The proposal scene in Jane Eyre is notable for its passion and for its Gothic, supernatural atmosphere. A storm rising in response to Rochester’s sinful defiance of God culminates in an omen of disaster for the heedless couple. The season and time are also significant: the proposal happens at midnight on Midsummer’s Eve, a time when fairies can be seen, when witches fly and evil spirits are likely to breach the veil between worlds. Twelve o’clock, of course, is the hour when fateful events occur: Jane arrives at Thornfield at noon, and Aunt Reed dies at midnight. This combination of Christian and pagan elements is characteristic of Jane Eyre.
On Midsummer’s Eve, Adèle “goes to bed with the sun” and Jane seeks the garden. She notices the fragrance of Rochester’s cigar “stealing from some window” and walks apart, into the orchard, in order to avoid being seen. There the scents of flowers and fruit hang in the air:
Jane retreats into “an ivy recess” whence she sees Rochester walking the garden, checking the gooseberries, stooping to inhale the perfume of flowers, and finally examining a large moth which has alighted beside him. While he has his back to her, she tries to slip away unnoticed:
This is our second hint of the supernatural. Does Rochester hear Jane’s footstep? Or is he so sensitive to her presence that even his shadow can feel her touch? Folk beliefs about shadows as “external souls” are common, and stepping on someone else’s shadow is often thought to bring that person bad luck. Rochester’s mention of West India hints of his family connections there; perhaps they are on his mind, on this of all nights.
Jane turns to go, but Rochester asks her to stay with him: “Surely no one can wish to go to bed while sunset is thus at meeting with moonrise.” Jane is reluctant, but she fails to think of an excuse. Soon she relaxes and even feels ashamed, for he appears so composed and quiet that any thought of impropriety seems to lie with her alone. Rochester asks if she has become attached to Thornfield, to Adèle and to Mrs. Fairfax. She replies that she has.
In his long-pursued campaign to force a declaration from Jane, Rochester now applies the final turn of the screw.
As before, Rochester refers to Blanche insultingly, but also makes clear that he plans to marry her in a month’s time. Therefore, he says, “Adèle must go to school; and you, Miss Eyre, must get a new situation.” Jane promises to advertise, but he brushes this off, saying that he has already heard of a situation which will suit:
Rochester’s proposed “situation” is clearly fictional, the product of his ironical fancy. He fully intends that Jane find the prospect of “Mrs. O’Gall of Bitternutt Lodge” and her five (!) daughters hard to swallow. Not only was Ireland far away, but the threat to send Jane to that subject island may also have evoked (in the minds of the original readers) contemporary reports of abject poverty and despair. Indeed, the Great Famine began in 1845, two years before the publication of Jane Eyre. Had she traveled to Ireland, Jane herself would have worked in a well-to-do household, but she would have been surrounded by misery.
Jane quietly begins to cry at the thought of Bitternutt Lodge; Rochester presses his advantage by assuring her that once she arrives there “I shall never see you again, that’s morally certain.” He asks whether they have been good friends, and when Jane says yes, he urges her to sit with him beneath the old chestnut tree, and enjoy what little time they have left:
For many readers of the novel, this is one of the most treasured speeches, in which Rochester describes, for the first time, the intensity of the bond which unites him with Jane. His fundamental fear that he is unlovable–the reason for this charade–is manifested in the claim that Jane will forget him. Despite his knowledge that Bitternutt Lodge is not real, he imagines the wound he would suffer, were Jane to be permanently separated from him. Rochester’s inability to imagine what she might suffer, is of course what permits him to inflict this emotional cruelty on his beloved.
Jane sobs convulsively, “shaken from head to foot with acute distress.” Finally she says that she wishes she had never been born, or never come to Thornfield, and Rochester asks, “Because you are sorry to leave it?” The sorrow and love within Jane at last force her to speak:
As Jane has observed before, home is not a place, but a person. Her love for Thornfield grows from her intellectual, emotional and spiritual bond with Rochester; she echoes his word communion. Rochester’s hatred for Thornfield, conversely, grows from his hatred of the secret it contains. (In Chapter XV, he says that he “likes” Thornfield’s antiquity and its architecture, yet he “abhor[s] the very thought of it…like a great plague-house.”)
