NB: The blog will be on hold while I travel to beautiful Seattle next week to visit family. À bientôt!

At more than 11,000 words, the chapter in which Jane takes leave of Rochester (XXVII) is one of the longest in Jane Eyre. Its principal theme is Jane’s internal struggle: she knows now that she must leave Thornfield, but will she have the strength to do it, or will her love for Edward Rochester overcome her? The chapter is structured as a debate: first between Jane and Rochester, and then between Jane and herself. No film could convey all the ideas and emotions in these conflicts, but a good adaptation must show that Jane’s overriding emotion is not anger and betrayal, but love. Indeed, her reason for leaving is precisely to protect and preserve their love. In my view, a good adaptation should also show Rochester’s refusal to grasp that Jane is leaving, and his volatile, near-violent reaction when he finally understands.


Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine as Rochester and Jane in the leavetaking scene (1943)

As the afternoon light fades, Jane forms the resolution to leave Thornfield at once, but the thought of leaving Rochester is unbearable:


Jane paraphrases Matthew 5:29-30, Jesus’ recommendation for those tempted to commit adultery: it is better they lose a part of their body than that the whole be condemned to Hell.

Jane is shocked at the severity of this inner voice. She perceives that she is nearly fainting from hunger and thirst—yet the house has been quiet all day; nobody has come to check on her. She opens the door of her chamber:


Rochester begs Jane to upbraid and chastise him, but she is silent. He continues:


Once again, Rochester uses the metaphor of the lamb, and Brontë’s imagery is unmistakably Christian. The ewe lamb in the parable is Jane, who eats of her Master’s bread and drinks of his cup, like worshipers in communion with Christ. Jane is compared to the disciple whom Jesus loved (a central figure in the Gospel of John), who lay in his bosom at the Last Supper. It is as though he had returned her adoration by letting her be killed–not knowingly, but through carelessness.

Jane perceives Rochester’s love and regret, and forgives him, but not in words, only at the heart’s core. Once again, he urges her to call him a scoundrel, but she replies that she is too tired and needs water. Rochester carries her to the library, sets her before the fireplace, and brings her not water, but wine to drink.


Rochester tries to kiss her, but she turns away; Rochester surmises that that is because he has a wife already. When Jane agrees, he replies:


Rochester fears that Jane is “scheming to destroy” him; she plans to remain under his roof, but strictly as Adèle’s governess. To Rochester himself, she will be “ice and rock.” When she replies that “all is changed” and “Adèle must have a new governess,” he agrees, without grasping Jane’s intent to leave. He was wrong ever to bring Jane to Thornfield, he says. He concealed Bertha’s existence because he thought that no governess would ever come there, if she knew of it. He could have moved Bertha to Ferndean, a house on the estate, but he deemed the atmosphere there too unhealthy. Indeed, he plans still to keep Bertha at Thornfield:


Jane interrupts, objecting that he speaks of Bertha with “inexorable hate” and that it is cruel, because she cannot help being mad.


Here Rochester pursues the theme that love, not law, makes the true “marriage”: his love for Jane would endure even if she could no longer return it, even if she herself were mad. At the same time, he admits to hatred of Bertha, but for reasons other than her madness, which he does not (yet) explain.

Rochester ends by insisting that Jane must leave Thornfield tomorrow. He has a place of “secure sanctuary,” and Jane will travel there with him. She shakes her head, an act which requires courage, because Rochester is becoming increasingly agitated and will brook no contradiction. He stares at her, long and hard.


Jane perceives that Rochester might rape or kill her in desperation; he might “seal her doom” and his own. She feels no fear, but instead a sense of “inward power” which sustains her. She takes his hand and soothingly assures him that she will listen to all he has to say, “whether reasonable or unreasonable.” At last she gives way to tears, knowing that this will change his mood. Sure enough, he begs her not to weep, pleading as his excuse that she had such a resolute, frozen look on her face that he could not endure it.


This accusation cuts Jane to the core, and she cannot allow Rochester to believe it.


Jane finally states clearly, “Mr. Rochester, I must leave you.” But Rochester willfully misunderstands her, asking if she needs to go bathe the tears from her face. She tries again to make herself clear:



Once again, Rochester warns Jane that he could lose control. This aspect of the Byronic hero, the idea that his passion is so powerful that it could drive him to destruction of others or of himself, is a part of the Romantic legacy which has become less attractive today. To the modern eye, Rochester looks a bit too much like an abuser who pleads that he lost control of himself when he gave his wife a black eye– or shot her dead. The key difference is that Rochester never physically uses Jane this way, even though he strongly hints that he’s capable of it. At the end of this scene, he will once again consider violence, and reject it.

Caught between her need not to hurt Rochester and the necessity of not yielding to him, Jane cries in desperation, “God help me!” This brings about another sudden change:


Rochester’s need to hold Jane’s hand, “to prove you are near,” foreshadows the blindness he will suffer, and the reunion with Jane which will be accomplished through touch rather than sight.

