“Yes, I love Jane Eyre,” said an English professor friend of mine. “But… that ending!” She shook her head, smiling and expecting me to agree with the implied criticism. The ending of Jane Eyre is polarizing. Some find it disappointing that Jane accepts a traditional feminine role as Rochester’s helpmate, rather than fulfilling her dreams of independence and expanded horizons. Some dislike the fact that Jane’s desires are satisfied through unlikely coincidences, and at the expense of Rochester’s mentally ill wife, Bertha. Others are convinced that no story with an ending as happy as this can meet high literary standards.
Yet a book that inspires such sustained debate (ongoing since 1847) is surely a success by anyone’s standards. Whatever its flaws, Jane Eyre remains wildly popular with the reading public, to the point of inspiring its own fandom and multiple adaptations in other genres, while simultaneously retaining a place in the Western canon of “classic literature.” Jane Austen’s books are comparable in this respect, and although they are more light-hearted and satirical than Brontë’s masterpiece, they too recommend love, companionship and domestic comfort as highly desirable goals in life.
In this post I will review Charlotte Brontë’s resolution of Jane’s story (Chapters XXXVI-XXXVIII), then ask how the five feature-length films of Jane Eyre have adapted that ending for the screen. Along the way, we’ll enjoy a reunion with Rochester, and more of his delightful dialogue with Jane (for earlier Rochesterian conversations, see posts six and thirteen).
Unwilling to admit defeat, St. John leaves a paper under Jane’s door before he departs for Cambridge, asking for her final answer when he returns. Jane’s first task is to clear away any doubt about the fate of Mr. Rochester, for she cannot leave England without investigating the meaning of the mysterious summons:
The moment of communion with Rochester brings to Jane’s mind the miracle tale from the book of Acts, and she borrows its language to describe how her soul, in subjection to St. John, was suddenly set free: “And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.”
As Jane begins her journey to Thornfield, she finds herself at Whitcross, the very place where she had been set down one year before, penniless and friendless. The coach she takes is the same which brought her.
Jane alights from the coach, and joyfully finds that the inn is called the Rochester Arms:
Several times in this chapter, Jane refers to Rochester as “my master,” although she has long been out of his employ. Her special way of naming him is integral to their relationship, although it does not imply a rigid pattern of dominance and submission (see my discussion in post fourteen, and for the religious aspect, post sixteen).
Jane’s practical inner “monitor” tells her to ask about Rochester at the inn, but she cannot bring herself to do so, for “to prolong doubt [is] to prolong hope.” Instead, she sets off on foot over the fields, retracing the path by which she fled a year before, her mind in a tumult, running sometimes, recognizing individual trees, and the crows from the rookery. She imagines catching a glimpse of Rochester at his bedroom window.
In the midst of this emotional turmoil, Jane is brought up short by a sight which she describes for the reader this way:
This passage contains another of Brontë’s gender reversals, as Jane imagines herself the male lover, and Rochester/Thornfield the mistress. The lover clasps his “Sleeping Beauty” in his arms, only to find that she is “stone dead”:
Jane wanders the ruins, observing how the front of the house matches the grim vision of Thornfield which she once experienced in a prophetic dream. She sees that the calamity is not recent; the ruins are weatherbeaten, and vegetation has grown among the stones.
Jane has no choice but to return to the inn and question the host there, who identifies himself as “the late Mr. Rochester’s butler.” Jane freezes in horror, but learns to her relief that he refers to “the father of Mr. Edward, the present gentleman.” She then endures a frustrating catechism with the butler, who is determined to tell the whole story of the lunatic wife hidden in the house, and the young lady, not so very handsome, with whom Mr. Edward fell in love:
The butler confirms that the madwoman set the fire, when her keeper Mrs. Poole was befuddled with gin. She had burnt the hangings in the room next to her own, then made her way to the governess’ chamber and kindled the bed (“She was like as if she knew somehow how matters had gone on, and had a spite at her”), but fortunately nobody was there.
The governess had fled two months before, leaving Rochester, after a failed search, to grow “savage” in his disappointment. He had sent Mrs. Fairfax away with a generous annuity, and bundled Adèle off to school, shutting himself up at Thornfield like a hermit.
Jane had expected Rochester to return to his previous dissipations in the Continent, but the outcome was far different. He sank himself into torment within the walls of the home he both loved and hated, and lived a wraithlike existence with his wife, until she took matters into her own hands.
