Throughout Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë associates tropical foreign climes with dangers to body and soul: tempestuous hurricanes, sulfurous green heat, contagious fevers, miasmic airs conducive to lassitude and moral taint. Cool green England, on the other hand, with its mild weather and bracing winds, fosters health and moral purity. Of course, England was no more free of disease than any other place; Brontë lost her beloved sisters to tuberculosis, one by one. Yet like many of her countrymen and women during the height of the Empire, she seems to have nurtured an insular mistrust of the exotic, the foreign, the other. This fear is most clearly expressed in her account of Bertha Mason Rochester (and later in Jane’s reaction to St. John’s plans for missionary work), but it is powerfully foreshadowed in the arrival at Thornfield of one Mr. Richard Mason from Spanish Town, Jamaica.
At the end of Chapter XIX, after Mr. Rochester has doffed his Gipsy disguise, Jane mentions that Mr. Mason is in the house and waiting to speak with him. His reaction is swift and profound:
Supported by Jane, Rochester takes a seat. His words call to mind the day Jane rescued him after his accident in Hay Lane, when he fell from his horse. They also forecast an important theme of Chapter XX, Jane’s desire to serve Rochester, to be his helper. In this section of the book, she is at her most submissive. Her hopes of becoming more than an employee to him have been dashed, yet her love is undiminished. She expresses it through a willingness to serve him, even in a relationship of inequality, and even to the point of self-sacrifice:
Rochester gladly accepts this evidence of Jane’s abject devotion; in this section of the book he is at his most patronizing, often calling Jane “my little friend” and using similar endearments which infantilize her, but are also deeply intimate. Ultimately Jane will find a better balance in her relationship with Rochester, but for now, in his hour of need, she can refuse him nothing.
Jane fetches the wine, braving Miss Ingram’s glare. Rochester downs it and asks about the mood of the guests. Were they “grave and mysterious, as though they had heard something strange?” No, replies Jane. They and Mr. Mason were laughing and joking. Suddenly Rochester asks an unexpected question.
Rochester imagines that Mason will (intentionally or not) reveal his secret, exposing him to the anger and scorn of his peers for courting Blanche when he is already married. Always prone to fantasy, he imagines himself alone against a hostile world, with Jane as his only potential ally. Jane’s reassurance, meanwhile, is as close as she can come to a declaration of love. Thus strengthened, he sends her to bring Mason to him. Later, she hears Rochester showing Mason to a room. He sounds cheerful, and her fears are lightened. But as Chapter XX begins, Jane is awakened by a full moon and a terrible cry:
Jane compares the “thing” which emits the scream to an Andean condor, a huge carrion-feeding vulture. Then she hears a struggle directly above her head in the attic, and a voice calling for Rochester. The noise rouses the sleeping guests:
Rochester appears, and although in a volatile mood, he is able to calm the guests with what Jane recognizes as a cover story about a servant who suffered a bad nightmare. “By dint of alternate coaxing and commanding,” he sends them all back to their beds. Jane returns to her room and finishes dressing. An hour passes, and all is very still when at last the knock on her door comes.
Throughout the episode with Mason, Jane’s “master” seems to go out of his way to assign her tasks, all of which she willingly performs without question. Here, it doesn’t seem to occur to him that he needs a sponge and smelling salts until he and Jane have climbed the stairs, whereupon he sends her back down. When she returns, he is waiting with another question.
As Rochester opens the door, Jane recognizes a tapestry-hung room which Mrs. Fairfax had shown her when she first arrived at Thornfield. Now, however, the tapestry is looped up to reveal an open door:
Jane asks no questions. Rochester closes the door and leads Jane to a chair in which Mr. Mason lies, bloody and fainting. He brings Mason round with the smelling salts and sponges the wound, briskly ridiculing Mason’s fear that he is dying.
Dominant as ever, Rochester offers no explanations. He is so confident in the obedience of Mason (who is explicitly described as “submissive” to him) and of Jane herself that he leaves them together, despite the danger that Mason will reveal the secret to Jane. He simply commands them not to speak to each other, a command which they scrupulously observe. It is significant that Rochester does not see fit to ask a servant to assist him; instead, he wishes Jane to fill that role, so that she both shares and is excluded from his deepest secrets. With a last warning of “Remember!–No conversation!” he leaves to fetch a doctor.
Jane describes the lengthy ordeal of sponging Mason’s gore and waiting in the shadowy room, full of ancient furniture including a medieval cabinet with likenesses of the Twelve Apostles and “the devilish face of Judas.”
Once more she ponders Rochester’s unknown motives for harboring a murderous woman in his house and concealing her crimes. Then too, she wonders about the strangely passive visitor, Mr. Mason:
The image of the thunderbolt falling on a stout old tree will recur later in the story, at a most crucial point. Jane’s thoughts about Rochester, meanwhile, reveal that her love includes an element of hero-worship. Rochester, who was only recently enacting a ludicrous masquerade as a Gipsy woman, has once again become hyper-masculine.
Jane’s patient begins to grow weaker, and her candle goes out, but as the light of dawn appears, Pilot’s bark heralds the arrival of Rochester, who gives the doctor a half hour to complete the preparations for Mason to be moved.
Rochester reproaches Mason for yielding too easily, adding that he had warned Mason not to attempt a visit alone.