One of Rochester’s most characteristic qualities is his maddening inconsistency, a trait more often associated in the nineteenth century with whimsical females than with (supposedly) rational men. He has just explained to Jane that, regrettably, it is necessary for her to leave Thornfield. But when Jane admits that she sees the necessity, he immediately contradicts her. This exchange finally provokes Jane to reveal what is in her heart.
Jane rebels at the idea of being forced to watch as Rochester takes Blanche to his bosom. Her rebuke to Rochester is an insistence on their equality: her capacity for love and pain is as great as his own. This entire speech draws powerfully on Paul’s New Testament letters, right down to the string of sharp rhetorical questions, the flesh/spirit polarity, and the disdain for worldly convention. Paul was ridiculed by his opponents as a small man of weak speech. Keenly aware that in his day, equality “in the flesh” did not exist, Paul passionately insisted that everyone, master and slave, gentile and Jew, man and woman, was equal “in the spirit” before God. So Jane believes: There is no master and servant, there is no man and woman; she is Rochester’s spiritual equal.
Rochester agrees and kisses Jane, but she struggles, protesting that he is a married man, or as good as married, and to a woman he does not love, with whom he has no sympathy, one who is not his match.
Having played the charade rather too well, Rochester now must exert himself to convince Jane of his intention to wed her. In one of their first conversations, he compared Jane to a bird (Ch. XIV: “I see at intervals the glance of a curious sort of bird through the close-set bars of a cage: a vivid, restless, resolute captive is there; were it but free, it would soar cloud-high.”) Now the bird is out of the cage, and he must recapture it if his plan is to succeed.
The wind sweeps down the walk and shakes the boughs of the chestnut tree; a nightingale sings, and Jane weeps again, standing apart from him. Rochester sits quietly for a time to let them both regain their composure, then renews his proposal:
In Rochester’s mouth, the language of equality is complicated. On the one hand, he has always recognized his bond with Jane and felt that it outweighed societal “conventions” (such as the piece of paper declaring him married to Bertha Mason). In his mind, Jane is his true bride because she is his match, his soulmate and counterpart. But his idea of “equality” does not include allowing Jane to make her decision with equal knowledge of the circumstances.
Rochester insists that he does not and could not love Miss Ingram, nor does she love him. Indeed, he caused a rumor to reach her that his fortune was not a third of what she had supposed, and thereafter Blanche and her mother gave him the cold shoulder.
Rochester ungallantly acknowledges the truth of Jane’s statement that she is poor and obscure, small and plain. I wonder whether there is an allusion here to the famous proposal scene in Pride and Prejudice, in which Darcy ungallantly dwells on the fact that Elizabeth is not his equal, but very much his social inferior. Whereas Darcy’s ungentlemanly behavior provoked Austen’s heroine to reject him, it is Rochester’s bluntness that convinces Jane of his sincerity. From their first meeting in Hay Lane, she was always comfortable with his directness of manner.
Jane commands Rochester to turn his face to the moonlight so that she can read his countenance, but he grows increasingly frantic. He has made his own declaration, and he does not yet have an answer. He complains that she is torturing him (a rich irony), and she responds that if his offer is real, her only feelings must be gratitude and devotion. This wounds Rochester, who was hoping for rather more than “gratitude.”
Not understanding his ominous words, Jane protests that nobody will meddle, for she has no relations to interfere. “No–that is the best of it,” he replies. “If I had loved him less I should have thought his accent and look of exultation savage,” says Jane the narrator, but at the time, she thought only of the bliss of requited love.
The reader’s pleasure in this long-awaited moment is dimmed by the realization that something is amiss. Despite his sophistries, Rochester is acutely aware that he is not merely ignoring a social convention, but breaking divine law. He excuses his offense by citing the good he intends to do. But his actions are motivated less by concern for Jane’s welfare than by his narcissistic determination to possess her at any cost.