The butler explains that when the fire started at midnight (“ever the fatal hour at Thornfield”), Rochester ran to the attics to rouse the servants from their beds, and helped them to safety. He then returned into the flames to rescue his wife, who had climbed to the rooftop.
But what had happened to Rochester? Still drawing out his story, the butler mentions that poor Mr. Edward was to be pitied, and might perhaps be better off dead.
Jane finally gets the man to explain that as Rochester was coming down the great staircase, it collapsed. His injuries were grave, yet not fatal:
Jane demands to be taken to Ferndean instantly, and offers double the fare if she reaches her goal before dark.
As Chapter XXXVII begins, Jane describes Ferndean, which is “deep buried in a wood.” Rochester himself often used it as a hunting lodge, Jane says, but had not housed Bertha there, because the site was “insalubrious,” presumably too much in the shade of the woods, and overly damp. Jane is let down from the chaise nearly a mile from the house, for the forest is seemingly so thick that no vehicle can penetrate it.
Ferndean is straight from a fairytale. In “Sleeping Beauty,” thick woods and brambles grow up about the castle in which the princess lies, and the enchanted castle of the Beast in “Beauty and the Beast” also lay within a dark wood. Although it is tempting to compare the fierce, disfigured Rochester with the Beast, I think Brontë means to evoke “Sleeping Beauty,” especially given her earlier description of herself as a male lover visiting “his mistress asleep on a mossy bank.” Jane will be Rochester’s rescuer, just as she saved him after his horse fell, and from the fire in his bedroom.
Finally Jane locates Ferndean, and as she gazes upon the house, the front door slowly opens:
Jane silently watches him, and notes what has changed, and what has stayed the same:
Whereas the butler thought of Rochester as a helpless “cripple,” Jane sees him as a man still full of vigor, but like a powerful chained eagle, “whose gold-ringed eyes cruelty has extinguished.” Some critics have maintained that Rochester’s maiming is symbolic of castration, even suggesting that he has lost his sexual potency. This is the perspective of readers who think that masculinity is all or nothing: either a man is dominant and powerful, or he is weak and submissive. Yet Brontë is careful here to imply that Rochester is still virile. Jane asks the reader “Do you think I feared him in his blind ferocity?” and answers, “If you do, you little know me.”
Rochester steps into the yard and lifts his face to the sky, extending his right hand to feel for rain, and keeping the stump of his left hand hidden against his chest. As the rain picks up, he stands there silently, until John comes to lead him in, but he refuses help, and makes his own way inside.
Only then does Jane knock on the door. In the kitchen she explains to John and Mary that she has come to stay, and asks John to fetch her trunk from the inn. At this moment, the parlor bell rings. Jane sends Mary to announce that “a person wishes to speak to him,” and receives back a message that she is not to go in, but to state her name and business. Instead, Jane arranges to carry the tray with Rochester’s water, and the candles he always has lit in the evening.
Rochester is standing at the fireplace. Jane approaches him with the water-glass, but Pilot is still excited and she tells him, twice, to lie down. Rochester catches the sound of her voice, and quickly demands to know who it is. Jane does not name herself, but allows him to recognize her by her voice.
Rochester is convinced that it is not Jane, but a phantom or hallucination. He grows agitated:
Rochester is only slowly persuaded that his Jane is present, solid and alive, not a dream like the “empty mockeries” he has experienced nightly over the past year. He is only satisfied of her reality when Jane kisses his eyes and hair, and addresses him as “My dear master,” releasing him from his gloomy enchantment.
Already Rochester is coming back to life; he calls her by the old endearment Janet, and immediately grows suspicious of her newfound wealth.
This news does not cheer Rochester as much as Jane had hoped; and Jane worries that she has behaved too forwardly, presumed too easily that Rochester would ask her to be his wife. She tries to pull back from his arms, but he grasps her tightly and exclaims that his very life depends on having her near him.
Rochester grows gloomy again, but Jane is happy now; she knows the source of his doubt and determines to rally him by teasing:
“Nebuchadnezzar in the fields” comes from the book of Daniel, where the Chaldean king was punished for his pride by losing his sanity and living in the wild like an animal. “His hairs grew like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws.” Once again, Rochester is compared to an eagle.