The horror is amplified: the woman behind the door is now compared not merely to a carrion-eater, but to a predatory vampire thirsty for fresh blood. Rochester’s reaction is immediate, and the string of nouns–“disgust, horror, hatred”– recalls his spasmodic vision in the Beech Avenue, when “pain, shame, ire, impatience, disgust, detestation” mingled in his dark eye as he gazed at Thornfield. Yet despite his loathing for Mason and all he represents, Rochester treats the man with decency, even kindness.
Rochester sends Jane to his bedchamber to fetch a shirt and neckcloth for Mason. Upon her return, he asks whether anyone is up yet, remarking that it will be better for all concerned if Richard leaves unseen: “I have striven long to avoid exposure, and I should not like it to come at last.” Then he sends her to retrieve Mason’s fur cloak, for Mason is highly sensitive to the cold weather. Yet another errand is to fetch from his own chamber a mysterious drug in a phial:
Jane comments that “Mr. Mason obeyed, because it was evidently useless to resist.” How different is this commanding Rochester from the man who needed Jane’s shoulder to help him to a chair, and asked for her reassurance that if all the world turned its back on him, she would remain at his side! Rochester’s familiarity with sinister drugs is an interesting aspect of his character, perhaps left over from Brontë’s initial conception of him as a villainous Gothic seducer.
Jane’s final task is to bring the driver to the door, and to give warning in case any of the household are up as Rochester brings Mason downstairs and installs him in the carriage:
Again, Rochester’s masculinity and dominance is contrasted with the cravenness and feminine tears of Mason, whose temperament has been shaped by the enervating tropics.
Supposing her tasks are finished, Jane turns to go in, but Rochester calls to her to accompany him into the garden:
Rochester feels soiled by Mason’s visit and its consequences; always he associates the Masons with contagion, deception and taint, while Jane represents all that is pure, fresh and authentic. Thornfield itself is permanently stained in his eyes; the “glamour” Jane perceives is mere fairy-dust concealing the rot within. (The supernatural fairy motif, so often applied to Jane, has a light and a dark side. The dark version is applied to Bertha, who is more than once described as a “goblin.”) The April garden with its familiar fruit trees, flowers and herbs offers a respite in nature. Rochester associates this natural purity with Jane by offering her a half-opened rose, which she accepts.
Rochester speaks enigmatically, explaining that Mason would not intentionally harm him, yet with a word he might deprive him forever of happiness. Nor can he explain the danger to Mason, for the man must be kept ignorant of the very harm he might cause.
Rochester’s words set forth the dynamic of the relationship at this stage. He enjoys exercising power over his “little friend,” sending her on errands to assist him. He determines how much she knows, and speaks to her in riddles which she cannot decipher, even as he shares his innermost thoughts. He delights in the idea that Jane is eager to please him, that pleasing him is, indeed, the source of her own pleasure. And yet, as he acknowledges, Jane has power over him, and much of that power resides in the moral purity he so admires and envies. To protect himself, he must keep her in ignorance.
They come to a bench in an arbor and when Jane remains standing, he significantly asks, “You don’t hesitate to take a place at my side, do you? Is that wrong, Jane?” Jane sits beside him, for to refuse him would be “unwise.” Rochester then puts his case to Jane:
He asks Jane to imagine that the young man in question finds his life insupportable as a result of the error, and turns to years of wandering and “heartless sensual pleasure.” Finally there is a new development:
When Jane is at first unable to answer, he rephrases the question: is the repentant man justified in “daring the world’s opinion” in order to attach to him forever this gentle stranger, thereby securing his regeneration?
Jane gives an orthodox reply, that the sinner’s salvation can never depend on another person, only on God. Rochester, however, is heretical, insisting that his salvation is impossible without the person whom God has specially ordained for that purpose. In effect, he casts the “gentle stranger” in the role of Redeemer. By asking Jane to approve of this plan, he also seeks her absolution in advance for the very deception he is planning to practice on her. His arguments are ingenious, but by Jane’s theologically correct standards, wrong–almost blasphemous. Just as Jane dangerously idolizes Rochester, he errs by pinning his spiritual hopes on her alone. And yet as the outcome will show, Charlotte Brontë has a certain submerged sympathy for the idea that Providence may ordain a redeeming love.
Rochester’s pause is long. He seems to realize that he has almost said too much, almost given Jane the power he fears. Therefore he uses misdirection to recover his advantage:
Before Jane can respond, he leaps up and begins pacing. When he returns, he takes Jane’s hand and remarks that her fingers are cold; they were warmer when he held her hand at the door of the mysterious chamber.
Rochester claims that he is to be married to Blanche, indeed that he loves her, and yet his “praise” of Blanche is delivered with heavy irony. Instead of the queenly, beautiful young lady with a figure “moulded like a Dian” whom others perceive, Rochester sees an overly tall, muscular, even masculine woman (“a real strapper”), and expresses himself on the subject in an unusually vulgar way. As we will learn later, Blanche physically resembles Bertha Mason. There was never any real danger that Rochester would be attracted to her.
The core elements in this section are (1) the scene where Rochester requires Jane’s support (“I have a blow, Jane”); (2) the tending of Mason’s wound; and (3) the garden conversation. Of our five feature-length films, only three cover all these elements: 1943, 1970 and 2011. 1996 surprisingly leaves out both “I have a blow” and the garden conversation, and 1997 leaves out “I have a blow.”
In 1943, Mason’s entry follows directly on the scene in which Rochester is asking Jane why she left the drawing room. He does not deliver the speech commanding her to appear in company on subsequent nights (and these are not depicted). Instead, he overhears Mason’s arrival. The following scenes receive a full ten minutes and are unusually faithful to the letter and spirit of the book.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“If help is needed, I’ll seek it at your hands. I promise you that. Jane, if all the people in that room came and spat on me, what would you do?”
