Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Jane Eyre--Jane Eyre," was all he said.

Edit May 16, 2018: For updated and added reviews and content, visit my new website Lit Lovers & Corset Laces

Today I was contemplating on the growing popularity of my "Oh, Rochester" post, thinking of how glad I am to see my blog beginning to thrive and to see people appreciating my thoughts. Then it dawned on me that though I compared Rochesters from the different Jane Eyre adaptations but failed to give any attention to the main character herself.

We all know who Jane Eyre is and each reader knows what they love about her. This eighteen year old has barely even eclipsed womanhood and has already experienced pain and hopelessness. Yet, as her obstacles become increasingly challenging, Jane becomes all the more independent and sure of herself. She finds worth in herself when those around her either take advantage of it or don't see it at all.

Still, Jane longs for mutual love and passionate life. She is raw and inexperienced in the ways of the world and throughout the novel we see her discover emotions and sensations that she's never come in contact with before. This girl is the center and cornerstone of the story. She functions as the protagonist, the damsel in distress, the hero, AND the narrator all in one. If Jane is miscasted, the movie or miniseries is doomed before you even press play.

So, just as I did in "Oh, Rochester", I've collected images of the Janes from every version I've seen and will give my personal opinions of each. Casting is often a touchy subject when a book is adapted to the screen because each reader possesses a different opinion. I will give mine without hesitation. Whether you agree or disagree with my analysis, I would still love to see your comments!

So here we go!

Jane Eyre 1944: Joan Fontaine
Positive: Joan Fontaine was a very well respected actress in her time. I loved her in Alfred Hitchcock's adaptation of "Rebecca." She had this sweet quality about her in all her movies, and this included Jane Eyre. Joan plays Jane by playing up her sympathetic side. We see that uncertainty that I personally believe Jane had in her.
Negative: We see the uncertainty in Joan's performance, but very little else. In this version, Jane strikes me as WAY too dependent. We don't see the indignant side of Jane that helps establish her as Rochester's equal. Joan didn't infuse any independence in her portrayal at all. Even during the proposal scene where Jane is supposed to come forth and demand that Rochester treat her with respect, Joan isn't demanding. She didn't have the "hero" quality of Jane, only the "damsel in distress." She also isn't young or plain enough to convincingly portray Jane's exterior.

Jane Eyre 1949: Mary Sinclair
Positive: First off, let me say that I'm sorry I couldn't find a better picture. This was the only thing I really had available. As to Mary's positives, I can't think of a single one. In her defense, it was a very low budget made-for-TV adaptation.
Negative: Just like her "Rochester" counterpart, Charlton Heston, there are a list of things wrong with Mary Sinclair. The first and most noticeable is that she was simply too old. Jane is eighteen. Unlike Rochester where you might have to calculate his age because it isn't specifically mentioned, Jane's age is given plain and clear in the text of the novel, so there is really no excuse. Mary also hideously downplayed Jane's inner strength and natural confidence. She made Jane seem timid and afraid, and thus disgraced the character for me.

Jane Eyre 1979: Susannah York
Positive: Susannah was the first actress that actually stepped up and decided to play Jane as the independent woman she is. I loved seeing Susannah stand up to George C. Scott and say "when I come to you, Edward, I come to you as an equal. I will NOT be less" and I also loved that slight sense of vulnerability I received from her in the proposal scene where she cries "don't make me foolish." Susannah was a very commendable Jane.
Negative: TOO OLD! This version as a whole threw the true ages of the character out the window. George C. Scott was much too old to play the thirty-eightish year old Rochester. Susannah was thirty one years old when she played this part, which surprised me when I did the research because she looked even older than that!

Jane Eyre 1973: Sorcha Cusack

Positive: Physically, Sorcha had those large pixie like eyes that I personally find imperative in a Jane. She was convincingly plain and did look rather other worldly in some instances. She also had this "Janian" quality that I couldn't put a finger on. I think it was the way she related to Michael Jayston as Rochester. She seemed to have the upper hand on him and the two of them had this rather odd (yet endearing) chemistry that I found to be true to the novel.
Negative: Sorcha was twenty four years old when she pulled her hair into Jane Eyre's signature knot. That's not nearly as bad as Susannah York, who missed Jane's age by more than ten years, but still it wasn't convincing enough. Jane's age is really important to me as a reader because I can't fully appreciate her journey into womanhood unless she really looks like the teenager that she was in the novel. I also found Sorcha's voice to be rather annoying in many instances. It was so light and too "happy." I didn't see Jane's heartbreak or dispair in any instances.

