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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.

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Fritz Eichenberg’s very gothic woodcut of the proposal scene (1943). For this and other art, see the excellent site “Jane Eyre Illustrated.”

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:

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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:

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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.

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Note his use of the affectionate “Janet”…

In his long-pursued campaign to force a declaration from Jane, Rochester now applies the final turn of the screw.

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The impact of this speech on Jane is shown only externally, by Rochester’s question, as she turns her head away in grief.

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:

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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.

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“Here is the chestnut tree; here is the bench at its old roots.” Karel Muller (1963)

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:

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Rochester’s question “Are you anything akin to me?” seems like a non-sequitur, but it is central to his point.

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.

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Max Wulff’s illustration of the proposal scene (1920) updates the clothing to the early twentieth century.

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:

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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.”

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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.

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The declaration at last; this is what he has been waiting for. He demonstrates their equality physically, through the embrace and kiss.

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“‘As we are,’ repeated Mr. Rochester.” C. E. Brock (ca. 1910).

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“Gathering me to his breast, pressing his lips on my lips, ‘So, Jane!'” Edward A. Wilson (1943).

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.

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“Jane, be still; don’t struggle so.” M. V. Wheelhouse (1911).

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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.

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“A waft of wind came sweeping down the laurel walk.” Grau Sala (1947).

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:

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“My bride is here.” Richard Lebenson (1984).

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.

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“Poor and obscure, small and plain.” Helen Sewell (1938).

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.

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“I must have you for my own–entirely my own.” Bernice Oehler (1947).

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.”

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“Let me look at your face.” Simon Brett (1991).

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Rochester has re-captured his little bird and plans to keep her in a gilded cage of his making.

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.

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“I have her and will hold her.” E. Stuart Hardy (ca. 1940).

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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.”

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“The moon was not yet set.” Ethel Gabain (1923).

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“And what ailed the chestnut tree?” Nell Booker (1943).

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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.”

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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.

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1943: Rochester appears at the doorway to the garden and watches Jane for a moment before he approaches.

“I thought you’d gone.”
“I changed my mind. Or rather, the Ingram family changed theirs.”

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1943: “Why are you crying?” “I was thinking about having to leave Thornfield.”

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1943: “You’ve become quite attached to that foolish little Adèle, haven’t you, to that simple old Fairfax…” “Yes, sir.” “You’d be sorry to part with them.” (Jane, more emotionally) “Yes, sir.”

“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!”

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1943: “Then… it’s settled?”

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1943: “All settled. Even about your future situation.”

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1943: “You’ve found a place for me?” “Yes, Jane, I have… in the west of Ireland. You’ll like Ireland, I think; there are such warm-hearted people there.” Notice Rochester’s naughty expression!

“It’s a long way off, sir.”
“From what, Jane?”
“From England, and… from Thornfield… ”
(He comes closer.) “Well?”

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1943: “And from you, sir.”

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1943: “Yes, Jane, it’s a long way. When you get there, I shall probably never see you again. We’ve been good friends, Jane, haven’t we?” “Yes, sir.”

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1943: “Even good friends may be forced to part. Let’s make the most of what time is left us. Let’s sit here in peace, even though we should be destined never to sit here again.”

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1943: “Sometimes I have a queer feeling with regard to you, Jane. Especially when you’re near me, as now. It’s as if I had a string, somewhere under my left rib, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in a corresponding corner of your little frame. And if we should ever have to be parted, that cord of communion would be snapped… and I have a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly. As for you, you’d forget me.”

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1943: “That I never will sir, you know that.”

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.

Jane continues:

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1943: “I see the necessity of going, but it’s like looking on the necessity of death.”

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.

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1943: “Where you do see that necessity?”

“In your bride.”
“What bride? I have no bride.”
“But you will have.”
(With determination): “Yes… I will. I will.”

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1943: “Do you think I could stay here to become nothing to you? Do you think because I am poor and obscure and plain that I’m soulless and heartless? I have as much soul as you and fully as much heart.”

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1943: A reaction shot of Rochester as he listens to Jane. Notice how, for this scene only, he is placed lower than she is and “looks up” to her.

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1943: “And if God had gifted me with wealth and beauty, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me… as it is now for me to leave you. There—I’ve spoken my heart.” (He rises and takes hold of her.) “Now let me go.”