“I’d turn them out of the room, if I could.”
“And if I were to go to them, and they only looked coldly at me, and dropped off and left me, one by one, what then? Would you go with them?”
Rochester looks deeply into her eyes, then turns and opens the door to the hall. He goes to meet Mason, who holds out his hand. “Edward.”
Welles delivers the original lines with great feeling (“I wish I were on a quiet island with you”). As Welles biographer Simon Callow has noted, his readings are very “actorly” in this film, not an attempt to realistically portray a member of the English aristocracy. For me, this theatricality, together with the Gothic lighting and sets, lend the film a certain weight and force which it lacks in other versions. Joan Fontaine’s passivity works well in these scenes because it matches Jane’s state of mind during this part of the story. She does not presume to question her master; she simply gives him her help and obedience.
Guests assemble in the hallway, exclaiming and calling for Rochester, who is coming from the tower room. He meets Blanche and the rest as Jane watches from her door.
“That’s all it was. One of the maids had a bad dream; woke up screaming.” (Jane, listening, realizes that this is a cover story.) “The moral of that is, don’t eat toasted cheese for supper. Now ladies, will you all go to your rooms? Lady Ingram, you set the good example.”
Blanche: “I declare I’m quite disappointed. I was so looking forward to seeing Uncle Percy shoot a robber.” (She reaches her door.) “Good night Edward.”
Jane shuts the door and turns away, but soon Rochester calls her. He asks if she turns sick at the sight of blood, and she says she has never been tried.
At the door to the attic room, Rochester says, “Jane, what you see may shock and frighten and confuse you. I beg you not to seek an explanation. Don’t try to understand.” He unlocks the door. “Whatever the appearance, you must trust me.”
Most of the adaptations include admonitions like this from Rochester, even though he says no such thing in the book. The literary Rochester places full trust in Jane to obey him. She has plenty of questions, but she suppresses them during the crisis. Apparently the screenwriters felt that Jane’s silence would seem oddly passive to a modern audience; why did she not demand some kind of explanation? Or why did Rochester not offer some word of justification? But it is typical of him to make clear that there is a riddle, without revealing the answer.
Immediately the inner door begins to move as if someone is trying to get out; Jane hears the sound of weeping.
Rochester tells Jane to get dressed and check to see whether the carriage is ready to leave. As soon as she is gone, he turns on Mason angrily.
“I thought I could have done some good.”
“You thought… you thought!! Come doctor, we must have him off… I’ve tried so long to avoid exposure. I shall make very certain it doesn’t come now.”
In the book, there is no blood-curdling scream, and the inner door does not continuously move; the Gothic elements have been dramatically boosted in 1943. These scenes also involve a more subtle change from the book: Rochester sends Jane away before he expresses his anger at Mason. Welles portrays him as furious, barely able to contain his wrath. Jane is not present when he speaks the lines about avoiding exposure. Presumably the screenwriters thought it was too far-fetched for Jane to hear this and still demand no explanation. Or perhaps they wished to remind viewers that Rochester was deliberately deceiving her. Welles’ Rochester is certainly the most sinister of the lot.
Once the carriage is away, Jane turns to go inside, but Rochester calls her to come through the door in the wall, outdoors.
“You’ve passed a strange night, Jane. You’re pale.”
“Mr. Rochester, will Grace Poole live here still?”
“Yes, Grace Poole will stay.”
“After last night?”
“Don’t ask for explanations. Just believe me when I tell you that there are reasons for it; good reasons.”
As in the book, Jane finally ventures a timid question about Grace Poole. The literary Rochester brushes this off, telling Jane not to be concerned; he will handle the situation.
The original line about Jane being Rochester’s “pet lamb” is wisely omitted, but Rochester does call Jane his “little friend,” and Jane’s response is close to the book’s “I like to serve you, sir, and to obey you in all that is right.” Presumably Jane’s compliant attitude was more acceptable to audiences in pre-feminist 1943, for none of the other adaptations includes these crucial lines. It is useful to remember that wedding vows in the Church of England specified obedience for the bride (and still do, although couples may choose an alternative wording).
Jane is silent at this, and Rochester begins to make his case: “Jane, I want you to use your fancy. Suppose yourself a boy, a thoughtless, impetuous boy indulged from childhood upwards. Imagine yourself in some remote foreign land. Conceive that you there commit a capital error, one that cuts you off from the possibility of all human joys. In your despair, you wander about vainly seeking contentment in empty pleasure. Then, suddenly, fate offers you the chance of regeneration, and true happiness.”
Here, the theological disagreement between Jane and Rochester is cut, and mention of a higher power is avoided; instead Rochester voices a concern that his actions may shame or destroy Jane. In the book he confesses to no such scruples.
“Whenever I can be useful.”
“For instance, on the night before I’m married. Will you sit with me then?”
(As Jane reacts to the news, Blanche’s voice can be heard on the other side of the wall.) Rochester continues: “I suppose you think no one will have me; well, you’re wrong. You don’t know these young ladies of fashion. They may not admire my person, but I assure you, they dote on my purse.”
“Good morning Edward. By rights I should scold you, for running off like this.” (They walk out of sight.) “A correct host entertains his guests.”
Voice of Rochester: “My dear Blanche, when will you learn? I never was correct, nor ever shall be.”
