jessicaminiermabe

my writing, photography and the occasional handicraft

Over the years, there have many film versions of Charlotte Brontë’s marvelous novel about an orphaned girl struggling to find happiness in Victorian England’s rigid society. Those of us who love this story have suffered through one inadequate version after another: some get the casting of at least one of the actors right, then fail with the other (usually, one of them is too pretty, and it isn’t always Jane!); some get the casting just right for the leads, but then fail for everyone else (why, oh why, is Blanche Ingram always blond?); some give us wonderful characters, but butcher Charlotte’s language; and finally, not one of them has managed, even the miniseries versions, to understand the need for most of the plot.

And so I suffer. I love this book. If someone wants to send me an “I <heart> Jane Eyre” t-shirt, I’ll wear it proudly. I have read much of the classic literature of the world in the course of teaching and consuming it for the last twenty-five years, and nothing has ever come close to this novel in my estimation of great books. The only book I’ll admit might be better is Heart of Darkness, but it’s a novella, so it doesn’t count. How many times have I read Jane Eyre? I would estimate it to be somewhere in the nature of 35-40 times. My first reading was while I was working in the mall as a teenager, at the maternity store. Bored out of my mind, I read the book because it was on my mom’s bookshelf, and she said it was good. I thought it was a cracking romance, with more to it that I couldn’t quite explain. Since then, I’ve read it about twice a year for the last twenty-four years. I’ve taught it at least eight times. I know this book so well, that when my students would write me papers on it I would have to issue this caution: “make sure you reread the sentences around your quotes, because I’ll know if the previous sentence or the one after it would have been a better choice.”

In the course of falling in love with this book, I’ve also come to know the period in which it was written. I understand the Victorians. I don’t love them, but I get them. And no, I wouldn’t want to live then. I don’t even wish I could go back for a single day. The level of dirt would probably cause my OCD little brain to explode the moment I stepped out of the time machine.

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Since my recent visits to Haworth and to Haddon Hall have kept this book freshly in my brain, I think it’s high time someone explained to the filmmakers (and viewers) of this world why their versions of this novel are so woefully inadequate. In the process, if you are a student of this novel, and this explanation helps you, as it did my students, better understand the complex richness of the text, well… you’re welcome.

Five Points Hollywood Needs to Understand to Get Jane Eyre Right

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1. It’s not a romance novel.

Tempting as it may be to simply write those words and move on, I think some explanation is warranted. There is a romance in this novel, true. But the point of the novel is not so Jane can get laid, or learn about her sexuality, or gain a rich husband. This book may be a coming-of-age story, or it might be better termed as a thematic exploration of an individual’s moral awakening in a hypocritically righteous society. What it ain’t, is a romance. If it were, Rochester wouldn’t be such an astounding dickhead. Take a good long look at all the chick lit out there: the hero may be misunderstood, but underneath it all, he’s a great guy who’s good in bed and rich to boot. Rochester is not a “great guy.” He alternates between treating Jane as an equal, and treating her with complete contempt. He doesn’t really consider her feelings, he tramples on her modesty, he tries to marry her while he’s still married, and then attempts to tempt her into spending the rest of her life as his mistress. Unlike those stud-ly romance novel heroes, he’s unattractive (though powerful), and by the time he’s had his comeuppance and learned the value of love, he’s lost an arm, been burned and scarred, and blinded. His beautiful mansion is destroyed. He lives in what I can only call a sort of grander hovel. Can you imagine a romance novel where the hero ends up with serious burn scarring on his face? I rest my point.

Some Rochesters past (dogs, all of them… ehem):

2. The beginning matters.

In every film version I’ve seen of this book, the beginning and ending of the story, where Rochester isn’t in Jane’s life, are given pretty short shrift. Even in the five-hour miniseries, which certainly had room to devote an entire episode to Jane’s childhood, her formative experiences at her aunt’s home and at Lowood are glossed over in a few minutes. Yet, as readers, we know that these early chapters are critical to Jane’s development as a person. We have to see her rebel against the cruelty of her Aunt and her cousin John, and we have to understand that she is ignored for being plain while her snotty cousin Georgiana is spoiled simply for looking like the Victorians wanted little girls to look. We need to know that her other cousin, Eliza, is a miserly little snit. Jane has to be preferable in our eyes to all the Reed children, so that we can feel the keen injustice of how everyone ignores her good qualities to focus only on her outward appearance (both in looks, and in personality). And we have to see her spirited rejection of their religiously-tinted hypocrisy to understand how she can, nearly ten years later, reject the broader religious hypocrisy of her cousin St. John and society itself in order to please herself.

The time at Lowood is so important that most filmmakers attempt to leave it in, though they aren’t quite sure why they need it. Let me make it clear: they need Helen Burns (the very character they mostly leave out). More on that in a moment. The tortuous scene where Jane is forced to stand on a stool in front of everyone is important, yes. But it’s important because it shows just how hypocritical (I’m going to use that word a lot) this hyper-religious world is, not just because it’s mean. Without understanding Helen Burns, Mr. Brocklehurst, Miss Temple, Miss Scratcherd and the others, the scenes at Lowood simply become part of a horror story where children are mistreated, rather than the important criticism of Victorian society’s religion that it is.

3. The other characters matter.

Helen Burns: Yes, Jane is interesting: but she’s interesting because of the contrasts Brontë creates with the other characters in the story, not just Rochester. She starts with Helen Burns. Helen is Jane’s angelic friend at Lowood School. Her intensely pure religiosity sets her up as the perfect foil to Jane’s hot-headed passion. Helen truly turns the other cheek, embodying perfectly the Victorian picture of the angel-virgin girlhood they so idealized. And you know what? She dies. This is really important! Helen’s brand of pure Christian goodness may be Biblically correct, but it’s also deadly, and Jane must reject it in order to survive. Without realizing that she’s “no Helen Burns,” Jane can’t later make the choice to reject her society’s versions of Christian perfection. There’s no St. John Rivers, without Helen Burns.

St. John Rivers: Of course, in most versions of the book brought to film, there’s no real interest in St. John Rivers anyway. The casting directors usually ignore Brontë’s description of his gloriously manly good looks in favor of a wan, red-headed wimpy young man. We can’t have a St. John who rivals our main actor, can we? Yes, readers clamor, we can! That’s the whole point! St. John Rivers gets nearly a third of the book. The reason he does is because Jane has to NOT fall in love with him, and it takes time for her to do that. She must reject his glorious good looks, his passionless expressions, and his mighty morality. At one point in his proposal she notes that while he doesn’t love her, he’d be perfectly happy to sleep with her once she was his wife. Isn’t that important to understand? Rochester’s great sin was to love her outside of marriage. St. John’s sin is that he will marry her outside of love. One is socially unacceptable, the other is fine. Jane has to see how profoundly stupid this is in order to make the right choice. Give St. John his one third of the book, please! We need him.

Blanche Ingram and Rosamond Oliver: Blanche and Rosamond are in this story for multiple reasons. They are set up to contrast Jane. Blanche, to start with, is hot. She’s exactly the kind of woman men admire, but don’t marry – she’s proud, well-built, exotic, and frisky. Rosamond is beautiful, soft, sweet, rich and a bit air-headed. She would make someone an ideal wife. Both are wonderful Victorian tropes, but they aren’t human beings with whom we can empathize. They are there to remind Jane that the Victorians may have disapproved of her in many ways, but that they were also wrong about the values they imposed on women. Blanche’s sexuality gets her into trouble (Bertha’s even more so), and Rosamond’s gentle dullness costs her the man she loves. Brontë suggests with these two women that a middle ground is possible: smarts and passion (in moderation) will win the day. Hurrah!