Jane replies that it is a pity to see his stump and his poor eyes, and the burn scar on his forehead, but that her worst fear is of loving him too well for all this, and making too much of him. She prepares a meal and has a long talk with Rochester, at perfect ease:
Jane does not tell Rochester all her story yet. She does not wish to upset him by relating her struggles, for he remains fretful and keeps lapsing back into the belief that she will be gone by morning, only another phantom. Jane decides to tease him out of his megrims with “a commonplace, practical reply.”
Jane informs her master that she has been with people “quite more refined and exalted” than he is, and Rochester grows impatient for details: “Who the deuce have you been with?” But Jane tells him that he must wait till morning, and bids him good night.
The next morning, Rochester is up early and Jane hears him interrogating Mary, wanting to know whether Jane is still there, whether her room was dry, and whether she is awake yet. When she comes down to breakfast, she feels a pang at seeing “the powerlessness of the strong man,” and brightly suggests a walk. He greets her joyfully:
Rochester has quickly taken up his old way of speaking to Jane in metaphor. She wants to weep, but holds back her tears. She leads him on the walk, describing the trees:
Rochester begins to speak of his anguish on finding that Jane had fled Thornfield, and asks how she survived with no valuables or money, not even the pearl necklace he had given her. Jane says little of her days of starvation and wandering, but “the little I did say lacerated his faithful heart deeper than I wished.” Rochester is distressed by the thought that she wandered penniless in the world. Jane answers briskly that her sufferings were short, and proceeds to tell him of the Riverses.
Rochester peppers her with questions about St. John, asking whether he was not an elderly man, perhaps “of low stature, phlegmatic and plain,” a person of mean achievement, or soft in the brain, with “priggish, parsonic” manners. Hearing that in fact St. John was young, active, able, educated, and well-mannered, he asks:
Jane perceives Rochester’s jealousy to be salutary, better than his bouts of melancholy.
Once again, St. John is Rochester’s foil: the contrast between handsome (cold) Apollo and swarthy (hot) Vulcan is explicit at last. Rochester continues to question Jane closely about St. John: how often he visited the school (daily), whether he came to see her at her cottage (by all means), whether any of these visits took place in the evening (they did). He learns that Rivers taught Jane Hindustani.
Rochester grumbles again that Jane should get off his knee, because all the time he believed that his Jane wanted him, she was in fact loving this fellow Rivers, and she must go marry him. (Indeed, St. John was awaiting her final decision.) But now she protests:
Jane tells Rochester not to be jealous, for all her heart belongs to him. He speaks painfully of his disabilities, comparing himself to the old chestnut tree at Thornfield, struck by lightning. Jane counters prophetically that he is no ruin, but “green and vigorous,” offering security to the young plants which will grow about his roots.
He returns to the matter at hand:
Rochester once again proposes marriage and is accepted:
But Jane still has to contend with his doubts about what she will give up by taking on the task of his care:
St. John had urged Jane to sacrifice herself to God (but really to St. John’s own will). Rochester now declines to demand such a sacrifice, though once he too had set his own desires above hers. This passage is Brontë’s answer to readers who are disappointed in Jane for undertaking a traditionally feminine role. By staying with Rochester, she is not sacrificing, but exercising her will and choosing what she wants. Female freedom of choice is, after all, the essence of feminism.
As fate would have it, Rochester’s infirmities, together with Jane’s modest inheritance, bring them closer to social equality. The advantages of Rochester’s birth, wealth and gender are tempered by his disabilities and the loss of Thornfield, while Jane is no longer penniless. One can well imagine that the governess who married her rich employer would be scorned by the gentry and other folk in the neighborhood, but the woman of independent means, willing to marry and nurse poor Mr. Rochester at Ferndean, would find sure approval. That said, neither of the pair cares about the neighbors, for like Adam and Eve, they need only each other.
Rochester’s attitude toward their marriage has changed. No longer does he plan to attach wee Jane to his watch chain like a jewel and wear her in his bosom; instead, Jane will receive his watch and wear it on her belt. No longer will he treat Jane like a mistress, showering her with jewels and gifts; now, he realizes that all they need is each other’s companionship. Then he makes a most unexpected confession:
That Rochester wears Jane’s pearl necklace on his swarthy neck (“scrag”) does not make him effeminate, for nothing could do that. Instead, it reveals the pathos of his need for her, much as when people whose loved ones have died take comfort in wearing their old jacket or scarf. There is no question that the ending of the book domesticates Rochester, but it also restates one of the key themes, that Jane’s love does not depend on his physical prowess or looks, nor his money, but on an intellectual and spiritual bond. Despite his injuries, Rochester’s personality has not changed at all, except in one important way.
