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In our survey of Jane Eyre adaptations, we have come to a point where the films diverge widely. Feature-length films, which are our subject here, must make cuts to the story, and I am interested in seeing which parts the adaptors consider expendable. For example, as I wrote in “Young Jane,” 1997’s treatment of Lowood is cursory. Jane’s interview with the “Gipsy” is always cut. 1996 makes some severe cuts to the Mr. Mason episode, including Jane’s garden conversation with Mr. Rochester. As we will see, 1970 omits all scenes to do with Aunt Reed. 1997 takes a different approach: Aunt Reed falls sick and Jane visits her, but we see only her departure and return. The three versions that include scenes with Aunt Reed are 1943, 1996 and 2011.

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First editions of “Jane Eyre” and other fine Brontëana in a private collection I recently had the pleasure of visiting.

What purpose does Aunt Reed’s death play in the novel? First, it provides closure to the family relationships described in the early chapters. We readers need to see what becomes of the harsh, unloving Mrs. Reed and her spoiled children as well as Bessie, the strict but kind maid. As expected in a nineteenth-century novel, they all reap what they sow. The encounter with Mrs. Reed provides an opportunity for Jane to revisit her childhood trauma from the perspective of an adult, and from a vantage of greater safety and security. Aunt Reed’s death also allows Brontë to delay the crisis of the Jane/Rochester love story. We are able to observe how Rochester handles this disruption to his carefully-laid plans, and Jane’s overwhelming rush of feeling when she sees him again. Finally, as our review of Chapters XXI and XXII will reveal, the Aunt Reed episode lays the ground for new developments affecting Jane’s future.

Chapter XXI begins this way:

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I have quoted this passage in full, because Jane’s theory of “sympathies” helps to illuminate the novel’s supernatural themes. Jane goes on to tell how she had a recurrent dream of a phantom child. In the folklore of Yorkshire, such a dream presages trouble to oneself or one’s kin, and sure enough, the news of Aunt Reed’s stroke follows soon after the dreams. But the concept of sympatheia is an ancient one stretching back to the Greeks. If a metaphysical connection can exist between Jane and her non-blood relative Mrs. Reed, how much greater is the possibility that deep romantic love between two people can create such a tie? Rochester later will speak of this supernatural bond, and Jane herself will experience it.

On the day after the Mr. Mason incident, Jane receives a visit from Mrs. Reed’s coachman Robert, the husband of Bessie. Robert informs her of the death of her cousin John, who committed suicide after ruining himself (and nearly bankrupting his mother) with drink and gambling. Mrs. Reed then suffered a stroke, and asked her daughters to fetch Jane Eyre to her. Jane goes to ask Mr. Rochester for leave, and finds him playing billiards with Blanche Ingram.

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Despite Blanche’s irritation at the interruption, Rochester follows Jane from the room and stands with his back to the closed door, questioning her closely about the Reeds (whose name he recognizes) and her relationship to them, of which he had previously been unaware. He demands her promise to stay only a week (which she refuses) and to return (which she gives). He then proposes to pay part of her wages so she will have funds for the trip, and smiling, asks how much money she has in the world.


Mr. Rochester examining Jane’s meager purse: illustration by Monro Orr, 1922. For more Orr, see the wonderful site “Jane Eyre Illustrated.”

Since Jane has only five shillings, he offers her a fifty pound note, but she refuses it, as he only owes her fifteen. Although displeased at first, he reflects:

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Jane reminds him that he still owes her five pounds, and he gleefully replies that if she wants it, she will simply have to come back. She then raises another matter of business:

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Jane reveals her intention to place an advertisement, drawing an unexpectedly sharp response from her employer.

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I always think it’s a good sign when the masculine object of desire begins to growl.

This humorous little exchange reveals on what intimate terms Jane and Rochester stand, for she feels quite comfortable telling him “he is not to be trusted,” as indeed he is not. There follows a fascinating bit of dialogue in which Rochester, dissatisfied with a merely verbal good-bye, hints to Jane that he would like something more physical. Blanche would have made hay of this golden opportunity to flirt, but whether owing to naiveté or scruples, Jane does not take the bait:

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This may be the only time in the book when Jane is impatient to get *rid* of Rochester! Notice who has more power here.


Jane’s carriage approaches Gateshead. Daniel Billon, 1975.

Jane arrives at Gateshead’s Lodge to a pleasant reunion with Bessie, but the news of Mrs. Reed is grim; she has only a week or two to live. They agree to go to her in an hour or so, after tea.

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As they walk over to Gateshead, Jane ponders her bitter departure some nine years before, when she had lashed out against Mrs. Reed’s hard-hearted treatment:

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In the breakfast room, Jane encounters her female cousins, now adults. Eliza has become a nun-like ascetic with an “elongated and colorless visage,” while Georgiana is “full-blown, very plump” with handsome features and yellow ringlets.


Jane’s cousins, Eliza and Georgiana, by Fritz Eichenberg, 1943.

Although very different in appearance, each retains something of their mother’s hardness of expression, and each sneers at Jane. But their unkindness can no longer hurt her, and she calmly takes charge of the situation, giving directions to the housekeeper to prepare her room, and going upstairs to see her aunt.