Rochester now tells the story of his avaricious father, who left his entire estate to his elder son Rowland, but planned to make Edward a rich man also, by finding him a wealthy wife. He concealed from Edward the fact that money was the chief object of the match, telling him only that Bertha was the toast of Spanish Town for her beauty. This proved to be true, and the Masons, including Bertha, exerted themselves to keep him entranced. Yet he seldom saw her alone, and was not permitted private conversation with her.



“I thought I loved her.” Helen Sewell (1938)

Rochester blames himself because he married Bertha without any evidence that she possessed a single moral virtue. After the honeymoon, he discovered that Bertha’s mother was shut up in “a lunatic asylum,” and that her younger son was feeble-minded. Worst of all, his father and brother had known all about this, but had withheld the truth for the sake of the money. Still, he did not blame his wife, even when he found that their tastes and intellects were incompatible, that her conversation was “coarse and trite, perverse and imbecile,” that she had a violent temper and drove away the servants. But there was worse to come:


Rochester puts it delicately, but he means that Bertha slept with other men, repeatedly.

In the meantime, Rochester’s father and brother died, leaving him very wealthy, yet bound “by the law and society” to a woman he considered depraved.


Rochester here blames Bertha’s illness on her willfully immoral behavior. Jean Rhys’s book “Wide Sargasso Sea” develops the theory that Bertha in fact lost her sanity because of Rochester’s harsh and cold behavior toward her, after he discovered the deception.

Jane asks what he did when he discovered Bertha’s madness, and he explains that at the age of twenty-six, he lost all hope. One night he was tempted to shoot himself, when “a wind fresh from Europe” blew through the window and “purified” the air heavy with tropical scents. Hope was restored:


Rochester goes on to explain that nobody in England knew of his plight. Even his father had been anxious to conceal the fact of the marriage, once he learned of Bertha’s shocking behavior. Rochester claims that he was helping Bertha by keeping her “degradation” concealed, but I find this the most questionable part of his self-justification. I’m not sure whether Charlotte Brontë, like many others of her day and since, found such concealment justified, but I suspect that she means for Rochester to remain morally ambiguous: some of his moral instincts are good, but others are clouded by his egotism.

Rochester took care to find an attendant who could keep the secret. Mrs. Fairfax, he says, may have suspected something, but she had no knowledge of the facts. Rochester admits, however, that Grace Poole had the fault of drunkenness, which had allowed Bertha to escape repeatedly. He imagines with a shudder what Bertha might have done to Jane, but she changes the subject, asking what he did next.


Rochester truly believed that he was a law unto himself, and that he was not married in any real sense. He was unable, however, to find his heart’s desire:


The “antipodes of the Creole” equals the opposite of Bertha; Blanche Ingram had notable similarities to the younger, sane Bertha.


“I sought my ideal of a woman…” Fritz Eichenberg (1943)

He recounts his experiences with three mistresses: Céline Varens, the mother of Adèle; Giacinta, an Italian, and a German, Clara. Jane asks whether it did not seem wrong to him to live with one mistress after another. He admits that it did:


Part of Rochester’s dislike of his mistresses may have to do with his humiliation and rage at the fact that he was himself, in a sense, sold by his father to the Masons for the price of Bertha’s dowry. This is another one of Brontë’s piquant gender reversals.

Jane sees the truth of Rochester’s words, and draws the conclusion that, should she ever, for any reason, become the successor of these “poor girls,” Rochester would one day regard her with the same disgust he felt for them. She steels her resolution with this thought. But Rochester continues his story, saying that after so many disappointments, he returned home:



Rochester is aided by Jane. Illustration by Sid Pride (1911)

Rochester reveals that on the day after his accident, he had watched Jane playing with Adèle, unknown to her, and had waited impatiently for the evening, when he could summon her to the interview. He was puzzled and deeply fascinated by the new governess:


Rochester continued to treat her harshly, concealing his desire to be with her. He worried that continued acquaintance might fade her attraction, but “I did not then know that it was no transitory blossom, but rather the radiant resemblance of one, cut in an indestructible gem.” Gradually he showed her more kindness, and delighted in her response:


Jane begs him to stop, unable to bear the reminiscence. He agrees, and determines to talk not of the past, but of the future, for he has found his “better self,” his “good angel.” He had been wrong and cowardly not to tell Jane the truth from the start; he should have confided all, and asked her to accept his pledge of fidelity. Rochester now makes that request, but Jane is silent, gripped with a terrible pain:


When Jane says that she “worshipped” Rochester and that he was her “idol,” she is not using a mere metaphor, or not completely. There is a real sense in which her love for him threatens to outweigh her love for and obedience to God. And this is the other reason why she must leave him.