A sudden darkness falls, even though the moon has not set. The chestnut tree writhes and groans; the wind sweeps over them. Rochester says that they must go indoors, touchingly adding “I could have sat with thee till morning, Jane.” But just then “a livid, vivid spark” leaps from the sky with a crashing noise and blinding light. As the rain rushes down, they run to the house, becoming thoroughly soaked. “The clock was on the stroke of twelve.”
Upon reaching her room, Jane feels momentarily ashamed, realizing what conclusions Mrs. Fairfax must be drawing, yet she soon surrenders to her joy. As the storm continues, Rochester thrice comes to her door to ask if she feels “safe and tranquil.”
So ends the chapter, and although Jane does not interpret the omen or describe her reaction to it, its meaning is clear enough. The living tree of their betrothal has been cleft asunder, and the two halves, each the likeness and equal of the other, have been driven apart.
What should an adaptation of such a lengthy and complex scene look like? To my mind, it is essential that Jane have her say. Both her speeches are declarations of love, but one expresses her agony at the thought of leaving Rochester, while the other rebukes him for suggesting that she could stand by and watch him marry Blanche. It is very important that the equality theme be included, but it is a complex matter because Jane claims intellectual and spiritual equality, not social equality. Rochester’s “cord of communion” speech is a delight and should be included. He should find himself in a vulnerable position, once he proposes, frantic for Jane to say yes, and trying to persuade her of his sincerity. Finally, I think it’s important to give some hint of Rochester’s forebodings, and to include the climactic lightning and the omen of the tree.
Physically the pattern is one of intimacy repeatedly interrupted and restored, while the emotional tenor of the scene is turbulent and dramatic. Jane is weeping very soon after the scene begins, and sobs “convulsively” at one point. Rochester kisses Jane after her “poor and obscure” speech, before he even proposes. She struggles and gets free. Rochester takes her in his arms again when he says “My bride is here,” but she writhes away. Finally after she accepts him, he embraces her once more, and a kiss is presumed. When they return to the house, he kisses her “repeatedly.” In other words, this is not Jane Austen. Passion and desire are fully on display and both lovers would have been highly aroused. To varying degrees, the films compress all this action and suppress the emotional demonstrations so that they can be concentrated in one ecstatic embrace at the end.
1943 gives the proposal scene 4 minutes, which is economical, yet lengthy enough to include most of the key elements. The scene takes place the morning after Blanche has been insulted (interestingly, the evening garden setting and Rochester’s cigar have both been displaced to the insult scene). The Ingram party has ridden away. Jane, who thinks Rochester has left, is in the garden having a good cry.
“I thought you’d gone.”
“I changed my mind. Or rather, the Ingram family changed theirs.”
“It’s always the way in this life. No sooner have you got settled in a pleasant resting place, than you’re summoned to move on.”
“As I told you sir, I shall be ready when the order comes.”
“It’s come now!”
“It’s a long way off, sir.”
“From what, Jane?”
“From England, and… from Thornfield… ”
(He comes closer.) “Well?”
Up to this point, the dialogue is very faithful to the original. Rochester’s “cord of communion” speech, in particular, is only slightly trimmed. Orson Welles adroitly handles the verbatim wording, like “tightly and inextricably knotted,” which is easy to read on a page but technically difficult for actors to deliver convincingly. This is one of the challenges of any Jane Eyre adaptation: retaining the elevated speech may cause a scene to feel stilted and artificial to modern viewers, but jettisoning it in favor of a more natural-feeling paraphrase sacrifices much of the original’s aesthetic. The problem is at its most acute in a scene like this, where elevated speech occurs in a highly emotional situation.
This is the first big cut and it comes at Jane’s expense. She doesn’t get to explain why she loved her time at Thornfield (“I have not been trampled on”) or to express her feelings toward Rochester (“I have talked, face to face, with what I reverence, with what I delight in,—with an original, a vigorous, an expanded mind.”) I attribute this to the sexism of the 1940s and the discomfort of the male screenwriters with the intellectualism of Brontë’s heroine. Also, Rochester gets the lion’s share of the attention here, when Jane should have more to say. She ends up seeming too passive.