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Mrs. Reed turns her face away from Jane, refusing to greet her. Jane feels pain and anger, but she controls her tears, determined to carry out the task she has set herself. She tells Mrs. Reed that she intends to remain, to see how she is getting on, and the lady agrees, saying that she has some things to talk over with Jane Eyre. Her mind wanders as she remembers the past:

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Aunt Reed’s sickbed, by Maggie Salcedo (1950).

Mrs. Reed declares that she wishes Jane had died in the fever at Lowood, and when Jane asks why, she describes her deep dislike of Jane’s mother, her sister-in-law. Only grudgingly did she receive the woman’s child into her house, although the infant Jane was her husband’s favorite. On his deathbed, he extracted her vow to “keep the creature.” Mrs. Reed goes on to bewail the behavior of her son John, who torments her with demands for money. She becomes agitated and too ill to see anyone for days. In the interim, Jane occupies herself with drawing, including a certain well-remembered face with its prominent forehead, well-defined nose, firm chin and tufted black hair.

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Jane’s drawing of Rochester. Edward Wilson, 1943/44.


Jane’s drawing. Simon Brett, 1991.

Eliza and Georgiana admire Jane’s drawings (except for the one of the “ugly man”) and  Jane learns more of their lives. Georgiana is entirely self-absorbed and hopeful of an advantageous marriage; Eliza follows a rigid solitary schedule of devotions and duties, planning to cloister herself after her mother’s death. The two sisters are full of spite toward each other. At last, Jane returns to her aunt’s deathbed.

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The memory of Helen is significant here, for it was she who first taught Jane about forgiveness and the hope of something greater after death.

Jane identifies herself, and her aunt recognizes her, then asks whether they are alone. Assured of privacy, she continues:

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Jane is instructed to read the letter, and finds that it is from her uncle John Eyre in Madeira, stating his intention to adopt Jane and make her his heir. The letter is dated three years before; instead of forwarding Jane’s address, her aunt had viciously written to tell Mr. Eyre she was dead. 

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Jane and Aunt Reed. Anthony Colbert, 1965.

Even the news of this terrible wrong done her, and her aunt’s continuing rejection, fail to rekindle Jane’s hatred:

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Jane’s easy forgiveness of her aunt may seem impossibly noble to us, and of course it was intended to teach Victorian readers a sound moral lesson. But I think there is some psychological truth in it. Jane’s maturation at Lowood and her experience at Thornfield have permitted her to heal, making possible the kind of forgiveness of which Helen Burns was capable. Furthermore, Jane may be aware that, had her aunt put her in touch with John Eyre, she would never have met Mr. Rochester. The chapter ends with Sarah Reed’s death, and her laying out. Her daughters do not weep for her, and neither does Jane.

In Chapter XXII, Jane spends a month at Gateshead, attending to various matters for her cousins; she discovers that she feels herself fully their equal. The journey home disturbs her equilibrium, for she is unused to homecomings and believes that Thornfield will be her home for only a short while longer.

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Jane wishes to return quietly, and therefore she leaves her box at the George Inn in Millcote and walks to Thornfield. She notes how glad she is to be coming back to the place, yet although Mrs. Fairfax and Adèle will welcome her, she thinks only of one person, whose attentions and affections lie elsewhere.

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Jane describes her knowledge of the parting to come as a rejected infant which she kills–a striking and disturbing metaphor hinting that her love for Rochester is dangerously out of control.

The narrative now switches from past to present tense, signaling vivid emotion; Jane is only a field or two away from the house. She passes the haymakers at their work, then hedges of roses in bloom.


The haymakers caught the imagination of more than one illustrator of “Jane Eyre.” This one is by Edward Wilson (1943/44).

Edmund Garrett1890

The haymakers, by Edmund Garrett, 1890.

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In the Hay Lane scene, Rochester also sat on a stile. Here he blocks Jane’s path to the house; perhaps he has been waiting for her. “He is not a ghost,” but he will soon compare her to one.


Four very different illustrations of Rochester waiting for Jane at the stile. This rather compelling one is by Ati Forberg (1966).


Nell Booker (1946).


C. E. Brock (1910).


F. D. Bedford (ca. 1932).

At the unexpected sight of the man she loves, Jane’s emotions nearly overpower her, but she has a veiled bonnet, and she trusts the veil to hide her expression as he continues:

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Rochester calls Jane an elf, a fairy light, a dream, all elusive beings who may suddenly disappear–and who cannot be touched. He insists that Jane is behaving like a ghost, a visitor from the otherworld. For her part, Jane feels exquisite pleasure in seeing him again.

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She asks if Rochester has been to London, and he replies that he has (“I suppose you found that out by second sight”). He tells her that he has bought a gift for his bride:

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The statue of Boadicea (British warrior queen) in Westminster, ca. 1900. Rochester suggests that Blanche is beautiful but not quite feminine.