The other, more minor characters are all important in their own ways: Mrs. Fairfax contrasts perfect Victorian domestic workers with Jane’s feisty love of her master; Miss Temple shows Jane that goodness and desirability are possible in one woman; the Reeds cast down the upper levels of society so that Jane can understand the worth of her own place in it, as well as giving her a good excuse to show how much she has grown-up and overcome; the Rivers sisters give Jane a perfect family so that while she may still want Rochester, she doesn’t need him; and so forth. Skipping over these people means we lose the fact that Charlotte carefully constructed a world where Jane’s best qualities are highlighted by her interactions with those around her. This isn’t just a novel about a girl growing up, it’s a critique of the society in which she lives. Without the rest of that society, that critique can’t exist.

 

4. Looks matter.

Oh boy do they matter. I know, Jane is never quite plain enough and Rochester is always a bit too handsome, but surprisingly, that is not usually my biggest problem with the casting of this book to film. I get it, Hollywood and the BBC: we need the actors to be at least somewhat attractive, if quirky, to like the film. The real problem is that the screenwriters and casting agents and directors never seem to quite get why looks matter here. Brontë is very, very specific in her descriptions for a reason. It isn’t just that Jane and Rochester are somewhat plain: both overcome this through strength of personality that makes them sexy, and that’s why we like them (because we all want to believe the same is true of ourselves). But the other characters have to look a certain way to set up the contrasts that Brontë intended: Blanche must resemble Rochester’s sensualized Creole wife: therefore, casting a blond actress to play her makes no sense. Adele should look like a younger version of the same woman, because that’s who Rochester’s been attracted to, prior to Jane. Rosamond and St. John are meant to showcase that old adage that beauty isn’t everything: both are gorgeous, yet neither finds real happiness in love. The Rivers sisters are prettier than Jane because they are the societally accepted versions of her: what Jane would have been like with a happy, loving home. Georgiana must be fat and blond and pretty; Eliza must be thin, and dark, and severe. They are societal types that need to be eliminated. In short, the only unattractive people in the entire story are Jane and Rochester, yet in most film versions, they are the most attractive of the bunch! The whole point of the story is that the importance society places on looks, is wrong. So how on earth does a film make that point if everyone else is less attractive than its stars?

 

5. The ending matters.

Rochester and Jane spend about a third of the book in each other’s company, yet the film versions inevitably compress the beginning and the end of the story down to less than a fifth of the film. While I get this from a cynical “sex sells” standpoint, I’m not sure that “sex sells” is really a relevant marketing tool when one is talking about a classic novel written in 1840. Can we just agree that readers like the book for more than the simmering romance, here, please? Jane has to go to Marsh End. First off, Jane has to suffer. She needs to punish herself for loving a man who treated her like dirt, and then she needs some distance and time to realize that underneath all the badness, there was genuine passion, fear and love in the man she left behind. Then she has to meet the stunningly handsome St. John Rivers, and she has to find him cold, passionless and cruel, despite his exterior Christian goodness. Without the revelation that someone can be perfectly sinless and good and still be an utterly reprehensible jerk, Jane can’t make the decision to go back and “check on” bad old Mr. Rochester (thus enabling her to find out his wife is dead and he’s now free to love her). Society says that St. John is a “good” man, and Rochester is a “bad” one, yet Jane chooses Rochester. She can’t do that if St. John is an ugly, dull, simpering little wuss who provides no contrast to the man she left.

Jane also needs money and connections. One of her biggest fears is that Rochester will treat her like a mistress (and we know how much he enjoyed the ones he had), and part of that is a fear of being kept. With her small fortune, she becomes an independent woman, able to make her own choices for the first time in her life. This is what allows her to go back to Thornfield: Rochester can’t own her anymore. No one can. She has to gain a family, as well, so that as I stated above, her need for Rochester isn’t quite so overwhelming. She’s not alone in the world now: she chooses to be with him.

Finally, the ending matters because Jane does something incredibly daring and reckless for a Victorian woman: she goes back to Thornfield. Oh I know… she’s got all sorts of rationalizations about just checking in on Rochester… just seeing him from a distance, for a moment… just having a quick conversation… just seeing his face… blah, blah, blah. We know better. I always asked my students: given what you know about Jane now, about her money and her rejection of St. John (and therefore the Victorian standard of marriage as a social contract for religious good)… if Bertha Rochester hadn’t died in the fire, what would Jane have done? Would she have just had a quick peek and gone home? Or would she have taken Rochester up on his offer to travel the world at his side? Not one of them thinks she’d have gone back to Marsh End and taken up her German lessons again. Jane gets lucky, really. Brontë gives Rochester the thoroughly epic smack-down he deserves, and in the process, makes him the sort of man Jane can marry: humble, a bit helpless, less-rich, less-grand, and most importantly… single. But even if she hadn’t, you’d have to have read a different book entirely to believe Jane’s lines to herself about just checking in. We all know she was going there to get Rochester back. Admit it, Jane! That’s why the story ends the way it does: with a letter from the societally-sinless, and now martyred, St. John Rivers. The Victorians would still consider Rochester a rake, and Jane a fool for marrying him, and she seems to say: perhaps they are correct. But even so, the one held up as the perfect image of Christian manhood is dead, and here I am, readers, writing this book. So there!

I have a lot more I could say about this book to help people understand it better, but that’s for another day. For now, Hollywood, may I suggest that the next time you take on this marvelous work, probably the greatest novel in the English language, you give me a call. I’m happy to work up a nice little 20 page treatment for you, and then cast it correctly, and then write the screenplay and then, if I must, direct it.  You know: if I must.

Should you watch the latest version, with Michael Fassbender? Sure, why not? He’s a cutey. He’s not a damn bit like Rochester, but you know, whatever. I like Toby Stevens and Ruth Williams best, but the screenplay reads like the writers said to one another: “I know this book is like, really popular and great and all, but I bet we could improve it by totally ignoring most of the dialog and just writing our own stuff. Because this Brontë lady had no idea what she was talking about, you know? Hey, have you seen the latest episode of How I Met Your Mother? Funny, huh?” And yes, I’ve seen the versions with Orson Welles, Timothy Dalton, Cairan Hinds and William Hurt. Hated them all.

Hollywood… why do you make me suffer?

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307 Responses to “Essay: What Hollywood Doesn’t Get About Jane Eyre”

  1. L. Marie

    Excellent!!! So true!!! I mentioned Jane Eyre briefly in my post (Ain’t She/He a Beaut) but your essay is so thorough. I so agree. You’re right Hollywood doesn’t understand this book.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Thanks, L. Marie! Your post was interesting too. I always hesitate to make my characters too good looking. Am I selling them short, if I do? I like to find their flaws and exaggerate them, but I bet I’m fooling no one :).

      Reply
  2. Simon Soon

    Awesome post. Jane Eyre one of my favorite books in my Literature class

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      I’m so glad you’re inspired, Sue! It’s free on Kindle, if you have one. I reread it a couple times a year, whenever I’m in a funk :).

      Reply
    • pattytmitchell

      Me too! Well done and so right- Hollywood has a different agenda for Miss Eyre and Rochester. Too bad for all those who have never read the book to miss the point. At least they have this essay 🙂

      Reply
      • jessicaminiermabe

        Pattymitchell, what frustrates me so much is that there are so many fans of this book out there that Hollywood or the BBC could absolutely clean up with a great adaptation. Why don’t they just do it? I don’t get it.

  3. Julia Fairchild

    I could not agree more. I watched some adaptation on HBO recently, because I loved the book so much but while watching it, I spent more time scratching my head thinking ‘was this really what this book was about….?’ I ended up being seriously confused by this version and had to re-read it to remind myself of the actual storyline!

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Julia, the same thing happened to me when the last Pride and Prejudice came out. I remember thinking… “This is okay, but I don’t remember Darcy being that nice…” and then when I reread it, I realized… he wasn’t.

