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From the Past

Films on the to-do list

  • Armageddon Time
  • Black Widow
  • Chimes at Midnight
  • The Killing of a Sacred Deer
  • Last Christmas
  • Remember Sunday
  • Shazam! 2
  • Thor: Love and Thunder
  • Spy Guys

The problem with Jane Eyre adaptations

When Jane Eyre version 2.011 came out in Canada, I checked it out right away.

I’m not sure why, really.

Finding a really good version of Jane Eyre is like finding a bag of hot dog buns with the same number of buns as there are wieners in a package of hot dogs. It seems like it should be mathematically possible, and yet it violates some kind of unspoken universal law.

I have been obsessed with Jane Eyre since my mother read it to me when I was 13, which was shortly after I saw Jane Eyre v1.983 starring Timothy Dalton. So far, that is my favourite version. They get a lot of the dialogue right and the story is all there, even if the production values are NOT.

My mother and father prefer v1.973, because the actress playing Jane gets the wry, sarcastic smile down to a science. But I didn’t find Rochester fascinating enough.

My big difficulty with Jane Eyre movies is that they tend to bash you over the head with brooding moors and crazy women in attics, and forget to tell you the love story.

I don’t do well with being TOLD instead of SHOWN. It isn’t enough for me to be told, “Boy meets girl, boy and girl are in love.” I need to know WHY. I need to understand their relationship. I need to fall a little bit in love with the boy myself.

The actual book does all of that.

You can’t help but love Jane. She’s so spunky, and yet meek, so compliant, and yet unyielding. Under her properly-bred schoolgirl exterior, there is a firecracker. Rochester discovers this, and loves her for it.

Rochester is her polar opposite – he is rude, but kind, dominating, but looking for domination. He finally finds it in Jane.

I am influenced– conquered; and the influence is sweeter than I can express; and the conquest I undergo has a witchery beyond any triumph I can win

Jane doesn’t put up with his crap, and he loves, loves, LOVES IT. She, on the other hand, enjoys being treated like an intellectual equal and she likes to piss him off. Jane gets off on knowing that she has the ability to push Rochester’s buttons. She revels in their verbal jousts and she absolutely delights in driving him batty.

I knew the pleasure of vexing and soothing him by turns; it was one I chiefly delighted in, and a sure instinct always prevented me from going too far: beyond the verge or provocation I never ventured; on the extreme brink I liked well to try my skill.

THIS is what makes Jane Eyre brilliant. It isn’t the moors, or the crazy woman in the attic. It’s Jane and Rochester’s wacky relationship:

When Rochester sings sappily to her about living and dying together as one, she tells him tartly that she has no intention of dying with him, that she will die in her own damn time whether or not he has already kicked the bucket long before.

When he starts calling her an angel she twits him until he gets pissed off and calls her a “thing” instead, and she tells him that she likes that much better as a nickname.

When Rochester tells her that he would rather have her than a whole harem of concubines, she tells him that she has no intention of being anything like a concubine. If that’s what he wants, he had better go buy a harem instead.

When he asks her what she would do if he did go off to buy a harem, she tells him that she would be educating his many wives until they staged a revolt, tied him up, and disabused him of his womanizing notions.

Their verbal jousting is nearly constant – Rochester getting mushy and Jane stamping on it with English common sense and tart propriety, and Rochester just eats it up.

But when they make Jane Eyre into a movie, they tend to get rid of all of that.

The problem with changing that relationship, with leaving out those little moments, is that without them, Rochester seems even creepier than Edward Cullen. Suddenly, instead of a frustrated, lonely man yearning to be dominated by a woman who is his intellectual equal, he is just a womanizing bigamist who tries to have sex with his nanny. Jane is a wet washrag who actually seems to love the womanizing boss for no clear reason, and turns down a perfectly good marriage with a handsome young clergyman.

And once again, that’s what happened in the latest version.

If they want to do emo brooding and moors, they have the wrong Brontë.

Directors seem to think they are making Wuthering Heights, instead of Jane Eyre.

I was excited when they originally cast Ellen Page as Jane for the 2.011 version. While too pretty, Page would have the wry smile and the fiery spunk that Jane needs. Without her, the movie is yet another badly-told love story, filled with sadly wailing solo violins and a weepy Plain Jane who is mere chaff being blown by the winds of fate.