“Him who thus loved me I absolutely worshipped, and I must renounce love and idol.” Illustration by Ati Forberg (1966)


Instead of the vow of matrimony, Jane vows to leave him, repeating the words, “I do,” and the sad parody of the marriage rite is sealed with fruitless kisses.

Rochester begs Jane to consider the consequences for him. Does she mean to throw him back on his former life? Does she condemn him to “live wretched and die accursed”? Jane advises him to trust in Heaven, and hope to meet there again. He argues that she would be doing wrong to leave him:


Longing to comfort Rochester and surrender to him, Jane succumbs for a moment to the thought that nobody in the world cares for her. She asks herself, who will be injured by what she does?


This is one of the great feminist passages in the book, the message of female self-respect and self-determination. With irony, Jane compares her love to a madness, and forces herself to set it aside in favor of sanity, which she associates with the moral standards of her society. Rochester believes he can stand alone and decide for himself what is right, in the face of the whole world. Jane’s individualism, distinctive though it is, does not go this far. She has made her decision.



The reed is a metaphor for frailty in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 42:3, God’s chosen one “will not break a bruised reed,” that is, a weak person who has already been damaged.

Realizing that violence cannot win him what he wants, Rochester releases her, and begs her to come to him of her own will. Jane is deeply moved by his plea but observes with something of her old spirit that “only an idiot would have succumbed now.”


Rochester permits her to leave the room, but he does not believe that she is leaving the house, not yet. As she withdraws, he throws himself on the sofa and begins to weep: “Oh, Jane! my hope—my love—my life!” Jane returns to his side, kneels and kisses his cheek.


The fire returns to Rochester’s eye and he tries to embrace her, but she escapes to her room.


“That night I never thought to sleep.” Edward Wilson (1943)

Despite her agitation, Jane falls asleep and dreams of the Red Room at Gateshead, where Aunt Reed had locked her up. Through the window, she has a vision of light from the moon.



The moon goddess Diana breaks through the clouds. Detail from a painting by Maria Cosway at Chatsworth.

Jane is Rochester’s soul-mate, and like him, she is subject to visions from time to time. Her paintings included revelations of the Evening Star and of Death. This most sublime of visions combines a pagan image of great feminine power, that of the moon-goddess, with the maternal love of orphaned Jane’s long-lost mother.

Guided by the message, Jane rises and prepares a small parcel with some linen and her few valuables, but she leaves a pearl necklace which Rochester gave her. She bids silent farewells to Mrs. Fairfax and Adèle, afraid to wake them lest Rochester hear the sound. Passing his room, she hears his ceaseless pacing. Tempted to enter, she vividly imagines his anguish when he discovers she has gone. In the kitchen, she takes some water and bread, then exits the house.



“Through that I departed.” M. V. Wheelhouse (1911).


Jane at the gate of Thornfield. Illustration by Nell Booker (1946)

She skirts the hedges, moving in the direction opposite Millcote, and walks for a long time, agonizing over her decision.


Jane continues to berate herself for harming her beloved Master, yet she continues to move away from Thornfield. “God must have led me on,” she writes. She falls and lies on the turf for a time, longing for death. At last she reaches the road, and bargains for a passing coach to carry her as far as her twenty shillings will allow. 


Jane is taken up by a passing coach. Karel Muller (1969)

The chapter ends with Jane’s anguished prayer for her Gentle Reader:


To summarize, the debate between Jane and Rochester contains five major themes punctuated by Rochester’s warnings and threats.

  1. Rochester’s apology; his explanations for the secrecy about Bertha, and his proposal that Jane leave for France with him. Jane’s refusal agitates him and he threatens violence.
  2. Discussion of marriage. Rochester asks whether all she wanted was his social status, not him. Jane insists that she loves him, but he is married already; he insists that he is NOT married. (Another warning that he may lose control.)
  3. The story of Bertha, and Rochester’s subsequent life with his mistresses. Jane realizes that she must never follow in their footsteps.
  4. Rochester’s tender reminiscences of meeting Jane; her agony, and her refusal of his pledge of fidelity.
  5. Rochester’s final card: if Jane leaves, she will drive him to despair and back to his previous sinful life. Jane’s silent determination that she must respect herself. Rochester seizes her and considers crushing the life from her, but decides against it.

Our five feature-length films deal with this wealth of material in dramatically different ways. The leanest treatment is 1996 (the William Hurt version), which inexcusably boils the chapter down to an exchange of two lines. The most generous are 1970 and 2011, each of which devotes about 7 minutes to the Leavetaking.

1943 has a characteristically compact but effective presentation. In only three minutes, the screenplay manages to touch on themes 3, 4, and 5, while keeping reasonably close to the original language.


1943: Jane’s wicker suitcase is ready on the bed. She leaves her room, dressed in traveling clothes.


1943: Jane enters Adèle’s room and gazes at the sleeping child, then goes downstairs.


1943: “Jane.” (Jane is startled by the voice, and sees Rochester at the foot of the stairs.)