      Reply
      • Wanderer

        I enjoyed your whole article and had to chime in on this comment—I can watch the new Pride & Prejudice with Kiera Knightly and admire the beautiful cinematography and people but THEY LEFT OUT ALL THE BEST LINES.

        I watched the BBC miniseries at age 9 or 10, many years before reading the books, and Colin Firth will always be Mr. Darcy to me.

      • jessicaminiermabe

        I agree. I like that P&P, but I see it as a parallel universe that looks and sounds a bit like my P&P, but isn’t.

  4. thehuewoman

    The way this blog is written inspired me on how to proceed with mine. Funny how I was watching the latest Jane Eyre movie today and I should come across this. Needless to say, it’s amazingly written. 🙂

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Thanks, thehuewoman! I have kept the blog for about a year and a half, neglecting it for a long time while I started a business and then it failed… when I returned to it, I updated it with a fancy theme, and that’s really made a difference in how readable it is!

      Reply
      • thehuewoman

        I know! I was playing around with the themes, but then, I only joined yesterday. It’s intimidating. Obviously, there’s a lot to be done. Could you check out my blog and tell me what’s wrong with it? Mind you, I may not be the most matured, because I’ve hardly reached adulthood (although that is only an apology of an excuse). However,
        I’m following your blog. It’s amazing.

      • jessicaminiermabe

        Blogging is intimidating. Your blog looks great so far! I don’t see anything “wrong” with it at all. Just keep writing, and be sure to choose tags that get you think others will be looking for when they search. Good luck!

      • thehuewoman

        Okay, that’s a piece of advice I’m getting from many. Thanks. I’ll work on it. 🙂

    • jessicaminiermabe

      myschoolhouserocks, I think it’s because, as always, they don’t know why the Rivers sisters and St. John are there (and marrying one’s cousin is rather creepy, by modern standards). You can just hear them thinking: “Where the hell did Rochester go?” and never really analyzing why he’s gone. I think it’s arrogance, frankly. Why would anyone believe they could improve on Bronte?

      Reply
  5. dswidow

    Wonderful post, but you just ruined my weekend; I have to go back and reread Jane Eyre. Please do more of these!

    Reply
  6. taehreh

    Your post makes me feel suddenly guilty that I’ve never actually read the book! I’ve only watched the mini series with Ruth Wilson, though I loved it. Now that I know I’ve been missing out, I will rectify the situation by reading the book as soon as possible. 🙂

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      You won’t regret it, taehreh. It’s a bit of a game-changer. Ruth is amazing (I love the way she blubbers through Jane’s most impassioned speech), but the book just elevates it all to another level of brilliance.

      Reply
  7. Dru Farro

    Awesome post!

    One thing I’ve always wondered about in this novel (and my students really pointed this out to me when I taught it) is WHY DOES JANE GO FOR ROCHESTER AT ALL?

    Doesn’t it seem like a rather un-Jane-ly thing to do?

    But as long as she’s happy, I’m happy.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Dru Farro, thanks so much. I think Jane goes for Rochester because underneath all that blustery, macho crap and posturing, he’s very much like her: he loves the fantastical world of the spirit. He believes in redemption and in the human capacity for growth and change (he just doesn’t know what to do with that). He’s literate and educated and a world-traveler, which Jane would love to be. And most importantly, before he hatches his little scheme to win her, he talks to her honestly and listens to her answers. Best of all: he loves Jane for Jane. He might not realize it at first, but he doesn’t actually want her to run away with him. She’s totally right in assuming that would ruin their relationship. He loves her integrity, her purity, her intensity, and her passion.

      That, and there’s some serious sexual tension there too.

      Reply
  8. braith an' lithe

    Fabulous. I read JE when very young – I think about 9 – and then again in my teens. I loved it and it left a lasting impression. To my shame I can’t recollect reading it since, but I’m going to remedy that this week!

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Braith an’lithe (is that Gaelic?), I can’t imagine reading it that young, but I do remember that in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou says she read it at that age. Now you’ll find your whole impression of it is expanded and deepened. Have fun!

      Reply
      • braith an' lithe

        Yes, I’m sure you’re right and I’m looking forward to it – thank you for triggering my desire to read it again! I read a whole lot of classics very young & while I think it did me lots of good and no harm, so much must have gone *whoosh* over my head. Sometimes I re-read something and am amazed to find, e.g. it’s full of erotic tension, because I was totally oblivious to that as a child.
        PS braith and lithe are not Gaelic but Scots words – explanation here if you are interested: http://braithanlithe.wordpress.com/2013/02/14/the-meaning-of-braith-an-lithe/

      • jessicaminiermabe

        That’s a great blog name, and a great explanation! I was going to guess Scots next… in fact I almost wrote “Gaelic or Scots?” I’ve just restarted doing Power Yoga after a many-year absence, and I feel great! Good luck on the two-year plan.

  9. Harlequin Tea Set

    Great post, and definitely agree! You know what, when I first was introduced to this book, it was described as a ‘gothic’ novel and definitely not a society/romance one, and I would stand by it as a gothic-y type of book. The atmosphere and mystery in this novel is great, and no adaptation has really lived up to it for me. Bronte over Austen any day!

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Harlequin Tea Set, I totally agree with you that it’s Gothic. I find that most adaptations go overboard with that, though, too, trying to make it super-spooky. The Gothicness of it is just window dressing, though it’s good window dressing. I think Charlotte understood that to cloak the real horror of Bertha’s existence, she had to let Jane think that Bertha was something less than human. It’s Rochester who lives with the terrible reality that Bertha is fully human, and that’s the irony. His acknowledgment of that humanity nearly kills him.

      Reply
  10. Lauren

    I LOVE Jane Eyre. I first read it when I was about maybe 7/8? My mum had a shortened version of the book as part of a comprehension set and I was quite an advanced reader at that age. Although some bits I completely did not understand I fell in love with her character, Bronte did a fantastic job writing this book! Ever since then I have watched the numerous TV series and films, never do they meet my high standards set by the book. I also studied it for A Level English Literature, unfortunately my teacher nearly ruined it, tainting it with so much misery and negative connotations. However a couple of years later and I am reading it again as usual! Just saw this post and made me smile how much people appreciate good books still! Hollywood doesn’t do books.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Lauren, I read it for the first time when I was 18, working in a maternity shop at the mall after school. I was soooo bored, and the book captured my imagination. Every time I read it, I get something new from it. The first time I taught it, I was an inexperienced new teacher, and my instruction sucked. By the time I quit my job last year, I had that book DOWN. Kids loved it (and I taught it to freshmen!) and routinely told me, even the boys, that it was their favorite book. Unfortunately, they gave the class to the other English teacher, and I had to watch her ruin it for the next group.

      Hollywood doesn’t really do books, it’s true. Thank heaven that sometimes, the BBC does!

      Reply
      • Lauren

        Wow! I am ‘re starting’ my teacher training come September if I pass this MATHS QTS skills test, I love English and would love to specialise and be able to teach this book however I’ll be working with little ones so not so sure it’s appropriate!
        When my college teacher ‘ruined’ it for me, I nearly changed my mind and wanted to take my degree in English Literature just so I could be a better teacher than her!
        That’s so nice to hear that even the boys enjoyed it! Currently trying to get my boyfriend to read better books but he’s too into Football!

      • jessicaminiermabe

        Lauren, I can’t imagine teaching the little ones! I have a little one, and some days he’s almost too much on his own :).

        Bad teachers are the worst thing ever. I get completely annoyed by stupid, pointless assignments and poorly done lectures. There are lots of great books for kids you can use. My son’s super into the one about the little girl who tried to fold 1000 cranes after Hiroshima.

      • Lauren

        I couldn’t teach the older ones!! I love younger children, I think as I grow older I’d be more comfortable to teacher older pupils but for now the age gap doesn’t seem too much so it’s scary!

