After his abrupt disappearance from Thornfield, Mr. Rochester is absent for “upwards of a fortnight” (i.e., more than two weeks). I have always wondered how Rochester could have endured so long an absence, if he was as deeply in love with Jane as Charlotte Brontë professes him to be. Yet Rochester’s behavior has verisimilitude. Men sometimes react to growing intimacy by withdrawing, especially if they feel they are losing control of the situation. After the betrayals by his wife and his mistress, Rochester felt a deep insecurity regarding his attractiveness to women. He wanted Jane to see him sought after and desired by another woman. He wanted to provoke her to the declaration of love which she had not made during the Fire Scene. So he brought Blanche Ingram to Thornfield.
Such at least, is my theory of Rochester’s maddening behavior. His entire “courtship” of Blanche Ingram was a charade (to pick up on a metaphor from the book), because he already had a wife. Its only object was to put on a show for Jane. To speculate further, perhaps Rochester was thrown into real confusion by his feelings for Jane, and withdrew in order to master them. Upon renewing his acquaintance with the vivacious Blanche, he hatched his nefarious scheme. For–make no mistake–it was repellent of him to use Blanche as he did, and to torment Jane (especially if he believed it possible that she did love him). Rochester’s character is deeply flawed, a fact which has always troubled readers who want to idolize him. Jane herself struggles with this very dilemma, and pays a high price for her worship.
In a way, Rochester’s plot succeeds, because it is only when Jane is confronted with Blanche that she finally admits the truth to herself: she loves Mr. Rochester. This is one of the key points of Chapter XVII, while Chapter XVIII sets forth Jane’s perceptions of her rival, and her evaluation of Rochester’s motives in courting Blanche. Chapters XVIII-XIX also include a fascinating episode which is cut from all five of our feature films: Rochester cross-dresses and pretends to be an old “Gipsy” woman, for reasons which we will explore later in this post. The “Gipsy” episode is included in the two longest miniseries (1973 and 1983). No doubt it is cut in all but these most faithful renditions because of worries about showing the hero of the piece adopting women’s clothing and practicing such an outlandish deception! But it is quite consistent with the Rochester of the book, a man of powerful imagination and strange fancies.
First let us turn to the novel.
When Jane hears Mrs. Fairfax speculate that Mr. Rochester may be gone for a year, she begins to feel “a strange chill and failing at the heart,” but she regains her equilibrium with an effort. “Not that I humbled myself by a slavish notion of inferiority,” she insists. She merely reminds herself not to lavish the gift of her love where it would be unwanted. Still, she thinks often of seeking another post. When a letter arrives for Mrs. Fairfax directing that the house be readied for guests, Jane is deeply moved:
A whirlwind of preparations ensues at Thornfield; Jane is “pressed into service” to assist in the kitchen, making (or as she guesses, hindering the making of) custards and French pastry, while Adèle sees to her “toilettes” and capers about on the bolsters and pillows. During this period, Jane observes that Grace Poole continues to keep herself apart. She overhears a conversation between Leah and another maid, discussing the generous wages Grace receives.
When Leah realizes Jane is present, she nudges the other woman, who whispers, “Doesn’t she know?” Both fall silent. Jane gathers from this that “There was a mystery at Thornfield, and from that mystery I was purposely excluded.”
Jane first sees Blanche Ingram from a window as the cavalcade of riders and carriages approaches Thornfield. There is Rochester on his black horse Mesrour, with Pilot bounding before him.
Jane tells a disappointed Adèle that she must wait until she is called for. They listen to the voices of the guests, the high silvery notes of the ladies and the deep tones of the gentleman, not least the “sonorous voice of the Master of Thornfield Hall” welcoming his guests. Soon there is a hush:
Jane ventures out to retrieve some food for Adèle, and the two sit up late listening to the music, which includes an accomplished female singer and a duet. For her part, Jane strains to make out Rochester’s voice among the others. She remains awake until near one, when the guests finally seek their chambers. The next day there is an excursion; Rochester again rides beside Blanche. Mrs. Fairfax tells Jane that Rochester has requested her presence with Adèle in the drawing room after dinner.
The word “contumacy” denotes not merely stubbornness, but willful resistance to established authority–his! Rochester is just as domineering as ever, and unless Jane is present, his carefully concocted plan cannot work.
Mrs. Fairfax tells Jane how to go on: she must enter the drawing room with Adèle before the others come in from dinner. She may seat herself in a corner and slip away after Rochester has seen her, for as Mrs. Fairfax is certain, “nobody will notice you.” Adèle takes her toilette very seriously, a fact which causes practical Jane some amusement. Soon the ladies enter:
Jane describes the company and in particular Lady Ingram, who would have been “a splendid woman for her age” were it not for her haughty, even pompous demeanor and her “hard, fierce eye.” Blanche meanwhile was “moulded like a Dian” with the noble bust, sloping shoulders and graceful neck of Jane’s expectation. Yet she had her mother’s face, with the same pride. Blanche was conscious of all her superior accomplishments–in playing, singing, and French. “Dark as a Spaniard,” she was attired all in white.
While Jane is ignored, Adèle approaches and is accepted by the company:
As the gentlemen enter, Brontë/Jane switches to the present tense, making her description all the more vivid. Attired in black evening dress, all the men cut fine figures. But Jane is waiting for one alone:
Rochester does not even glance at Jane, but she reports that she had an acute pleasure in looking at him, “pure gold, with a steely point of agony.”
Jane does not yet think of the man she loves as “Edward.” He is “my master,” and the impact of seeing him “quite masters” her. This is the key moment when Jane knows that she loves him, overwhelmingly, in spite of all her strict self-admonishment.