Although she replies teasingly, Jane thinks to herself that his sternness “has a power beyond beauty.” Rochester’s response is silent but full of import:

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Both Rochester and Jane express their deepest feelings indirectly. This is the first time he calls her “Janet,” an affectionate, diminutive form of her name dating to the Medieval period. I think this is a signal that Rochester is tiring of the game of making Jane jealous (although he has not quite finished). He still desires Jane to declare herself first, but his attachment to her is growing more euphoric. Meanwhile Jane, an orphan who has never had a real home, realizes that home is not a place, but a person. Here she comes close to confessing her love, yet without using the word itself. Then she walks away as quickly as she can, to be greeted with ecstatic cries from Adèle, and warm words from Mrs. Fairfax, Leah and Sophie.

Jane tries shut her eyes against the future. Later that evening, as Mrs. Fairfax knits, and Adèle sits nestled close to Jane, Rochester drops in unannounced:

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Although Rochester’s marriage to Blanche is considered inevitable, day by day there is no further news of the engagement, no preparations, no journeyings to Ingram Park. Yet Rochester seems happier than ever before. Jane begins to hope that the plans might after all be called off.

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The power of communicating happiness. The real sunshine of feeling. The shelter of his protection, the sunshine of his presence. This chapter is remarkable for the words Jane chooses to express the depth of her love for Rochester. Far from the harsh, ireful man she first knew, he has become the light of her life.

The Orson Welles/Joan Fontaine version (1943) delays Aunt Reed’s illness until after Jane’s flight from Thornfield, changing the purpose of the episode, so I will address it when we reach that point in the story. 1943 converts Jane’s request for leave of absence to a request for an employment reference. We start with the billiards scene, as the camera focuses on a ball falling into a corner pocket.

Exclamations of admiration from Lord and Lady Ingram: “Very pretty! Splendid!”
Blanche (smugly): “Thank you.” Rochester adjusts the score.


1943: A spot of snooker for Blanche.

Lady Ingram: “Edward, I’m so glad you’ve made up your mind to come to London with us tomorrow.”
Rochester: “Have I? I didn’t know.”
Lord Ingram: “Haha! Very appropriate.”
Blanche: “What now, Edward?”
“Put the red ball in the top pocket.”


1943: “Edward, does that person want you?”

Jane: “I’m sorry sir; I did not know you were occupied.” (She curtsies and makes to leave.)
Rochester: “Very good Miss Eyre; I’m sure the ladies will excuse me.”


1943 (utterly put out): “Governesses, mama!”

(Jane and Rochester exit into a hallway and Rochester shuts the door.)


1943: “I’m sorry sir, but I understood you were leaving in the morning and I wished to ask you for a reference.”

“Reference! What the deuce d’you want a reference for?”
“To get a new place, sir. You… as good as told me that you were going to be married.”
“Yes? What then?”
“In which case Adèle ought to go to school.”


1943: “To get her out of my bride’s way, who might otherwise walk over her rather too emphatically?” (He chuckles.) “Well, there is some sense in your suggestion, Jane. Adèle, as you say, must go to school. And you must go to the devil, is that it?”


1943: “I hope not, sir, unless it’s the devil who answers my advertisement.”

(Displeased): “Advertisement! D’you mean to say you’ve been advertising?”
“Not yet, sir, but I shall.”
“You’ll do nothing of the kind. When the time comes for getting you a situation, I’ll get one for you, d’you hear?”
“Very well, sir. Good bye, Mr. Rochester.”


1943: “Good bye, Miss Eyre… Jane… is that all? It seems stingy to my notion. Dry and unfriendly. Won’t you do more than just say good bye?”


1943: “Well, I’ll shake hands, sir.” “Oh, you’ll shake hands.” (He clasps her hand, then pulls her slightly toward him. Jane looks down at his hand, then up at his face.)


1943: Jane reacts to his grasp.


1943: Rochester gives her The Gaze.


1943: Jane leaves wordlessly. He watches her go. Cut to a shot of Jane ascending the stairs.

This dialogue is drawn quite faithfully from the book. The main difference is that the literary Rochester professes himself dissatisfied with the idea of shaking hands and keeps angling for something more, which never comes. Here, the handshake strengthens the scene, because we see Jane’s reaction to it.

1943 also adds an entirely fabricated scene in which Rochester insults Blanche in order to get rid of her, for his charade has now run its course.


1943: “It is a beautiful place, your Thornfield.” “It is a dungeon that serves its purpose.” “A dungeon! Why, it’s a paradise!” (He grunts, unconvinced; she continues): “Though of course, if one lived here, one would really have to have a house in London, wouldn’t one?”

(Rochester, giving the fish plenty of line): “Unquestionably. A little apartment in Paris, perhaps a villa on the Mediterranean.”


1943: “How delightful that would be. But Thornfield would always be there, as a retreat from the world, a green haven of peace, and… and love.”


1943: “Love! Who’s talking of love? All a fellow needs is a bit of distraction, a houseful of beautiful women every now and then to keep him from brooding on his woes, from peering too closely into the mysteries of his heart.”

