and sees a flickering light. It leads her to Rochester’s room.

Given that Jane knows nothing about Grace Poole in this version, her expedition down the hallway in the middle of the night in a state of undress seems oddly under-motivated. 

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2011: Jane’s first view of the flaming bed. “Wake up, sir! Wake up!”

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2011: Rochester lies asleep, seemingly stupefied by the smoke.

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2011: Increasingly panicked, Jane tries to wake him. “Sir, wake up!”

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2011: A closeup shows Jane’s look of desperation.

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2011: Rochester finally wakes as Jane throws water from his basin onto the fire. He is wearing only a shirt.

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2011: He leaps up and pulls down the bed curtains as Jane pours the contents of the jug onto the fire.

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2011: “The quilt! Give it here!” (He throws it on the burning bed curtains to stomp out the fire. Then he uses it to smother the rest of the flames.)

Notice that Rochester does not have water splashed in his face or on any other part of him. It does not occur to Jane to wake him this way; instead, she makes a feeble attempt to put out the fire. (In Buffini’s original screenplay, interestingly enough, Jane “douses” Rochester with the basin and he wakes exclaiming “What in damnation?” At some point during production, these faithful elements were removed.) As soon as he wakes, Rochester is shown to be a more capable firefighter, immediately using the quilt (as in 1997) to smother the flames. His state of undress is emphasized by the shot showing his bare legs on the quilt.

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2011: Rochester looks at Jane silently for a long moment, then turns and gets his trousers. She faces away as he puts them on.

Unlike the Rochester of the book, this one is broodingly silent. He retains the position of strength, asking no questions. Instead, he waits for Jane to explain herself.

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2011: Rochester is shown putting on his trousers and tucking in his shirt, by the light of Jane’s candle.

Rochester’s state of undress is a matter of some interest here, just as it is in the book. The difference is that the book dialogue takes place in total darkness, and Rochester himself warns Jane about his nakedness. Here, Jane’s candle provides enough light to cause her some embarrassment as he dresses; he seems to ignore this.

“A noise aroused me from my sleep.”
“What noise?”
“There was someone at my door.”

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2011: “”Stay here.” (He puts a cloak around her.) “Don’t make a sound.”

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2011: Rochester leaves with the candle. Jane goes to sit in a chair.

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2011: A shot of the clock indicates the passage of time.

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2011: A fresh breeze comes through the window which Jane has apparently opened; dawn is approaching.

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2011: Jane is nearly asleep; she suddenly opens her eyes and looks toward the door…

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2011: … to find Rochester staring at her.

Again, Rochester is silent. He does not ask questions about how much Jane knows. Grace Poole has been almost completely cut from this version, so Jane cannot mention her as a possible culprit, and Rochester cannot seize on this as a convenient explanation. For her part, Jane has nothing to say about the fact that someone has just tried to burn him in his bed. The silence on both sides is unrealistic, but it succeeds in creating a dreamlike atmosphere of sexual danger and desire. Finally, Rochester commands her to tell no one of this, and the protest dies on her lips; she accepts his authority.

“Say nothing about this. You’re no talking fool.”
“I’ll account for this state of affairs. Say nothing.”

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2011: “Yes sir.” (Jane takes off the cloak and makes to hand it to him as she leaves.)

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2011: “Is that how you would leave me? Jane, fire is a horrible death. You’ve saved my life. Don’t walk past me as if we were strangers.” “But what am I to do then?”

And there it is, the first time he calls her “Jane.” Notice that he does not advise her to leave, and then change his mind, as he does in the book.

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2011: He throws the cloak aside and puts out his hand.

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2011: She puts her hand on his and he clasps it. The closeup of their hands recalls 1997.

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2011: (Rochester pulls Jane slightly closer.) “I have a pleasure in owing you my life.”

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2011: (Jane, almost a whisper): “There is no debt.” “I knew you would do me good in some way. I saw it in your eyes when I first beheld you.”

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2011: “…Their expression did not strike my very inmost being so for nothing. People talk of natural sympathies. You…”

Jane and Rochester move closer as he speaks, until they are almost kissing. Compare 1996, where the camera moved closer as the intimacy increased, but the two actors did not move toward each other.

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2011: Jane nearly receives a snogging from Mr. Rochester. So close and yet so far… Notice how they are lighted from behind to show the tiny space between their lips.

(Jane, in a whisper): “Good night then, sir.”
“You will leave me then.”
“I am cold.”