Jane wonders at the fact that Louisa and Amy Eshton do not blush under his smile; they seem impervious to his charms. She, on the other hand, feels akin to Rochester: “I understand the language of his countenance and movements… I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him.”
When coffee is handed round, Blanche approaches Rochester:
As Rochester’s presumptive bride, Blanche makes clear that she has no intention of taking on Adèle. Rochester pleads that he cannot afford a school, seemingly an ironic dig at what he knows to be Blanche’s desire for his vast riches. Blanche goes on to deride governesses, declaring “half of them detestable and the rest ridiculous, and all incubi,” finally enlisting her mother’s support. Lady Ingram insists that she has “suffered a martyrdom” at their hands, whereupon Mrs. Dent whispers in her ear that “one of the anathematised race [is] present.”
Rochester cannot resist a chance to talk of Jane, and he urges Lady Ingram to detail Jane’s physiognomical flaws–to what end? Does he wish to humiliate Jane? Or could it be that he is sardonically encouraging Lady Ingram and her daughter to prove beyond doubt what they have already begun to demonstrate–their lack of compassion, their rudeness, and their utter want of delicate feeling? Is that why he tempts Lady Ingram to speak aloud and redouble her error?
Blanche recounts the delight she and her brother used to take in tormenting their governesses, and alludes to the time she got one of them fired for nurturing tender feelings toward Theodore’s tutor. But as soon as the Eshtons enter the conversation, Blanche curls her lip and decrees a change of subject:
Rochester here reveals that he is an accomplished flirt. He casts Blanche as Mary Queen of Scots and himself as David Rizzio, an Italian courtier who was said to be Mary’s lover. Blanche is almost equally adept, rejecting for him the role of Rizzio and declaring her preference for James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell and Mary’s third husband.
Blanche’s mention of Bothwell is a bold move, because it was rumored that the wicked Earl murdered Mary’s first husband in order that he might possess her. At the piano, Blanche “commences a brilliant prelude” and goes on to insist upon her contempt for the “poor, puny” men of her day, who lack manliness but excel in admiration of their own beauty. Men ought to possess only strength and valor, for beauty is the domain of Woman. The reader, of course, can only be reminded of Céline Varens and her dishonest flattery of Rochester’s “manly looks” and “athletic build.” Jane sees immediately that Blanche is going about it all wrong. But Rochester eggs her on:
In this witty but empty exchange, Rochester adopts the chivalric role of the knight or courtier who is submissive to his lady’s commands. The elaborate compliments he pays are all in the game; they indicate no deeper emotions, touch no answering chord. The elements of dominance and submission are present, as in his flirtation with Jane, but they are outlandish, impersonal, and superficial. Blanche’s preference for hypermasculine, rakish earls and Corsairs (pirates) is only a ploy, for it is clear enough that as Rochester’s wife, she would require her own way in all things.
Jane deems it the right time to depart, but Blanche commands Rochester to sing, and he does so, arresting Jane’s attention. His “mellow, powerful bass” finds a way “through the ear to the heart” and “[wakes] sensation strangely.” Once the song is finished, Jane slips out through a side door, only to find that Rochester has followed her.
After a moment’s formality, Jane and Rochester’s intimacy is quickly re-established. Ever a sharp observer of Jane, he immediately detects the change in her looks and in her emotional state. He probes further–hoping to learn the source of those feelings. The aside about “the night you half drowned me” is pure Rochester, teasing under the guise of a gruff complaint, but also reminding her that he has not forgotten that night. Observing that Jane is at the point of tears, he gives up his plan of forcing her back to the drawing room that evening, but makes it clear to her that the torment he is inflicting will continue on subsequent nights. The smothered endearment (cut in all the film versions) signals to the reader the truth, that his actions arise from his desire for Jane. As we have seen in previous posts, the dynamic is much akin to BDSM: Rochester pushes Jane to her limits, trying to force her complete, abject surrender. He needs to be completely sure of her love before he reveals his own vulnerability. It is a battle of wills and he means to prevail. Like the archetypal dominant male, he alternates between the infliction of his will and heart-melting expressions of tender care.
Chapter XVIII begins with a description of the merriment in the house; in spite of everything, Jane cannot help but enjoy the change of pace from Thornfield’s former monotony. When damp weather arrives, the company decide to play charades, a game completely new to Jane. Offered a chance to play, she declines, leaving the field to Blanche. The first tableau is obvious enough:
Colonel Dent correctly guesses “bride” and the curtain falls. The second tableau is more complex, involving Rochester dressed in shawls and a turban, “the very model of an Eastern emir,” sitting beside a marble basin. Blanche enters carrying a water pitcher, attired to resemble “some Israelitish princess of the patriarchal days.” Blanche allows Rochester to drink from her pitcher; then:
The party guests are stumped at this puzzle, but Jane (thanks to her Lowood education) recognizes the Biblical allusion immediately. It is the story of Rebecca at the well; her humility and kindness won her the hand of Isaac. Charged with finding Isaac a bride, the servant Eliezer presented the dowry jewels to the girl who brought water not only for him, but also for his camels. The irony is deep, for Blanche is no Rebecca. Even her name (the White One, an odd choice for a girl “dark as a Spaniard”) seems to hint at a discrepancy between her outer and inner selves. After one more tableau of Rochester as a prisoner, the charade is solved (“bridewell,” the name of a London prison and also a generic term for prisons). Once more, there is deep significance here, possibly a proleptic reference to the prison that Rochester’s marriage has become, both for himself and for his real wife, Bertha. (Blanche and Bertha are to some degree doubles: they share a physical type and a certain knowing sexual aggressiveness, a similarity which Rochester will later remark upon. And of course, both are the “wrong brides” for him.)
