Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Period Drama Heroines #7: Jane Eyre

"If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends."
~Jane Eyre

To describe Jane Eyre in one word is really not so hard, as long as the word you choose is either "principled", "moral" or "steadfast". Do not, under any circumstances, use the word "boring" to describe Jane; if you do so, that is clear proof that you do not understand her.

Now before you give a great huff and close your browser window with exasperation at my pomposity, let me assure you that I don't pretend to understand Jane Eyre. That is why I like her. She's complex.

Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre (2011)

At first glance, Jane seems like a pitiable character. Brought up under the cruelty of her aunt (wow, she and Esther should get together!), sent away to a horrendous boarding school (who else always wants to smack Mr. Brocklehurst every time he appears on the page?) and left to take care of herself in an unforgiving world, Jane's story sounds a little like a soap opera. Or at least a melodramatic Victorian novel.

Wait, it IS a melodramatic Victorian novel. Never mind.

But though Jane's story may seem a bit contrived and over-the-top, it has many redeeming qualities--the biggest of which being Jane herself. I mean, you can't help but root for this girl!

Joan Fontaine as Jane Eyre (1943)

Jane is meek and timid--in her own words, "poor, obscure, plain and little". Jane also possesses great strength of character, steadfast beliefs and a pepperpot temper when she's provoked. In that memorable scene when Mr. Rochester asks her to marry him (in an extremely roundabout way--annoying man!) she tells him in no uncertain terms why she wants to leave Thornfield. "Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton? a machine without feelings?... You think wrong! I have as much soul as you, and full as much heart!" In general, Jane is a very gentle person, but there are times when she just can't take it any longer. I'm not commending angry words, but I will admit to being excessively pleased when I read this passage. Take that, Mr. Rochester!

Jane is not a people-pleaser. She speaks candidly and with complete honesty. "I like rudeness a great deal better than flattery. I had rather be a thing than an angel." As a child, this often got her in trouble with her odious schoolmaster and horrible aunt. And if she had been employed by a man who was not in love with her, this talent probably would have cost her her job, too. :)

Jane is opinionated without being outspoken. She has her standards and her beliefs, and she won't be shaken in them--but she doesn't cram what she thinks down people's throats. However, her book is told in the first person, so the reader at least gets a healthy dose of Jane's opinion on everything. "Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last."

There is but one thing in which I cannot admire Jane---why, why, why did she fall in love with Mr. Rochester???

Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens in Jane Eyre (2006)

In case you hadn't noticed yet, I'm not a big fan of Edward Fairfax Rochester. He's a liar. He's willing to be a bigamist. He's moody and strange. (That's not attractive, ladies.) He's violent. He's had an immoral past (and is rather unrepentant when Jane confronts him). Jane, on the other hand, is truthful, loyal, open, forthright, moral, just, and a woman of integrity. Could two people ever be less suited to each other?

You know the basic story. Mr. Rochester wants to marry Jane, but one tiny detail stands in their way--his insane wife, locked in the attic. Jane leaves Thornfield as soon as she finds out about Mrs. Rochester (not without intense emotional trauma). "Jane Eyre, who had been an ardent expectant woman--almost a bride--was a cold, solitaray girl again: her life was pale; her prospects desolate." I feel so sorry for Jane at this point--does the whole world have to be against her?

"Don't worry," Hayden says in her review of Jane Eyre on her blog, "the book ends with a happily-ever-after. It just takes a really long time to get there."

It takes a little too long, in my opinion. Jane deserves a happy ending now. But it's all okay, because there's one more virtue of Jane's that I forgot to mention.

She's unbelievably patient. She can wait for a happy ending.

Josephine Serre and Charlotte Gainsbourg in Jane Eyre (1996)

P.S. I have not seen any of the film adaptations of Jane Eyre, so I don't have a video clip for this post.


Hayden said...

Thank you for quoting me! I loved your review! I don't understand why Jane fell in love with Mr. Rochester either. Oh, life's mysteries:)

Melody said...

I agree, Jane Eyre is a wonderfully complex character. I just finished reading the book, and I don't like Mr. Rochester that much either, but I did find myself enthralled in their romance.

I despise his past, but at least he did, too. And he's not without his good points.