Rochester: “Jane, I did not even know her. I was married at nineteen in Spanishtown, to a bride already courted for me. But I married her, gross, groveling, mole-eyed blockhead that I was. (Jane begins to turn away.) “Jane, hear me. I suffered all the agonies of a man bound to a wife at once intemperate and unchaste. I watched her excesses drive her at last into madness. And I brought her back to England, to Thornfield. Jane, I did everything that God and humanity demanded. And I fled from this place.”


1943: “My fixed desire was to find a woman I could love, a contrast to the fury I left here. What did I find? A French dancing girl, a Viennese milliner. A Neapolitan contessa with a taste for jewelry. Back to England. I rode again in sight of Thornfield. Someone was walking there, in the moonlight. A strange little elfin-like creature. It frightened my horse, and then came up and gravely offered me help. I was to be aided, and by that hand. And aided I was… and then later that evening, do you remember, Jane? Say you remember.”


1943: “I remember.”


1943: “You came into that room. How shy you were. And yet how readily and roundly you answered my questions. And then you smiled at me. That moment, I knew I’d found you. Jane, can you not forgive me?”

Jane: “I do forgive you.” (She turns away.)
Rochester: “D’you still love me?”
“I do love you, with all my heart. I can say it now, since it’s for the last time.”


1943: “You mean to go one way in the world, and let me go another? Stay with me, Jane. We’d be hurting nobody.”

Jane: “We should be hurting ourselves.”


1943: (He takes her by the shoulders.) “Would it be so wicked to love me? Would it?” (Jane is silent.) “I could crush you between my hands. But your spirit would still be free.” (He drops his hands, defeated. She turns and begins to walk away.)


1943: “Jane. You are going?” “I am going, sir.”


1943: “You will not be my comforter? My rescuer, my deep love, my frantic prayer? Are they nothing to you?”


1943: (She stops at the door, but doesn’t look at him.) “God bless you, my dear Master. God keep you from harm and wrong.”


1943: “Jane.” (As the door closes) “Jane… Jane.” (Fade to black.)

1943 plays down the feminist elements in the original. Jane is given very little to say, and she contradicts Rochester only once, mildly. Jane’s need to respect herself is changed to include him: “[If I became your mistress,] we should be hurting ourselves.” For his part, 1943 Rochester is less iconoclastic and less volatile than the original. He doesn’t suggest that she run away with him to France, and his physical threats are toned down. All this is in keeping with 1943’s “heroization” of Rochester. Welles is his usual dramatic, intense self, while Fontaine is feminine, gentle and virtuous. There is little sign of Jane’s internal struggle or the near-overwhelming temptation she feels.

Whereas 1943 focused on Rochester’s explanation of his past life and his nostalgia for the early days of their romance (themes 3 and 4), 1970 is concerned with Rochester’s apology, and the differing meanings he and Jane assign to marriage (themes 1 and 2). It also re-injects a strong feminist element.


1970: Jane comes down the stairs, late on the night of the disastrous wedding ceremony.


1970 (Rochester is seated before the fire.) “So. You’ve come out at last. You shut yourself in your room and grieve alone.”

(Jane sits.)
Rochester: “Not one word of reproach. Nothing. Is that to be my punishment?”
(She is silent.)


1970 (He reaches to touch her.) “I didn’t mean to wound you like this; do you believe that? I wouldn’t hurt you, not for the world. What was I to do? Confess everything? I should have lost you. I might as well have lost my life.”


1970: “You have lost me, Edward. And I have lost you.”


1970: “No.” (He rises.) “Why do you say that to me? To punish me a little longer? Jane I have been through… for the first time, I have found what I can truly love. Don’t take it away from me.”


1970: “I must leave you.”


1970 (He seizes her.) “Jane, will you listen to me?”

This is the only indication in 1970 of Rochester’s emotional volatility or the physical threat he poses to Jane. George C. Scott’s Rochester was always more a block of ice than the hot tornado of the novel, so his restraint here is expected. But no doubt the filmmakers also wanted to avoid depicting Rochester as an abusive man.


1970: “I will not live as your mistress.”

“Is that all that’s important to you? To be Mrs. Edward Rochester?”
“Can you really believe I think that?”
“What am I supposed to believe? You say you love me; how can you think of leaving me then?”
“Edward… what would I be as your mistress? A dependent with no place of my own, or right to be here. All rights would be on your side, not on mine.”


1970: “Rights! You talk like a lawyer. Everything that’s mine is yours! What more can I give you?”


1970: “I want nothing… nothing. Only you.”

“Then stay, Jane.”
“When I come to you, Edward, I come to you as an equal. I will not be less. Even for the man I love.”

Much of this exchange has been added; the talk of “equality” makes Jane more outspoken than she is in the book, more like a contemporary woman. Still, these issues were very much on Jane’s mind in previous chapters, especially in the weeks before the wedding. Here, she vocalizes them.


