'What had befallen the night?' Analysing the proposal scene in different film adaptations of Jane Eyre
When looking into ways to be creative when working with classic novels, I came across the idea of watching a short clip from a film and comparing it to the book. Period dramas and adaptations can really bring a book to life but of course each director puts his own take. There have been many different versions of Jane Eyre over the years and one of the key moments of the novel is the proposal scene, so I thought it could be fun to look at each version and discuss its good and bad points.
Orson makes a great Rochester but Joan Fontaine is anything but plain, and she does not seem young enough. In the original version Jane sees herself as hidden from Rochester at first but he somehow detects her presence. There is no idea that she is upset at the beginning but I suppose it leads on more directly to her thoughts of leaving Thornfield. Rochester seems very hard on Jane when he tells her she must leave, while in the original the tone of his voice is left open to our interpretation. In this scene as an older man he is playing with her. His declaration of love and admission that he will marry Blanche however is very close to the original as is Jane's statement of being similar to him, although she does not say that they are equal and neither does she declare herself a free human being: another sign of the times? At no time do they even kiss. The setting is obviously of its time (it looks like a studio set) but the time and weather are in consonance with the original text. The lightening striking the tree is perhaps a little dramatic but it puts across the idea of the weather, or maybe the Gods, disaproving of the relationship.
I haven't seen this version but they seem to jump from Mason being attacked to the proposal. Hasn't Jane been to see her aunt? The scene appears to take place in the morning. Rochester doesn't declare himself and does not agree that he and Jane are equal. Jane does not declare herself as free. Jane does express her doubts when Rochester proposes. He does ask God to forgive him. George Scott makes a good Rochester but Susannah York is anything but plain and looks too old. I guess they do put across the main elements of the story but I miss the old language of the book.
Despite the fact that again Jane looks too old (she is supposed to be barely 18 afrer all) this scene is over all very true to the original. The scene is set at night and starts when Jane and Rochester are already together. I like the shot looking down through the trees it sets the scene well as Bronte pays a lot of attention to the scents, the smells, the shade and the wildlife in her description. When Rochester mentions Jane's leaving he associates it, as in keeping with her role as governess, with Adele going to school. Again here Rochester speaks very coldly apparently wthout regard for Jane's feelings. However, he sounds frankly insincere when he talks of the connection between them, I am not feeling it. The speech is reported almost entirely verbatim, including the part about being equal. And then he kisses her as in the book. After she also says the part about not being a bird, which is one of the keys quotes of the novel and should not be left out. Interestingly the scene also includes some of Jane's thoughts , which adds another dimension to the scene and reminds us that it is told from Jane's recollection. Thunder sounds just before Rochester assures himself that everything will be okay and again more strongly so when he has finished. It thunders more as they walk off. I love this inclusion of the idea of nature disapproving the match.
This film skips too quickly over Rochester's very deep declaration to focus more on Jane, in fact her most important quotes are all there and follow the original very closely, and there are whole chunks of dialogue from the book. They have kept in the nightingale singing and it's a good idea for a film as it adds dramatic effect and allows Jane time to pluck up courage before speaking and gives more weight to her speech. At first she is sitting but she stands up to talk as if it gives her more confidence and perhaps puts her on the same level as Rochester. There is no hint of rain or a storm and and so the scene lacks that part of the atmosphere.
This is the first film version I ever saw and I was living in France at the time so I like the fact that Charlotte Gainsbourg was in it but seeing it again I must say that she is too French to be Jane. There is great attention to detail in some parts, Rochester is smoking a cigar at the beginning, but the song of the cicadas doesn't ring true in England. They also modernise the language too much. Rochester's declaration is nearly complete but then Jane largely brushes over her part. The dialogue goes back and forth messily. Jane says she was treated as an equal, not that her and Rochester are equal, and in fact it is Rochester that affirms they are equal...that's not right! He does kiss her here and it is correctly him kissing her but then Jane kisses Rochester, the bold woman!