After more flirtation (in which Blanche compares Rochester to a highwayman and a pirate, and he reminds her that she is now his “wife”), the other team plays. Jane ignores their efforts, as all her attention is focused on observing the interaction between Rochester and Blanche.
Jane’s denial of jealousy matches Rochester’s claim that “jealousy was broken” in his affair with Céline Varens, as soon as he realized that his rival was a brainless ninny. Jane explains that Blanche was intellectually no match for Rochester, and that her heart was “barren by nature.” Blanche treated Adèle with acrimony and coldness. Yet in accord with the approved customs of his class, Rochester seemed determined to marry a woman he could not love, one who could not contribute to his happiness. Had she believed that Blanche was worthy, Jane says, “I would have been quiet for the rest of my days.” But what she sensed was quite different:
Jane also realizes that where she previously had a keen awareness of Rochester’s flaws, she now discounts, even delights in them:
On a subsequent day, Rochester is called to Millcote on business, and the party loses all its piquancy. Blanche sullenly flings herself into a chair to read, just as a carriage pulls up to the house. The visitor turns out to be a Mr. Mason, who claims old friendship with Mr. Rochester and asks to be lodged at Thornfield. The handsome Mason is much admired by the ladies, though not by Jane herself, who finds him sallow-looking, vacant and repellent.
Meanwhile, an old Gipsy woman has arrived, demanding to be brought in before “the Quality” to tell their fortunes. Blanche eagerly agrees, but returns from her visit to the Gipsy scowling and unhappy. The other young ladies take their turns, until the footman reports that the Gipsy has demanded to see all, and one yet remains. Jane enters the library and confronts the old woman:
“Elf-locks” are tangles of hair disarranged by the fairies (typically during sleep). The white band is apparently meant to hide Rochester’s mutton chop sideburns (he either does not have a mustache or has shaved it as part of the disguise). The “Gipsy’s” conversation is highly Rochesterian throughout, including “her” characterization of Jane as “impudent.”
The Gipsy asks Jane a series of questions: why does she not tremble, turn pale or request that her fortune be told? Jane replies that she is neither cold, nor sick, nor silly. The Gipsy laughs and smokes her pipe for time, finally pronouncing Jane’s fortune:
The Gipsy goes on to say that if she but knew it, Jane has happiness within her reach. “The materials are all prepared,” if only she will bring them together. Jane repressively answers that she could never guess a riddle in her life (though she’s actually very good at guessing charades). The Gipsy then rejects a reading of Jane’s palm, favoring instead an examination of her physiognomy (a favorite topic of Rochester’s). She commands Jane to kneel on the carpet before the fire.
Rochester’s message is clear, to the reader at any rate: his love is available to Jane, but she must make the first move; she must be the one to declare herself.
The Gipsy proceeds to question Jane about her state of mind as she sits in the drawing room of an evening, cut off from all “sympathetic communion” with the company. She keeps prodding: does Jane ever single out one person from the rest –or perhaps two? Has she not observed that Mr. Rochester, in particular, is favored by a particular lady, that matrimony is rumored? Has Mr. Rochester not sat by the hour listening to that lady’s conversation, and has he not seemed “so grateful for the pastime given?”
Even when unaware that she is addressing Rochester, Jane manages to discomfit him by revealing that all his efforts to appear smitten with Blanche have failed. He has forced himself to sit for hours talking with the detestable Blanche, but the joke is on him! Grumpily, he suggests that Jane deserves “chastisement” for questioning the utter and absolute bliss of the marital scenario he has worked so hard to present. Rochester is here being so Rochester that it strains belief that Jane doesn’t recognize him, but she feels wrapped in a dreamlike “web of mystification.” She also suspects that the Gipsy has something to do with Grace Poole, a notion which prevents her from seeing through the ruse.
The Gipsy goes on to reveal that she has led Blanche to believe that Rochester is not, in fact, wealthy. “I would advise her blackaviced [swarthy] suitor to look out,” for if a better prospect comes along, “he’s dished.”
“Dished” (done for, ruined, defeated) became a popular piece of slang in the early nineteenth century. As a man, Rochester has the freedom to use slang and profane expressions (his favorite is “The deuce!” or “What the deuce?”). Only once does he say the cruder “What the devil?”–when he is masquerading as the Gipsy.
Once again, the Gipsy bids Jane kneel on the rug. She begins to examine Jane’s features one by one, finding allies to “a fortunate issue” in the eye and the mouth. Only the brow is resistant:
This riddling mode of self-expression, in which he holds converse with imaginary or mystical beings, is typical of Rochester. He congratulates Jane’s forehead on its eloquence and promises to respect its declaration. He has formed his plans: in the cup he offers to Jane, there must be no “dreg of shame,” no “hint of remorse.”
Rochester is certain now that Jane will not consent to become his mistress; he must offer her marriage and shield her from ever discovering the truth of her state. Rochester removes his disguise, and when Jane reproaches him with the deception, he asks her forgiveness. Mentally reviewing the conversation, Jane concludes that his attempt to draw her out has not caused her to embarrass herself with any “great absurdity.” Rochester affirms his defeat: “Oh, you have been very correct—very careful, very sensible.” (Unlike a certain gentleman we might name.) After the humiliation of the drawing-room, the power balance has shifted in Jane’s favor, but only temporarily, for Rochester will soon devise a much more dangerous deception.