(Sharply): “That is, if he has a heart. And sometimes I wonder, Edward, if you really do have one.”
“Have I ever done or said anything to make you believe that I have? If so, I assure you, it was quite unintentional.”
“Are you never serious?”
“Never more than at this moment, except perhaps when I’m eating my dinner.”


1943: “Really, Edward, you can be revoltingly coarse at times.” “Can I ever be anything else?”

“Can you? Would I have come to Thornfield if you couldn’t?”
“Well, that’s a very nice point, Blanche. Would you or would you not? Let’s begin by considering the significant facts of the case; first, Mr. Rochester is revoltingly coarse and as ugly as sin–”
“Edward, I never–”


1943: “Allow me, my dear Blanche: I repeat, as ugly as sin. Second, he flirts sometimes but is careful never to talk about love or marriage; however, and this is the third point, Lady Ingram is somewhat impoverished, whereas the revolting Mr. Rochester has an assured income of eight thousand a year. In view of all this, what is the attitude that Miss Blanche may be expected to take? From my experience of the world, I’d surmise that she would ignore the coarseness, et cetera, until such time as Mr. R. is safely hooked–”

“How dare you!”
(smilingly) “Now, now, no horseplay!”


1943: “I’ve never been so grossly insulted in all my life.” “Insulted? I merely paid you the enormous compliment of being completely honest.” “Mr. Rochester, you are a boor and a cur!”

(Blanche flounces away; Rochester looks satisfied with his evening’s work.)


1943: A very naughty, Wellesian Rochester. The cigar is a nice touch, for the literary Rochester is partial to them.

Rochester’s line about filling his house with beautiful women “to keep him from brooding on his woes, from peering too closely into the mysteries of his heart” seems meant to suggest that he has in fact been distracting himself from the reality of his love for Jane by toying with Blanche. He is quite unrepentant, however, because he’s well aware that Blanche is primarily interested in his money. The scene softens Rochester’s deceptive charade by suggesting that whatever he has been up to, Blanche is just as bad, if not worse. In the book, however, not even Jane blamed Blanche for wanting to marry Rochester. It was expected for a girl of her social class that she marry well, whether or not she loved the groom.

This scene raises the question: how did Rochester get rid of Blanche in the book? In the proposal scene we learn that he “caused a rumour to reach her that [his] fortune was not a third of what was supposed” (just as the Gipsy had suggested), and when he visited the Ingrams to learn the result, both she and her mother treated him coldly. So there was no need for Rochester to insult Blanche.

1970 is the only version to completely omit Jane’s early days at Gateshead as well as Aunt Reed’s demise. It’s a brutal but efficient cut, which allows the filmmakers to focus on other aspects of the story (the 1970 Lowood, for example, is very detailed, as is Jane’s stay with the Rivers family.) What’s lost is the sense of Jane’s individuality, the unique traits which caused Aunt Reed to reject her, and the young Jane’s wounded, outraged protest against that unfairness, together with her ability as an adult to overcome her vulnerability and hurt. Feminist critics have correctly noted that the film versions focus on Rochester at Jane’s expense; ideally her character should not be defined by their romance, but by her life story as a whole.

Cutting Aunt Reed’s sickbed also means sacrificing the wonderful scene of Jane’s homecoming. 1996 is the first feature-length version to depict this scene, yet it is surprisingly disappointing. We begin in the drawing room:


1996: Rochester’s voice: “Ace of spades.” Colonel Dent’s voice: “Haha! The devil’s own luck, Rochester. Well, you know what they say, unlucky at cards, lucky in love.”

Lady Ingram, to her daughter Mary who is hovering too close at Rochester’s back: “Mary my dear, off you go and join the other guests.”

The card game is a tip of the hat to 1970, where George C. Scott’s Rochester also drew an unlucky card. Presumably it was not convenient to bring a billiard table onto the set at Haddon Hall (and it wouldn’t have fit the medieval decor).


1996 Blanche (petulant): “I’m bored with this game. Why don’t we play something else?”


1996: “What would you like to play?”

“Lord Brancaster has a billiard table. You should buy one. I adore billiards.”
“They’re rather expensive, billiard tables. I’m not sure I could afford one.”

This is a doublet of the scene in this same film where Blanche says that Rochester ought to send Adèle to school, and he protests that he is not sure he can afford it. As such, it is otiose. Furthermore, I’m not sure that viewers have enough context to grasp that this is one of Rochester’s little jibes at Blanche’s greed, nor does William Hurt deliver the line as a joke.

(Jane enters and stands at a distance.)
Blanche: “Does that person want you?”
(Rochester catches sight of her. He stares at her for a moment, then rises and takes a tentative step in her direction.) “Is something wrong?”


1996: “May I speak to you, sir?”


1996: (Blanche, hearing this, looks displeased.)

Cut to Jane and Rochester walking in the hallway. He turns and asks, “What is it?”
“I received a letter this morning. If you please, sir, I want leave of absence.”
“Because of an old lady who’s sick.”
“What old lady?”
“Her name is Mrs. Reed. She’s my aunt.”
“I thought you said you didn’t have any relatives.”
“None that would own me, sir. Mrs. Reed cast me off when I was a child.”
“Then why must you go rushing off to see her?”