Jane Eyre 1983: Zelah Clarke
Positive: I actually really liked Zelah Clarke as Jane. She had a sort of quiet strength that I found admirable and I think that people underestimated her performance. I also loved the fact that Zelah was really short. At least, she looked short in comparison to Timothy Dalton who was well over six feet tall. Jane really was "small" in this adaptation which helped highlight the physical dominance that Rochester had over her.
Negative: Zelah was twenty nine. Need I really say more? I also found her quiet strength to be TOO quiet in many instances. Sometimes she just didn't have that outer flash and Jane needs to have that. Zelah was rather reserved just like Jane should be, but she was reserved to the point of boring in a lot of cases.

Jane Eyre 1996: Charlotte Gainsbourg

Positive: Well, she was definitely plain. She did have that pixie-like quality that Jane is described as having. She had pretty good amounts of vulnerability and independence in good balance.
Negative: I don't know just what it is that I didn't like about Charlotte. She had all the elements required to play Jane but she just didn't execute well. The thing is that she didnt inhabit the role of Jane. The whole movie I felt like she was "Charlotte Gainsbourg trying to be Jane" instead of seeing Jane on the screen. Her acting was very remedial like she was making mental notes in her head saying "Now, Jane is supposed to be mad here and happy here."

Jane Eyre 1997: Samantha Morton
Positive: I actually really enjoyed seeing Samantha Morton as Jane even though I hated seeing Ciaran Hinds across from her playing Rochester. Samantha is actually one of my favorite Janes. She made it a point to exude that confidence and inner wisdom that Jane should have. I loved her during the proposal scene. She did the appropriate amount of crying and I loved the line where she cries "I am your equal, and you have treated me as such." Some Janes are rather over-dramatic whereas others don't make their points enough. Samantha was the happy medium for me that showed the essence of Jane through her subtlety. She also had a rather young look about her.
Negative: Samantha had a horrible Rochester to work with. She was great when portraying Jane's singularity and solitude, but when it came to scenes that focused on her relationship WITH Rochester, it didn't resignate well at all. The chemistry just wasn't right. It felt like Samantha Morton had an idea of what she wanted to do and Ciaran Hinds had a different idea and that the two didn't communicate their ideas to each other. Therefore when the camera started rolling, the two were so busy working on their individual characters that those character's didn't mesh well with one another. Exhibit "A" being the kiss, which was absolutely horrible. Could you even call that a kiss?

Jane Eyre 2006: Ruth Wilson
Positive: I liked Ruth as Jane. Her face has the natural plainess, but from some angles we see this strange kind of beauty in her. She played Jane naturally; independence, strength, vulnerability, and all. Just like Toby Stephens was my best "all around" Rochester, Ruth seemed to be my best "all around Jane" just because she played the role as it should be played and did it solidly.
Negative: Some people are going to hate me for saying this because a lot of people like it, but I couldn't stand Ruth in the proposal scene. At first she was great, but when she started sobbing it was just an absolute mess to me. I understand that Jane was in a state of distress and that she was asserting her independence and revealing her passionate nature, but any time the actor has to stop and wipe the snot from their nose during the scene it automatically tells me that you took it a little too far. I'm not making this up by the way, if you watch closely, Ruth really did wipe her nose during the scene. Also, I found a problem with Ruth's height. Either Toby Stephens was really short, or Ruth is just tall, but the two of them are almost the same height and it bugged me because Jane is supposed to be small. Or at least, that's how I pictured her.

Jane Eyre 2011: Mia Wasikowska
Positive: As I've said before, I did have my doubts when I saw that Mia was chosen to be Jane. I didn't particularly like her in Alice in Wonderland, so I didn't know how I would take to her. Surprisingly though, I really did like what Mia did with the role. She is the youngest actress to play Jane (twenty one) and she did look eighteen years old. I loved Mia's eyes when she played the role. The eye contact she made with Rochester and with other characters around her was piercing and very acute. Her glances and gazes gave us a gateway into Jane's thoughts without being melodramatic. Oh, and the leaving scene was absolutely beautiful. That scene alone made me acknowledge her as a serious actress. When she cries, she truly gives the impression that her heart is breaking without having to resort to sobbing and screaming the way Ruth Wilson did. Also, her chemistry with Michael Fassbender was absolutely palpable in every scene that they did together. The two helped strengthen each other.
Negative: I hate to say it, but I do think that Mia was kind of dry in some scenes. I think it was because the screen play didn't actually give her a lot of lines to deliver and a lot of the time her emotions were displayed through her eyes rather than through her mouth. Also, I don't know whether this is a negative or not, but what color was her hair exactly? Sometimes it struck me as red. Did anyone else notice that?