The casting of Blanche Ingram is important but tricky. Our first impulse might be to insist on the dark hair and eyes she has in the book. But visually speaking, it is most important that she be a foil to Jane. So if Jane is a brunette, Blanche ought to be blonde. She should be talented, beautiful and vivacious, but also shallow and insensitive. Blanche has great confidence in her ability to captivate men, and is a skilled flatterer, verbally transforming Rochester’s swarthy, unlovely looks into those of a dashing Corsair or wicked Earl. Jane knows that Rochester cannot love such an unworthy woman, yet she is all too credible a rival, a perfect match in the eyes of the world.
I found myself enjoying the performance of Abigail Cruttendon (1997) the most. She was convincingly pretty and even charming, but also had plenty of Blanche’s mean-girl vibe; she also had good chemistry with Ciarán Hinds (nearly too good). Hillary Brooke (1943) was the “blonde bombshell” type so prized in the 40s and 50s; she reminds me of Zsa Zsa Gabor, whereas Joan Fontaine is more of the girl next door type, for all her loveliness. Nyree Dawn Porter (1970) is perhaps closest to Brontë’s description of a flirtatious, dark Blanche who acts older and more sexually sophisticated than her years. Supermodel Elle Macpherson (1996) has the height and looks to play Blanche; she makes a great foil for dark-haired Charlotte Gainsbourg. Imogen Poots (2011) gets very little screen time and gives a surprisingly un-vivacious performance, but I’m sure this is due to the direction, not her acting abilities. More on her Blanche below.
All of our five feature-length films cut the brief mention of Grace Poole, as well as the much longer Gipsy episode. 1943 devotes seven and a half minutes to this part of the story (but it also includes the exposition about Blanche, which the other films have already delivered).
As Mrs. Fairfax discusses her preparations, the party’s arrival is announced. She and Jane move to the window to count the number of carriages. Our first view of Blanche is a long shot as the cavalcade arrives.
Jane: “Who’s that riding with Mr. Rochester?”
Mrs. Fairfax: “Why that’s Blanche Ingram, my dear. Haven’t you heard about Miss Ingram and Mr. Rochester? She’s quite an old flame of his.”
Jane knows that Rochester has been visiting friends, but until this point, she does not know of her rival’s existence.
The guests are shown to their rooms and two footmen pass by carrying “Miss Ingram’s bath.” Jane retrieves Adèle from the hallway, and overhears two female guests gossiping:
Cut to Jane in her room, looking in the mirror. Mrs. Fairfax enters. “Oh Miss Eyre, Mr. Rochester wishes you to bring Adele to the drawing room after dinner.”
“Oh, please send Adele by herself. He only asked me out of politeness.”
Mrs. Fairfax continues, “Of course you must wear your very best, my dear.” She looks into Jane’s meager wardrobe. “The black, I think.”
Cut to Adèle peeping through the curtains of the dining room as dinner ends. She rushes back to Jane. “They’re coming, Mademoiselle!”
Lady Ingram’s voice is heard in the dining room: “Now Blanche, stop teasing Mr. Rochester. Come along.”
Both ladies and gentlemen have assembled in the drawing room. Jane works at a piece of embroidery on the periphery of the group, while Blanche sings at the piano, sounding like a professional operatic soprano.
The camera focuses in turn on various members of the audience and records their reactions as they watch Blanche and Rochester together.
Two of the younger men enviously admire Rochester’s figure: “Fine shoulders, eh Ned?” Finally the camera reaches Rochester and Blanche.
Rochester speaks to Blanche in Italian, complimenting her singing.
Adèle, running up to him: “Mr. Rochester, may I sing now?”
“I think we’ve had enough music.”
Blanche (surprised to see Adèle): “But I thought you weren’t fond of children.”
“No, nor am I. (to Adèle) Run along dear.”
“What induced you to take charge of such a little puppet? Where did you pick her up?”
“I did not pick her up. She was left on my hands.”
Lady Ingram: “Governesses! Don’t speak to me of governesses. The martyrdom I’ve endured with those creatures. The clever ones are detestable. And the others are grotesque.” (Jane leaves the room at this point.)
A hand grasps the door as she is passing into the next room. It is Rochester.
“How do you do?”
“Very well, sir.”
“Why did you not come and speak to me in the drawing room?”
“I did not wish to disturb you; you seemed engaged.”
“Come back to the drawing room. You’re leaving too early.”
“I’m a little tired, sir.”
“Yes, and a little depressed. What about?”
“I’m not depressed, sir.”
1943 provides an economical but effective portrait of Blanche. She is shown to be beautiful and talented, but also heartless and cruel. Everyone but Jane finds the match entirely appropriate. Jane barely has time to absorb the blow of realizing that Rochester’s interests lie elsewhere, when she is roundly insulted by Blanche and her mother, and flees the room. A few key lines from the book are retained, both here and in the hallway exchange. The sequence is highly condensed, however, and lacks the depth and subtle analysis of the original. Neither we nor Jane have any real opportunity to observe Blanche and Rochester together or to conclude that he does not love Blanche. There is no indication (other than her evident distress) that this is the moment when Jane realizes her own love for Rochester.
Welles’ Rochester seems tenderly concerned for Jane, but without the Gipsy episode, we don’t sense his overwhelming need to learn whether she is jealous. In the book, Rochester excuses Jane for the evening but requires her to appear on subsequent nights. 1943 cuts this part and moves straight from their conversation to Mr. Mason’s arrival.
1970 includes a comparatively full (9:30), careful treatment of these chapters (with the exception of the Gipsy and the charades). We begin with Rochester and Blanche arriving at Thornfield on horseback.
Rochester helps Blanche from her horse and escorts her into the house, calling rather testily for Mrs. Fairfax, who seems not to have been warned of the party’s approach. As he is welcoming the other guests, Jane and Adèle walk in. Thus Jane does not, as in the other versions, witness the bustling preparations of the house, nor Blanche’s dramatic arrival.