1996: “She’s dying. I can’t ignore her dying wish.”

“You won’t be persuaded to stay?”
“No, sir.” (pause) “I will return to Thornfield.”

Charlotte Gainsbourg is good in this scene, and overall in this section. She has Jane’s gentle firmness and clear convictions about what is right. If there is no teasing in the exchange, it’s because the screenplay has stripped it out. Hurt is somewhat weaker here, for his Rochester lacks both the original’s harshness and his volatile flights of fancy. In the book, Rochester is only half-joking when he talks of retaining Jane’s wages so she can’t stay away long. At first, solicitous of her safety and comfort, he tries to give her fifty pounds, but then he (characteristically and amusingly) contradicts himself by asking for the money back. It is he who extracts her promise to return. At last he is reduced to angling for a kiss. But in this scene, what we have instead is a man who seems like a recluse long cut off from human interaction. It’s not that this Rochester is playing a wicked double game, it’s that he doesn’t have a clue how to express his feelings.


1996: “So you and I must say good bye.” “Yes, sir.” “And how does one perform that ceremony? Teach me, I’m not quite up to it.” “They say farewell. Or any other form they prefer.”


1996: “Farewell, Miss Eyre… for the present.” (pause) “Is that all?” “Yes, sir.”


1996: “Why don’t we shake hands?” (He steps closer; Jane looks down.) “Remember your promise.”

Like 1943, this version makes Rochester and Jane shake hands, a form of parting which the literary Rochester deemed insufficient. In 1943 it has great visual power, especially in the slight movement that Welles makes to draw Jane closer to him. Here the handclasp itself is not shown, only Jane’s expression as it occurs. Gainsbourg manages to suggest Jane’s confusion at feeling his touch, but the scene lacks sexual tension.


1996: Cut to Jane in the moving carriage…


1996: And then to her arrival at Gateshead…Rectory??


1996: “Miss Eyre—St. John Rivers, rector of Gateshead. How do you do? Please come in. I wrote to you because your aunt was most anxious to see you.”

Usually 1996 is the version most faithful to the plot, but this is where it begins to veer rather shockingly from the book. St. John Rivers is introduced early and given a faux connection to Gateshead. Later in the story, we’ll see why this change was made. But for now, we only get a brief glimpse of St. John (played by Samuel West), and his sister Mary; Jane’s cousins Eliza and Georgiana are cut from the story. Instead of the coachman Robert, it is St. John who explains that her old nemesis, cousin John, has died. When Jane asks how, he does not give a full answer, only remarking “They say… he ruined his health with bad company. It was his death that brought on your aunt’s illness.”

John’s suicide and his sordid attempts to squeeze money from his mother are sanitized away; the viewer may suspect more behind St. John’s story, but we never learn the truth.


1996: Cut to Jane entering her aunt’s sickroom, alone.


1996: “You are like… you are like Jane Eyre.” “I am Jane Eyre.”

“Jane. I am very ill.” (Jane sits down to listen.) “My mind is much troubled by two wrongs I have done you. One was in breaking the promise I made to my husband, that I would bring you up as one of my own. The other… go to my writing case. Take out the letter you will find there.” (Jane does so.) “Read the letter.”

Jane reads the letter aloud. It is taken almost verbatim from John Eyre’s letter in the book:

Madam, will you have the goodness to send me the address of my niece and to tell me how she is. It is my intention to write shortly and ask her to come to me at Madeira. As I am unmarried and childless, I wish to adopt her during my life and bequeath her at my death whatever I may have to leave.


1996: “This is dated three years ago. Why did he never write to me?”


“I wrote to him. I told him I knew nothing about you. Now act as you please. Write to him. Tell him I lied… You were born to be my torment.”

Aunt Reed’s conduct toward Jane is softened. In the book, she told Mr. Eyre that Jane was dead, hoping to forestall any chance of Jane’s inheritance. She also revealed her extreme dislike of Jane as a child, and her fervent wish that Jane had died at Lowood. Here, she calls Jane her “torment,” but we don’t realize how nasty she truly is, or the irony that her own son was her true tormenter, or that her deathbed act of confession is prompted only by fear of hellfire, not by any concern for Jane. Is Aunt Reed made gentler in order that Jane’s forgiveness may be more believable?


1996 Jane says, “I’m not vindictive. Let us be friends.” (She stretches out her hand, but Aunt Reed turns her face away.)


1996: “Love me then or hate me as you will. You have my full and free forgiveness.”

The scene dissolves to show Rochester with Adèle. He has a paper in his hand.


1996 (Adèle): “I wish Miss Eyre would come back.”


1996: Rochester holds Jane’s portrait of him.

1996 Jane created the drawing earlier in the film Here it stands in for the one the literary Jane made at Gateshead to comfort herself with the image of one who was absent. There is a pleasing reversal here, in that Rochester comforts himself by looking at Jane’s work.


1996: Rochester tentatively and awkwardly puts his arm around Adèle.


1996: Cut to another image. The tiny figure of Rochester stands on a promontory. He is alone, except for Pilot and Mesrour.