“In your bride.”
“What bride? I have no bride.”
“But you will have.”
(With determination): “Yes… I will. I will.”
The core of Jane’s “poor and obscure” speech is retained (and Fontaine’s delivery is gently spirited) but she says nothing of equality before God. (The 1943 script removes most of the original references to religion.) In fact, there is nothing at all in this version about equality and Jane being Rochester’s “equal and likeness.”
This is where the first kiss ought to happen, but it doesn’t. Neither does Rochester’s formal proposal (“I offer you my hand, my heart, and a share of all my possessions”; “I ask you to… be my second self”). Jane’s doubts and concerns about Miss Ingram are not aired. Instead, Rochester suddenly takes charge.
Welles captures some of Rochester’s urgency at this point, but the motivation is different. In the original, he’s frantic because he has asked his question, putting himself in the position of vulnerability and need, but Jane takes her sweet time answering it. Here, he suddenly makes up his mind to the guilty deed, and demands an answer before he even asks the question! It’s as though he needs to get it over with quickly, like Macbeth killing Duncan. Meanwhile, the storm is whipping itself up in response to his nefarious plans. Jane is permitted a few seconds of delay:
1943 downplays the erotic passion and even the romance in favor of the dark elements of foreboding, which indeed work beautifully in the black and white format. I like this version because it foregrounds the fact that Rochester has hatched a sinister plan; he is no knight in shining armor, come to fit the glass slipper on his Cinderella. On the other hand, the eerie excitement and theatricality are achieved at the expense of the erotic energy and complex emotions of the literary characters. Rochester is never put in the position of having to persuade Jane. This Jane is mildly tearful almost from the start, but she cries prettily. And there is no kissing–at all!
1970 is the anti-Gothic version, conceived in reaction to 1943. Instead of the spooky, dramatic music of 1943, we have John Williams’ plaintive love theme. Only two minutes are allotted, depending on how you slice it. (The conversation after Mr. Mason’s mishap leads directly into the proposal.) The time is summer, because the flowers in the garden are blooming, but there is no chestnut tree.
“Would it grieve you to leave it?”
(Not understanding his meaning): “Leave it?”
“When I marry, I shall not want to live here.”
In the book, Jane realizes early on that if Rochester marries Blanche, Adèle must go to school, thus depriving Jane of employment. In fact, it is Jane who brings this necessity to Rochester’s attention. She intends to advertise, but Rochester vetoes this, promising to find her a situation himself. In the 1970 version, Jane only now realizes all of this. The compression presumably happens for dramatic reasons, so that Jane can be hit all at once by the shock, and Rochester can “rescue” her by proposing. Rochester does not torture her with his absurd lie about Mrs. Dionysius O’Gall and her five daughters.
So far, so good. If it is necessary to make drastic cuts to the proposal scene, I think it’s important to give Jane her due. Rochester’s “cord of communion” speech is omitted, and Jane’s love of Thornfield is boiled down to “I have been happy here.” But she gets to deliver a good chunk of the “poor and obscure” speech, including the parts about God and equality. The prevailing style of screen acting ca. 1970 was naturalistic rather than theatrical, and this bit of the dialogue is deftly paraphrased. Susannah York is especially strong here. But then things go off track, at least temporarily.
It’s a tall order for any actor to deliver “I love you. I love you!” with conviction. I’m not sure why, but maybe the “three little words” tend to come off as trite onscreen (and the repetition is a telltale sign of the line’s weakness). Rochester never actually says this; he says the much more interesting, “You… I love as my own flesh.” Would it have been so awkward to let George C. Scott be a poetic lover?
This last line is freely adapted from Rochester’s explanation that Blanche rejected him when he led her to believe he was not rich. It is consistent with the 1970 Rochester’s cynicism about women and their mercenary motives, but also reasonably true to his sentiments in the book.