Definitely not night and no hint of bad weather. Physically the pairing of actors is quite good, Jane looks much younger and innocent but he might be a little too overpowering. He is very direct about Jane going to Ireland. I don't think that he should have said 'This might sound silly' or 'no, it's ridiculous' when making his declaration. It is not meant to be silly and there is no hint in the book that it is. It isn't right to say 'bleeding inwardly for each other' either. In the book Rochester is referring only to himself, otherwise the line about Jane forgetting him has no sense. I do like the way he takes her hand. Rochester should confirm that Jane and he are equal but he doesn't. The bird quote is missing and there is no hint that Jane doesn't believe Rochester at first. This last part is important because it gives the idea that perhaps all is not clear for her. I also think it is wrong for Rochester to say that he has loved Jane since the first moment he saw her. I don't remember anything like that in the novel. Surely he became attracted to her through their chats and the feeling grew as they got to know each other. Most importantly, Rochester does not excuse himself for his actions in front of God. The kiss is very passionate although all in all Rochester seems unfeeling, he is over confident and shows no sign of regret.
Generally in these films they can't seem to agree what season it is nor what time of day. This is definitely wrong, it's too sunny and I think the weather is important in this scene. I like that they are walking when Rochester declares himself, he can speak more confidently if she is not facing him. The important parts use the original dialogue and I think that's right, these are key moments. If it ain't broke don't fix it! The only thing missing here, and maybe it comes later, is Rochester's defiance to God. If they had kept that and the weather, it would have been perfect!
What do you think? Which of these versions do you prefer? You can find the proposal scene from the 2006 BBC miniseries here. Why not try to cmpare it to the book and write your comments below. I look forward to reading your thoughts!
This month I am trying to think more creatively because I believe that using language creatively could be the answer to better assimilating it. As Jane Eyre is narrated completely by Jane, I thought it would be insightful to consider the story from the point of view of the other characters. The most intriguing chracter is Bertha, Edward Rochester's mad first wife. All we know about her comes from Rochester's account and of course as he has just been found out as a bigamist, he's hardly going to big her up. Victorians defined madness very differently to us. Taking inspiration from the story told by Rochester in Chapter 27, I thought of the moment in Chapter 25 when Bertha Mason takes Jane's veil, holds it up, throws it over her own head and turns to the mirror before tearing the veil in two. What is she thinking as she gazes into the mirror? Here is my interpretation.
'Who is that woman staring back at me from the mirror? She has my thick black hair but she looks old, her face is wrinkled and her eyes are red and bloodshot. She wears a veil like mine on my wedding day. I was beautiful once. Heads turned as I walked through the town. When I came out at the age of sixteen, I always had a line of suitors at balls. How I danced, how I laughed! A kiss on the hand, brief exchanges of pleasantries and jokes. As long as the party lasted, I was the darling of the ball. But the party was always over all too soon. In everyday life the same exuberance I had shown the night before became unexplicably inappropriate. A drink or a touch too far and people started to point. Rumours flew. I was going the same way as my poor mother before me.
I have always been an awkward burden to bear, an inconvenient, embarassing problem to sort out. 'What are we to do with Bertha?' I am too much, difficult, I always say or do the wrong thing. I don't mean it but I can't seem to do anything right. A match had to be found as soon as possible. Preferably someone ignorant of my reputation and family history. A point in my favour was that I had my own money. Could that entice some poor unfortunate fool? If my family moved quickly we could be married before he asked himself too many questions.
We were caught up in a whirlwind of excitement, but in the end I was too much to handle. We came from two different worlds. I sought refuge in the arms of other men; they never stayed long. And then the doctors came and I found a degree of peace in their poisonous potions. But they left me confused and angry. Would no one hear my cry for help? I fear not. My soul was crushed when they tore me away from my homeland and everything I had known. No one asked me my opinion on the matter. A mad woman cannot make her own decisions. And so I go on half awake, half in dream-like state from which I awake at times. I laugh remembering the parties of my youth and weep profusely missing my family, my friends, my land. I cannot go out but the grey dreary view I glimpse through the window of my prison room is in stark contrast with my bright Jamaican island. I adopted violent language and behaviour to shake a reaction out of my husband but it seemed his mind had already been made made up. I long to feel again, any feeling good or bad. That's why I cut myself to prove that I can feel. How could my own brother allow this to happen? As soon as I saw him the rage erupted in me and I stabbed him with the same knife in the hope of awakening something in him.