1996: Cut to Adèle, running to meet Jane. “Oh mademoiselle! I thought you’d left me for good!”

Jane’s walk home is omitted, and Rochester has not been waiting for her in the lane.


1996: Jane and Adèle embrace.

Charlotte Gainsbourg is very animated in this scene with Adèle, and it echoes some of Jane’s happy feelings about homecoming, yet she is denied the exquisite delight of her private reunion with Rochester. Here it is not Rochester but Adèle who complains about how long Jane has been away and reveals her delight at Jane’s homecoming.

“You said you’d be gone a week, and it’s almost a month!”
“Forgive me, Adèle.”
“Mr. Rochester is sending me away to school. I was so afraid I would be gone, and never see you again.”
“To school?”
“To Paris, to a school for young ladies.”

So much for Rochester not being able to afford the school.


1996:“Adèle, go tell Cook Miss Eyre has returned. We’ll need another place at dinner.” (Adèle, excited): “I’ll ask her to make a special cake!”


1996: “So you came back after all.”


1996: “As I promised.”

Rochester repeats: “As you promised,” and Jane walks past him, into the house. The ecstatic joy of the homecoming scene is mostly lost, although we do sense a depth of feeling in the silences behind the few words exchanged.

1997 performs a sleight of hand, glossing over the drama of Aunt Reed’s death in favor of the Rochester/Jane relationship. The scene follows directly upon the garden conversation with Rochester (“watching the sun rise over Millcote Hill”), where Jane ran away because she was close to tears.


1997: As Jane rushes into the house, visibly upset, Mrs. Fairfax says, “Oh, not so fast Miss Eyre, I’ve been looking all over for you! You’ve got a visitor waiting.”

Surprised, Jane goes to the library, where she finds Bessie, the maid from Gateshead. Bessie greets her tentatively: “Miss Eyre?” And then:


1997: “You’ve grown up into such a lady! Who’d ever have thought it?”

It’s just like the Bessie of the book to give a backhanded compliment. But Jane takes it for the honest expression of delight it is and rushes to embrace Bessie.


1997: “Oh Bessie! It’s so lovely to see you! How is everybody?”


1997: “Don’t start me off. Your cousin John is dead. And your aunt is ta’en badly.”

This short scene is memorable because Bessie is so perfectly portrayed by Joanna Scanlan (Vanity Fair, Death Comes to Pemberley). It demonstrates that despite  the emotional restraint she usually shows, Jane has a loving heart. It was a good choice to swap out Robert the coachman, Bessie’s husband, and have Bessie herself deliver the message of cousin John’s death and Aunt Reed’s illness.

Cut to Rochester and Blanche playing billiards.


1997: As he makes a shot, Rochester complains, “It’s nearly a hundred miles away, Jane.”


1997: Jane (already dressed for travel): “I’m sorry, but that is where my aunt lives, and she’s been asking for me.”

Instead of exiting the room so he can be private with Jane, Rochester continues, right in front of Blanche:


1997: “Very well, you may go. But I want you back in a week! Not a day longer, d’you hear? Seven days… and if you’re not back then, I’ll come and fetch you.” (The commanding delivery and especially the “d’you hear?” is rather Wellesian.)


1997: “Thank you, sir.” (She turns and leaves.)

Jane’s reaction to this tirade is inscrutable. Her tone of voice is cool, and at first I thought she was angry. But there is a tiny trace of something in Samantha Morton’s face, as though she is hiding her gladness. She could hardly fail to recognize that Rochester wants her at Thornfield, and not for Adèle’s sake. As Jane leaves, Rochester looks after her with a glare.


1997: Blanche (quietly): “Edward?” (He turns to her suddenly, as if surprised to find that she is still there.) “I’ve been outmaneuvered, my dear Blanche. Game’s over.” (As he speaks, he slams his cue on the table with a clatter, and strides out of the room.)

This is all very interesting. Instead of the solicitous, naughty Rochester of this scene in the book, we have the gruff Rochester of Hinds’ portrayal– possessive, bossy, needy. But just like his literary counterpart, he is playing a game (and it’s not billiards). Here we get a strong hint that Blanche is about to be dismissed without a qualm–which is true to the character. Witnessing Rochester’s interaction with Jane, Blanche could not miss its significance. Rochester’s threat to “come and fetch” Jane has been transferred from earlier in the book, when he gave orders for her to appear in the drawing room after dinner.


1997: Cut to the carriage taking Jane away from Thornfield…


1997: And Jane at the carriage window. These shots give the sense of a journey, yet the scene fades to black…

There is no Aunt Reed, no forgiveness, no emotional closure to Jane’s mistreatment. 


1997: The next thing we see is Jane’s return. She is walking, carrying a valise, and has a big smile on her face. Suddenly she hears a voice from above.


1997 (Dryly): “Seeing as you’re a governess, I thought you might explain the concept of the twenty-eight day week to me.”


1997: “I’m sorry, but things weren’t quite as straightforward as I’d hoped.” “Really.” “I had to help my cousins with my aunt’s funeral arrangements.”


1997: “Oh—never mind me. Who am I to worry about?”