From what I've seen there's no movie version that's quite right: they all have weak spots. I'll figure out my favorite before I post about it though.

Ella said...

I dislike Mr.Rochester too.
Jane is sweet,but a bit too serious.

Alexandra said...

Yaaay, another person who can't quite understand Rochester. :-) I don't *hate* him, and I really want to see some of the film adaptations to see different interpretations of him, but I agree...he's not the most attractive literary hero on the planet. :-) At least he repents and everything, you know.

I really loved the book because it's so realistic, and it really makes you think about what choices you might make in the same situation. She doesn't cut corners in making it just as difficult for you to come to the right decision as Jane does, showing that it's not always easy (and often *very* hard) to do the right thing! Definitely one of my favorite books.

By the way, I don't know if you've heard of it, but you might enjoy the Broadway musical version of Jane Eyre with James Barbour. Except for clips on the Internet, there's no video, but the cast recording is pretty easy to find at the library and such.

Miss Dashwood said...

Haha, "oh sweet mystery of life"! Thanks for letting me quote you!

I agree. I can't like Mr. Rochester, but I can't help being fascinated by his and Jane's story. I actually want them to get together, even though I don't like him. Isn't that weird? I guess that's the mark of a good story. :)

She definitely is serious. One thing I guess she kind of lacks is a good sense of humor. Humor is essential in a heroine. Ah, well, I like her anyway.

I haven't seen the musical of Jane Eyre, but a local homeschool theater company performed it last year. Now I wish I'd gone! Is it faithful to the novel? I think I'll look for the cast recording at my library.

Melody said...

Jane does seem serious, but I noticed she really seemed to lighten up by the end. I think her circumstances were what made her serious - I'd definitely be serious if I was at Gateshead or Lowood. Those are serious situations.

But what about when she's at Moor House, teasing Hannah after she recovers from her illness? And what about when she won't let St. John out of the house until he tells her the whole story? Those bits of dialogue, to me, show she definitely does have a sense of humor. It's a bit sarcastic and dry sometimes, but it's there. =)

"Do you doubt me?"
"You have no faith in me?"
"Not a whit."

That's funny to me. ;-)

"Do you forgive me, Jane?"
"I do not know, sir. I cannot tell till I have thought it over. If, on reflection, I find that I have fallen into no great absurdity, I shall try to forgive you."

Charlotte Bronte may not have said Jane was saying these things with a smile or teasing, but I can really picture it in several places.

Okay, that was a lot longer than intended. haha

Miss Dashwood said...

Ooh, Melody, I forgot about those parts! Okay, so I've only read the book one and a half times. (Once all the way through. Then I skipped around in it in preparation for this post.) You're right. I was wrong. I acknowledge that.
Jane is funny! I love Jane! Hurrah!

Melody said...

Haha, you made me laugh so much...;-)

I just finished the book this month so it's fresh in my mind. =)

Melody said...

Oops, one of the quote I left out I just have to say...

"Why don't you tremble?"
"I'm not cold."
"Why don't you turn pale?"
"I am not sick."
"Why don't you consult my art?"
"I'm not silly."

I think she served Mr. Rochester right during that part, he learned so little...

Alexandra said...

Well, I've only heard the songs, but from those, it does seem very faithful to the novel. If you look it up, there are "bootlegs" of the musical on YouTube and such. I really love the music. :-)

An Old-Fashioned Girl said...

An Old Fashioned Girl
Dear Miss Dashwood,
If you haven't seen a film of "Jane Eyre," may I recommend one? It's the one with Charlotte Gainsborough as Jane, and it was directed by Franco Zefferelli. It doesn't follow the book completely, but I love it anyway! It's a lovely movie!

Hamlette said...

I love and adore Edward Rochester, but not because he's either lovable or adorable. I have an intense need and desire to make sad people happy, real people and fictional people alike, and so I spend most of this book (and it's my favorite book of all time, so I've read it quite a few times) wanting to find a way to make him happy. And, in the end, he is happy, which makes me happy, so I love him.

Which makes little sense, but there it is.

My favorite movie version is the BBC one starring Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke. Really long, really faithful, really good. I just learned there's one starring Ciarin Hinds and am eager to see it, but my library doesn't have it, so it'll be a while.