Jane shouldn’t be a doormat. If Jane isn’t bossing Rochester around, I’m just not satisfied, because that’s the real meat of the book.

Jane Eyre is often touted as one of the first really feminist books. So why do they change that when they make the movies? Why do they make Jane meek, and Rochester bossy, and not show how Jane really wears the pants in this relationship? To me, that is the whole point of Jane Eyre.

To hell with Romeo and Juliet, Lancelot and Guinevere, Catherine and Heathcliff, and even Darcy and Elizabeth.

Jane and Rochester have the most entertaining and realistic relationship of all the famous fictional couples. Forget that mushy “I love you, would die for you blah blah blah”. This is how Jane woos her man:

“Have you a pocket comb about you, sir?”
“What for, Jane?”
“Just to comb out this shaggy black mane. I find you rather alarming, when I examine you close at hand. You talk of me being a fairy, but I am sure, you are more like a brownie.”
“Am I hideous, Jane?”
“Very, sir. You always were, you know.”

That’s REAL love, and I wish movie directors would stop editing all of that out.

This guest post, which I wholeheartedly agree with, was brought to you by ifbyyes, who lives in Canada with a Perfect Husband and delightful Babby, who will be celebrating his first birthday soon. Congrats! I first came across her blog, If By Yes, when she made a brilliant post comparing Jane Eyre and Bella Swan. That, and that she turned out to be a Harry Potter fan, is hilarious and writes about psychology (especially regarding children) on a regular basis has made me a regular reader.

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8 thoughts on “The problem with Jane Eyre adaptations

  1. Wonderful post! I’ll definitely check If by Yes’ blog out.

    I just watched the film again last night with two friends who hadn’t read the book for 20 years. This post and our conversation last night while watching the film makes me want to read it all over again. 😀

    Traxy – Hope you’ll be posting about your viewing experience of last night (with pictures?) shortly. I can’t wait to hear about it. I was thinking about you while watching the film last night. I’m sure it must have been quite the ambiance. Hope you had fun.

  2. Ifbyyes: thank you for perfectly putting into words what I have been feeling forever!!!

    Traxy: can’t wait to read your review on Friday….

  3. Glad you enjoyed the post, Calexora. 🙂 Yes, the plan is to post my review on Friday (as that’s when it opens here) and also post about the visit at the same time. Or maybe sooner, it all depends. Just need to put the pictures on my laptop and from there to Flickr first of all!

  4. *and now commenting on the post itself*

    Maybe that’s why I actually quite like the ’73 and ’06 versions: they actually have some of that verbal sparring. Okay, in ’73 maybe it’s more Rochester than Jane, but anyway. What surprised me when seeing the “money matters and flirting” scene from ’06 was that it’s actually FROM THE BOOK. It’s not that they’ve decided to include a flirting scene for the hell of it, it’s because it’s there, in the book, in all its glory.

    They grow to love each other, it’s clear how and why. That’s also one of the reasons why I like the ’95 Pride & Prejudice and can’t abide the ’05 version. ’05 is too short and therefore too rushed, and all I’m left with is a feeling of “and WHY did they fall in love?” because it just feels as if they fall in love because that’s what the story is about. Not that there’s anything there to actually suggest a reason WHY, other than “well, they’re meant to”.

    The final quotation, I can’t imagine the last line being said with anything but an affectionate smile.

    How come the best part of Jane Eyre is when she’s at Thornfield? Yes, Rochester is there and he helps drive the narrative forward, but what I’m most impressed by with the writing is the dialogue BECAUSE it’s got the verbal sparring. It’s timeless.

  5. This post is lovely.. And fully explains that although i quite like Jane Eyre ’11 it doesn’t pull me in. Everything happens fast. I have no idea how suddenly they were in love though i must have read the book many times.

    The love story is never harped upon. The similarities in their differences.


  6. I had this post in mind when I watched the film again today, and was thinking the same thing, Crystal. Yeah, why DO they fall in love? Not exactly clarified, is it? 🙁

  7. What a great guest blog! Excellent point about what makes JE such an unusual love story and why those who adapt it just don’t “get it.”

    1. From what I’ve read of An American Heir so far, I think that author has got it. Many spin-off writers also seem to get their relationship wrong. Yourself excluded. 😀

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