1997: “I had thought that you could deduct the money from my salary.”

“So you had given me some thought, thank you very much.”


1997: “Good.”


1997: Jane suppresses a smile at his attitude.

Rochester’s expression changes, becomes more serious. “I’m sorry about your aunt.” He then jumps down from the wall, and begins to stride toward her.


1997 (Rochester, sounding comically outraged): “Not one single letter did you send me. Mrs. Fairfax had a letter. Adèle and Sophie had a letter—no doubt even Pilot had a letter!”


1997: “But oh no, not me, that was too much to ask.”


1997: Jane tries not to laugh as he goes on, speaking faster and getting more emotional…


1997: “The whole of Thornfield was chattering with news of your return. But I, the master of the house, had to learn from Mrs. Fairfax that you were due home today. I’ve already been up to the village twice to see if the coach had arrived…”


1997: Jane can’t suppress a smile. He sees it.

“I see at long last I’ve found something to make you laugh. I am so pleased my distress amuses you.”


1997: “It is not your distress that amuses me, sir. It is the thought of writing to Pilot.” (She giggles.) “I can assure you I did not send Pilot a letter… I’m sorry I did not write to you, but… I thought you would be preoccupied with other things.”


1997 (Slightly mollified): “Oh… did you now.” “Yes.”

Before Rochester can follow up on this interesting admission from Jane, Mrs. Fairfax, Adèle and Sophie come running from the house. Left to himself, he watches the joyous reunion.


1997: “Miss Eyre, Miss Eyre!”

Mrs. Fairfax: “Welcome home, my dear.”
Adèle: “I missed you!”


1997: Cut back to Rochester as Adèle blithely adds: “It’s been so boring here without you.”

Jane: “With all the nice ladies and gentlemen here to entertain you?”
Adèle: “They all went!”
Sophie: “After you’d gone!”
[Rochester asks Jane to go for a walk, and the proposal scene follows.]

This charming scene is so cleverly done that I was surprised to find it’s not in the book, or at least, not in this form. It’s based on Rochester’s complaint, “Truant! truant! Absent from me a whole month, and forgetting me quite, I’ll be sworn!” In the book he is romantic and tender, though definitely exasperated by her absence (“What the deuce have you done with yourself this last month?”). Here, he is more a comic figure, standing on the shreds of his dignity. This is the only film version to de-throne Rochester and de-heroize him. His vulnerability is fully on display. Compare this loudly complaining Rochester with William Hurt, who can barely get a word out. Are they the same character?

2011 is overall the most faithful to the book in terms of plot line, and also retains some original dialogue. Mia Wasikowska is very strong in the Aunt Reed scenes, and also in the scenes with Rochester.

Outside, Jane is looking for Rochester. She hears giggling. Mr. Rochester and Blanche are playing a flirtatious game, blowing on a feather to keep it aloft.


2011: Jane begins walking toward the summerhouse and the camera cuts back and forth between her and the couple within.

Blanche: “You look ridiculous!”
Rochester (laughing): “This game is ridiculous!”

I must say that given his professed attitude toward Blanche in the book, Rochester seems to be having a little too much fun here. Especially since until this moment, Jane was not present to witness the performance. All of which hints that this Rochester is truly interested in Blanche, perhaps undecided about which bride he should choose. But that makes no sense. He would not commit the sin of bigamy for Blanche. Any adaptation must make clear that Jane believes his intent toward Blanche is serious, while demonstrating just as clearly that it is no such thing. 1943 does the best job of this.


2011: “Excuse me, sir.”


2011: They both turn and stare at Jane. Blanche: “Does that creeping creature want you?” Rochester: “Excuse me.”


2011: Cut to Rochester’s study. Jane hands him a letter.

“This is from my old nurse Bessie. She says my cousin John Reed is dead. He squandered his fortune and has committed suicide. The news has so shocked my aunt, it’s brought on a stroke.”
“What, the aunt who cast you out?”


2011: “She’s been asking for me. I parted from her badly and I can’t neglect her wishes now.”


2011: He holds out the letter and she grasps it, but he doesn’t let go. “Promise me you won’t stay long.”

“Mr. Rochester, I’ve had no wages. I need funds for my journey.”
“How much do I owe you?”
“Thirty pounds.”
He takes some notes from a box. “Here’s fifty.”


2011: “But that’s too much.” “Take your wages, Jane.” “I cannot.”


2011: “Then I only have ten.”

She accepts the ten pound note. “Now you owe me.”


2011: ““Indeed I do. Meantime, I shall safeguard it here.” (He puts his hand over his heart.) “Do you trust me to keep it?”


2011: “Not a whit, sir. For you are not to be trusted at all.”

The point of the exchange in the book has been altered. There, Rochester tried to get her to give back her wages. He pleaded, “Just let me look at the cash,” but she knew it was a trick. This scene is more somber and less flirtatious. It seems to have a deeper meaning, that Rochester’s heart cannot be trusted. The dialogue is transferred from the proposal scene, where Rochester asks her to marry him, and she doesn’t believe him. He says, “You have no faith in me?” and she answers “Not a whit.”