        I get told that I am ‘suited’ for primary school children, must be my walk or something 🙂 I shall have to look into this book! One thing I learnt at the short time at university last year was the importance if sharing a passion to read and bring a good role model to children and show them reading is fun!! That can only be done if I know what children like! Thank you xx

    • franhunne4u

      Well, to be fair, Hollywood cannot do books. Not like in lack the ability, but like in “it’s a mission impossible”.

      Firstly – the just do not have the TIME. How long does it take us to read Jane Eyre? For me that is the better part of a day (doing nothing else). -I am a foreigner, English being my second language, you are probably a little faster.
      How much time do you have in a movie? 2 hours – if you make a long version. One and half for the standard version. Two and a half if you make some epic superlong version – and those sell worse! After all those costs you had you WANT to sell the movie. So they usually settle for the standard version. If you do not have the time you have to leave things out. Usually things, “fanatical” *no, not in the bad sense fanatical* readers love most.

      Secondly – Hollywood is all about being SEEN. So they have to settle for the looks. To a certain extent they may even include what can be heard But most of the effects in Hollywood are visible. The medium movie is meant to be taken in by eyes. Hollywood has to focus on what can be seen of a story.

      Thirdly – every single one of us who have read the same book will have a DIFFERENT VERSION in their heads. Don’t know about you, but when I read a novel, pictures form in my head. It is unlikely those pictures resemble the ones in your head. Or anybody else’s …
      *insert now the communication model: What has been said, what has been trying to be said, what has been heard – and what has been received as a message*
      So when WE do not like the movie made after a book – we do not like how the director’s differs from OUR version. That is why Hollywood can only disappoint in doing movies.

      Fourth –
      Hollywood is american. BIG BUSINESS – read that in deep voice.
      The Brontes certainly do not stand for BIGGER; BETTER, FASTER SELLING – they, living in a pious, even bigot society did not write for selling their works to that – they wrote for their own pleasure, to escape the limited world they were living in. Writing was an act of rebellion. They read those things to their siblings, but they wrote for themselves. They did not have publishing in mind when writing.
      Hollywood’s movies on the other hand are meant for consumption by the large audience. Are handled as a good. They define a movie as success by the numbers of tickets sold. And now you go and try to sell a movie to a bible belt audience in which a cleric is shown for a good part of the book in a less than adorable light! That is why Hollywood does not concentrate on St. John.

      Hollywood stands no chance ever to get Jane Eyre. Mission impossible.
      *sorry for this long comment – writing in a foreign language I seem to lack the ability to express myself shortly*

      Reply
      • jessicaminiermabe

        See, franhunne4u, I don’t fully accept that reasoning, and here’s why: There are great literary adaptations out there. I love the adaptation for A Room with a View, and I know, it’s Merchant Ivory, but still: they did it, so why can’t others? The book is shorter than Jane Eyre, but the movie is shorter too, and I think people would pay to sit through a great 3-hour version, easily. I sat through the freaking Hobbit, for heaven’s sake! There’s also The Princess Bride, which I dare say is better than the book, No Country for Old Men, Life of Pi, etc. It can be done, if the right person wants to do it. Secondly, having been a professional screenwriter for several years, I know what Hollywood says about being a visual medium. It’s a crock. Yes, the book would need some adaptation, it’s true, but that’s where good writing and editing and adapting come in. Jane’s world could be conveyed through carefully chosen moments and dialog and still be powerful. They just don’t know how to do it, because even if a screenwriter actually created a great screenplay, someone along the way would screw it up through ignorance: either the director, or the editor, or the studio. There are too many cooks in those kitchens! To your third point… that’s true. But I think most of us would be willing to accept some messing around with perfection if the main ideas stayed true. We all get that books and movies are not synonymous. Finally… the money thing. I refuse to believe that an industry that routinely turns out terrible, terrible, stinking, expensive failures knows what the heck sells. They don’t know. The whole industry is run by a bunch of fools (really, it is) who THINK they know everything, despite failure after failure. It’s the audience’s fault, or the director’s fault, or the economy’s fault: it’s never the fault of the studios who throw money at projects that any logical human being would know were going to stink. If they just invested that same money in decent productions of interesting works, they would make a killing. Every year, they claim that some movie will fail because it’s too literary, or too smart, or too thoughtful… and it wins Oscars. Screw it: they don’t know what’s good, they underestimate their audience’s intelligence, and then they have the temerity to claim that cinema is a dying art.

        Can you tell I hated working for these people? The same year I was struggling to sell the script that those same studio heads so lavishly praised as “beautifully written,” “intelligent” and “wonderful” (but not worth paying for), they released a horror film called Bats that cost millions.

  11. Rachel Dinger

    This is the best explanation of Jane Eyre that I’ve ever heard! Obviously, I’ve never studied it, but I’ve read it so many times. If they ever let you direct it, I’ll be waiting in line to see it.

    You’ve put your finger on so many things that I suspected about the Victorians and the reasons for Bronte wrote the book, but I couldn’t quite identify them for myself. Thank you!

    And thanks for the mention at the end, of the movie versions. I love the Ruth Williams/Toby Stephens version, but enjoyed the Fassbender version, too. But I’ve always felt a little guilty for hating the earlier versions. They were so DULL. And the book isn’t like that, not at all.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Rachel, I found the older versions dull too, though I know many folks love the older ones. They’re no more like the book to me than the new ones. What drives me nuts is that the BBC had the time, and the actors, to do their version beautifully, and squandered it on a revised dialog that means nothing and poorly-cast supporting players. I liked Ruth and Toby, too, but every time I watch it, I’m struck by the fact that it could have been so much better if they’d just trusted the dang book!

      Reply
  12. Sachi Mavinkurve

    I like the part where you sat that looks matter.
    The thing about movies is that they pick the parts that they can make pretty and get people to like, missing the real essence of the book in the process!
    I love Jane Eyre and I really enjoyed your post.
    Cheers.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      I agree about casting people who are too pretty. I wish they understood that if they cast somewhat attractive, charismatic actors in the leads, and then cast REALLY gorgeous actors in the supporting roles, it would work well enough. I could live with normal people surrounded by supermodels :).

      Reply
  13. madonnavalentine

    What impressed me most about the book when I read it as a young girl was the way the Bronte tapped into the Victorian mentality that poor people somehow deserved to be poor- that their poverty reflects a lack of morality, hard work or ‘Godliness”. Jane was considered to be an immoral child and therefore deserved her circumstances- if only she would behave her fortunes would improve. It’s illogical and cruel but what they largely believed in that period. Some people still think like that. You might like the Australian novel, “The Getting of Wisdom” by Henry Handel Richardson (actually a woman) which covers some of the same ground. I have also always seen Jane Eyre as a Gothic novel, although I could be wrong about that! My education is in Economics and History, not literature.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      I love that aspect of the book, maddonavalentine, and it plays right along with the religious hypocrisy too. What I really love about Bronte is that she never sentimentalized the poor (or the rich, actually) by using that Dickensian stereotype of the noble, suffering poor. Helen doesn’t suffer just because she’s poor (Jane, after all, survives Lowood). She suffers because she’s good and wise, and because she has to suffer for the plot to work. But the other poor characters are just like everyone else: some are noble, some are not. For a Gothic novel, it was pretty grounded in reality!

      Reply
  14. bernasvibe

    @Why does Hollywood make us suffer? #1 No one thats produces or screen writing probably ever read the book. #2 Sex sells movie tickets; so even though it wasn’t a romance..Haven’t read J.E. half as many times as you; but I’ve loved the premise of the story since I was a preteen. Will pop in another time after I’ve given thought to what actors would play the roles well..