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.

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1943: “Jane. Jane, you strange, almost unearthly thing… you that I love as my own flesh.” (Meanwhile Jane says, “Don’t mock me, don’t mock me.”)

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1943: “Enough of Blanche. It’s you I want. Answer me, Jane, quickly. Say, ‘Edward, I’ll marry you.’ Say it, Jane, say it.”

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:

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1943: “I have to read your face.”

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1943: “Read quickly. Say, ‘Edward, I’ll marry you.’”

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1943: A warning thunderclap and flash of lightning as Jane makes up her mind.

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1943: “Edward, I’ll marry you!”

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1943: “God pardon me!”

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1943: Lightning strikes a tree in the garden, splitting it in two.

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1943: The lovers are dramatically lighted at the center of the dark stormclouds. Fade to black.

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.

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1970: Rochester has been teasingly probing Jane about her jealousy of Blanche. Suddenly he says, “You have grown attached to Thornfield.”

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1970: “I have been happy here.”

“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.

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1970 (Stunned): “Of course. Adèle will go to school. I will find another post…” (losing her composure) “I must go in sir. I’m cold.”

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1970: “Jane.” (He grips her arm.) “Please, let me go.” “Wait.” “Let me go.” (Weeping.) “Jane…”

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1970: “Why do you confide in me like this? What are you and she to me? Do you think that because I am poor and plain, I have no feelings?”

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1970: Reaction shot of Rochester during Jane’s declaration.

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1970: “I promise you, if God had gifted me with wealth and beauty, I should make it as hard for you to leave me now as it is for me to leave you.”

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1970: “But He did not. Yet my spirit can address yours, as if both had passed through the grave, and stood before Him, equal.”

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.

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1970: “Jane.” (He grips her hands.) “Let me go, sir.” “I love you. I love you!”

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?

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1970: “Please, don’t make me foolish.” “Foolish! I need you. What is Blanche to me? I know what I am to her: money to manure her father’s lands.”

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.

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1970: “Marry me, Jane. Say you’ll marry me.” “Do you mean it?”

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1970: “You torture me with your doubts. Say yes. Say yes.”

Rochester’s eagerness and Jane’s hesitation are faithful to the book, if much abbreviated. George C. Scott is better here.

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1970: Jane does not actually voice a yes, but she kisses him. It’s a nice, satisfying clinch, well played.

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1970: “God forgive me. Let no man meddle with me.”

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1970: “For I will keep her… keep her.”

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.

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1996: Jane walks in the garden on the evening after her return from Gateshead.

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1996: Rochester is present, smoking his cigar. He sees her and approaches.

“You are very quiet this evening. What is on your mind?”
“Many things, sir. My aunt’s death. Being back at Thornfield.”
“And…?”

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1996: “Adèle tells me you are sending her away to school.” “Yes. It’s a good idea, don’t you think? Paris is her home, after all.”

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1996: “May I ask why, sir?” “I thought perhaps you might have guessed.” “Because you are going to be married?”

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.”

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1996: “I will advertise. Directly.”

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1996: “No, you will not.” (Lying back) “I’ve heard of a position that might suit you. Governess to five daughters of a family in Ireland.”

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!

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1996: Still, this Rochester IS rather eccentric, in ways different from his literary counterpart.

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1996: “It’s a long way off.”

“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.”

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1996: “From what, Jane?”

“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:

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1996: “Sometimes I have the strangest feeling about you. Especially when you are near me, as you are now.” (Looking away from her) “It feels as though I had a string, tied here under my left rib, where my heart is, tightly knotted to you, in a similar fashion. And when you go to Ireland, with all that distance between us, I’m afraid that this cord will be snapped.” (Reaction of Jane as he continues) “I shall bleed inwardly. But you are sensible. You will forget me.”

As Rochester speaks, the camera slowly moves in closer to his face.

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1996 (Quickly): “Never. I’ll never forget you. I wish I had never been born. I wish I had never come to Thornfield.”

“There are other houses just as fine.”

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1996 (Angrily): “How can you be so stupid? How can you be so cruel? I may be poor and plain, but I am not without feelings. It’s not the house, but the life I lived here. I was not trampled on. I was not excluded.” (Rochester gets up.) “I was treated as an equal.”