1970: “You mean to go one way in the world and let me go another.” “Yes.”

“This is wicked. Who in the world will care what we do?”
“I care. You have a wife still living!”
“Living!” (He snorts.)


1970: “She still lives! In whatever state God has seen fit to visit on her, she still lives. She cannot help what she is. I will not slip past her slyly in the night to take my place in your bed.”

“You fling me back then, upon the life I lived before.”
“You need no more choose that than I. We are born to strive and endure. You will forget me before I forget you.”
“You make a liar of me with such language… Well go then, go, if that’s all I seem to you.”

In the novel, Jane does not speak so freely of coming to Rochester’s bed. Nevertheless, “I will not slip past her slyly in the night” is a great line, and this speech is beautifully delivered by Susannah York. In the book Rochester does indeed tell her to go, but not for good; only up to her room. He has no idea she will leave in the night.


1970: Jane begins to walk away.

“Jane, wait… wait.” (He sits down, and she kneels beside him.)


1970: “Don’t decide too soon. Wait a while. Wait just a while.”

Jane’s blessing of her master is omitted.


1970: The camera pans to the fire in the grate, which burns down; then the dawn light shines on it.


1970: Rochester is asleep in his chair. He wakes and calls for Jane, but she isn’t there.


1970: In increasing panic, he searches the house. “Jane… Jane.”

Finally we see some of the emotion that he refuses to show to Jane herself.


1970: He races up the stairs and bursts into her room. “Jane! Jane!” (Fade to black.)

The director has chosen well in taking Jane’s anguished imagining of how Rochester will react to her absence, and presenting it as reality. The long shots of Rochester alone in the cavernous house drive home his isolation (compare the final scene of 1943 Rochester as a tiny figure in his great hall).

1996 is the worst of our five versions in terms of fidelity. It omits almost all of the Leavetaking, boiling it down to one thin exchange.


1996: Jane emerges from her room, dressed in traveling clothes, with her bag.


1996: Rochester meets her in the hallway. “I love you. Say you love me.”


1996: “I love you more than ever. But this is the last time I shall ever say it. I must leave you.”


1996: Cut to the exterior of Thornfield. Jane emerges from the building.


1996: A coach just happens to be coming across the bridge to Thornfield. Jane runs to meet it.

Meanwhile, Bertha has set the house on fire, so that Rochester cannot pursue Jane, or rather, he nobly decides to do his duty at the cost of his personal feelings. Director Zeffirelli’s choice makes for dramatic action, but it completely changes the dynamic of the story. Worse, all the nuance of the Leavetaking is stripped away. The emotional and moral implications of Jane’s choice are left unexplored (and the feminist element is unvoiced.) 1996 typically suffers from a lack of intimacy and chemistry between the leads, and the failure here to have them connect before parting is another case in point. [Note: I will deal with the Bertha scene when it comes up in Mrs. Fairfax’s flashback toward the end of the story.]

At 5.5 minutes, 1997 provides a lengthy dialogue between Jane and Rochester, yet it is in some ways even more disappointing than 1996. I have often remarked on the freedom of Kay Mellor’s screenplay, the way it rewrites and interprets the text of the novel. This technique can be rewarding, but here, it is disastrous. Most of the exchanges between Jane and Rochester have no basis in either the letter or the spirit of the chapter. In previous posts I have praised the de-heroization of Rochester, noting that 1997 is the ONLY version that dares to show his character flaws and even to make fun of him. The problem is that in this scene his flaws are caricatured, and his virtues are nonexistent.


1997: Jane comes out of her room. Rochester: “At last, I’ve been waiting for you.”

(Jane walks past him without speaking.)
Rochester: “Oh, you’re leaving I see. Didn’t I just know you’d desert me, really Jane, you are so predictable! Couldn’t you be just a little more original?” (Jane ignores him, and he seizes her.)

These lines misrepresent Rochester’s emotions and drain his words of all poetry. He seems merely an insecure man whose first instinct is to lash out in anger. In fact, the literary Rochester is not so much angry in this scene as desperate for some sign that Jane still loves him. He is also (as always) very attentive to Jane’s mood and physical state. In order to make Jane seem strong and assertive, her Victorian fainting fit has been banished, but so has all of Rochester’s tenderness.


1997: “I’m talking to you. Where are you going?”

Jane (very restrained): “Away, sir.”
“Please let go of my arm.”
“Not until you tell me where you’re going.”
(Still very expressionless): “I do not know where I am going.”
“Oh, anywhere, so long as it’s far away from me, is that it?”
(Rochester grabs her bag) “And why? I’ll tell you, it’s because you were only interested in becoming Mrs. Rochester, that’s why!”
“Please give me my bag back.”
“You were never in love with me, Jane! You were in love with the idea of being mistress of Thornfield!” (He throws her bonnet, cloak and bag over the bannister.)