All in all:
My favorite Jane> Probably Samantha Morton or Mia Wasikowska
Still, just like the "Rochester Dilemna" I have yet to find THE Jane, the one that ultimately defines the role. 


  1. How is it possible that Claire Danes escaped playing Jane Eyre? A young Claire, circa her age in Luhrman's Romeo & Juliet, would have been a great Jane.

  2. I never thought about it before, but you're quite right. Not now, of course, because she's older, but when she was younger I'm surprised they didn't cast her has Jane. I always thought that Anna Popplewell would have been nice as Jane (aka Susan from the Chronicles of Narnia) and Richard Armitage as Rochester.

  3. Ugh, completely know what you mean about the proposal scene with Ruth Wilson. I remember cringing because, to me, it didn't seem Jane bawled her eyes out to that extent in the book. And yes! Her nose was totally running. *Shudder* I have yet to see the new film version of Jane Eyre, hope it's released soon here - a long way away in New Zealand =\

  4. The new film version was great :) It will be completely worth the wait, I promise you.

  5. I agree with your review!

    I think my favorite Jane so far is Mia; I thought she did well and she looked and sounded exactly like how I imagined Jane to be. I thought Samantha Morton and Charlotte Gainsbourg also looked a lot like how I think Jane should look and did o.k. Ruth Wilson - good actress, but too tall! Not exactly elf-like. Sorcha Cusack - too much acting with the eyebrows; she seemed to be smirking a lot, not very Jane-like at all. Zelah Clarke did a good job, but was too old for the role.

  6. Ha ha it's funny that everyone seems to say that about Sorcha Cusack's Jane. I found that she uses almost the same facial expression throughout the whole movie. There was no variety in the tones of her voice either.

  7. Hi Bonnie!
    Love your blog.
    I've yet to see Mia (not out in the UK till Sept.), but Ruth Wilson eclipsed all other Janes for me. I've never seen such an amazing actress. So much of what Jane is thinking has to be suppressed, but Ruth articulated everything with those eyes of hers
    And I have to take issue with you over the proposal scene. It was perfect! Jane is "sobbing convulsively" and when we sob our noses run! Ruth thoroughly immersed herself in the emotion of that scene, without a thought for our discomfiture - which is as it should be.

  8. @Supergran:
    I did like Ruth as an all around Jane. The problem with the proposal scene is that everyone seems to see it differently. If I'm honest with myself, I think that my REAL issue with the proposal scene was that it wasn't completely true to the novel as far as dialogue. Perhaps if Ruth had been delivering the real lines with the same amount of emotional intensity, I might not have minded the runny nose so much. I can't wait until you see the movie! I'm sure you'll have a lot to say about it, and I'm always eager to have more Jane Eyre diehards share their opinions even if I might disagree with them. ;)

  9. I've heard the criticism of 2006's script a lot. But, IMO, the script sticks a lot closer to the original dialogue than many people give it credit.
    However, I'm not sure that being dialogue-faithful is necessarily a virtue. Books don't make good screenplays! And Bronte never dreamt that her words would emerge from the mouths of actors. If she had, she would have made her dialogue less verbose and more natural I think.
    What is more important to me is that a screenplay be true to the spirit and intent of a novel. And I believe 2006 succeeds in this respect. I know Sandy Welch made a few infamous departures, however, and I'm always happy to discuss them!

  10. I love Sandy Welch. She did wonders with North and South. I understand that there are a lot of small details that she kept in the script that made me appreciate her writing a lot more. I understand that with an excessively wordy book such as Jane Eyre, it wouldn't do the movie a credit to stick too faithfully to the diologue in the novel. I do believe there can be some sort of middle ground, which I happened to find in Moira Buffini's screenplay of the 2011 version. It wasn't as watered down as the 2006, but it included some of the best lines from the book without confusing a modern audience or boring them to death.
    Sandy Welch made a few departures. Some I found rather likeable, and others I didn't take well to. For example, the night before Jane leaves, the movie took a more modern turn and had Rochester in Jane's room on top of her bed kissing her. As enjoyable as that scene was (It's hard not to enjoy the chemistry those two had), It still irked me because it just wasn't something that Jane would allow Rochester to do. In the book it specifically says that she refused physical contact, except for in one instance.