Cut to Adèle watching the party from the second floor. Blanche is dancing with Rochester.
Blanche: “I should have all the furniture French.”
“Ah. And me, would you rearrange me too?”
“Oh, you I should leave, like a well-loved old oak chest.”
(He laughs. The dancing continues. The camera focuses on another couple.)
“She’s a mystery, that one.”
“She’s the daughter of an enigma.”
“They say she’s his ward.”
(He laughs.) “Wouldn’t you?”
These exchanges are not in the book, but they carry relevant information. On the one hand, Blanche’s exchange with Rochester lets us know that she confidently expects a proposal, and that she is very interested in his house and his money (French furniture being an expensive luxury). For his part, Rochester’s question recalls (for the audience, at least) his cynical beliefs about women, which are emphasized in this version. The unnamed dancing couple suggest, far more explicitly than in the book, that Rochester’s friends believe Adèle to be his illegitimate child.
Jane emerges from the nursery and finds Adèle crouching behind the rail.
Rochester catches sight of the pair as he is dancing with Blanche. “Adèle has been captured by her governess and led away.”
“She’s a plain little thing.”
(Taken aback) “I think she’s pretty.”
(Laughing) “No, I mean the governess.”
Blanche thus reveals her shallowness to Rochester–her willingness to criticize another woman’s looks in the smug consciousness of her own beauty. In her room, Jane listens to the sounds of the party.
Cut to a bridge over a stream. Giggling can be heard. Blanche and Rochester come into view. He approaches her.
This fabricated exchange stands in for the extensive flirtation in the book, and it’s better than nothing–it captures Blanche’s delight and Rochester’s willingness to play along. But it is not clear that Rochester knows Jane can see and hear him. If his target audience is not present, there is little reason for him to perform. In the book, Blanche never quite takes the liberty of calling Rochester “Edward.” Presumably that would be reserved for an affianced bride or a wife (even a married woman often used her husband’s surname). Blanche addresses him as “Mr. Rochester” except at her most flirtatious, when she calls him “Signior Eduardo” and he calls her “Donna Bianca.”
Next we see Mrs. Fairfax, meeting Jane and Adèle as they come downstairs. It is later that evening and Adèle is in her party dress.
Jane: “I’ll take Adele into the drawing room, and I’ll ask someone to come for her.”
“But Mr. Rochester expressly asked that you remain, my dear.”
Jane (accepting this calmly): “Very well. Come, Adèle.”
Opportunities are wasted here. First of all, “Mr. Rochester expressly asked that you remain” is a far cry from the thrilling “If she resists, say I shall come and fetch her.” Furthermore, Susannah York’s coolness is a disadvantage here. She should telegraph some of the reluctance and fear Jane feels at being forced to join the company. Jane has never been in society before, her clothes are inappropriate, and her status is inferior to that of everyone else in the room.
Jane takes Adèle into the drawing room and places her on a sofa, giving her permission to greet the ladies when they enter. She herself sits further away in a corner.
“Then what possessed you to take charge of such a little doll?”
“I picked her up in a fit of absence of mind.”
“You should send her to school.”
“She has a governess.”
“Oh, the little thing I’ve seen with her.” (Cut to Jane listening) “You should hear mama on the subject of governesses.”
Lady Ingram: “My dearest lily, I’ve suffered a martyrdom from them. Take my advice Mr. Rochester, send the little girl to school.”
“I will consider it, Lady Ingram.”
Note the divergence: in the book, Blanche dismissively asks “Where did you pick her up?” as though Adèle is a souvenir trinket or a venereal disease. Rochester replies, “I did not pick her up; she was left on my hands.” Here it is Rochester who claims to have “picked her up.” The scene then proceeds much as in the book, except that it is Lady Ingram who suggests a school, and Rochester’s outrageous claim that he can’t afford it is cut.
“And now, Signor Eduardo, furbish up your lungs, as they are wanted in my royal service. We shall sing… a romantic song. I dote on romance, so you must sing con spirito.”
(Blanche’s near-scandalous, sexually suggestive preference for Corsairs, pirates, bandits and murderous Earls is sanitized out of the equation.)
Youth’s the season made for joys
Love is then our duty
She alone who that employs
Well deserves her beauty
Let’s be gay, while we may
Youth is a flower despised in decay
Youth’s the season made for joys
Love is then our duty.
Let us drink and sport today
Ours is not tomorrow.
Love with youth flies swift away
Age is not but sorrow.
Dance and sing, time’s on the wing
Life never knows the return of spring
Let us drink and sport today
Ours is not tomorrow.
1970 is the only one of our five films in which Rochester sings solo, just as he does in the book. George C. Scott does not have as fine a voice as the literary Rochester seems to, but he can carry a tune, and I found myself admiring him in this scene. It is one of the few moments in this part of the story where an adaptation keeps the focus firmly on Rochester, allowing us to see him through Jane’s eyes. The choice of song is also interesting. It suggests that in this version of Jane Eyre, starring the thirty-plus-year-old Susannah York, we are to understand that Jane is “on the shelf,” already too old to hope for marriage (the interview with Rochester never pinpoints her age, though it says she was at Lowood for ten years). Alternatively, it may mean that this is Jane’s time to be young and gay, but she will never have the chance.
Jane is clearly moved by the singing, and as in the book, this is the moment she gets up to leave, NOT when she is insulted by the Ingrams. Thus the film deftly but subtly suggests that her need to flee the room results from her love for Rochester, not merely from the humiliation she has suffered. Humiliation is something Jane already knows how to deal with, but love is not.
Jane is beginning to weep when she hears the door behind her. She does not look back, and the camera stays on her face.