1943 softens Rochester’s behavior and words. In the book, he as good as tells Jane he is going to marry Blanche, then speaks of his intended wife with deep irony as “a real strapper” who would “regenerate [him] with a vengeance.” Here, he allows that he will marry “some time” and hints that Blanche will accept him for his money. The line is borrowed from the Gipsy’s dialogue: “Probably she loves him, or, if not his person, at least his purse.”
In spite of the changes, 1943 is delightfully faithful to the letter of the book (more so than usual), and retains many original lines. Rochester constantly uses Jane’s given name in these scenes, another feature which preserves the flavor of the original. My only complaint is that the “fresh, pure” garden looks like the backyard of the Addams Family, all stone and misty vapors. Truly, there is no respite from the Gothic in this version.
1970, the “anti-Gothic” version, must deal at last with the unavoidably dark and mysterious elements of the story. It allots slightly more than nine minutes to this section. Last time, we left Rochester turning over cards in a fortune-telling game; now Jane approaches:
Blanche: “So the joker was a long journey, Edward.”
He turns another card.
Blanche: “Oh, the ace of spades. What does that mean?”
The ace of spades is in fact known as “the death card.” Rochester’s expression “life is an idiot” is odd (and not in the book). It may be a quotation, but I have not been able to trace a source for it.
“Is his name… Mason?”
“Yes, sir. What is wrong, sir?”
“He can destroy me. Destroy my hopes anyway, my dreams.”
“Could you dare censure for my sake?”
(Jane, urgently): “What is it? Tell me.”
(He shakes his head slightly.) “Go to bed. Think no more of it. Go.”
There is a bit of cheating here. Instead of putting the onus on George C. Scott to communicate through his body language and facial expression the threat that Mason represents, the screenplay lets him state explicitly “He can destroy me.” Jane’s lines are drastically changed. Instead of telling him “I’d give my life to serve you,” she becomes impatient with Rochester’s riddles and demands to know: “What is it???” She acts more like a contemporary woman would. Jane reluctantly goes up the stairs, while Rochester heads for the room where Mason is waiting.
This is a highly effective moment. Rochester confronts Mason, but we see nothing of their conversation. Cut to Rochester returning to his bedchamber after the meeting.
Next we see Thornfield at night. A sudden scream wakes Pilot, who is sleeping outside.
I’m not sure what the screenwriters intended to accomplish by bringing Mrs. Fairfax into the scene, since it only means they have to get rid of her again. (I also found it odd that she burst into Rochester’s bedchamber without knocking. I suspect that actual housekeepers in the 19th century knew better than to do this, emergency or no.) In the novel, Mrs. Fairfax is not present, and Rochester makes no move to call for her, just as he did not call for her when the fire in his bedchamber started. Here there seems some unspoken complicity with Mrs. Fairfax, yet it is Jane whom Rochester chooses to assist him.
Bidding a final goodnight to Blanche and the other ladies, Rochester takes Jane upstairs. He makes her wait outside the door, but she peeks in and sees him shutting the inner door on someone who utters strange cries.
“Come in, close the door, and no questions. Not now.” Rochester looks at a bottle on a table and shakes his head. “Grace Poole… (To Jane) Give me the sponge. You don’t turn sick at the sight of blood?”
“I think not, sir.” Suddenly she gasps at the sight of a bloody knife on the floor.
Rochester does not issue a string of commands as in the book, and he promises to be back “in a minute” rather than one or two hours. The omission of the command for Jane and Mason not to speak to each other is odd (recall the similar lack of caution when Rochester failed to look for Bertha after the fire). I fear this is simple sloppiness on the part of the screenwriters.
I found this scene astonishing and quite impressive. George C. Scott picks up “Mason” as though he were no heavier than a child, and carries him–not a fireman’s carry, but the hard way, in his arms. It looks absolutely effortless, and in a second scene we see him carrying Mason to the carriage. None of the other versions includes this feat of strength (nor does the book). It’s worth a watch! Doctor Carter is cut from this version: instead, Rochester drives Mason into town himself.
“And the danger you thought you were in last night, is that past?”
“I can’t vouch for that until Mason is out of England. Which will be soon, I hope.”
“He did not seem a man willfully to injure you.”
“No, but unintentionally he might. Sit down.”
For a second time, Rochester urges Jane not to ask questions. He changes the subject, bringing up the question he needs to ask:
“You talk of yourself, Mr. Rochester.”
“We are each responsible to God for our actions. I do not think we can ask others to share the burden. Least of all Miss Ingram.”
The writers make Jane clarify that Rochester is speaking of himself (something which both the book and 1943 assume the audience can grasp on their own). Rochester’s key point is changed, and his bad intentions are toned down: here he wishes to know whether he can justifiably ask Jane to ignore the marriage problem. In the book he wants her to unwittingly agree to his plan to deceive her, so that he can “overleap an obstacle” which he believes is a mere social convention, nothing to do with commitments of the heart. 1970 is closer to the book than 1943, however, in that it acknowledges the way Jane’s answer is rooted in her religious faith.
In 1970 it is Jane who brings up Miss Ingram’s name. Again, this is done to make Rochester more sympathetic–he doesn’t lie, he merely fails to correct Jane’s erroneous belief. The literary Rochester deliberately and falsely reminds her of his plans to marry, even though he also hints that it will be a loveless marriage.
“You do not like her? Come, be honest.”
“I do not think she is for you.”