1997: At first I thought this shot was included to show how Jane loses her bag, but later on in the coach scene, she has these items. So it was purely to provide an outlet for Rochester’s tantrum.

In the novel, Rochester is at first blissfully ignorant of Jane’s plan to leave. It’s a clear sign of his narcissism, but how different from the selfishness of this hectoring Rochester who declares that he knew it all along! I have to grant minimal credit for his emotional volatility and his violence (seizing Jane forcibly and tossing her bag down in anger). Yet this is all wrong. It trivializes the danger she faces from Rochester. We should see him struggling against his own urge to dominate and control her, up to and including the ultimate solution, to end her life and his. It should be scary, this love that is all-consuming, the flip side of Jane’s dangerous idolatry.

Viewers rightly become outraged at this scene. Some have indignantly declared that Rochester would never accuse Jane of wanting only his name and status. Actually, the literary Rochester does say this, not in anger, but with pathos. When Jane refuses his touch, he wonders forlornly whether it means she never loved him, after all, and only wanted the rank of his wife. But back to 1997 Rochester’s tirade:

“Admit it! You’re no better than Blanche Ingram! Running away like a spoilt child, the minute you can’t have your way. I thought you were mature. You’re a child who has no idea what real love is!” (He runs down the stairs and seizes her.) “I would have done anything for you. Anything! I was prepared to commit bigamy because I knew that being married was important to you. And they could have thrown me in prison, I wouldn’t have cared. I just wanted to make you happy.”


1997 Jane (coldly): “Please let go of my arms.”

This dialogue is all fabricated and has no basis in the book. 

“Look me in the eyes and tell me you don’t love me, and you can walk free. Say it! No, better still…” (He takes her by the hand and drags her outside.)
“Here! Where you poured out your heart to me. Look me in the face and tell me all that was a lie.”
“It’s not me who has told the lies. I have no secret husband; I have always been honest with you.”


1997: Rochester drags Jane back to the fateful tree.

This is all a deviation from the book as well. I have trouble understanding why a screenwriter would substitute irrelevant, inferior material when the chapter is so full of impassioned debate over ideas that matter. How much of the failure should be assigned to Ciarán Hinds? Looking at the screenplay, one can see that he played the character as written. When he acted this part, he had not read much of Jane Eyre, but he HAD read Wide Sargasso Sea. Thus he was exposed to Jean Rhys’ callous English landowner, but of Brontë’s magnificent, poetical Rochester he knew very little. Still, everyone involved understood that this is supposed to be a romance. So it’s interesting that they chose to make Rochester so unromantic and petty. What they did was quite iconoclastic, and I’m not surprised that this version has polarized more than one generation of viewers.

The only way to make the scene work is to see Rochester as a deeply flawed man whose attractions at this moment (except for the welcome sexual charisma offered by Hinds) are invisible to everyone but Jane. I think the real problem is that Rochester’s flaws (and his conversation) are presented not as those of a nineteenth-century romantic hero, but a contemporary man with anger-management issues.


1997: “I’ve always wanted to be honest with you, Jane, but how could I tell you when I knew it would drive all happiness away from me? Look at me, Jane. Tell me you don’t love me, and you can go.


1997: “I can’t tell you that, because I do love you. I wanted to be your wife because I love you, not for any other reason.”

“And I love you, more than I’ve ever loved anyone in my—”
“Please don’t say that.”
“It’s the truth!”
“You must never say it to me again, and I must never say it to you. It is wrong!”
“How can it be wrong, when the two of us love each other as we do? It is wrong for us not to be together.”
“I am a plain-living person, Mr. Rochester.”


1997: “Oh, Mr. Rochester, is it?”

“I wanted a person whom I could love honestly and decently and someone who could love me back properly.”
“And it doesn’t matter who it is?”
“I thought I had that with you. But I was wrong. You led me to believe you were one person, but you are really another.”
“I am the same person I always was; the same heart, the same mind.”


1997: “You are a married man!”


1997: “But I’m still me!”

Rochester’s heartfelt “I’m still me!” is actually one of the best lines in this mess. It’s not poetic, but it gets to the heart of what he feels, that he and Jane are all that matters; everyone and everything else can go hang. In the novel, Rochester offers an alternative vision that is very much of the Romantic period: a vision of the Individual’s absolute freedom from the strictures of God and society. This vision is a foil to Jane’s insistence on keeping “the law given by God and sanctioned by man.”


1997 (Reproachfully): “And when we danced together, happy and carefree, in the drawing room, all the time, you knew your wife was locked up there. How could you?”

“What would you have me do, Jane? Devote the rest of my life to her?”
“I could never trust you again.”
“So you’re going to punish me instead.
Condemn me to live wretched, and die accursed.”