Cut to another night. Rochester, Blanche and others are gathered around a card table. Rochester lifts a card.
Rochester turns another card. “What, a joker? The fool’s for me, sir?”
Man: “No, not you sir.”
Rochester: “And on the other hand, that could mean a journey.”
Woman: “A honeymoon!”
Rochester: “Ten of diamonds, now that’s fire. Fire everywhere. That worries me.”
Blanche (smiling): “Fire in your heart, Edward.”
Jane approaches. “There is someone to see you, sir.”
The card scene, I take it, is intended to replace the Gipsy by bringing in the theme of fortune-telling, but it doesn’t convey the same information. There is a suggestive “prophecy” of fire in the house, and the company have a chance to smile over the anticipated union of Blanche and Rochester, but none of this addresses his relationship with Jane. Overall, 1970 heavily re-writes the chapters in question, but it also works hard to touch on most of the themes in the book. This section is well worth watching.
At seven minutes, 1996 falls into the middle range in terms of the screen time for Chapters XVII-XIX. We begin with a lovely interior shot of Thornfield where the bustling preparations for the house party are in full swing. This is how Jane first learns of Rochester’s impending return.
Adèle: “Mrs. Fairfax, is there something we can keep a frog in?”
“My dear, I have no time for frogs.” (Turning to Jane) “Mr. Rochester may be here any minute!”
As in 1970, Mrs. Fairfax hasn’t received much advance notice (in the book, she receives a letter with detailed instructions three days beforehand, and manages with time to spare). Mrs. Fairfax goes on to explain that “all of Lord Ingram’s fine friends” are coming.
The camera cuts back and forth between the arriving guests, and Jane’s reaction as she observes them.
As in the book, Jane is at first allowed to keep her distance from the guests. 1996 cuts from Blanche’s arrival to a fete on the lawn, which Jane and Adèle again observe from a window.
“You shouldn’t ask such a question.”
“Because it’s none of our affair.”
“It would be my affair, if they got married.”
“Adèle, stop this conversation. Go back to your work.”
“I hope he doesn’t marry her. I heard a maid telling Leah, that she’s only interested in his money. The maid said he brought back a fortune from Jamaica.”
Jane (growing quite frustrated, but still speaking calmly): “Adèle.”
Adèle’s character here diverges somewhat from the book, where she is totally absorbed in the details of her dress, and in her desire to be recognized and petted by the beautiful ladies. (As I have suggested before, Margaret O’Brien in the 1943 version captures her most faithfully.) The 1996 Adèle is older, more cognizant of Rochester as a father figure, and more concerned about her own future. The screenplay uses Adèle to achieve some exposition regarding Blanche’s motives. There is also an intriguing reference to Jamaica, which hints at Rochester’s first marriage. Rochester’s Jamaican money, however, is only a fraction of his fortune, since he also inherited the larger estate(s) of his father and elder brother.
Mrs. Fairfax enters. “Mr. Rochester wants you to bring Adèle to the party. And he wants both of you to stay, until it is her bedtime.”
“Surely he doesn’t want me to stay.”
“Oh yes. ‘If she objects, tell her it is my particular wish.’ Those were his very words.”
As in 1970, the language is softened, although “it is my particular wish” is present in the original. The threat to fetch Jane himself in case she dares to disobey doesn’t fit the gentler personality of Rochester as portrayed by William Hurt.
Adèle receives permission to mingle with the guests and curtseys to them; the ladies begin to notice her.
Blanche approaches him [as in the book, she seeks him out]. “Edward, I thought you were not fond of children.”
“Nor am I.”
“So what persuaded you to take charge of this little creature? Where did you pick her up?”
“You should have sent her away to school.”
“I’m not sure I could afford it; schools are so expensive.”
“Don’t tell me you look after her yourself.”
“We have a governess.”
Lady Ingram: “Aren’t who what, my darling?”
“Oh! Don’t talk to me about governesses. The very word makes me tremble with rage. I have suffered a martyrdom in their incompetence.”
Lady Ingram: “Have I said something wrong?”
(A reluctant whisper): “She’s sitting just behind you!”
(Cluelessly): “Who is??”
(Gritting her teeth): “The governess!!”
This little set piece is beautifully acted by Sheila Burrell as Lady Eshton and Miranda Forbes as a hilariously crass and stupid Lady Ingram. Best of all, it is similar to the event as described in the book. Blanche’s rudeness is only outdone by her mother’s, and even a child can recognize their bad manners. All of this is witnessed by Rochester. In the book, he wickedly encourages Lady Ingram to multiply her errors, but here, he exhibits the manners of a gentleman by intervening to change the subject.
“Come along. Time for dancing. I’ve been idle long enough. Donna Bianca, will you do me the great honor?”
I have mixed feelings about this part. First of all, the singing/piano playing of the book has been changed to dancing. Perhaps it is more visually interesting, but given that 1996 is usually quite faithful to the letter, I suspect that neither Hurt nor Macpherson had the requisite talent in singing, and the moviemakers preferred not to dub them. In other words, dancing was an easier choice. On top of that, Hurt’s putative gentlemanliness is compromised by the line he is given. “Who else would I want to dance with?” is rude to every lady in the room, not just Jane. The Rochester of the book is both more wicked and more courtly than this.
“What about? Tell me.”
“Nothing, sir. I’m not depressed.”
“But you are. So much so that a few more words would bring tears to your eyes. Indeed, I see them there now.”
(Retreating up the stairs) “Please excuse me, sir. I’m very tired.”
(Firmly): “Very well. I’ll excuse you tonight. But so long as my visitors stay, I would like you to appear in the drawing room, every evening. It is my wish, Jane. Don’t ignore it.”