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      bernasvibethewayiseeit, I agree: Hollywood hires stupid people to direct these things. Many years ago, I worked as a hack screenwriter (nothing ever made it onto the screen), so I know how much a writer’s vision can be altered by a director who stupidly believes the old chestnuts about pacing and sex sells, and all the crap that Hollywood feeds them about their illiterate audience. It’s as if we’re supposed to be some monolithic group who cannot love fine literary adaptations simply because “we” also go see Transformers. Maddening.

      My mind says that Richard Armitage is way too tall and handsome for Rochester, but my heart says…

      Reply
      • bernasvibe

        Ahhhh ok …Its maddening for viewers like me as well..I’m an avid reader so I’ve got an appreciation for a movie with an actual plot; one that doesn’t always involve a romance or sex. I mean I love SEX; but it isn’t realistic to have it all movies..And IF I watched to watch porn; I’d go see porn. You know? On the other hand; they’re putting all that into movies because people are paying to watch them..There is a solution we can stop paying our hard earned money to go see it…

      • jessicaminiermabe

        Exactly. I’ve just stopped seeing crap. I don’t want to pay for it anymore, or waste my time and money on it. I have no problem with a sexy film, if the film calls for it, but I have yet to see a director who really gets that all the sexual attraction here is based around conversations that they leave out.

        The last film especially… had they just left out one or two scenes of beautifully filmed rocks and trees and moors (or hey, if they hadn’t shown the opening scene TWICE), they could have left in enough dialog between Jane and Rochester to make their love believable.

  15. coolteenreads

    I’m a recent convert to JE – read the book after several TV/film versions. The book is so much more of a satisfying experience. HATED the Fassbinder version which the critics loved. But….what do the critics know?LOL.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      coolteenreads, I didn’t hate the Fassbinder version. It left me rather cold. He leaves me rather cold, actually, but that’s probably because I’ve seen Shame, which is depressing and miserable and amazing, but not a movie to leave you warm and fuzzy about the lead! My least favorite Rochester is William Hurt. For God’s sake, he’s BLOND!

      Reply
      • coolteenreads

        I didn’t like William Hurt’s version either – in fact I’d even forgotten he had played Rochester! LOL

    • scottrudolph

      So happy to read all these posts. I have to admit, I’ve not made it all the way through JE but this blog and subsequent posts make me think I may pick it up again. Even without having read it, the film versions, left me thinking there has to be much more.

      Reply
      • jessicaminiermabe

        Scottrudolph, you should definitely pick it up again! It’s a great read as an adult, and I’ve known many men who loved it just as much as I do. We’d love to have you read it with us over the next few weeks!

  16. cappy writes

    I have been waiting for someone to say this for SO LONG. Great job, and very well articulated. This post is so worthy of being Freshly Pressed 🙂 Cheers!

    Reply
  17. natziwang

    Thank you, thank you for this. I enjoyed reading your essay thoroughly and everything you’ve raised is extremely true. I think I’m going to have to reread Jane Eyre now.

    Reply
  18. Experienced Tutors

    I have also taught ‘Jane Eyre’ once or twice (!) and I totally agree with you.

    Your photo of their home at Howarth brought back lovely memories. As much as i love ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’ what is about ‘Villette’ that does it for me?

    I have clicked to follow and hope more literary gems like this.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Thanks, Experienced Tutors (doing a bit of that myself right now). I used to run a Literary Britain tour with my now-defunct tour company, and Haworth was one of the stops, so I’ve been there several times. Lovely place, and suitably moody, but my favorite stop, Bronte-wise, was Haddon Hall (the other shot in the post), which has been the set for nearly every version ever. It’s a gorgeous medieval mansion, and almost certainly Bronte’s inspiration for Thornfield. Well, well worth seeking out if you’re in the neighborhood!

      Reply
      • Experienced Tutors

        Firstly, congratulations of getting Freshly Pressed (forgot to mention in previous comment) a great honour on board the Good Ship WordPress.

        Shame about the company, sounds a great idea. Not sure about continually visiting the same place and having to contend with hoards of the blue rinse brigade. . .

        Haven’t been to Haddon Hall. Hopefully see it one day.

      • jessicaminiermabe

        To be fair, I had many trips planned, and some interested folks, but just not enough to sustain the insurance costs long-term. They were brutal! Haddon Hall is amazing, and totally worth it. I also liked a house called The Vyne, which for you Jane Austen fans, is where she used to attend those neighborhood balls. Fun stuff.

  19. Debbie

    You can make a lot of the same criticisms about Hollywood versions (the British versions are rarely much better) of Jane Austen’s novels. She also did not write romances, was in fact parodying the genre. Elizabeth Bennet is one of the most consistently miscast literary characters of all time. JANE is the beautiful one, not Elizabeth.

    The problem I think is that filmmakers have certain preconceptions about any story with a female lead. And that rarely jibes with the source material.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      I agree, Debbie, though I like both of the most popular versions of Pride and Prejudice well enough. Jennifer Ehle is lovely, and I suppose the actress playing her sister might have been considered prettier, maybe, at the time… but probably not. Colin Firth was a great Darcy. I didn’t mind Keira Knightley, either, as I liked her spirited, coltishness for Lizzie, and the actress who played her sister is gorgeous… but Matthew Macfayden, hunk that he most certainly is, didn’t do his research for Darcy (he admitted to never reading the book) and it shows. Darcy was not simply shy, but that’s how Macfayden played him. I also thought that version made their home a bit too filled with domestic bliss, missing that Austen was intensely critical of Lizzie’s parents and family.

      My favorite Austen novel adaptation is the version of Persausion with Kieran Hinds and Amanda Root. It’s as close to perfect to me as an adaptation can get. Have you seen that one?

      Reply
  20. moodsnmoments

    fantastic! you hit the nail on its head and i do hope hollywood does give you a call before they venture onto something so sacred.
    very well highlighted. thanks for sharing, congratulations!!!

    Reply
  21. 76sanfermo

    Everybody is going to reread Jane Eyre , after your excellent post….
    I totally agree with you in your analysis and comment about the Hollywood film.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      76sanfermo, I really hope everyone rereads it. The more we reread it and share our love of it, the more likely we are to get a better movie version. At least, that’s my theory (but the past has generally proved me wrong, I’m afraid, though I’m ever-hopeful).

      Reply
  22. thatvoiceinsidemyhead

    aaannd that’s my AS English exam sorted 😉 great post!

    Reply
  23. carlpeters

    I am with everyone else here! Excellently put and an absolute classic! The reason I didn’t write an essay on this book in Literature was because I did not want to spoil my enjoyment of such a class novel and story! You know what I mean, you can study something and it detracts from the reading somewhat. I certainly have never eve thought about getting rid of it from my shelves as I know sometime it will get read again! Just need to get my son to read it, I like King myself but Bronte will always be in her own league!

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      carlpeters, you can get your son to read it if you teach him early that all literature is accessible to both genders, and don’t let him fall into the trap of believing that any book written from a woman’s perspective is automatically “chick lit.” I spent so much time undoing that crap with my high school boys… 🙂

      I know exactly what you mean about not spoiling it. I worked hard, as a teacher, to avoid that over-analyzation of books. It’s the scourge of modern literary studies, I think, but that’s another post! Reading should be about connection, not deconstruction.

      Reply
      • carlpeters

        Great advice & I will see about getting my lad to connect! As for connection, there’s definitely quite a few boks I’ve read that I would never want to deconstruct as it takes the pleasure of the read away! Thanks.

  24. sunraeny

    I first read JE as a middle school assignment & HATED it with a passion (my fav reading in that day was Sweet Valley High & The Babysitters Club – not exactly deep reading). But as an adult it’s a whole different experience. I appreciate that while they did get their happy ending it certainly wasn’t any easy ending to get to!