So far, the screenplay has ignored the themes I identified, focusing instead on Rochester’s supposed anger at Jane’s departure, and his attempt to force a declaration of love from her. Now we turn to Jane’s supposed feelings of betrayal and mistrust. But the literary Jane accepts Rochester’s flaws and silently forgives him; she speaks no words of blame. Her thoughts are mostly of agony at the necessity of leaving him, together with plans for how to manage it without pushing him over the edge. Some of her pain (thank goodness) comes out in Jane’s dialogue:


1997: “Do you think this is easy for me? Do you think I am happy to see you suffering, when every nerve in my body is telling me to comfort you? If I could find a way in my soul of reconciling this situation, I would in a moment. But I cannot throw away any respect I have for myself because my heart is tempted. You have a wife. You belong to another!”


1997: “I belong to you! And you belong to me! We are one soul, Jane.” Jane (tempted and faltering): “Help me, please don’t say that… please help me to be strong.”


1997 Rochester: “If you only knew how much I love you..” (He tries to kiss her, but she pulls away.)

“Kiss me, I need you, Jane. You want me. I can feel your passions are aroused. Say you want me. Say it!”

Rochester plays the sex card, where he knows he has an advantage. This is one of the stronger bits because it draws on the good chemistry between Hinds and Morton. It suggests that Jane’s temptation is mainly sexual, but at least we get a bit of swoon.

“I cannot! How can I lie with you, knowing that I am not your wife?”
“We’ll simply go abroad and we’ll tell people you are my wife. Who’s to know any different?”
“Me! I will know it. I would have to live with my own conscience, and that would eat away at my soul, till I was no longer Jane Eyre but some embittered mistress who you resented being with. I am worth more than that.”
“I would never, never resent being with you, Jane.”

Finally we come to theme number 2, the question of marriage. I have mixed feelings about these lines. They’re accurate enough when it comes to the essence of Rochester’s plan. Pretty sordid, eh? Then why do readers of the book not blame him more? I think it’s because Brontë lets us see things from HIS perspective. In Rochester’s world, there is nothing ignoble about the plan. Instead, it is good and right for him to be with Jane, since he can finally pledge himself to a woman with all his heart, forever.

Jane’s lines in response are good and Samantha Morton speaks them with conviction. In the book, they are Jane’s inner thoughts, mostly unspoken. I especially like the use of her name to insist on her own identity: she is and must remain Jane Eyre.


1997: Leaving you will be the most painful thing I have ever had to endure. But I would rather die than watch the love we have twist into something ugly. I am leaving for us, Edward. For what we had.”

These lines I don’t like as well, even though they are an accurate summary of Jane’s feelings. Morton delivers them a bit too nobly, with a hint of sanctimony and moral superiority that I don’t sense in the book. Still, one of the few strengths of this version is that (like 1970) it gives Jane her say.

Rochester has an interesting riposte:


1997: “Not for me, Jane. You’re leaving for yourself. And if that’s how you truly feel, then go. Go on.”

Here is another example of Mellor interpreting the book for us, but I happen to agree that Jane does leave for herself. “I care for myself.  The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.” This is the core feminist message: the woman is not required to sacrifice herself to make the man happy. Her life and self-respect are worth as much as his.

Of course, the literary Rochester does NOT tell her to go. Far from it: he begs her to stay. He throws away his pride and weeps, speaking words of extraordinary need and tenderness. Here, the only hint of this is a physical one, easy to miss. After he speaks these words, Ciarán Hinds leans in as if to embrace her, to nullify his dismissal. But she takes him at his word and moves away. So his voice grows hostile again:


1997: “That’s it. Walk away. You think what we have is nothing?”


1997: (Cut to Jane in the coach, weeping. She can still hear his voice.) “Well let me tell you, this is the greatest, purest love you will ever find. And I should know! I’ve searched long enough for it!”

2011 is the most successful version of the Leavetaking, because it spends the time to explore four of the five themes in the debate between Jane and Rochester, and includes original dialogue (edited down, but original all the same). It briefly acknowledges, but does not press, Jane’s feminism. Her inner thoughts are mostly cut, but some of these can be grasped from Mia Wasikowska’s fine acting. For his part, Michael Fassbender shows us Rochester’s tender side (finally!), but he doesn’t have as much fire as he should.


2011: (Jane opens her door. Rochester, who has been sleeping in the hallway, raises his head.) “Jane. Forgive me. I’m worthless. How could I?”


2011: ( Jane is silent.)


2011: “Jane? No tears. Why aren’t you crying? Why not scream at me? I deserve a hail of fire.”

Jane: “I need some water.”
Rochester: “Of course.”


2011: (Jane feels faint and sets the candle down. Rochester picks her up.)


2011: (Cut to a black screen. A match is struck and a fire is lit.)


2011: (Jane’s sad face can be seen in the firelight. He hands her a glass of wine.)


2011 Rochester: “How are you now?” Jane: “I will be well again soon.”


2011: (He tries to kiss her, but she pulls away.) Rochester: “I know you; you’re thinking. Talking is of no use; you’re thinking how to act.”