Rochester’s eagerness and Jane’s hesitation are faithful to the book, if much abbreviated. George C. Scott is better here.
There is no storm, no lightning and no omen, but the these lines hint at Rochester’s dilemma and his stubborn determination. Overall, this version succeeds in conveying many of the turbulent emotions of the original, but it is too compressed to please most Brontë fans, and the dialogue is too heavily rewritten. Interestingly, despite the reaction against the eerie atmosphere of 1943, 1970 is the only one of the four subsequent feature-length versions to include Rochester’s ominous words. Even the last shot of Rochester looking upward echoes the final shot of Orson Welles’s uplifted face from 1943.
Each of the succeeding productions (1996, 1997 and 2011) devotes 5 minutes to the proposal scene, but they emphasize different parts, and the emotional tenor varies. 1996 makes a game attempt to set a mood similar to that in the beginning of the chapter, when Jane is walking and comes upon Rochester smoking his cigar. The music is romantic strings, but it is pleasingly muted in favor of crickets and night birds. The season was constrained by the filming schedule; although the garden is green, it is definitely not midsummer, for it is so chilly that you can sometimes see the breath of both leads.
“You are very quiet this evening. What is on your mind?”
“Many things, sir. My aunt’s death. Being back at Thornfield.”
In this version, Rochester decides on his own to send Adèle to school in Paris. This news leads to the first clear intimation of his wedding plans.
“Exactly… precisely. With your usual acuteness, you’ve hit the nail straight on the head. I am to be married.” (He sits on a stone bench under a tree.) “Which means Adèle will go away to school, and you will need to find a new situation.”
Rochester’s odd posture in this scene is rather anachronistic. Gentlemen were given more leeway in manners than ladies, but it would be decidedly rude of Rochester to lie down on the stone bench in front of a lady–especially when he has made no effort to see her comfortably seated. Instead, she remains standing before him!
“No matter; a girl of your sense will not object to the voyage.”
“Not the voyage, but the distance. And then the sea is such a barrier.”
“From England, sir. And from Thornfield. And…”
There is a reaction shot of Rochester as Jane speaks, but she does not actually say, “From you” as in the book. When she fails to continue, he replies:
As Rochester speaks, the camera slowly moves in closer to his face.
“There are other houses just as fine.”
I’m not sure why the fabricated lines were added, especially when so many good lines were cut. Despite her love of plain speaking, Jane simply would not have expressed herself this rudely to Rochester. Jane’s two passionate speeches are severely pruned and compressed into one inadequate paraphrase. She doesn’t even get to say the immortal lines “I have as much soul as you, and fully as much heart! And if God had gifted me…” It is a serious omission because the entire romance arc depends on Jane’s declaration, which finally frees Rochester to confess his love for her. This is a real shame.
The literary Jane never says “I was treated as an equal,” and the fact is that Rochester never treated her as his social equal. He ordered her about, patronized her as his “little friend,” and enjoyed every minute of it. In the book, Jane describes something more precious and subtle: there was a meeting of mind and spirit. The nature of their conversations was such that Rochester recognized her intellectual parity with him, even if both were aware of his greater worldly experience.
This is a good moment, where the action left undescribed in the book comes to life on the screen. When the literary Rochester says, “So… so, Jane,” he is kissing Jane to demonstrate their equality. Here, William Hurt kisses Gainsbourg on the side of her mouth, not quite meeting her lips, then on the other side of her face. It is tender and sweet, in keeping with the “gentle Rochester” of this version.
“Jane, be still. Don’t struggle so; you are like a wild bird, clawing at its cage.”
“I’m no caged bird. I’m a free human being, independent. With a will of my own.”
“Then stay. Stay and marry me.”
“I mean what I say. Stay at Thornfield. Be my wife.”
“And what of Miss Ingram?”
“Miss Ingram—I don’t love Miss Ingram, nor does she love me.”