Grace Poole escapes from our prison at night with a drug-induced trip and whenever lucidity allows me I escape too and roam the gloomy corridors. At times I go to Edward's room and look at him as he sleeps. He never really wanted to marry me. How could he, he never knew me, never really gave me a chance.
I curse the day I ever wore this veil. This veil that wraps around my head like a noose, I will be rid of it!'
What do you think of my monologue? For me it has been a great way of gaining greater understanding of and empathy for the characters.Why not try it yourself? Write something as Mrs Reed, Jane's uncle Mr Eyre, Mr St John, Adele or her mother. I would be happy to read it.
Many of us cling to the rules of grammar when learning or even teaching a foreign language. It is comforting to have guidelines to hold on to, particularly if you have a logical mind. So why do different people have conflicting opinions on what is right or wrong? Language is not predictable, it is wild and changeable and like the people who speak it has many different sides to its character and contexts.
Just like our society, our language has evolved. Many of our favourite classics were written during the Industrial Revolution thanks to which they were made available to a wider audience. Before this time standards in communication were perhaps not so important or more localized. Even our Jane Eyre is scattered with apparent inconsistencies that may call into question the ‘rules’ that we have gone by and hold as truths. Here are some discrepancies in the use of auxiliary verbs that I have noticed while reading.
I have noted different negative forms.
‘I doubted not--never doubted--that if Mr. Reed had been alive he would have treated me kindly.’ Chapter 2
‘I had now got hold of Bessie's hand, and she did not snatch it from me.’ Chapter 2
I usually teach students that the negative form of ‘have’ is ‘don’t have’ (past ‘didn’t have’) but in Jane Eyre I find it often with ‘not’, without auxiliary.
‘You have not an umbrella that I can use as a stick?’ Chapter 12
‘I think she is poor, for she had not so fine a house as mamma.’ Chapter 11
These are examples of archaic language. English is one of the few languages to use an auxiliary verb for negatives and questions. I know that there was a tendency to align English with the patterns of Latin and French grammar, as these languages were considered nobler and purer, so perhaps the absence of ‘do’ is part of this trend. ‘Do’ actually originates from the Celtic language. Moving forward in history Modern English is returning more and more to its roots. Perhaps as English radicates itself as an international language this will change again in the future to make it easier for non-natives to use. I have read that perhaps the practice of using ‘do’ arose from the tendency for contractions and the consequent need to avoid having too many different forms. For example ‘came not’ could have been contracted to ‘camn’t’ or ‘cain’t’, made + not, main’t. Contractions have been keptonly with some very frequent verbs eg modals but in other cases using auxiliaries was a way of simplifying.
‘Do’ or ‘did’ is often absent also in questions.
‘But has he no peculiarities? What, in short, is his character?’ Chapter 11
‘Well, you have been crying, Miss Jane Eyre; can you tell me what about? Have you any pain?’ Chapter 3
There are also questions without inversion.
‘Ghost! What, you are a baby after all! You are afraid of ghosts?’ Chapter 3
If a student came out with this type of question he would get a fierce look from me! Looking online I have learnt that many people disagree with me, saying that tone is voice is sufficient. But if you are not a native speaker you might prefer to make your question more explicit using inversion to avoid misunderstandings. The above question however is like a tag question without the tag: it might be okay in a particular context when you believe you are right and want the other person to agree with you. In fact it is Mr Rochester who most commonly uses this type of construction. He comes across, at least on his first appearances, as the type of person who has fixed beliefs about people and things and is not used to having them challenged.