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2011: “Go.” (She goes; he looks after her.)

Despite Jane’s claim to be cold, it is impossible to watch this scene without feeling the heat. It is beautifully directed and well acted, especially by Fassbender, who has almost all the lines. The dialogue is reduced to a bare minimum in favor of a mostly visual presentation, though a few delectable lines are dropped in straight from the book. Notably, “I have a pleasure in owing you my life” is permitted its full erotic impact. Rochester is also allowed his lines about Jane’s eyes striking his “inmost being” and his recognition of a “natural sympathy” between them.

At the same time, this stylized interpretation of the book systematically strips away every element that might threaten Rochester’s masculinity or his complete control over the situation. No water to the face. No rescue by Jane. No need to ask Jane awkward questions. No contradicting himself. Even the line about owing Jane his life does not put Rochester at a disadvantage, given the way he uses it to initiate a seduction attempt (or at the very least, an unmistakable offer to make love to Jane). When she musters a word of resistance, however, he dismisses her; he wants her to yield herself willingly. It is all very unlike the situation in the book, where Rochester was on the verge of losing control, and Jane had to pretend that she heard Mrs. Fairfax coming in order to bring him to his senses; even then, he wouldn’t let go of her hand.

Rochester’s gaze as Jane leaves is very sexy, but it doesn’t suggest anguish, frustration, or lovesickness, as in 1970, 1996 and 1997, all of which revealed that Rochester felt out of his depth, at least for the moment. Once Jane returns to her room, she slowly unties her robe, and a thoughtful smile crosses her face. Her reaction is less one of overwhelming sexual frustration and passionate longing (as in 1970 and 1997) than of pleasure in the thought that Rochester has expressed feelings for her.

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2011: Jane after her retreat to her room.

Ultimately, I find it disappointing that none of our five director/screenwriter teams was willing to do justice to Charlotte Brontë’s fantasy by allowing her to extinguish the flames and rescue Rochester by dousing him with cold water. Brontë’s Rochester is momentarily at a loss, but he has no trouble kindling a huge new fire of his own. If this is sexy in the book, why can’t it be sexy onscreen?

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In “Bringing Up Baby,” Cary Grant repeatedly suffers threats to his masculinity, yet he is still very desirable and manly.

Now I am wondering whether any of the miniseries manages this. I’ve seen 1983, but I simply can’t recall how the fire was handled.

And now, the rubric!

Note: for Fidelity, I counted as key elements (1) vague murmur/demoniac laugh; (2) Jane’s door is touched; (3) the candle in the hall; (4) Jane shakes Rochester but cannot wake him; (5) Jane puts out the fire by herself; (6) Jane douses Rochester; (7) Rochester’s reaction: “Is there a flood?” etc.; (8) Rochester’s nakedness in the dark; (9) Jane fetches the candle and relates her tale; (10) Rochester’s refusal to wake the household; (11) He covers her with his cloak and leaves; (12) Jane’s long wait; (13) Rochester questions Jane; Grace Poole; (14) First contradiction; “not without taking leave”; (15) you saved my life; shaking hands; (16) “Pleasure in owing you so immense a debt”; (17) “I knew you would do me good”; (18) Second contradiction, “What! you will go?” (19) Jane’s expedient for escape; third contradiction; (20) Jane’s feverish night.

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1943 is Poor to Fair on every measure except Direction; the lack of fidelity takes its toll here without verbatim dialogue to compensate, and the sexual impact is (deliberately?) watered down.

1970: Earning high marks for Direction, Acting and Chemistry, this version finally comes into its own, but it is only Fair to Good on Fidelity. Rochester’s failure to search for Bertha is very odd.

1996: Fair to Good on all measures, this version simply does not take flight, perhaps because the “faithful” and introduced elements never gel. Use of dialogue from the book is sometimes clumsy, but 1996 deserves points for retaining the elements that de-heroize Rochester (the flood and his inconsistency).

1997: Good to Excellent on Fidelity (except for the rewriting of dialogue) and all other measures, this version interprets the Fire Scene effectively and stays faithful to the spirit of the book. A major flaw is Jane’s failure to try to put out the fire.

2011: Strips down the Fire Scene (heh, heh) but does not add fabricated elements and elegantly retains a couple of key lines. High erotic impact at the expense of the spirit of the Fire Scene. Good to Excellent on everything but Fidelity.

Coming soon: Jane’s Disappointment!