As in 1970, there is no chestnut tree, no storm, no omen. Nor does Rochester give any hint of his forebodings. Overall, I would say that the emotional tenor is romantic but subdued–certainly not turbulent and passionate. Charlotte Gainsbourg delivers her scant lines with spirit, but she does not weep as Jane does in the book, nor does her “struggle” make her seem like a wild bird. The biggest negative is that Jane’s lines are so severely cut (in favor of Rochester, who gets to give a full version of his “cord of communion” speech). Whenever I watch this version, I am also distracted by the makeup (or lack of it?) which results in both leads (but especially Hurt) looking red about the nose. This should have been an easy fix. Still, kisses are surprisingly difficult to photograph and I would rate the kissing parts very good, especially because there is more than one kiss, as in the book.
As we have come to expect, 1997 is problematic, but interesting. I have complained about the excessive paraphrasing in this screenplay before. The effect is similar to 1970; the diction is dumbed down and the dialogue is made to seem more contemporary. This matches the naturalistic style of acting favored by Samantha Morton and Ciarán Hinds. The beauty and force of the original language is drained, but what the scene lacks in poetry it makes up for in passion. This is the most emotionally turbulent version of the proposal scene, and in my opinion, the most erotically charged.
But Rochester has impatiently been waiting for weeks, and he has plans for Jane.
Mrs. Fairfax (still reluctant to let Jane go): “There’s a storm brewing up, I think.”
Mrs. Fairfax, who up to this point has seemed unaware of the attraction between Jane and Rochester, is clearly trying to discourage the hint of romance in the air. Sophie the French maid, on the other hand, gives Rochester a knowing look that speaks volumes.
“Well, I hope you like Ireland as much.”
“Yes, but… I won’t be able to see…”
“Adèle… Mrs. Fairfax…”
“Is that all? Isn’t there anyone else you’ll miss?”
This is a good example of the “realistically” rewritten, anachronistic dialogue of the 1997 screenplay. “I feel like, well, I’m sort of attached to you” is a very modern mode of speaking. Even in private, I doubt that nineteenth century people expressed themselves this way. Furthermore, “I know this may sound silly” is about as un-Rochester as it gets. The literary Rochester constantly said fanciful, enigmatic, poetical things and never worried about whether they sounded silly.
And yet, this is the best of our four versions of the “cord of communion” speech, because of the acting. Instead of simply delivering the lines, Hinds uses gestures to emphasize what Rochester is feeling, and to raise the erotic temperature.
For her part, Samantha Morton visibly and audibly reacts to the physical contact, beginning to breathe harder. It’s a great reminder that acting, even in a literary adaptation, isn’t all about language.
Jane (interrupting him in anguish): “Never! I will never forget you as long as I live!”
“My time here at Thornfield has been the happiest of my life. It would break my heart to leave. I’ve talked, and laughed, and learned so much by just being here.” (As she speaks, the sound of the rising wind can be heard.)
Most of Jane’s speech is not even a paraphrase, but an interpretation of her feelings as presented in the book. The idea of equality and of being treated with respect is foregrounded because of its appeal for modern audiences (compare with its absence in 1943). Jane speaks not of spiritual equality before God, but of social equality. In spite of the rewriting, Jane and her feelings are the focus here, and that is a positive. Morton also gives a convincing performance, allowing Jane to finally abandon her usual self-restraint to say what is in her heart. She weeps freely during this part of the conversation, and the last line is quite moving.
“You’re absolutely right.”
“A woman you don’t love!”
“That is correct.”
“A woman who is not worthy of you. It would be less hurtful to go to Ireland, so please let go of me.”
“What if I don’t want to? What if I want you right here by my side, forever?”
Compare this last line to the original: “I ask you to pass through life at my side—to be my second self, and best earthly companion.”
As in 1996 (and in the book), there is a preliminary kiss, before the proposal. It’s a good one. Notice that the camera angle for most of this conversation highlights Jane’s face and her reactions. We can’t see as much of Rochester’s face but we can tell from his voice that he is increasingly excited.
“If you’ll have me, I offer you my heart, my hand in marriage and a share of all my worldly possessions. Will you marry me, Jane?”