Rochester now speaks of his crime, and his repentance:
Rochester recounts how four nights ago, he was overtaken by a “singular” mood of grief, thinking that Jane was dead. Late that night, between eleven and twelve o’clock, he prayed that God might take him, where there was still hope of rejoining his Jane. He sat in his room by an open window, in hazy moonlight:
At last Rochester fully repents, acknowledging the justice of his punishment. Yet in his agony he does not cry out to Christ, but to Jane, who is the “alpha and omega” of his heart. (In the Book of Revelation, Christ states, “I am the alpha and omega.”) Rochester thus worships Jane, but in a way acceptable to God, just as God smiles on Jane’s decision to choose personal love over a missionary career. But there is more: not only did Rochester cry out to Jane, but he heard her answer:
Jane decides not to speak of her own uncanny experience; the coincidence strikes her as “too awful and inexplicable to be communicated,” and she still fears to overexcite Rochester in his present nervous state.
Rochester then rises to thank God for His mercy, and to ask his Redeemer to give him the strength to lead a purer life than he has done hitherto (there is a tiny ambiguity here about the exact identity of his “Redeemer”). Jane kisses his hand and places it round her shoulder, and they “wend their way homeward.”
Chapter XXXVIII begins: “Reader, I married him.” Only the parson and clerk are present, and Jane returns to Ferndean, quite without ceremony, to announce the news to John and Mary. As she leaves the kitchen, she hears John’s verdict on the match:
Jane writes to her cousins, and Diana promises to visit after a suitable length of time for a honeymoon, to which Rochester cheerfully replies, “She had better not wait till then, Jane… for our honeymoon will shine our life long.” St. John never answers her wedding announcement, but he begins a correspondence from India. Jane discovers that Adèle’s school is too strict, and finds another, more indulgent, and closer to home. Finally, Jane adds an epilogue on her experience of married life:
For two years, Jane cares for Rochester as a nurse would, a circumstance which keeps them on terms of deep intimacy: “For I was then his vision, as I am still his right hand.” (The reference to the right hand is either a continuity error or a metaphor indicating her paramount role in aiding him, for in the initial scene at Ferndean, Jane explains that it was the left hand which was amputated.) Some have been disturbed by this rosy idyll of ultimate togetherness, thinking that it conceals a darker truth, in which Jane ruthlessly controls and dominates the helpless Rochester, smothering him with “service.” I think this is to misunderstand Brontë’s vision, which partakes very much of the Romantic period and the idea of transcendent love. Furthermore, Rochester remains his imperious, grumpy, demanding self. Perhaps “ten year marriage” = “unending honeymoon” is unrealistic, but the book does not strive for realism. It is mythic.
At the end of the two years, there is a new development:
This scene is poignant not only for the return of Rochester’s sight, but for the fact that Jane has recycled his watch-chain, since he does not use it himself. Just as Rochester once wore her pearl necklace, she now wears his masculine ornament around her neck. Rochester’s sight never fully returns, yet:
Jane ends her narrative by speaking not of Rochester or herself, but of her only living blood relations, the Riverses. Diana and Mary both make happy marriages, and reside close enough to visit. And as for St. John, he labors in India, “full of energy, zeal and truth,” like the warrior Greatheart in Pilgrim’s Progress.
So ends Jane’s account, telling how St. John served his Master, even as she served hers. Both made their choices freely and were satisfied with the outcome. A final complaint I sometimes hear is that the book takes a religious turn at the end. And yet religion has been at the center of the story all along: Mrs. Reed’s failure of charity, the hypocrisy of the pious Brocklehurst, Rochester’s moral danger and defiance of God, St. John’s Christian zeal and too-rigid theology. Religion is not incidental to the story; Charlotte Brontë after all was a clergyman’s daughter. And yet Jane works out her own unique theology through the course of the book, measuring the competing claims of Society, God and Man, taking into account a metaphysical dimension to the cosmos which was never preached from a Christian pulpit, and reconciling the many different kinds of Love.