‘Yes, and Miss Adele; they are in the dining-room, and John is gone for a surgeon; for master has had an accident; his horse fell and his ankle is sprained.’ Chapter 12
‘Leah brought it; she entered, followed by Mrs. Fairfax, who repeated the news; adding that Mr. Carter the surgeon was come, and was now with Mr. Rochester: then she hurried out to give orders about tea, and I went upstairs to take off my things.’ Chapter 12
‘When he did come down, it was to attend to business: his agent and some of his tenants were arrived and waiting to speak with him.’ Chapter 13
‘Be’ and the past participle was used to form the present perfect for all intransitive verbs in older English just as in other Germanic languages. At a certain point the auxiliary verb for the present perfect changed to ‘have’ in English. Also here it is useful to remember contractions, where we can’t tell the difference between ‘he is’ and ‘he has’. If we use the verb ‘be’, the past participle is an adjective and so emphasizes the location of the person in question (ie he is not here), whereas ‘he has gone’ emphasizes the action ( he went so he is not here ).
The verb ‘be’ could also be used as we how use ‘have to’. ‘What am I to do?’ today would be ‘What must I / do I have to do?’.
When you read a classic novel, see it as a work of art, go with the flow and enjoy it as it is. When you speak don’t get caught up too much in the grammar rules you have read in books but rather identify and copy the way that those around you speak. Remember that you are contributing to the evolution and future of the language so enjoy it, play with it. The important thing is to communicate your message clearly.
'The shadows are as important as the light' Get creative in using the language you learn when reading classic novels.
You read the book, you discover lots of new words and phrases, and then? What do you do with them? How can you remember them, internalize them? Graded Readers have lots of exercises, from gap fill to multiple choice cloze, so you can really work with the language you read. Another great way to practise is to use the language to comment and post in the Lost in Classics Facebook Group. But it doesn't have to be a simple comment. This month as we approach spring I want to propose some ideas on how to get creative and have a little fun with it!
What do you think of the picture on the front cover of your book? Why was it chosen? What image would you choose for the front cover? Are there any illustrations in your version? Describe which part of the story the picture refers to. No pictures? Choose an extract from the book and draw your own! Alternatively, create a comic strip with speech bubbles.
Make a glossary for one chapter. Write down some words that you have learned. Add a definition and write an example sentence using the word. Make a word cloud using a tool such as www.wordle.net. Post the cloud as a picture and test other group members, or create a quiz question. Why not try a website like quizlet.com?
3) Write a play
Rewrite part of the story as a play then (for the brave!) act it out or make an audio or video recording of your version.
4) Points of view
Retell part of the sotory as if you were a main character in the story. For example, in Jane Eyre we hear the story from Jane's point of view. What would Rochester's view be? Or Bertha's?! This could be very interesting for Wuthering Heights that is narrated mainly by people who were not always directly involved.
5) What happens next?
Decide what happens after the story ends. Maybe imagine that two of the characters meet again after 10 years. In Wuthering Heights, what happens to Cathy and Hareton? Do they marry, are they happy or are they still haunted by Catherine and Heathcliff? Write the dialogue, or draw a picture with captions or speech bubbles.
6) What if?
Imagine that a key event in the story did not happen or happened differently. What did Heathcliff do when he was away? In Jane Eyre, what if Bertha had not died? Write an alternative ending for the story.
Select part of the story in which different characters are being described. Ask group members to identify which character they think is being described. Play 20 questions. Think of a character and have others ask you yes or no questions to identify who it is. Imagine you are one of the characters of the book. Have others interview you.
8) Spot the difference
Watch the first 5 - 10 minutes of a film version and identify the differences with the book. Yesterday I read the first chapter of Jane Eyre then watched the first scene of the 2011 film. It's fun to compare the picture in your head with the film.
Watch a scene with the sound off and try to guess what the characters are talking about.
9)Make a presentation
Prepare a short presentation on an interesting theme. Include some thought-provoking puctures, quotes and discussion questions.
Ready to get creative? Watch out for all these activities and more in the Lost in Classics Group this month. The more the merrier!
Every month, I publish a review of the book I ahve read that month.