“Because I love you. Because I’ve always loved you, since the first time we met, that’s why.”
“But how can that be?”
I’m still not crazy about “I love you,” even if it is delivered with more conviction than in 1970, but I rather like “I’ve always loved you, since the first time we met.” This is something Rochester reveals later in the book, but here it adds to the high emotion and helps to convince Jane of his sincerity.
I will never understand why Kay Mellor felt compelled to take a beautiful line like “Make my happiness–I will make yours” and replace it with the trite “Will you make me the happiest man on this earth?” But actors have to speak the lines they are dealt.
Now, the 1997 kiss (the climactic one, not the first one) has been much maligned, because Samantha Morton “misses” and hits the side of his mouth. They never quite manage to connect in a satisfying way. No doubt there was more than one take (lucky Samantha) and the director could have shown a very different kiss, had he wanted to. So this must have been deliberate.
I admit that the first time I saw this scene, I cringed. It seemed embarrassing, somehow, that Jane’s kissing skills were so maladroit. (Rochester’s kissing skills, on the other hand, seem right on the money). A good satisfying kiss requires a meeting of the mouths, not just of the minds. But on repeated viewings, I became more tolerant. I think it was done this way in order to reveal Jane’s inexperience. After all, young people kissing for the first time are not always graceful. Jane is taking the initiative and this is the first time she has ever kissed a man. She is also half out of her mind with passion and joy.
1997 includes the chestnut tree and the storm, but not the lightning omen. Nor does Rochester give any hint of a guilty conscience. He seems overwhelmed with passion. As I said, this version is by far the most erotically suggestive one, and it even leaves open the possibility that more than kissing happened that evening.
Of course, any hanky panky would be a serious departure from the book. Still, I think the intent of the 1997 scene was to show that they were both overwhelmed, not just with love, but with desire. And indeed, as we will see, the novel itself dwells on the intriguing possibility of premarital sex, and the need for Jane to prevent it happening before it’s supposed to. This is true even on the night of the storm, when Rochester comes to Jane’s door three times to check on her. Presumably she doesn’t let him in, but remember that in fairy folklore, the third time is a charm.
Like 1970 and 1996, 2011 postpones discussion of Jane leaving Thornfield until the moments before the proposal scene. Mrs. Fairfax says she expects an announcement of Rochester’s engagement soon, for he has ordered jewels from his bank and made plans to travel to Europe. Jane finds Rochester in the courtyard and offers her congratulations, saying she will find another post.
Rochester is speaking with a double meaning, for the “situation” he hopes Jane will accept is that of Mrs. Rochester. The deceitfulness and cruelty of the literary Rochester are toned down. There is no elaborate fiction about Mrs. O’Gall and traveling to Ireland.
This Jane speaks with determination. She has steeled herself to the necessity and (on the surface) seems able to handle it. In the book, Jane plaintively asks “Must I move on? Must I leave Thornfield?” Rochester assures her that she must, and Jane the narrator recalls “This was a blow, but I did not let it prostrate me.”
Here, it is Rochester who asks “Must I really lose a faithful paid subordinate, such as yourself?” and Jane who replies, “You must.”
They walk toward a large, isolated tree with a bench at its roots.
The screenplay trims Rochester’s speech but keeps the essentials including the phrase “cord of communion.”
This is a good distillation of Jane’s first speech. She becomes much more emotional now.
The change from “I have no bride” to “I have no wife” seems a deliberate if subtle reference to Bertha Mason. In the book, Rochester misleads Jane about Blanche to make her jealous. But here, the deception is not to do with Blanche. “I have no wife” is a different kind of lie.
This is lovely and faithful, except for the grammatical error which Moira Buffini has inexcusably introduced (it’s in the pdf of her screenplay). “For I to leave you” is incorrect pronoun use; the original’s “for me to leave you” is correct. Why ever did she change it? Call me a pedant, but this drives me nuts! It’s more distracting than the “bad kiss” in 1997 or William Hurt’s red nose in 1996. How could they spend millions of dollars lovingly curating every detail of this film, and miss a glaring error like this?