All feature film adaptations face the challenge of condensing Jane’s reunion with Rochester to a brief sequence of only a few minutes. All reduce Rochester’s injuries to blindness only, not showing the loss of his left hand. All omit the uncanny communication, Rochester’s repentance, and any reference to religion. Beyond these similarities, the films diverge quite dramatically.
1943 begins with crows wheeling in the sky over the ruined Thornfield. The camera slowly pans down to Jane’s wondering face as Mrs. Fairfax tells the story of the fire: “It was she who did it, Miss Eyre. She struck down Grace Poole as she slept. And then she set fire to Thornfield. It was her laugh in the gallery that woke me. I ran into the nursery and wrapped Adèle in a shawl and carried her down. And as we came out into the courtyard, I heard her laugh again.”
Having Mrs. Fairfax tell the tale saves the introduction of a new character, and brings her full circle, yet the 1943 screenwriters have no interest in Jane’s relationship to Mrs. Fairfax, and make little of their reunion.
“I looked up, and there she was on the roof, laughing and waving her arms above the battlements. Mr. Edward saw her as he came out. He did not say anything but went straight back into the house to try to save her.”
“All this side of the house was blazing. There was smoke everywhere. Then it cleared. And suddenly we saw Mr. Edward behind her on the battlements. She saw him too. He came towards her to help her down. She stood very still for a moment, and just as he seemed to reach her, gave a dreadful scream, and ran from him to the edge. The next moment, she lay smashed on the pavement before us.”
The camera stays on Jane as Mrs. Fairfax says, “The great staircase fell in as he was coming down. ” But rather than continue the story verbally, 1943 shows us.
Mrs. Fairfax says, “Yes, sir,” and leaves. Rochester calls Pilot, but when Pilot does not respond, staying by Jane, he steps forward. “Who’s there?”
Jane: “I’ve come back, sir.”
Jane: “And a heart, too, Edward.”
Rochester: “You think I want to let you go? Jane!”
It’s a satisfying kiss, and despite its brevity, the scene conveys passion and desire. In this 1943 has the advantage over some of the later versions.
Cut to the lowering landscape around Thornfield with two figures walking. Jane’s voiceover: “As the months went past, he came to see the light once more as well as to feel its warmth, to see first the glory of the sun, then the mild splendor of the moon, and at last the evening star. And then one day, when our firstborn was put into his arms, he could see that the boy had inherited his own eyes as they once were, large, brilliant and black.”
Visually, 1943 is a masterful piece of direction, with its shots from above and below the battlements, and Rochester’s dramatic entrance. It is very economical, dispensing with most of the original details while providing a clear resolution. Welles chooses to make Rochester harsh and angry, so that the focus is on his wounded pride as much as his physical infirmity. Notice how he is presented actively, seeking out Mrs. Fairfax rather than waiting for her. He is not disfigured in any way, and Welles represents Rochester’s blindness by staring into the distance. In the epilogue, we learn that he recovered his sight fully.
The biggest difference from the book, however, is the stripping away of Jane’s autonomy. In this version, Jane comes to Rochester destitute and cries “Please don’t send me away.” In the book, it is Jane’s decision whether to stay or go, while Rochester is tortured with doubts about whether she wants to stay and whether she ought to. Here, Jane is at Rochester’s mercy both financially and emotionally, and it is he who makes the decisions, claiming her with a kiss. This is typical of 1943 (and recurs regularly in later adaptations): the screenwriters keep Jane passive, and avoid any possible subversion of Rochester’s masculinity or dominance.
As usual, 1970 provides a more “feminist” response to its predecessor. It also expands the ending and is more faithful in its depiction of the events leading up to the reunion, except that (like 1943) it does not include Jane’s inheritance or her discovery of relations in the Riverses. This reduces Jane’s autonomy and leaves it unclear how she expects to survive if Rochester is not free to marry her–yet she has no reason to believe that he is.
Jane: “John! What happened?”
John: “The floor gave way beneath him and he fell through. He’s not dead, Miss Eyre, but..”
Jane: (quickly): “Where is he?”
John: “At Ferndean, with Mrs. Fairfax.” (Jane brushes past him toward the carriage.)
This is an interesting moment, true in its way to the book. Jane has the opportunity to turn back, but she doesn’t. Her first thought is to get to Rochester as soon as possible.
The existence of Ferndean was set up previously in this version, rather awkwardly, but it pays off now.
This scene adapts Jane’s first view of Rochester outside Ferndean, when he comes out alone to feel the rain.