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.

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1996: During Jane’s speech, Rochester has risen from the bench. “And so you are, Jane.”

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1996: “And so.”

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1996: “And so.”

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.

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1996: “Yes, sir, and yet not, for you are a married man. Or as good as married. Let me go.” (He holds her back from leaving.)

“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.”

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1996: “How dare you make fun of 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.”

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1996: “Jane, you strange, almost unearthly thing… I love you as my own flesh. I beg of you to marry me. Say, ‘Edward.’ Give me my name. Say ‘Edward, I will marry you.’”

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1996 (She kisses him): “Yes.” (Another kiss.) “Yes, Edward.”

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1996: The kiss deepens. Cut to Jane and Mrs. Fairfax the next morning.

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 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.

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1997: We begin with Jane receiving an ecstatic greeting from Mrs. Fairfax, Adèle and Sophie upon her return from Gateshead.

But Rochester has impatiently been waiting for weeks, and he has plans for Jane.

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1997: “Jane. Will you walk with me?”

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1997 Mrs. Fairfax: “Oh, she must unpack, she’ll want to get her things hung up.”

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1997: “It’s such a lovely evening.”

Mrs. Fairfax (still reluctant to let Jane go): “There’s a storm brewing up, I think.”

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1997: Jane, who cannot take her eyes off Rochester, says, “Perhaps just a little stroll, then.”

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1997 Sophie: “I’ll get your bag.”

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.

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1997 Rochester: “It is a beautiful place in autumn.” Jane: “It is a beautiful place all year round.” (So, not midsummer.)

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1997: Cut to a stone wall and a path with a large gnarly tree. Jane and Rochester’s voices are heard before they come onscreen.

“Well, I hope you like Ireland as much.”
“Ireland?”

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1997: “Yes. Remember, I promised to find you a position? Well, I have. It’s with a Mrs. Dionysus [sic] O’Gall, of Bitternutt Lodge, Connefarthington, Ireland. And you start next week.”

This is the only one of our five adaptations to use “Mrs. Dionysius O’Gall.” In the book, Rochester says that Bitternutt Lodge is in Connaught, one of the provinces of Ireland. Here, he oddly locates it in “Connefarthington” which, so far as I can tell, is a made-up name. (I wonder what Irishman Ciarán Hinds thought of this.)

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1997: “Next week! But… Ireland is so far away.” “Oh, you’ll love it, Jane. And they say the people are very friendly there.”

“Yes, but… I won’t be able to see…”
(Intently) “Who?”
“Adèle… Mrs. Fairfax…”
“Is that all? Isn’t there anyone else you’ll miss?”

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1997: “And you, sir.” When Jane says this, Rochester exhales slightly. This is what he has been waiting for.

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1997: “It’s a shame, because we have been good friends, haven’t we? I mean, sometimes I feel like I’ve known you all my life. I know this may sound silly, but when we’re together like this, I feel like, well, I’m sort of attached to you.”

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.

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1997: “It’s as though I’ve got a bit of string, somewhere under my left ribs about here.” (As he speaks, he takes her hand and places it on his chest, while holding her forearm, and placing his hand over hers.)

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1997: 1997: “And it’s knotted to a similar piece of string, situated about there.” (Still holding her hand to his chest, he gestures toward hers, almost touching her). “Do you think that piece of string will stretch two hundred miles across the sea, Jane? Or do you think we’ll end up bleeding inwardly for each other?”

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.

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1997: Suddenly he says, “Pah, it’s ridiculous!” (He drops her hand.) “You’ll probably forget me as soon as you step foot in Ireland!”

Jane (interrupting him in anguish): “Never! I will never forget you as long as I live!”

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1997: “Do you think because I am poor and plain I have no soul, no heart? Well, you are wrong.” (She moves away from him to lean against the tree trunk.)

“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.)

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1997: Reaction shot of Rochester as he listens to Jane’s speech.

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1997: “I’ve loved every moment of it. From teaching Adèle to the wonderful conversations we’ve had together. I am your equal, and you have treated me as such. You have shown true respect for me.” (Another reaction shot.) “And I have felt, for the first time in my entire life, like I’ve belonged. And to think that I will soon be torn from all this…” (A rumble of thunder is heard) …”that I will never speak with you, or see your face again, is unbearable to me.”