Rochester smiles, watching her go.


2011: Cut to an exterior shot of Gateshead…


2011: …Then to Jane standing silently in a room with her cousins. Most of the furniture has gone.


2011: Cut to Aunt Reed’s sickbed. Cut to Aunt Reed’s sickbed. “Jane. I’ve twice done you wrong. I broke a vow I made to Reed.” “Please don’t think of it.”

“Open that box. Take out the letter and read it.”
Jane reads: Madam. Will you have the goodness to send me the address of my niece Jane Eyre? I desire her to come to me at Madeira. Fortune has blessed my endeavors and as I am childless I wish to adopt her and bequeath her at my death whatever I may have to leave. Yours, John Eyre, Madeira.


2011: “This is dated three years ago. Why did I never hear of it?”


2011: “Because I wrote and told him you had died of typhus at Lowood school… You called the names of the dead down upon me. You cursed me.”

“I would have loved you if you’d let me.”
“You were born to be my torment.”


2011: “Then love me or hate me as you will. You have my full and free forgiveness.” (Aunt Reed turns her head away.) “Be at peace.”


2011: Cut to Jane walking through the rooms.

Voiceover of her letter to John Eyre. My dear uncle. Some years ago my aunt Reed mistakenly informed you that I had died. I am writing to tell you that I am very much alive and glad to find I have a relative. I look forward to our correspondence, hoping one day we may meet. I’m currently living at Thornfield Hall where I am governess to the ward of Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester.

The Aunt Reed scene is condensed, but keeps the most important elements: Aunt Reed’s reduced financial state as a result of John’s spending, her anger at Jane, her lies, and Jane’s forgiveness. In the book, however, Jane does not write to her uncle John Eyre until later, and when she does so, she announces her engagement to Rochester–with fateful consequences.


2011: Cut to Rochester sitting on a narrow stone bridge with a book and pencil. “Ah, there you are. Just like one of your tricks, to steal in along with the twilight.”


2011: Jane’s reaction to seeing him.


2011: Rochester jumps down from the high wall. (There’s a distinct echo of 1997 in the setting and the action, though not the mood.) “If I dared, I’d touch you, see if you were real.”


2011: “Come, Jane. Stay your wandering feet at a friend’s threshold.”


2011: He helps her onto the bridge, and she suddenly turns. “Thank you Mr. Rochester for your great kindness. I’m strangely glad to get back again.”

The emotions have been dialed down quite a bit. Rochester does not reproach Jane for staying away so long. And compare Jane’s original line: “I am strangely glad to get back again to you: and wherever you are is my home—my only home.”


2011: Cut to Mrs. Fairfax and Jane. Jane is having tea and Mrs. Fairfax is sewing. “There’s been nothing official yet. But he’s ordered jewels from his bank. And he’s making preparations to travel to Europe.”

Jane is silent.


2011: Sophie brings in Adèle, who is very subdued. She approaches Jane, who barely responds.


2011: Adèle leans her head against Jane. Mrs. Fairfax adds “He’s taken to singing, the operas Miss Ingram favors so well. We’ll hear their announcement soon, I’m sure.”


2011: Jane sips her tea, looking downcast.

I found this scene confusing. Is this the actual reunion with Adèle? Or is it happening a day or two later? Either way, Jane seems a bit cold toward Adèle. Granted, Jane is not given to syrupy demonstrations of affection, but neither is she emotionally withholding.


Cut to Jane, going to the courtyard to find Rochester.


2011: “You are to be married.” “I see Mrs. Fairfax has intimated my intention to put my neck into the sacred noose.” “Adèle should go to school and I must seek another situation… Congratulations, sir.”

Jane walks away. He follows, and the next scene is the proposal scene.

2011 de-emphasizes Rochester’s “game.” He doesn’t torment Jane with talk of Blanche. Even in the garden scene after Mr. Mason’s mishap, he speaks ambiguously, just as he does here. He never confirms Jane’s erroneous belief or elaborates on it. Mrs. Fairfax’s lines (which are fabricated to bring things to a climax) seem to remove all room for doubt. Only now does Jane recognize the need to advertise for a position. Overall, the Jane-Rochester scenes seem underplayed and a bit dry, despite the use of some lovely original lines. And for the first time in this film, I think Mia Wasikowska’s performance is better, more expressive, than Fassbender’s. He seems too cool and restrained for Rochester, but that has been an issue throughout the film.

And now, the rubric!

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1943: Only fair on fidelity and direction, but the acting and screenplay are outstanding.

1970: Zeroes out by omitting the entire episode.

1996 is not as faithful as usual. Gainsbourg earns points for her portrait of Jane confronting Aunt Reed, but the scenes with Hurt don’t work. Some notable moments in terms of direction.

1997 scores low on fidelity but gets high marks for virtually everything else. The homecoming scene is worth watching even for those who dislike this version.

2011 is excellent on plot and verbal fidelity as well as direction. Wasikowska earns points but something feels missing. Jane Eyre should not be all restraint and suppressed emotion, like a Jane Austen story; the passion has to be expressed.

Coming soon: the Proposal Scene!!