Although these lines are fabricated, they touch on what Rochester is trying to do. He wants Jane to reveal her feelings for him. In the book, Jane does not believe that Blanche would make Rochester happy, but her thoughts remain private. In 1970, a more forthright Jane actually tells him so to his face. The marriage proposal scene flows directly from this conversation: Jane’s early life with Aunt Reed is cut, and therefore so is Aunt Reed’s illness, Jane’s trip to Gateshead, and all she learns there.
In contrast to 1943 and 1970, which devote plenty of time to the Mason episode, Franco Zeffirelli chose to pare down and de-emphasize this section (about 4:30), veering toward the “anti-Gothic.” Because the dark, mysterious and terrifying elements are inseparable from Brontë’s vision for the book, the attempt to strip these away seems like a misjudgment, but it is consistent with Zeffirelli’s entire vision for the film, and the kinder, gentler Rochester at its center. Perhaps the horror element was seen as an obstacle to a realistic portrayal: this is a more mundane and believable Jane Eyre, sanitized of its weirdness and its deep sexual undercurrents.
The section begins with the arrival of a carriage at Thornfield, presumably on the same evening Jane retreated after seeing Rochester dance with Blanche. In contrast to the creepy Masons of 1943 and 1970, the 1996 Mason looks innocuous, even avuncular. (He is Edward de Souza, most recently seen in “Mr. Turner” and the TV series “The Borgias.”)
At first reluctant (“We have a house full of guests”), Mrs. Fairfax changes her mind when she hears that the stranger has come from Jamaica.
When she hears the name “Mason,” Mrs. Fairfax pauses, momentarily shaken. Joan Plowright is masterful in this scene. It’s clear that she knows something about Jamaica, though we never learn how much. She asks a footman to show Mr. Mason to the Tapestry Bedroom. Cut to a scene of merrymaking in the gallery, then to Mason getting settled in his chamber.
A brief exterior shot of Thornfield at night. A scream is faintly heard.
“Checking on Adèle” was a device also used in 1943, after the fire. Here it seems designed to demonstrate Jane’s bona fides as a caring governess. In the book, I am sorry to report, nobody at all checks on Adèle, who is assumed to be safely under the care of her nurse Sophie. Meanwhile, Rochester hurries down the hall, pulling on his coat.
“You don’t turn sick at the sight of blood?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Give me your hand. It won’t do to risk a fainting fit.”
Both the rousing of the guests and Rochester’s cover story about the servant who had a nightmare are omitted.
Notice that the tapestry is looped up on the inside of the door, so its purpose is not to conceal. This is not the chamber where Bertha is imprisoned in the inner room. Instead, it is Mason’s own bedchamber, which Mrs. Fairfax calls “The Tapestry Bedroom.” Apparently Rochester has already brought Mason back here. This change was made in order to eliminate the suspense and fear of Bertha’s presence on the other side of the door. Furthermore, Rochester says nothing about the need for Mason or Jane to avoid speaking to each other, and he tells Jane that he “won’t be long.” Rochester sends Jane on no errands; a sponge is already available. Jane pours water into a basin and begins to tend to Mason.
True to his word, Rochester seems to return almost immediately.
Entering with the doctor: “I give you half an hour, to dress the wound and get him out of here. (To Mason) Why did you come? Why?”
“You thought. You thought!”
The camera stays on Jane as Mason speaks again, finally introducing a hint of terror: “She said she’d… drain my heart.”
(Rochester, ignoring this and speaking to the doctor): “Keep him at your house till he’s quite well. I’ll ride over in a day or two and see how he is.”
Mason: “It isn’t her fault.”
Rochester: “It isn’t my fault either. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s yours.” (To the coachman): “Go.”
Any film adaptation is obliged to make cuts, but I wonder why the garden conversation, so essential to understanding Rochester’s perception of his own behavior, and his true feelings about Blanche, is omitted here. Rochester’s stunned reaction to Mason’s arrival is also cut, a lost chance to show how deep and intimate is his emotional bond with Jane at this point. We know that Jane suspects Grace Poole, so the implication is that she believes Grace is responsible for Mason’s wound, but the general effect is one of perplexity, of not having all the pieces of the puzzle.
By now we are used to the 1997 pattern: Mellor and Young reinterpret Brontë’s words and situations for a modern audience, often successfully capturing the spirit of characters and scenes, but just as often disappointing us with language that is undeniably inferior to the original. Liberties are taken, yet the film often preserves telling details of the story which are ignored in other adaptations.
1997 devotes a generous 10 minutes to Mason’s mishap and its aftermath. We begin as Blanche is reading Rochester’s palm in the drawing room. Mrs. Fairfax announces Mr. Mason.
Mr. Rochester is given no warning at all, and the “Jane, I’ve got a blow” scene is omitted (unfortunately so, as it would have given a more balanced portrait). Instead, we see his reaction.
Ciarán Hinds has the ability to speak with his eyes, and here he uses it well. Suddenly he rises. “Richard.” He excuses himself and guides Mason out, putting a hand on his shoulder. This is a hint of the dominance Rochester has over Mason in the book.
Blanche (slightly petulant): “Well. What are we to do now?” (Hearing this, Jane suppresses a smile.) Cut to Jane in her bed later that evening.
Rochester’s fist is shown knocking at her door. Then:
Recall that in the book, Jane was already dressed when the knock came, having realized that her help might be needed. Here Rochester is shown to be agitated and impatient. He commands instead of asking, just like the literary Rochester.
Rochester (barely polite): “It’s just one of the servants. She’s had a bad nightmare. Go back to bed.” (He and Jane keep walking, leaving Blanche frustrated.)