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.

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1997: “Then why go?” “Because your bride will not want me here.” “I have no bride.” “Not yet, but you will.” “Yes, you’re right. I will. Come here.”

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1997 (He moves to embrace Jane and she turns her head away): “Let go of me. I can’t stay here and watch you marry her.” (The rain is beginning.)

“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.”

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1997: “I’m afraid your bride stands between us, sir.”

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1997: “My bride is here.”

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.

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1997: The aftermath of the first kiss. It obviously made an impression.

“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?”
“Me?”
“Yes.”
“Why?”
“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.

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1997: “Don’t torture me, answer me, Jane! Will you be my wife? Will you make me the happiest man on this earth?”

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.

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1997: “I will!” “Oh, Jane!”

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.

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1997: Jane kissing Rochester’s cheek.

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.

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1997: “Oh Jane,” Rochester repeats. The image of the lovers embracing fades into another…

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1997… of Jane asleep in bed, with a smile that suggests sexual satisfaction.

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.

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2011: Rochester follows Jane out of the courtyard and onto the grounds.

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2011: He has to jog a bit to catch up with her. Daffodils are in bloom, and he begins the conversation with “Thornfield is a pleasant place in spring, isn’t it?” Jane stonily answers, “Yes, sir.”

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2011: “You’ll be sorry to part with it. That’s always the way of events in life. No sooner have you got settled than a voice cries, rise and move on. I’ll find you a new situation, Jane. One I hope that you’ll accept.”

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.

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2011: “I shall be ready when your order to march comes.”

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.” 

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2011: Rochester gets in front of Jane, to block her way, when he asks this question. Jane’s expression is sober, even frowning.

They walk toward a large, isolated tree with a bench at its roots.

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2011: “I have a strange feeling, with regard to you. As if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly knotted to a similar string in you. And if you were to leave, I’m afraid that cord of communion would snap. I have a notion that I’d take to bleeding inwardly. As for you, you’d forget me.”

The screenplay trims Rochester’s speech but keeps the essentials including the phrase “cord of communion.”

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2011: “How? I have lived a full life here. I have not been trampled on, I have not been petrified. I have not been excluded from every glimpse of what is bright. I have known you, Mr. Rochester. And it strikes me with anguish to be torn from you.”

This is a good distillation of Jane’s first speech. She becomes much more emotional now.

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2011: “Then why must you leave?”

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2011: “Because of your wife!” “I have no wife.” “But you are to be married.” “Jane. You must stay.”

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.

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2011: “And become nothing to you? Am I a machine without feelings? Do you think that because I am poor, obscure, plain and little that I am soulless and heartless? I have as much soul as you, and full as much heart. And if God had blessed me with beauty and wealth, I could make it as hard for you to leave me as it is for I to leave you. I’m not speaking to you through mortal flesh. It is my spirit that addresses your spirit. As if we’d passed through the grave and stood at God’s feet, equal. As we are.”

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.

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2011: “As we are.” (He takes hold of Jane.) She cries, “I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.”

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2011: “Then let your will decide your destiny. I offer you my hand, my heart. Jane, I ask you to pass through life at my side. You are my equal and my likeness. Will you marry me?”

This compresses three different lines of Rochester into one, but again, the words are close to the originals.

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2011: “Are you mocking me?” “Do you doubt me?” “Entirely. Your bride is Miss Ingram.”

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2011: “Miss Ingram—she is the machine without feelings. It’s you, you rare, unearthly thing, poor and obscure as you are. Please accept me as your husband. I must have you for my own.”

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?”
“I do.”
“Then, sir, I will marry you.”

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2011: Jane kisses Rochester. It’s a good kiss, but the focus is on his face, not on hers.

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.

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2011: The lovers are bathed in a golden light, but the rain is coming.

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2011: They rush back to the house in a downpour, Rochester holding his jacket over Jane.

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2011: Rochester kisses Jane in the hallway after they enter. “Good night. Good night, my love.”

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.

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2011: Mrs. Fairfax, walking along the upper gallery, sees them.

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2011: Jane gives Mrs. Fairfax a huge smile, then runs off to her room.

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2011: Cut to the next morning as men are working on the tree to trim and remove one of the branches.

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.

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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.