  11. Bonnie, do you have an IMDB account? I started a thread on the JE06 board discussing the (infamous) bedroom scene. I've had problems with that scene myself, and I invited others to comment on it. I've been greatly helped to see an alternative point of view by the different posters.
    Truth be told, Jane Eyre 2006 is my favourite period drama EVER. In order to fully enjoy it in it's entirety, and not be greatly irritated every time the separation scene comes on, I've had to develop an appreciation for it. I've been partially successful in that endeavour.
    I can go into more depth about it if you'd like.

  12. Please do! I love going into depth about my favorite novels! :)
    I must admit, I don't have an IMDB account, but I'm on the website so much that I'm surprised that I don't.

  13. The thread on IMDB runs to many pages (it’s a GREAT discussion!)
    In the absence of a direct explanation from Sandy Welch, I believe a clue lies in her inclusion of that other controversial scene in N&S - the beating of the millworker. (Bear with me here!)
    In the book, Margaret takes a dislike to Thornton based on little more than class prejudice and snobbery – an attitude that would be understandable to Victorian readers. Sandy Welch felt it was necessary to give Margaret a more compelling reason to dislike Thornton – her snobbery about his profession would not resonate well WITH A CONTEMPORARY AUDIENCE, it was feared. So a scene was written that showed Thornton beating up a mill employee for smoking and endangering the lives of fellow workers. A totally fabricated scene, but one that enables a modern audience to immediately connect with the story.
    I believe that Sandy has done a similar thing with Jane Eyre. Victorian readers would understand instantly why Jane would run away from Rochester, not allowing herself to be overwhelmed by temptation. But in today’s moral climate (particularly here in the UK), viewers may not feel the same. They may conclude that Jane is cold and may not even truly love Rochester. Of course, in the book we have Jane’s thoughts to read. Not so on film. So Sandy Welch uses dramatic licence to demonstrate to a MODERN AUDIENCE in a VISUAL MEDIUM the terrible dilemma that Jane faces.
    The lovely posters on IMDB made the following observations about the effectiveness of the 2006 “Bedroom Scene”:
    “If it had been me in that scene, I would NOT have had Jane’s willpower. And for precisely that reason, it works. Nine girls out of ten in that situation – poor, no family, desperately loved and in love – would have succumbed. Jane was the tenth.”
    “The stretching of the narrative to deliver, in the bedroom, a true sense of what each is giving up is one of the biggest achievements of the series.”
    “I believe the scene was true to the book. It telegraphed better than could any dialogue, soliloquoy, or running shot Jane’s (1) tortured ambiguity about leaving a situation/man her higher self must leave; and (2) ability to act ethically rather than passionately when a conflict between ethics and passion demand it.”

    I have lots more to say, but fear I’ve said enough already!

  14. No, I really do love discussing this with you! I'd love to hear (or in this case, see) more from you. I would get into depth too, but I'm afraid that to do that I'd have to give a few spoilers from the 2011 version to prove my point and I don't want to spoil the movie for you.

  15. Oh goody!
    If you want to comment on anything I've written about in my post, please do. Then I can respond from there (rather than me just writing a monologue, lol!)
    It's after midnight here, so I'll post tomorrow.

  16. In my previous post I stated my belief that Sandy had to find a way of showing a 21st century audience that Jane is not a cold girl (who may only be after money or security), but one who is passionately in love with Rochester and for whom leaving him is a tremendous sacrifice.
    I just want to add that this would have been Jane's wedding night. Up to that point, Jane has been a model of propriety - not dining with Edward or even allowing him to hold her hand (at least in public). As written in 2006, she allows a few final moments of intimacy before she leaves him forever. But, although on Jane's bed, they are fully dressed and do no more than kiss. Jane also makes it clear than she WILL leave him. And the fact that she carries that through, shows just how strong-willed she really is.
    I think Sandy took her cues for the bedroom scene from the passionate undercurrents that are already in the book - particularly the OTHER bedroom scene, the one after the fire. There's a lot of heat there, and it wasn't just the drapes! PHEW! And read Jane's words after she returns to her own bed!
    Finally, I think the fact that the bedroom scene was relayed in flashback form during the Rivers episode was significent. It highlighted most effectively the coldness of St John's idea of love and the intensity and passion that Rochester had for Jane. I'm not at all sure if the bedroom scene would have played out in the same way if it had been shown in a linear way and not in flashback.
    My one big reservation is that Jane tells Edward that they will "talk in the morning". I think slinking off in the night was cruel and cowardly. I wish they'd left the deleted scene in.
    Anyway, enough from me! Do let me know what you think of my ideas (well, mine and the good people from IMDB)!