George C. Scott is meticulously groomed as usual, not unkempt like Welles in the 1943 version. He has a slight scar over his right eye, but no real disfigurement, and he plays blind by keeping his eyes closed. Portraying blindness is a challenge for actors: on the one hand, they need to seem realistic, but on the other, they must communicate clearly to the audience that they are blind. Yet blind people do not generally keep their eyes closed, so this is not particularly realistic.
Jane: “It is I.”
He recognizes her voice immediately. “Jane.”
These words seem to represent Rochester’s fear that he is delusional, but Scott’s performance is tightly buttoned. He reveals none of the literary Rochester’s ecstatic joy and deep agitation.
Jane kneels at his feet and puts a hand on his. He smiles slightly, and slowly, delicately reaches out to touch her face.
Again, Rochester maintains his dignity: he remains calm (not like the literary Rochester, who immediately embraces Jane as a lover or spouse would). This Jane weeps (which she does not do in the book). Rochester pretends that he expects nothing more than a brief visit, that he and Jane are mere acquaintances now. Only the question about the husband betrays what he feels underneath his controlled exterior. Susannah York’s Jane understands this completely.
Rochester: “No husband yet?”
Jane: “Yes, sir, I think so. And so should you. You can’t be choosy, sir, any more than I.”
Jane: “Wedding, sir?”
Rochester: “Devil take it, didn’t you say you were getting married?”
Jane: “No, sir.”
Rochester: “Oh. Well, I’m sure some… fool will find you soon enough.”
Rochester remains coolly sardonic, and even insults Jane by reminding her that she is not pretty, and observing that “some fool” will doubtless accept her. Jane accepts that this is his way, but she is also capable of a clever retort. He makes no agonized references to his infirmities, or Jane’s prospective sacrifice in caring for him, nor does he reveal how much he wants to be “one flesh” with Jane. It is hard to imagine this Rochester jealously interrogating Jane for details about her suitor, and indeed, he does not question her.
Despite the more “feminist” outlook of this version, it boils down once again to Rochester’s choice. Jane asks his permission (“Let me stay”) and he grants it… sort of.
Throughout most of 1970, Scott portrays Rochester as a man who conceals and suppresses his emotions, according to the ideals of masculinity in mid-twentieth-century America. Here Scott’s rigidity and closed eyes echo his pose in the initial interview with Jane, where he barely looked at her. This reunion seems very bloodless compared to the book, which featured Rochester passionately embracing Jane, and Jane sitting on Rochester’s lap, fondling, teasing and kissing him. Oddly enough, the Victorian tale is less sexually constrained and more emotionally transparent than this 20th century American retelling.
Previously I have complained about the way 1996 makes Bertha start the fire just as Jane is walking out the door, thus forcing him to choose between the two women. This is a grave departure from the book, but the upside (and no doubt the reason for the change) is that it allows Zeffirelli to show the fire rather than have another character describe it. This is a visually superior strategy. Jane’s departure is actually intercut with Bertha setting the fire.
In the novel, Bertha similarly torched the governess’ room: “She was like as if she knew somehow how matters had gone on, and had a spite at her.”
As Bertha, Maria Schneider is excellent in these scenes, although I am not sure why Bertha is made to kill Grace. There’s no basis for it in the book. Perhaps the idea is to show that regardless of her actions, Rochester will still try to save her.
“Bertha, Bertha, come across to me, don’t be afraid! Come, please give me your hand. Bertha, come to me.”
“I would never harm you. Don’t be afraid. Come to me now. Please!”
In screenshot, you can see rather clearly that a dummy was used, but when you watch the sequence, this is not obvious; it looks real enough.
Now the story turns to Jane, who arrives at the Gateshead Parsonage and collapses in exhaustion, to be nursed by Diana. She spends months with Diana and St. John, who ultimately proposes and is refused (see my post 18). Jane decides to return to Thornfield.
The change increases the viewer’s suspense about what has happened to Rochester.
Note the “Pilot’s eye” view of Rochester from below in this shot.
Charlotte Gainsborough’s face virtually always has the same expression. She is dignified and grave, as Jane can often be, but somewhat blank.
In this version, unlike the previous two, Rochester’s disfigurement is not glossed over. The eye he lost seems to be sewn shut, and has burn scars over it. His words are adapted from language in the book, but he underplays the emotion (or if you prefer, he plays it subtly). He is dressed and groomed, not unkempt and wild, though he does have a five o’clock shadow.