Anyway, good and thought-provoking post!

MUNIBA said...

She loved him because.......okay so I really needed to think for a moment.Why indeed?
and then I could think of nothing except his kindness to her but I think ,that in itself is enough.Jane was pretty much starving for honest human affection.and he was the first person in close proximity to show her that .the first man.Of course she would love him.and for all her religious values i rather got the feeling that Jane had a set of values entirely her own and they absolved Edward Rochester for every fault of his even while admitting them.

Indigo Montoya said...

You strike me as the sort of person who loves long comments so hopefully you won't mind that this one is long! : D

I absolutely adore 'Jane Eyre' and I completely agree with everything you've said about Jane Eyre herself. She's a wonderful character and an incredibly inspirational heroine.

I can understand your reasons for not liking Rochester but I have a better opinion of him than you do. I can't condone his past, although I would say that from what we know of Rochester's family that he didn't have the best moral guidance and upbringing. I can't condone him for lying and for wanting to commit bigamy (although I do sympathise with his reasons for doing so). And if Rochester had stayed as moody and strange as he is when Jane first meets him I wouldn't have liked him at all. But he doesn't. He has a sense of humour - quite a snarky one in fact - and that gets revealed more once he gets to know Jane better. And he has such a caring side to his character as well. He could have easily just abandoned Bertha back in the Caribbean and no-one back in England would have been any the wiser. But he didn't. He accepted that Bertha was his responsibility and he provided a safe place for her in his home with 24 hour care. He didn't have her shut up in an asylum. Anyone who does even the tiniest bit of research into Victorian mental health care has to admire him for that. Rochester was never violent to Bertha either even though she was violent to him. He even risked his own life to save her. And Rochester cared for Adele - despite Adele being more than likely not his actual daughter and despite the fact that Rochester didn't love Adele's mother. Rochester could have just stuck Adele in an orphanage but instead he gave her a good home, a good education and a better way of life. I really admire that. Rochester has good within him and his love for Jane makes him a better person and leads him towards redemption. That's partly why I love the novel so much, it's the whole Beauty and the Beast thing : )

I've seen a few Jane Eyre adaptations. My opinions in brief:

- The worst is the 1996 version with Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt. I do enjoy Anna Paquin's Young Jane but Gainsbourg and Hurt are both badly miscast and have no chemistry. And Elle MacPherson plays Blanche Ingram in this and she really can't act.

- Second worst in my eyes is the 2006 BBC version. You've probably heard a lot of people raving about that one but I think it's overrated and I'm not a fan (even though I do really like Ruth Wilson as Jane). Considering that this version is a 4 hour adaptation it really rushes through Jane's childhood, she's an adult just 15 minutes in! And there's a weird added-in ouija board scene. And the scene where Rochester tries to persuade Jane to stay with him takes place on a bed and is really sexed-up. Charlotte Bronte must be turning in her grave! I don't like Toby Stephens' Rochester either.

- My favourite adaptations are the 1983 BBC version and the 2011 film. The 1983 version has a very stagey, low budget look and it hasn't aged all that well but I love it for its length and book accuracy. The 2011 film isn't as book accurate as some of the other versions but it really brings the passion between Jane and Rochester to life and I love the performances and visuals.

- I haven't seen the Jane Eyre musical but I've heard that's really good and I keep meaning to download the cast recording.

Annelise O'Connell said...

I too, when I stop to think about it, do not like Rochester. Intending to commit bigamy, treating his mentally unbalanced wife like a cross between an animal and a demon, philandering, violent... Has the man any character whatsoever? But I've devised the reasons why it's only when I stop to think that I hate him. Jane, poor, obscure and plainly labouring under a delusion, considers his friendship as essential to her happiness - and I love Jane and want her to have a happy life. Also, have you heard his speeches? Rochester may be short on moral certainty, but he has the gift of gab in spectacular abundance. Charlotte Bronte gave him the full benefit of her writing style, that same style that makes Jane Eyre vivid and powerful in mind and faculty. Besides this, the reader has to view him through Jane's eyes - and the girl is in love with him - naturally she's going to elaborate on that, instead of picking up what any of us non-bloodhounds can with ease, that the chap's simply not worth wasting another thought on, Janet, even if he does call you faery-like.