  17. You make some VERY good points which truly does make me more accepting of what Sandy did. I looked into the posts on IMDB and enjoyed seeing how people stood up so valiantly for their opinions. I completely understand what you're saying. By changing some of the details and putting so much passion and sexuality into the scene, it translates to the audience just how tempted Jane really was. In previous versions, that struggle wasn't fully grasped enough.
    I did love the '06 version. I think I might have given you the wrong impression. It was one of the best done adaptions and I loved the characters. But after seeing the newest one, I think I got rather spoiled. When it came to the key scenes such as after the fire, the proposal, the leaving scene, and the reunion, I felt like that version completely nailed everything that I was looking for in an adaption.
    After rewatching both adaptions, I have mixed feelings. The '06 version had more time, focused on more details, and did a fair job with the key scenes. The '11 version had less time to work with, but nailed all the important scenes spot on. Both versions had their drawbacks. I saw the "disappointed" posts on the '11 version on IMDB. I think how you receive that film depends on which approach you like better. Would you rather see all the details in a long mini-series or see the essential parts in a shorter film? It depends on your taste.
    I can't wait until the '11 comes out in the UK so that you can finally give me your opinion on it. It's funny that you talk about how you liked the flashbacks in the '06. In case you haven't heard, the 'll tells the story in flashbacks and I personally love the way it was done because Jane's time at Thornfield (filled with passion and romance) was contrasted to her time with St. John (a quiet and devoted life). I'm sure that you'll at least like the chronology even if you might or might not like the film as a whole. :)

  18. I'm looking forward to seeing 2011 VERY much. I can't believe us Europeans have had to wait so long. I mean, Jane Eyre is as English as warm beer!
    I DID know that '11 is being told in flashback, which is a very interesting device for the reason that you state. In '06, Rochester and St John are juxtaposed by means of flashback, and this is a very effective way of highlighting their different personalities. Quite inspired, actually.
    I'm glad you've understood the points I was making about the bedroom scene in '06. They're not all mine, of course! I had problems myself with this scene, and I'm not entirely won over although I have reconciled myself to Sandy's approach. I can see that she was making an adaptation that had to please, not only Jane Eyre lovers, but also those who have never read the book. So she has to produce something that will have a wide appeal as well as please the purists. Not an easy task.
    So you went to the IMDB boards? I've started quite a few interesting threads on the JE06 board. It would be great if you could contribute! But I've also been a regular contributer to the JE11 board lately. That has been very lively!

  19. I don't understand the purpose of the different releases either. It would be one thing if they were only a few days apart, but the movie doesn't even come to theaters in the UK until september and the DVD comes out here (now it's my turn to make YOU a little jealous) on August 16th.
    I saw your contributions to the '11 board and I had so many things I wish I could say! For some reason I'm having trouble signing up for my account though. As soon as I get it all sorted out, I'm sure that you'll see me saying a thing or two. :)

  20. I LOVE Ruth Wilson as Jane Eyre. Ruth brings Jane to life through her facial expressions, one minute she can sad and lonely, the next look beautiful and happy. Ruth played Jane as I imagine her in the book and brought a freshness to Jane which no other actress has done before. x

    1. I agree,and what is the fuss about her runny nose? Real life people, real life! The bedroom scene was fantastic. Instead of having Rochester ranting and raving, we have him desperately trying to show his love and tenderness in the beginning and then as he realizes she is not persuaded, he attempts to seduce her, albeit a bit roughly, but no implied rape threat in this scene as in the book (I may do violence) It brings tears to my eyes...she loves him and he loves her but she is determined to preserve her dignity. That of course changes as she grow in maturity over the year they are apart and she understands just how much he truly loved her. Beautiful.

  21. I am so very shallow,when Toby was in the shot I had no idea that Jane was in the picture.

  22. I always believed, in the novel, that one of the reasons Jane leaves Rochester, is that he tells her about the mistresses he has had, that he now says he despises. Jane resolves that she's not going to become mistress number 4, that he will later discard and come to hate. That seemed like a pretty good motive for her to remove herself from temptation! By the way, Zelah Clarke is my all-time favourite Jane, followed by Mia Wasikowska.