In this version, Jane is more confident of her steadiness (in the original, she has “never been tried”). As in 1996, Rochester takes her hand not to test for clamminess and tremors, but to lead her up the stairs in the dark. Jane is also much more assertive and autonomous in this version than in the book. Instead of passively accepting Rochester’s instructions and flitting back and forth to do his bidding, she takes charge, asks questions, and generally acts in a way modern audiences will find more admirable.
Rochester doesn’t answer Jane’s question, but leads her into the upper room where Mason reclines.
Mason: “Fetch a doctor! Please! Help me… she bit me and clawed on me, like some…” (Rochester interrupts) “I warned you. But you wouldn’t listen.”
Jane: “These wounds are deep. I must stop the bleeding.” (She looks around for something to use as bandages.)
Mason’s description of the attack introduces a note of horror. Rochester orders him to be quiet, but instead of commanding Mason and Jane not to speak to each other during his absence, he gives Mason the drug, perhaps to knock him out.
Laudanum (similar to morphine) was widely used in the nineteenth century and could be purchased easily in chemist shops. It is hardly the sinister potion the literary Rochester picked up in Rome, although it is in fact a reddish color, like the ruby liquid in the book. Rochester’s general attitude toward Mason (dismissive and dominant) is the same as in the book, though several lines are cut. As in 1970, the doctor’s visit is omitted; instead, Rochester says he will have the coachman drive Mason to the doctor. He asks Jane, “Will you stay with him?”
The request, Jane’s response, and Rochester’s reaction are trite and unfortunate additions. Jane seems too smugly noble here, considering that all Rochester has asked her to do is wait until he can get the coach. It is hardly the two-hour vigil of the book. For his part, Rochester’s gruff “What would I do without you?” is uncomfortably delivered, as though he has trouble expressing gratitude. The awkwardness could have been avoided by not introducing these fake lines. They are followed by Jane’s voiceover: “I wanted to say, you need never be without me. Blanche Ingram may well become his wife, but she would never be akin to him.”
This episode was added in order to increase the visual impact and to emphasize the fact that Jane believes Grace is the assailant. It makes for good storytelling, but according to the book, Rochester was careful to lock that door and he himself held the key to assure himself of Jane’s safety. I would have preferred a brief version of “I’ve got a blow” to this.
“I saw her! She came into the room. I saw Grace Poole, I swear. I felt sure she was going to kill him.”
“I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have left you alone, but you were perfectly safe, believe me.”
(Jane is incredulous.) “How can I be safe when she is left in this house? Nobody is safe while she is here; you must send her away.”
(Impatiently) “I will do something, I promise you. But put him out of your mind. I have to get him down to the carriage. Come on, Richard!” (He grabs Mason and manhandles him down the stairs. Cut to the carriage.)
Jane: “Is he talking of Grace Poole? Is he a relative of hers?”
“Why do you ask so many questions, Jane? What does it matter who he is?” (He turns away, and Jane turns to go back in the house. Suddenly he speaks again.) “Will you watch the sun rise over Millcote hill?”
In general, I think it was a mistake to make Jane so insistent on answers. This Jane behaves nothing like her literary counterpart. You can almost sympathize with Rochester’s irritation at her questions. Rochester in turn is made more unpleasant than in the book, where he is not forced to deal with Jane’s questions and protests.
(Cynically): “Really.” (After a moment): “And what if I was to ask you to do something you thought was wrong? What then?”
“It would depend.”
“On what it was you were asking me to do.”
(Rochester continues): “Would you take that chance?”
“I don’t quite understand what you mean.”
(Rochester walks on ahead, then turns to Jane.) “What I mean is, would you throw convention to the wind to achieve happiness? Tell me what you think.”
Jane momentarily loses track of the conversation because she is admiring Rochester’s person and ignoring his words. This is a theatrical/cinematic cliché, but it works well to enhance the chemistry and keeps the focus firmly on Jane as the desiring subject and Rochester as the object of her desire. The line “He made me love him without even realizing it” is adapted from Jane’s thought in the drawing room as she watched Rochester with his guests: “He made me love him without looking at me.”
The 1997 screenplay interprets and rewrites the book’s more nuanced theological discussion about the nature of Rochester’s redemption. Here, Jane urges him to look to “a higher power” and he rejects religion (and oddly, duty) entirely. In spite of the changes, this conversation comes closer than most of the adaptations to acknowledging the powerful role of religion in the book, and Rochester’s rebellion against traditional understandings of what God requires.
(They turn to watch the sunrise.) “I’m sorry I dragged you all the way out here, but I’ve missed our talks.”
“So have I.”
(She puts her hand in his, and he looks down at it.) “Will you watch the sun rise again with me?”
“You only have to ask.”
“On the morning of my wedding.”
“Are you to be married, sir?”
“Oh yes. I think it’s about time, don’t you?”
“If you have met someone you wish to share your life with.”
This is quite a good bit of writing, perhaps the only moment when the screenplay succeeds in improving on the book. Here, all of Rochester’s words have a double meaning. She assumes that he is speaking of Blanche Ingram, but we, the viewers, understand that he speaks of Jane.
(Jane pulls her hand from his and turns away.) “Miss Ingram is very beautiful.”
“I think you’ll be very happy. I’ll start looking for a post immediately.”
“What are you talking about, a post? What post?”
“Because if you are to marry, Adèle should go to school. Miss Ingram has a particular dislike of governesses.”