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Ha, sunraeny, I read Sweet Valley High too! I think we just dated ourselves. God, how I loved those books. I used to save up my allowance to go get the latest one. I hear she’s redoing them and modernizing them for a whole new generation of girls. Hopefully, it goes well.

      I love a hard-won happy ending. It’s the only kind that matters. One of the reasons I think so many modern novels are poorly done is that the endings aren’t earned. The happy ending is such a given. I love that at the point where Jane is about to accept St. John, a first-time reader who is now 100 pages into the sojourn with the Rivers family would certainly find it believable that the ending won’t include Rochester. That’s what makes it so brilliant: though you know she’ll get the guy, there’s just enough credibility to her other life to make it feel like it could go either way.

      Reply
  25. finchnwren

    I have hated the various versions of “Jane Eyre–the Movie” since I saw the first one while home sick in bed in 4th grade. Thank you for so beautifully explaining why! If you don’t have the back story, the movies’ relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester is absolutely inexplicable. Now I am actually attracted to the idea of reading the book, which I have avoided for years simply b/c of the horrid movies and the utter dislike I felt for the characters and really the whole shebang. Well done! You’ve sort of performed a miracle here!

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Thanks, finchnwren! I aim for miracles (not really, but I like the idea that I managed one!). The relationship is bizarrely cruel, if you have no context, isn’t it? Reading it will be an eye-opening experience. Charlotte was way ahead of her time.

      Reply
  26. jessicaminiermabe

    Hi folks! Thanks for all the great comments. I am at work until this evening, but I intend to answer pretty much everyone! Hang in there, please!

    Reply
  27. learnalltheway

    It’s not only Hollywood who is destroying the beauty of the real written novels but there are also translations into other languages which is failing a lot of students passing their exams. So the best advice: Read the book, then if you want to, watch the movies.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Interesting point, learnalltheway. I haven’t read it in anything but English, but I do know that when I taught translations, the version would make a huge difference in the students’ enjoyment and understanding, particularly on a long, complex novel like Crime and Punishment.

      Reply
  28. gemini232006

    I need to reread it now! My favorite version was with Charlotte Gainsbourg. I did not think she was very pretty, almost dowdy. This also made me watch her other films too. And most of the time she is not a pretty or done-up in them. I will re read and then Comment again 🙂

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      gemini232006, Charlotte isn’t my favorite actress (something about her rubs me the wrong way), but I agree that she was well cast. It was William Hurt who killed that one for me. What a milksop. He lacked the fire to play Rochester. That man simply cannot glower convincingly :).

      Reply
  29. halfbakedlog

    It’s been decades since I read Jane Eyre; I must reread it and have this blog entry at my side. Your comments will make this novel even more interesting.

    Reply
  30. JackieP

    I too love this book and have read it probably 50 or more times through the years. I first met Jane when I was in school. I found her in the school library and instantly fell in love with the story. It’s my favorite of all time. I also understand the frustration that hollywood does not get it right! None of them do. But still, even they can not entirely diffuse the Jane we know and love. I agree with all your statements! When I have been asked in the past why I love Jane Eyre, I have always said, it’s because she is beyond her time and a very strong minded woman. I felt a bond with her. 🙂

    (I am now a follower simply because any one else who can ‘get’ Jane as I do is a friend in the making!)

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Thanks, JackieP! You may have outread me! I thought that was impossible.

      I think we all bond with Jane, and see ourselves (our best selves) in her.

      Reply
  31. Mary

    Great post, Jessica. I would have loved being one of your students! I absolutely fell in love with Brontë’s Jane Eyre the very first time I stumbled across it, some 30 plus years ago. As far as the movies go, I do have to say that my all time favorite sequel is still the 1944 version with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. Loved the little girl who played Adele in it as well. Overall, the book itself is a masterpiece, the story timeless. What can I say, but that I love the Victorian era too.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Thanks, Mary. I loved teaching this book (and all books, actually :)). I haven’t seen the Orson Welles version in years. I’d rewatch it, but I think I’m too pissy about the films now to appreciate it. I love the Victorians too! They’re such a complex bunch.

      Reply
      • Mary

        That’s awesome, Jessica. Have you taught on Pride and Prejudice? Love to hear your take on it sometime 😉

      • jessicaminiermabe

        I have taught P&P, Mary, though only once. It was harder to teach than Jane Eyre, as it’s lighter in many ways, so I found there was less need to explain things to students. We did a great project, though, called a “Regency Guidebook,” where as they came across bizarre behaviors in the text, they researched them and then reported back to us on why folks did what they did. I learned so much about minute social customs that way!

        For me, P&P is great fun, and beautifully written, but I think it says less than Jane Eyre says about meaningful topics. Austen touches on so many things, but she was too young, I think, to dive deeply into them or take too many risks. That may be why, as I get older, I prefer Persuasion.

    • jessicaminiermabe

      Thanks, tinatames! I saw one of the many Star Trek films years ago with my best friend, who had never gotten into any of the shows (I’m an Original Series and TNG fan, myself). As we left the theater, she put up her hand in the Vulcan greeting and said: “What was it again? Be nice and devour?” So now I can’t think of it as anything else.

      Reply
      • tinatames

        Ha, that’s great. I’ll have to keep that one in mind! Be nice and devour. Maybe it’s the vampire version.

  32. partist1397

    Excellent post. Well informed. Makes me want to read the book. Obviously the money making machine was limited and uninspired, and uncaring (Hollywood !). However, one day the right amount of money will come along, and maybe, just maybe be in the market for a true and detailed planned synopsis of all the intended strengths of the book, and should they get a hold of such a caring plan, then we shall see the Jane Eyre movie of a lifetime. You will watch it as often or more than you read the book.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      BiblicalCPR, thanks so much. You should definitely read it. I’m hopeful that the BBC will see the light one of these days. They have the capability… and you’re right I would watch the heck out of it (though I’d never see it more than I’ve read the book, I don’t think).

      Reply
      • partist1397

        As you no doubt know, Hitchcock’s famed quote, ” A movie is not a book.” However, why make a film about a book ? I can think of three answers for the moment ; 1) A guaranteed fan base. 2) It’s all there, created, and well done.And 3) The significance, and power of the story.
        In the case of #2, you (financier) will be chucking out less money than for a currently new creation. So why mess with casting, which will taint the virtue of the author’s creation. Why again, mess with the framework of plotting and story ? Again it comes down to other concerns, having other criteria, being answerable to the god of finance, and production in reference again to the pocket book. They could be in it for the quick raping buck. If there is a millionaire out there who understands the framework of the book and is endeared with the virgin story line, then if you could convince that person you might see your homage film made. You have a life quest,. More power to ya.
        I envy you a bit. And I had a copy once, didn’t get around to it, but will make a effort to obtain another.
        Sincerely;
        MAO

      • Elise

        I loved the essay so much!! I’m really hoping I’ll get to study Jane Eyre at university

      • jessicaminiermabe

        I got to, and we read Wide Sargasso Sea, too, which is told from Bertha’s perspective. Good stuff, but Rochester isn’t all that recognizable in it. Still, it was a fun contrast.

  33. bambusasolutions

    I am only just (in my early 40s) reading Jane Eyre for the first time…and I love it.

    I’ve seen a couple of movie/mini-series versions, the latest being the Fassbender / Wasikowska movie, which I did enjoy. BUT…when I started reading the book, I found myself wondering if I had missed something. The movie makers really did gloss over so much of the back story that I now realise that the story I thought I knew was only a shadow of the original.

    Now I will have to read some of Bronte’s other novels to see what I’ve been missing.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      bambusasolutions, I’ve never gotten into her other books as much. I think I need to reread! All movies gloss (it’s the nature of movies), but the five hour miniseries had no excuse :).