Like the other versions, 1996 easily shows Jane’s humiliation. It is a more difficult task to suggest that this is the moment she realizes her love for Rochester; here the trick is accomplished by showing that she cannot bear to see him dancing with Blanche. Rochester, however, conducts no witty flirtation with Blanche (simply calling her “Donna Bianca” is insufficient, and puzzling when ripped from the original musical/courtly context). Most damaging is a recurrent problem with Zeffirelli’s direction: he almost never allows the two leads to get close. In this scene they should be close enough to touch.
1997 lavishes the most screen time on this part of the story, nearly ten minutes, and in terms of total coverage, it is the most faithful. However, there are familiar problems with the screenplay (too much rewriting). It begins with the letter from Rochester in Mrs. Fairfax’s hands, just as in the book.
Cut to Jane in her room. She hears the commotion below. Back to Mrs. Fairfax.
Mrs. Fairfax details the guest list and counts up the probable number including maids and valets. “Oh, what are we going to feed them? Where are we going to put them?
Sophie: “I can sleep in Adèle’s room.”
“Yes, we’ll have to double up.” (To the maids) “Well, what’re you standing there looking stupid for? Come on! We’ve got work to do.”
Lady Ingram (looking around appraisingly): “It has great potential.”
“Quite. A carpet and some decent pictures would make all the difference. (She turns and calls back) “We’ll be in the drawing room, Mrs. Fairfax.”
This extra scene is included so as to make clear Blanche’s motives (and those of her mother). As in 1970, Blanche is so confident of a proposal that she is already planning to redecorate. Amusingly, she sweeps in without waiting for her host, and orders refreshments as though she is already the mistress of the house.
Voiceover by Jane: “I was composed, prepared. I was sure that when Mr. Rochester walked through the door, I would feel detached. I would look at him, and think how stupid I had been to let my heart become involved with someone above my station.”
Interestingly, this is the only version to omit Rochester’s command for Jane to appear in the drawing room. It is also the only version to use a voiceover for this section, which (however heavily rewritten) permits us some direct insight into the complex emotions Jane experiences.
Adèle: “They’re coming!”
The ladies enter. Jane’s voiceover: “Mrs. Fairfax was right. Blanche Ingram was beautiful.”
Blanche: “Do tell me Adèle, what have you been doing while we’ve been having dinner tonight?”
“I’ve been dancing, madame.”
“Dancing! Oh, isn’t she adorable. Mama, have you ever seen anything quite so sweet?”
“Not since you, my darling.”
In the book, Blanche takes one look at Adèle and “mockingly” exclaims “Oh what a little puppet!” but evinces no real interest in her. It is the other ladies who surround Adèle and pay her attention. Later, Blanche is described as being “cold and acrimonious” toward Adèle, and even refers to her as a “tiresome monkey.” None of the onscreen Blanches behaves quite so hideously, and this one (even if her saccharine tones ring false) is at least polite.
Rochester follows his guests out of the dining room, and Jane watches enthralled as he passes her by without a glance.
Jane’s voiceover: “But why then did I still love him?”
Blanche to Rochester: “How on earth do you manage with her at home? You should send her to school.”
“Oh, school’s far too expensive.”
“Don’t tell me you have a governess for her.”
“Matter of fact, I do.”
As in 1943, Jane leaves at the height of the humiliation, suggesting that her pride cannot withstand such an assault. Screenwriter Kay Mellor felt the need to make Jane stand up for herself, in effect, to improve on the book. But the literary Jane had enough humility and dignity to absorb Blanche’s rudeness. In Jane’s eyes, the insults only confirmed Blanche’s unworthiness. At least Jane’s voiceover here confirms that she loves Rochester in spite of all his flaws, that these flaws have almost become virtues in her eyes, because they are part of him.
As Jane is going up the stairs, she hears Rochester’s voice behind her.
Perhaps feeling a twinge of guilt, Rochester has no answer when Jane refuses to come back and be insulted. Instead, he fishes for a word of welcome, of confirmation that Jane has missed him. Jane phrases her reply as though she is speaking of Adèle, but Samantha Morton’s delivery makes it clear that she, Jane, was the one who could not concentrate, who feels relief that Rochester is home.
“Your guests will be wondering where you are.” (She turns.) “Good night.”
“Where are you going?”
“To my room, sir.”
As she is walking up the stairs he starts to follow, then stops. “Well, tonight I’ll excuse you.” Jane is already nearly out of sight, so he raises his voice. “But from now on I shall expect you in the drawing room every evening!” (Jane is no longer visible.) “Is that clear??”
The screenplay and direction change the dynamic here, so that it is about Jane refusing to let Rochester order her around. His dignity is punctured when Jane does the nineteenth-century equivalent of hanging up on him. There is a certain realism in the emotions here; imagine the awkwardness of someone in real life practicing this strange deception and being confronted with the deep hurt he has caused. Rochester has provoked Jane, but not in the way he hoped. He wavers between his concern for Jane and his determination to go through with the scheme. The tender words from the book about seeing tears in her eyes are omitted.
Cut to the empty drawing room, where Rochester’s voice still echoes “Every evening, Jane!” Jane sits on the sofa, book in hand. As she looks around, the music begins; suddenly we see Blanche and Rochester at the piano, singing a duet from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.
Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more.
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go…
…And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny, nonny.
I’m not certain, but I suspect that the voices of Blanche and Rochester singing are dubbed. In this version, Rochester has a fine tenor, not a bass. The choice of song is sprightly and ironically amusing: “men were deceivers ever.” Jane’s voiceover here is clumsy. It seems to foreshadow her departure from Thornfield, but it resembles nothing Jane says in these chapters.
