'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!
Every month, I publish a review of the book I ahve read that month.