“Oh yes, I forgot. Well, there’s no need for you to worry about finding a new post. You can leave all that with me.”
“Only if it’s no trouble to you.”
(Upset and about to burst into tears) “I’m sorry, but I must go inside… I’m feeling quite cold.” (She leaves him standing there, and he looks after her.)
The conversation about finding a post for Jane is drawn from the scene where Jane asks for leave, which comes later in the book, but here it continues the dramatic irony. Rochester is indeed planning a new post for Jane, as his wife. Once again, Rochester’s behavior is mitigated; it is Jane who names Blanche, and he merely fails to contradict her. The scene is well played by both leads, and conveys Rochester’s alternation between harshness and tenderness, as well as his distinctive habit of keeping Jane in the dark while telling her the truth. One feels that he is almost on the verge of a declaration, but Jane is too overwhelmed to meet his gaze, and she flees.
2011 gives almost 9 minutes to the Mr. Mason incident. It includes virtually all the key elements in the book, although the dialogue is extremely compressed. Like 1943, it has Mason’s entry follow directly on the scene in which Rochester is questioning Jane about her abrupt exit from the drawing room.
Finally he answers, “Bring him to my study.”
In both the other films that portray the “I have a blow” conversation, Rochester has some sort of physical contact with Jane (although none goes so far as to show him staggering and needing Jane’s help to get to a chair). In 1943, he physically moves her to one side as he closes the door, and stands very close. In 1970, he stands close and takes hold of her hand, even as he avoids eye contact. Here, Rochester walks away from Jane and leans on a table for support, facing away from her. All of this is consistent with the cinematic tendency (especially marked in 2011) to avoid anything that might compromise Rochester’s masculinity.
Mason is not a creepy-looking man of roughly Rochester’s age, as in the other versions, but a younger, conventionally handsome man. He is played by Harry Lloyd (Viserys Targaryen in Game of Thrones, Harry Percy in Wolf Hall). Most of his lines are cut.
(Rochester, turning to the group): “I’m here. Be composed. A servant has had a nightmare, that’s all. I must see you back into your rooms, because until the house is settled, she can’t be properly looked after.”
Blanche: “Is there anything I might do?”
(Both Blanche and her mother cast suspicious glances at Jane who remains in the hallway. Rochester sees their hesitation.) “Please.” (They finally close the door and he speaks to Jane.) “Come with me.”
(Rochester can be heard off camera saying “Drink, Richard, it will give you the strength you lack. Drink.”)
2011 is more faithful than the other versions in that Rochester simply issues orders and Jane does not ask questions. Also, Rochester insists that they not speak to each other, and even threatens Mason “on pain of death.” In the book, Rochester tells him it will be “at peril of his life,” but it is more a suggestion that agitating himself will harm him than an outright threat. However, Mason’s comments about the horrifying behavior of his attacker are all cut, as is his confrontation with Rochester over attempting the visit. The horror element so prominent in the book is greatly reduced, to what end I am not certain.
In 2011, Jane knows nothing of Grace Poole, nor does Mason speak of his attacker, so she has no hint of who or what may have caused the violence. She hears no laughing or weeping, only some sounds of the kind normal in old houses. Her behavior here seems unmotivated, since she has no reason to believe that danger lies in the room next door. Most versions have difficulty conveying the passage of time while Jane nurses Mason; in 1970 and 1997, he simply goes to get the carriage. Here, as in 1996, he fetches the doctor, which ought to take at least an hour, yet he returns almost immediately.Carter: “Let’s have a look, shall we? The flesh is torn as well as cut. Very, very unpleasant.”
Notice that Carter says nothing of bite wounds.
Even Mason’s words “Let her be taken care of; let her be treated tenderly” are omitted from this version, which systematically strips away all the hints of Bertha’s existence which Brontë scattered so liberally throughout the book.
Cut to Rochester walking through a door in the wall into a garden. Jane follows, still in her nightgown.
At last Jane asks a few questions, which are more direct than those in the book.
Rochester ignores her questions, abruptly changing the subject.
“There is an obstacle?”
“A mere conventional impediment.”
“But what could it be? If you cherish an affection, sir, then fortune alone cannot impede you.”
(With a significant look): “Yes.”
“And if the lady is of noble stock and has indicated that she may reciprocate…”
The theological and moral discussion in the book is completely omitted. As in 1970 and 1997, it is Jane who brings Blanche Ingram into the conversation, assuming that he is Mr. Rochester’s intended bride. Jane refers to Blanche’s known lack of fortune as the possible impediment. Interestingly, far from deliberately deceiving Jane, in this version Rochester seems to be expecting or inviting Jane to grasp that he speaks of her as his beloved.
Jane answers, “I would do anything for you, sir. Anything that was right.” Has she missed the broad hint Fassbender-as-Rochester just gave about the identity of the gentle stranger? Or has she grasped it?
Rochester answers “You transfix me quite.” This seems like a non-sequitur, but it comes from a line of Rochester’s in the book, where he admits a fear that Jane will “transfix” him if he shows where he is vulnerable. Jane places a limit on what she will do for Rochester, and this pains him, as a man who desires her absolute surrender. He changes his tactics.
As a close reader of the book, this speech confused me. At first glance, one might take it as a speech of double meaning, similar to the ones in 1997: (“If you have found someone you wish to share your life with…” “I have.”) But it mixes lines from very different bits of Rochester’s dialogue. “Fresh and healthy, without soil or taint” refers to the “gentle stranger” whom Rochester truly wishes to marry (that is, Jane herself). But “She’s a rare one” and “She’ll regenerate me with a vengeance” are cynical, ironic lines, spoken harshly of the false bride, Blanche Ingram. They don’t naturally go together.