Lady Ingram to her friend: “Three months and there will be a wedding, you mark my word.”
The direction here is creative and sure-handed. The torment of Jane’s successive nights in the drawing room is shown more effectively than in any other of our films, by trick photography that makes Jane’s memories come and go as she sits waiting for the guests at dinner. This is the only version to show the game of charades, apparently engineered by Rochester to suggest his forthcoming nuptials. Rochester seems to be enjoying himself mightily. He gives no hint that his flirtation with Blanche is an unwelcome labor, but neither does his literary counterpart. The final tableau of palm reading is inserted as a substitute for the Gipsy (compare 1970) but fulfills none of the same functions.
2011 delivers the shortest treatment of all our films, a stingy five minutes. It begins with Mrs. Fairfax knocking on the door of Jane’s room.
Mrs. Fairfax is moved by this offer, which is not extended by the literary Jane. In the book, Jane is “pressed into service” in the kitchen. In 2011, she is assigned the ladylike duty of arranging flowers.Mrs. Fairfax: “What’s she saying?”
Jane: “Mr. Rochester is here.”
Mrs. Fairfax: “Everybody out!” [Apparently she means they should line up outside.]
“Not me, surely.”
“I’m instructed to tell you, if you resist, he’ll come up and get you himself.”
“But I don’t have a dress.”
(Impatiently) “Oh, don’t worry child, who will notice?”
“Nor am I, Lady Ingram.”
“What induced you to take charge of her?”
“She was left on my hands.”
“Why don’t you send her to school?”
“She has a governess.”
“Mama thinks they’re all generally hysterics.”
Lady Ingram: “Or degenerates. Thank heaven I have done with them.”
“It’s a miracle I survived my education. I remember Miss Wilson screaming, ‘You villainous child!'”
Blanche’s brother, dryly: “You tried to set her hair on fire. Frequently, I might add.”
As Blanche, Imogen Poots is unsmiling and sullen. She looks bored and doesn’t seem particularly interested in Rochester. She shares the rudeness of the literary Blanche, but none of her vivacity. Her brother’s remark suggests that she is a spoiled brat. We only get brief glimpses of her, usually partly obstructed by Jane’s head (the direction is designed to suggest that we are seeing and hearing everything from Jane’s perspective).
Rochester: “I give you beauty.”
Blanche: “There’s nothing new to be said. I give you back male beauty.”
Lady Ingram: “Well, that’s my son, of course.”
Lord Ingram: “Hear, hear.”
Blanche: “A man should pay no heed to his looks. He should possess only strength and valor. Gentleman or highwayman, his beauty lies in his power.”
In answer, Blanche looks at Rochester, but we do not see her expression. She begins to sing:
Farewell! if ever fondest prayer
For other’s weal availed on high,
Mine will not all be lost in air,
But waft thy name beyond the sky.
The words are from a poem by Lord Byron about having loved in vain. In the screenplay, Blanche plays “a splendid prelude,” but as actually filmed, her playing and singing are mediocre at best. Recall this this version omitted the test of Jane’s piano playing, so the relative talents of the two women are not at issue, although we know from previous scenes that Rochester himself plays, and much better than Blanche. I’m not sure why Blanche’s charms have been so drastically reduced. Perhaps the intent is to show (from Jane’s point of view) that Rochester could not possibly be in love with her, that the putative marriage is being contracted for other reasons. In a way, that is true to the book, but Blanche really ought to be confident and sexy, an overpowering rival by every external measure. Here, she is almost negligible. Mia Wasikowska is already too beautiful to play Jane; Blanche simply doesn’t seem much of a threat.
The casting of the handsome Michael Fassbender creates a problem too, because the literary Blanche’s flirtation is all about finessing Rochester’s lack of beauty and flattering him by suggesting she has a taste for “manly” (unlovely) men. Although the screenplay retains some of Blanche’s lines on this topic, they seem to be directed against the handsome, effete brother who has just embarrassed her in company. Furthermore, the lines “I give you beauty” and “I give you back male beauty” are delivered so flatly that you have to watch twice to understand the gist of the exchange. The scene, unfortunately, feels rootless and rather pointless.
Rochester does not sing–no surprise here. It would be out of character for this Rochester to do anything risky, anything that might put him at a disadvantage. Additionally, he is taciturn and silent, not voluble and courtly as in the novel. As he smokes and listens to the song, Jane rises to leave.
“What have you been doing while I’ve been away?”
“You’re depressed. What’s the meaning of this? Your eyes are full…”
Mrs. Fairfax interrupts from a doorway to announce the arrival of Mason.
In the hallway scene, Mia Wasikowska does a good job of showing that Jane is putting a brave face on. She is determined not to let Rochester guess her feelings. Rochester outrageously suggests that it was Jane who acted rudely by not greeting him in the drawing room, but she refuses the bait. Then he changes tactics, and begins to speak more tenderly. It’s a fascinating moment, and we share his irritation when Mrs. Fairfax interrupts.
Time for the rubric!
1943 has good direction and screenplay but is slightly too condensed, and suggests that Jane leaves the room because she feels humiliated.
1970 is Good to Excellent on all measures, even if some of the material is fabricated.
1996 is faithful except that dancing is substituted for singing and charades. The high point is the exchange between Lady Ingram and Lady Eshton.
1997 has excellent direction and includes a fuller presentation of the drawing room scenes, including the charades. It is the only version to fully convey the turning point of Jane’s realization of her love for Rochester.
2011 fails because of the misconceived characterization of Blanche, but the hallway scene between Jane and Rochester is very good, and the scenes with Mrs. Fairfax are strong.