Other than that, the speech is beautifully delivered by Mia Wasikowska. She shows plenty of emotion and passion, but Michael Fassbender plays it low-key for most of this scene. Fassbender’s Rochester was always more emotionally withholding and less demonstrative than his literary counterpart. As expected, he’s quiet and intense here rather than amorous and urgent, for the moment at least. This is where he should kiss her, but he doesn’t.
This compresses three different lines of Rochester into one, but again, the words are close to the originals.
Pleasingly, Rochester’s lines include “poor and obscure as you are.” This is the only one of our five versions to retain that part.
“You wish me to be your wife?”
“I swear it.”
“You love me?”
“Then, sir, I will marry you.”
This scene is notable for reversing the power balance which has been in place for most of 2011. Instead of the shifting balance of the book, Rochester had the advantage in nearly every scene. Now at last he is in the position of having to convince and persuade Jane to accept him. Piercing violins play and there are sounds of thunder. The boughs of the tree are shaken by wind, but Rochester says nothing of his forebodings or his guilty conscience.
Fassbender finally loosens up and shows some of Rochester’s freely-expressed emotions. The hallway scene is delightful. It’s like he’s a different person.
2011 inserts a subtle suggestion of storm damage to the tree. But I’m not sure what the point of this last shot is, since one lopped branch does not an omen make. If you haven’t read the book, this will fly right over your head.
2011 is the most faithful to the original dialogue. The acting, especially by Mia Wasikowska, is also good. She manages to balance the elevated language with a real display of passion and anguish, including tears. Michael Fassbender is much calmer and more restrained in his delivery. For me, he’s just not Rochester-y enough, but he is certainly sexy and romantic. His best moments are toward the end of the scene, especially when they enter the house all smiles.
And now, it’s time for the rubric!
Note: the numerical score is determined by the presence of the following elements: (1) The garden and chestnut tree as setting; (2) Rochester informs Jane of her planned departure to Ireland (3) Rochester’s “string” speech; (4) what Thornfield and Rochester have meant to Jane [double weighted]; (5) Jane’s rebuke of Rochester, with theme of equality [double weighted]; (6) Rochester’s proposal and declaration of love; (7) Jane’s disbelief and final acceptance; (8) Rochester’s acknowledgment of his offense; (9) the storm and lightning striking the tree; (10) Mrs. Fairfax glimpsing the lovers. Possible points: 12.
1943: Great on fidelity and direction, but the chemistry and lack of heat is a bit disappointing in this crucial scene. Not enough equality!
1970: Skimps and compresses far too much, but what’s there is worth watching.
1996: Gainsbourg’s good performance can’t overcome problems with screenplay, direction and chemistry.
1997: Good on fidelity to plot and spirit, with very good acting and chemistry, but the screenplay is a serious obstacle to excellence. Notable for passion.
2011: Consistently good to excellent even if there is something lacking in the sexual chemistry. The pronoun error is also a distraction.
Paul S said:
Epic post. Your love for Jane Eyre really shines through!
Thank you so much! I do love it, more than I realized when I started this project.
Yes, Linnet, your love for the project shines through, and I know this is one which has grown on you and am very glad for it.
The series would be a good class. Maybe professor Linnet could have a web class in the future which discusses JE, the films, and the writing. It’d be great fun.
Haha! Well, I’ve not given up on the idea of an annotated edition 🙂
I haven’t forgotten – the topic is big enough for both.
Andrea Baker said:
Just found your post after binge watching 3 versions of Jane and searching for info on the romantic & sexual charge of the story. Your post was perfect! Have you considered added reviews of the television versions? I’m currently in love with the BBC version from 2007 with Toby Stephens & Ruth Wilson. I’d love your thoughts on their performances & the screenplay’s liberties. Again-Thanks for such a great analysis!
Thanks for the compliments, Andrea. I’m currently on a “blogcation” but will consider writing more on Jane Eyre in the future!