      Reply
  34. Amy Pond

    Wonderful examination of the novel. It’s one of my favourite novels ever, and definitely one of my favourite romance novels, exactly because it isn’t a romance novel in the usual sense, as you’ve said – yes, there’s a romance in it, but there’s also so much more to the book. The romance isn’t the point of the book: the point of the book is seeing Jane achieve freedom and all the other things she wanted and needed in her life, despite the way she has been set at a disadvantage from the beginning. It’s about seeing her grow into a woman of character and self-possession and tremendous strength, who makes her own decisions, even when they’re difficult – and who takes the path that leaves her with agency and self-respect, no matter how hard that path may be. And in the end, it is that path which leads her to happiness.

    My favourite film version, frankly, is the Charlotte Gainbourg and William Hurt version, but like all of them, it leaves important things out.

    Reply
      • Amy Pond

        Well, yeah, I agree that William Hurt wasn’t exactly the best Rochester (although at least he wasn’t all prettied up), but to be honest, I care a lot more about Jane’s charatcer than his, so it didn’t bother me so much as it might have.

        (Blanche Ingram as a skinny-as-hell blonde woman seriously annoyed me though – she’s meant to be a beauty of the dark haired, voluptuous and sensual type, and Elle Macpherson was pretty much the exact opposite! No one ever gets Ingram’s casting right.)

      • jessicaminiermabe

        I agree exactly on Blanche. I haven’t seen a good casting of her yet.

        As for Hurt, I have liked him in other things, but he doesn’t smolder. He would have been a good St. John when he was younger. I think my problem with Gainsbourg is that I saw her first in The Cement Garden, and that forever warped my impression of her :).

  35. the invisible woman

    Came across this by chance and had to add my two-penny worth as Jane Eyre has always been my favourite novel. And I couldn’t agree more, Hollywood should not be allowed to get its hands on this novel, ever. Recently sat and watched the latest version with Mia Wasikowska. Casting all wrong yet again. My daughter and I also felt too much had been left out, it’s not a story you can deal with in 2-21/2 hours. It needs to be treated with the respect it deserves. And we disagree, this is a love story. How can it not be when Jane hears him calling to her…
    The worst yet is the adaptation with Ruth Wilson (apologies to the poor girl). No problem with the acting but I’m afraid every time we saw her our comment was ‘duck face’ – that upper lip! Please, at least try and cast someone who suits the period, she looks far too contemporary.
    Not sure I should ever watch another adaptation, they will always fall short.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Thanks, invisible woman! I thought the latest version should have been another hour longer, too. And that they could have left out many of the repetitive “moody” nature shots and left in more romance. I didn’t mean it’s not a romance at all, I just meant that’s not the main point of the story. There’s romance in there, of course!

      I liked Ruth, and the funny thing is, she’s not that “lippy” in anything else. I think she was exaggerating her pout for effect, to make her look “uglier.” I’d love to see someone who looks plain, but has some fire in her performance. It seems to me that it either goes one way or the other.

      Reply
  36. wooly ewe

    I’m so glad this was freshly pressed!!
    Although I love a week re-reading North and South or Pride and Prejudice, I only read Jane Eyre for the first time last year and loved it. I found it so different and so much more complex than many other ‘similar books’ and instantly re-read it. I couldn’t even begin to analyse it in as eye opening a way as you have here but what you say is so true. Last year I scoured the Internet for adaptations of JE and was left feeling so disappointed and deflated by each one missing what makes it such a great and timeless story.
    Thanks for such a great post, I’m off to re-read it!!

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, wooly ewe! I loved the film version of North and South, and that started my serious Richard Armitage obsession, but I didn’t like the book as much. It was too melodramatic for my taste. I saw it as “Dickens Lite,” as he sometimes veers off in that same direction. The author, Elizabeth Gaskill, was a protegee of his, and Charlotte’s good friend. She wrote Charlotte’s biography! But she didn’t write like Charlotte, that’s for sure. Elizabeth’s subject may be strikingly modern, but her writing is very Victorian. I like that Charlotte’s writing is so… muscular. It transcends its time period and sounds like a strong woman from any time.

      Reply
  37. hidingfromthefuture

    Oh god, I completely agree about the Hollywood thing. The darned place doesn’t understand any of the Brontës. I mean, look at Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. He’s a complete bastard, really, and yet so much of the Western world treat him as some kind of bodice-ripping romantic hero. He’s not. He’s not even much of a Romantic hero. The nicest thing you can say about either him or Rochester (although at least dear old Mr R comes good in the end) is that they’re Byronic heroes, which shouldn’t be as flattering as (can’t use the phrase ‘stupid people what don’t read’ here, but want to) many people seem to believe. At least the new film of JE is relatively close to the original. The last Wuthering Heights adaptation featured, if I remember rightly, Cathy and Heathcliff having wild, passionate sex on the moors.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Hidingfromthefuture, I haven’t read Wuthering Heights since college. I remember hating Cathy so dang much, and being bored by the loooong second half of the book. I’ll have to retry. I just watched a British “loose” adaptation of it called Sparkhouse, which was mainly to feed my Richard Armitage needs, but I enjoyed it enough on its own that I feel like I have to reread WH to see how similar/different they ended up being. I was very sympathetic to the Heathcliff character in that film (it’s the female character), but I don’t remember being as sympathetic to Heathcliff. I’ll have to put it on my to-do list, along with someday getting through The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which my mom loved, but I’ve never been able to get into.

      Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Sophie Rae, I think that though you enjoyed the newest version more than I did overall, you absolutely nailed what was wrong with it: too little substance. I kept thinking: Jane and Rochester have only one prolonged scene together… how is that the basis for a romance?

      Reply
  38. Xraypics

    Well, I haven’t read Jane Eyre since oh… about 1960 roughly, though it must have been around everywhere on every bookshelf, second hand store. Perhaps after reading your rant it is time for me to attack it again. But you know, Hollywood, and films in general aren’t made to illustrate the book – I discovered that way back when I first read Anna and the King of Siam then saw The King and I, and was shocked by their cavalier attitude to the truth. Just LOOK what they did to The Lord of the Rings! Tolkien must be spinning in his grave. Films are not about great literature, they are partly about entertainment but more importantly about money, To carp about the way film directors interpret the book is to deny the reason the film was made in the first place. Having said that, I really enjoyed reading your post, it inspires me to go and rediscover the joys of the Brontës. Tony

    Reply
  39. Finneagus

    I first read Jane Eyre as a sophomore in high school and somehow got through university without reading it again. (I was an early Americanist.) I loved it, but couldn’t quite figure out why. It was so lovely to read this just to revisit all those nuances of the novel that I can only now understand.

    Reply
  40. mariasmilios

    I think this is a great essay. Having taught Jane Eyre for years–it’s also one of my favorite books–I cringed when I heard Hollywood was sinking their claws into this stellar novel. You are right, none of the characters are gorgeous and the distillation of the plot would have Jane turning over in her grave. I fear the new Gastby! Thanks and congrats on being FP

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Thanks, mariasmilios! I’m worried about Gatsby too. I loved both Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, and Australia was a serious guilty pleasure (sooooo much bad, that it veers into good), but I’m still nervous. I had to teach R and J several times before I really saw Luhrmann’s vision as a good one, and MR is totally over-the-top crazy. Though Gatsby has its over-the-top moments even in the novel, so it could go either way. I’m reserving judgement on that one.

      Reply
  41. Leigh Kendall

    Fabulous essay! I love Jane Eyre and I too get frustrated when film makers omit the most important parts. My favourite adaptation is the BBC Ruth Wilson/Toby Stephens one, as they sent more time exploring their relationship and Jane’s purgatory, but as it was a mini series I guess they had that luxury. The Michael Fassbender one looked beautiful but skipped through so much. One minute, Rochester was lusting after Blanche and in the next scene, he was proposing to Jane, without exploring how that turn of events could have happened. Most frustratingly, Jane’s running away and rescue by the Rivers family happens far too easily. It was as though the screenwriters had read a cheaters’ study guide, without bothering to read the book. Well, that’s the end of my rant, before my comment turns into another essay!