Jane: “I will be your friend, your nurse, your companion. You will not be left alone for so long as I shall live.”
Considering that 1996 omitted the lightning striking the chestnut tree, the line seems un-anchored, but it does echo what Rochester says in the book, and Jane’s response is also a close paraphrase:
This scene is satisfying, even if it does not convey the ecstatic joy of the novel’s ending. William Hurt’s performance as Rochester was always gentle and low-key, and so it is here. Rochester expresses self-doubt, while Jane is allowed to exercise agency, to decide for herself. What’s missing is the playfulness of the original, Jane’s teasing, and the strong sexual undercurrent, Brontë’s libidinous references to the flesh. This reunion is sweet, lyrical, and romantic in the modern sense.
Jane: “And so I married him. Slowly but surely, Edward recovered his sight. And when our firstborn was put into his arms, he could see that our child had inherited his eyes, as they once were, large and brilliant, and shining with life. We sent for Adèle and she now lives with us, as beloved as if she were our own dear daughter. We are truly devoted, my Edward and I. Our hearts beat as one. Our happiness is complete.”
1996 makes Jane adopt Adèle and become a mother to her; apparently the screenwriters felt that the real Jane was deficient in feminine virtue and needed to be made more loving. In the original, Jane considers teaching Adèle again, but decides instead to find the girl a more congenial school, since she has enough on her hands caring for Rochester. Brontë quite deliberately did not recreate the artificial family of Jane’s time at Thornfield; instead, she wanted Jane and Rochester to be alone, together, until nature took its course and enlarged their family. As for Mrs. Fairfax, the book gives her no real closure (except that she retired with a comfortable pension), and 1996 surprisingly leaves her hanging.
1997 is quite faithful to the events in the book, though as usual it over-adapts the language. One significant area of infidelity (compare 1943 and 1970) is that Jane inherits no fortune and has not learned that the Riverses are her kin, so when she rejects St. John’s offer and returns to Thornfield, she faces destitution again if Rochester cannot support her. This violates Brontë’s original conception of an independent and secure Jane who is closer to social equality with Rochester, and free to please herself.
This sequence reflects the high excitement in the book, when Jane runs toward Thornfield, deliberately not asking for news from the folk at the Rochester Arms.
(A male voice begins to speak): “The fire raged all night. You could see black smoke billowing for miles.”
Jane: “Edward!” (She starts running again.)
We realize that the voice belongs to the parson who performed the wedding ceremony; Jane has sought information in the church. The parson is a good proxy for the retired butler in the novel.
From the way 1997 is directed and written, it seems clear that the parson would have told Jane the facts before sending her to see Rochester. And yet she seems not to know.
This is a pleasing way of handling Mrs. Fairfax’s ending, because Gemma Jones makes clear through her facial expressions how delighted she is to see Jane. The scene is emotionally satisfying and gives her character closure, yet it does not go significantly beyond the book; it simply substitutes Mrs. Fairfax for Mary.
Of the five feature films, three cannot resist the temptation to heighten the drama by surprising Jane and the audience with Rochester’s blindness. 1970 follows the book by giving Jane warning, and 2011 has it both ways: the audience doesn’t know, but Jane probably does.
Rochester takes the glass and drinks, then says, “Thank you.”
Jane replies, “It is my pleasure.”
Jane: “You are not mad, sir.”
Rochester: “If I am dreaming, never let me wake!”
Like the literary Rochester, Ciarán Hinds is emotional and effusive. He is caught up in a kind of ecstasy and needs reassurance that it is not just a dream.
The screenplay follows 1943, where Orson Welles’ Rochester is first joyful, then angry, in his wounded masculine pride. Hinds plays blindness similarly to Welles, using a fixed gaze to indicate his inability to focus on Jane’s face. He is more disfigured than Welles, but not as much as William Hurt in 1996. (None of them loses a hand; maybe this was simply easier to stage, but more likely, no director was comfortable with such a severely, permanently disabled Rochester.)
This is a nice touch, comparing Rochester to Thornfield itself, instead of the chestnut tree. Rochester rises, and Jane, frustrated with the way he is reacting, uses his given name. “Edward!”
“No doubt he’s young and handsome.”
“Yes. And he’s a good and honorable man.”
“So why are you here then? Why aren’t you with him?”