I have mixed feelings about 2011. On the one hand, it is very faithful in some ways; on the other, it spreads itself a bit too thinly over this section, cutting the dialogue to the bone while retaining lingering shots of Jane gazing off into space. The presentation is stylized, with lots of abrupt non-sequiturs, and it is not realistic to the period (in the novel, Jane would not have dreamed of leaving her room in her nightgown, much less wandering about outdoors). In the book, Jane’s feelings upon hearing Rochester confirm his wedding plans are not disclosed directly, but he comments on both the paleness of her face and the coldness of her hand. Here, the mood is quite different; she smiles a secret smile rather like the one after the fire scene.
Time for the rubric!
1943 is the clear winner here on fidelity, screenplay and direction, with very good acting.
1970 has an original and interesting treatment of the Mason scenes and is consistently Good or better.
1996 usually scores the highest on straight fidelity but not this time; it leaves out key elements. Zeffirelli had to cut somewhere and he chose this part.
1997 has extensive rewriting as usual, but holds to important themes in the book and develops the all-important chemistry.
2011 is surprisingly faithful but very light on exposition and motivation. The chemistry is good but could have been better with different direction.
I tell you what, I’m due to see CH’s version AGAIN and get over my aversion to G.C. Scott just to see what you’ve described and the pictures you’ve chosen. Right off the top you spotted automaton, with picture, and you incorporated an illustration Edward Wilson from the book I’ve made dog-eared, from 1943. I am loving this saga of JE and only wish I could actually talk with you about what you’ve found. Great work Linnet. Thank you so much.
I am delighted that you are enjoying it so much, Ellen! That Wilson illustration interested me, because he made Rochester’s frock coat look like the real ones in the fashion plates ca. 1850–with that very wide skirt that people would find odd on a man nowadays. He also makes Rochester look much older than Jane, which is true to the book.
The Scott version is uneven, but I have found that it includes many great moments. I like it that he is not a conventionally attractive man, but has a definite charisma (and he has Rochester’s cleft chin!). Also, the feat of strength seemed a very Rochesterian thing, because even though it is not demonstrated in the book, Jane mentions more than once that he has an “athletic build,” with a wide, strong upper body. Maybe there is something in the fire scene that alludes to his strength, but I’m not sure.
I always thought that image was good, he doesn’t look especially handsome, nor is Jane a standard beauty.
I’m fascinated by this series. I only wish I had more time to go over it and savor how you’ve chosen exact phrases and have evaluated them so carefully. At one time I thought you should not do the film rubric but I realize too how wrong about that I was.
I’m sure you’ve noticed as I, how often CH’s hands are featured in films. I cannot think of another actor whose hands have as much impact as his acting.
I see too you noted Mrs. Fairfax, that others have speculated she must have some awareness of his dilemma.
The rubric has given me pause too, because it is a lot of work to create. Sometimes I am tempted to leave it out. But I think it forces me to be more fair, and to consider each of the criteria in relation to each of the films. Sometimes a film will be weak in one area, but very strong in another. The director of 1970 did a lot of interesting things which I would not have appreciated as much without the rubric, because good directing is something of an “invisible” art, until you look for it.
The hands–oh yes. He could have been a male hand model 🙂 And some directors seem to have noticed this.
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Another interesting comparison, thank you!
My big gripe with CH as Rochester is indeed his unpleasantness, which seems to be very apparent in these scenes. Rochester is flawed enough and this thundering about annoys me and is unnecessary.
As for the rubric, I find it very helpful as summary at the end of a long post, so kudos to you for doing this. Will you do a final overall rubric at the end? I wonder if after finishing this series you’ll have a different fave Jane Eyre version from when you went in…
A rubric at the end! They are a ton of work, but I think I’ll have to come up with some kind of final evaluation. (Thanks for letting me know that you find them useful–I wasn’t sure anyone even read them!)
It would be hard to pick a favorite because I think each film excels in certain parts and fails in others.
As for the harsh/angry aspect of CH’s Rochester, I think that it is hard to watch and at some points excessive, but I also see support for it in the book. It’s just that when reading the book, we don’t experience it through the senses and we minimize that aspect. Sometimes she refers to it indirectly, using words like “fulminating.” I would argue that Rochester did indeed have a bark, and the bark was worse than his bite. Sometimes people watch the 1997 and say they can’t see why Jane would love someone like that. But this was true of the literary Rochester, that he was miserably unhappy and took it out on others. Jane was the only one who saw his attractions. So the question for every film is: how daring are they going to be in making him physically unattractive, and unattractive in manner? I admire 1997 for de-heroizing him. The real problem IMO is not his rough spots but that they don’t give him enough softer scenes to compensate. And also, the script has serious problems–virtually no original language. The beauty of that language is one of the things that also redeems Rochester’s bad behavior and overbearing manner. CH has to portray him with a disability–stripped of his beautiful mode of self-expression. The strength of the performance is that the emotions are real and powerful–need, desire, anger, insecurity.
Betty Zhang said:
Thanks Betty 🙂
Great analysis, sadly you do not cover the Jane Eyre series from 1983, great screenplay and very faithful to the book.
Hi Laurel, thanks for the comment! I excluded all series from this analysis because it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Maybe someday I can expand it.