2011 Jane: “All is changed, sir. I must leave you.”


2011 Rochester: “No, no… Jane, do you love me?” (She seems about to weep, and he takes this as a yes.) “Then the essential things are the same. Be my wife.”

Interestingly, Jane’s “I do love you, more than ever” is omitted here, perhaps to set this version apart from the others.


2011 Jane (her control finally breaking): “You HAVE a wife!”


2011: “I pledge you my honor, my fidelity.” “You cannot.” “My love, until death do us part.”


2011 Jane: “What of truth?” Rochester: “I would have told you the truth.” Jane: “You are deceitful, sir.”

This is a false step in the screenplay, for Jane does not reproach Rochester for his deception. It is he who twice admits to the error and apologizes for it. Why do screenwriters insist on having Jane blame him? Is it because they cannot believe that this was the last thing on her mind?


2011: “I was wrong to deceive you. I see that now. It was cowardly. I should have appealed to your spirit as I do now. Bertha Antoinetta Mason. She was wanted by my father, for her fortune. I hardly spoke with her before the wedding. I lived with her for four years. Her temper ripened. Her vices sprang up, violent and unchaste. Only cruelty would check her, and I would not use cruelty. I was chained to her for life, Jane. Not even the law could free me. Have you ever set foot in a madhouse, Jane?” Jane: “No, sir.”

This speech does double duty. In the scenes with Bertha, Rochester strangely failed to defend himself or explain the circumstances. Now he finally does, adding the information about his wife’s vicious character and infidelity. Like the other film adaptations, 2011 attempts to excuse Rochester’s confinement of his wife by having him argue that madhouses were much worse.

Rochester: “The inmates are caged and baited like beasts. I spared her that, at least.”
Jane: “I pity you, sir.”
“Who would you offend by living with me? Who would care?”
“I would.”
“Would you rather drive me to madness? Than break some mere human law?”
“I must respect myself.”


2011: “Listen to me. Listen. (He puts his hands on her shoulders) “I could bend you with my finger and my thumb. A mere reed you feel in my hands. God!”


2011: (Jane stands up as he grasps her waist.) “But whatever I do with this cage, I cannot get at you. And it is your soul that I want. Why don’t you come of your own free will?”

This and 1943 are the only versions to include Rochester’s desperate impulse to “bend, uptear, crush” the life out of Jane. I applaud the fidelity here, but notice to what lengths the director goes to minimize the physical threat. Instead of standing over her, his grip painfully tight, and seeming to “devour” her with his “flaming glance,” 2011 Rochester sinks to his knees, leaving Jane in the dominant position. Fassbender’s tone and manner make clear that he is no danger to her. (Interestingly, in the screenplay, he “lays her down” and presumably says these lines while lying on or beside her.)


2011: “God help me!” (She pulls free of him and leaves.)


2011: (Rochester looks after her, but does not follow.)


2011: (Cut to Jane opening a side door and stepping out.)

Now the warm golden light of Thornfield’s interior shifts to the cold grey of dawn in Yorkshire. I find the filters used in the cinematography too stylized, but they succeed in giving the film a distinctive look.


2011: (It is dawn. Jane walks in the garden, looking grimly determined. Her hair is still arranged as it was for the wedding.)


2011: (She begins to run in a panic, as if fearing pursuit.)


2011: (Jane crosses the grounds, with Thornfield already in the distance. She has a small bag.)


2011: (Meanwhile, Rochester bursts into her room.)


2011: (He sees the window open.)

This shot strongly suggests that Jane has somehow escaped out the window, but in fact (as seen earlier) she exited through a door to the garden. Maybe it’s a visual metaphor, to suggest that “this bird has flown”?


2011: (Rochester picks up the wedding dress, which is laid out neatly on the bed.)


2011: (He goes to the window.) “Jane! Jane!”

Again, this is the most successful of the feature film versions of the Leavetaking. I like the way Rochester, so cold and dominant for much of the film, finally becomes more expressive and even weeps a little. The chemistry between Fassbender and Wasikowska is very good; there’s a definite sense of their intimacy, and their mutual agony at parting is there onscreen.

Now for the rubric!



1943 is for fans of the original language, but Fontaine’s meekness damps down the passion. Manages to include three of the five original themes in a relatively brief scene.

1970 presents a “modern” Jane and Rochester with a feminist twist, yet the conflict feels emotionally authentic. Pioneering scene of Rochester in the morning probably influenced 2011.

1996 dismisses the content of this chapter, and denies Jane her inner struggle; given the “gentle Rochester” of this version, it’s no surprise that his temptation to violence is left out.

1997 wastes time with terrible, unfaithful dialogue, and Rochester’s emotions are disastrously trivialized. Jane fares much better, and there’s a bit of heat.

2011 combines strong acting and direction with a script that captures many nuances of the original and four of the five key themes. Definitely the strongest version.