“I came to see you.”
This is where the scene becomes extraordinary, and captures some of the powerful emotion of the book. Ciarán Hinds allows Rochester’s angry pride to give way, openly admitting his vulnerability. At this point, he is still standing on his dignity, but he is close to a breakdown, fighting back tears. It is a moving performance, and quite unlike any of the others.
The screenplay emphasizes Jane’s agency: she will stay whether Rochester likes it or not. In the book, she tells him that she has her own money now, and if he will not let her live with him, she will build her own house close to his doorway so he can sit in her parlor of an evening.
I like it that there is a mutual touching of faces in this version. Rochester touches Jane, but she also caresses him, using the same gesture. The dialogue is heavily adapted, but expresses the same ideas: Rochester’s self-doubt and anguish, Jane’s determination, the physical and emotional intimacy of the exchange.
Samantha Morton is very powerful in this scene, which achieves “liftoff” in a way the other versions do not, even though there is no kiss. This is also the only one of the five to describe St. John, Rochester’s rival. The film includes the epilogue, with a voiceover as we watch Jane and Rochester taking a walk with their children:
“I have been married to Edward ten years now. I love him as much today as the day I returned to Thornfield and saw him wounded and helpless. In our third year together he regained the sight in his right eye. And when our firstborn was put into his arms, he could see his own likeness. I am truly blessed, for I now know what it is to have found love.”
2011 seems to recycle the directorial strategy of 1943 in several ways, though not the acting styles.
“No one knows how it started. I expect that Mrs. Poole took too much of the gin and water, and as she slept, the lady, Mrs. Rochester, got the keys, and did what she failed to do a year ago, set the whole place to fire. We would have all perished in the smoke, but Mr. Rochester would not rest till we were all safe. Then he went in for her. The flames were tearing up so high it brought men running from the village. I saw her standing on the roof, the very edge. I heard Mr. Rochester beg her to come down. But she jumped. Mr. Rochester remained as if he would not move until the fire consumed him.”
A slight pause, then:
This version, with Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax, expands her part and emphasizes her friendship with Jane, but nothing is said about Adèle.
The viewers do not hear Mrs. Fairfax’s response. The next thing we see is Jane walking, her bonnet in her hands. She presumably knows what happened, but we do not.
Rochester is not much disfigured; his blindness is represented by contact lenses which distort the look of both irises. Fassbender plays the blindness subtly; rather than using a fixed gaze outward or upward, he mostly looks right at Jane’s face. His performance is closer to William Hurt than to Welles or Hinds: he makes Rochester subdued and sad, a broken man. There is warrant for this in the book, but Rochester should also look fierce.
In this version, it is Jane who cries (compare 1970). Rochester is so silent that finally she asks, “Fairfax Rochester, have you anything to say?”
This is the final shot, and there is no epilogue. The dialogue here reverses what 2011 Rochester said to Jane during their courtship (and in the book): “Jane Eyre with nothing to say?” To this Jane replied, “Everything seems unreal.” When he reassured her of his realness, she said, “You, sir, are most phantom-like of all.” Now, it is Rochester who cannot believe, but this time there is no dark secret, no deception. What Jane offers is real.
This ending succeeds artistically on its own terms, but less so in terms of fidelity. We see only Rochester’s first reaction of dazed wonder, and none of the literary Rochester’s manic ecstasy, self-doubt, jealousy or urgent desire. The questions of gender and power so integral to the book are scarcely raised in this tender reunion.
And now, Dear Reader, it is time for our last rubric! (This is not the end of the series, however: I will write one final post with an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of each version.)
1943 has skilled direction, excitement, high drama and the forcefulness of Welles, but is too brief to convey the complex emotions in the book and makes Jane too passive.
1970 features a wisecracking Rochester who stands on his dignity. Jane is closer to the book because Susannah York gives her understanding and serenity.
1996: Bertha finally receives her due in the powerful fire scene, and there is strong direction, but the reunion of Jane and Rochester feels far too restrained and chaste.
1997: Rochester’s manifest emotions and vulnerabilities illustrate how he has been humbled, as in the book, yet he remains masculine and desirable. Jane, meanwhile, is determined and confident. Faithful in concept and detail, though not in language.
2011: A lavish recreation of ruined Thornfield cannot quite make up for the verbal spareness of the reunion, yet the camera lingers long enough to make it worth our while.