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Leigh, thanks! I liked Ruth and Toby, too, but I was so sad that they didn’t stick closer to the book. They had a great cast (except for the supports, like Blanche), tons of time… why rewrite so much of the dialog? I don’t get it. Agreed on the newer one. It felt like the writers were Cliff’s Notes-ing the novel to me, too.

      Reply
  42. jellyonacracker

    Brilliant! Here’s the best part:

    “For now, Hollywood, may I suggest that the next time you take on this marvelous work, probably the greatest novel in the English language, you give me a call. I’m happy to work up a nice little 20 page treatment for you, and then cast it correctly, and then write the screenplay and then, if I must, direct it. You know: if I must.”

    I think you must!!

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      If only, jellyonacracker :). Actually, I don’t think I’d want that much responsibility. I wish I could write/advise someone I thought was good enough to do it… Danny Boyle? Ang Lee? I don’t know. If Merchant/Ivory were still around…

      Reply
  43. bernadette

    I love this review! It’s the most detailed one I’ve read about how the movies fail at bringing the book to life and I like how you point out that its not a romance novel. I think that this is a great overall review of the book, too. I never gave much thought about the casting of the side characters but after reading your review I realize how important it is.

    I am currently reading Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and have been thinking about rereading Wuthering Heights (because I think I read it at a time when I was too young to understand it) but now I want re-read Jane Eyre, too.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      bernadette, I’ve been thinking I need to reread those two, too, and Charlotte’s other novels. Along with the 50,000 other books in my queue :). Thanks for the kind words!

      Reply
  44. lookingforpemberley

    I’m in love with this post. Great defense of Jane Eyre and wonderful analysis. Thank you for being so in-depth as well- it is much appreciated.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Thanks, lookingforpemberley! If you’re ever in England, you should visit both Lyme Park and Chatsworth, which were the sets for Pemberley in the Firth and Macfayden versions of P&P respectively. Beautiful houses, though Chatsworth is insanely over-the-top.

      Reply
  45. Cairo backpacker

    What a great read! I first started reading this book in school and loved it so much, in fact it was my favourite. I also had the opportunity to visit Haworth and see Jane Eyre’s house and life.
    I’m glad you pointed out that it’s not meant to be a hot romance, I think thats something the films just get wrong. Instead they choose to ignore the true story that Charlotte Bronte wrote, in favour of making a film that will just sell tickets.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Cairo backpacker, thanks! I do think the book has moments of “hot romance” in it. I love the moment when, at Marsh End, Jane admits to having sexy dreams about Rochester (she’s more oblique than that, but go look… it’s there!). The sexual tension just sizzles throughout. But I think the most sexual scene in the book is actually the “fight” between Jane and Rochester after he realizes she’s not going to stay. It’s very sinister and threatening, too. That one never really gets explored on screen, because having your hero threaten to snap your heroine’s neck out of love isn’t great marketing these days :).

      Reply
  46. mwojcie

    Wonderful post and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! Jane Eyre has been my favorite novel since I first read it with the eyes of middle school angst, and consequently, I’ve hopefully flocked to every film adaptation, always crossing my fingers that they’ll finally get it right. I’m always disappointed too. The Fassbender/Wasiakowska version is my favorite so far, even though Fassbender is a far cry from Rochester. I really enjoyed the echoes of Blanche in Bertha (at first glance, they looked like the same actress to me, one just slightly more disheveled), as well as Wasiakowska’s nods towards Jane’s rebellious, simultaneously self-assured and humble personality. What bothers me about most versions, particularly Hurt one, is how passive and emotionless Jane is. She’s plain and quiet, but also passionate as hell- fighting John Reed, disowning Aunt Reed before heading off to Lowood, refusing Rochester’s mistress proposal out of self-respect and independence. I wish they’d focus more on those qualities and her journey of personal growth rather than adapting a 2-dimensional romantic narrative.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      mwojcie, thanks so much! Being Freshly Pressed has been INSANE. It’s been great, but so crazy! I don’t know what to do with myself, and I feel like I’m going to have to be super literate from now on ;). I know exactly what you mean about seeing each film with hope and then being disappointed. Though I’ll admit I’ve gotten so jaded with this one that I really don’t commit myself anymore. I also agree about the passionless performances for Jane. I think that’s what’s ruined half these adaptations for me. Victorian women were *expected* to be passionless, prim and unemotional. What’s so great about Jane is that she doesn’t do what she’s expected to do! She’s proper, to a degree (though she really pushes it sometimes with those chats with Rochester!), but she’s spirited. In fact, that’s what bugs me about many, many Victorian novel adaptations. I think it comes from Dickens, who didn’t much like strong women, and his tendency to portray these stereotypical madonnas of perfection. Ugh. But so many Victorian women weren’t writing female characters like that!

      Reply
  47. meg

    god, i completely agree. jane eyre is one of my favorite books (right up there with portrait of a lady and good omens and jitterbug perfume and…oh, nevermind), but i’ve heard so many awful things about the film versions that i can’t stand to watch them. i rarely like film versions of books, and am usually one of those awful people that spends the whole thing muttering things like, “that’s not the way it happened in the book” and driving their friends crazy. but i really appreciate your thoughtful critiques of most film versions of this beautiful and powerful story, and if you ever find one that you like, please let me know!

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Hi meg, thanks so much! I’m that person in the movies, too. What I need is a movie that hits the spirit of the book, not every single word. That’s why I loved A Room with a View: it nailed the reasons behind things, not every line of dialog. Why don’t filmmakers get this? They claim books are impossible to film, but I think that’s because they don’t understand books.

      Reply
  48. gemgemgoesglobal

    while it’s not quite a classic like something of the calibre of Jane Ayre (yet) i think a modern classic is Shutter Island. It has all the makings of something truely special and atmospheric. Bronte is unparalleled however, as is Austin

    Reply
  49. artsygenius

    I’ve read several novels from that period but never this one. I think I’ll put it on my Audible list. Thanks for this great article!

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      artsygenius, you must! I don’t know which version is best. Perhaps someone else here has had a listen? The right reader is so important.

      Reply
  50. littlemousejane

    Wonderful! Thank you for this brilliant post! Jane Eyre is by far my favorite book, and the movie adaptations are driving me insane …

    Reply
  51. justjase79

    A great piece, Jane Eyre is one of my fav’s too, and I was planning on re-reading it, watching the Fassbender version and then critiquing it for my blog, but I’m saying nuts to that as it would feel pretty pale compared to this.

    Reply
  52. Hamish Downie

    Hi there, I thought your blog was very well written, you obviously know a lot about “Jane Eyre”. I’d suggest you’d do a bit of research on the screenwriting process, though. Screenwriters have no say on casting, unless they work for a sitcom, or television drama series. Actors tend to be very insecure, and it is very difficult to cast the them as the “least attractive person in the room”.

    What I would love you to do, is read Syd Field’s “Screenplay”, as well as Linda Segar’s books on screenwriting, because with all your knowledge about the characters and their agendas in “Jane Eyre”, I think that you could write a fine adaption. If not, at least you might learn to respect the artform.

    Thanks 🙂

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Hi Hamish! I’m still working on getting to all these comments, but I should address this one: I was a professional hack screenwriter for several years, working for major studios and reworking scripts for popular directors. I know from screenwriting. I was kidding about the casting, directing, all of it. I know that never happens. That said, I’m pretty sure if one was working with the right actors (very, very good ones exist who aren’t prima donnas), one could find folks who’d love to play these characters without being the most gorgeous folks around. Many actors are happy to slum it for a film, gain weight or wear ridiculous wigs, etc, if they get a chance to play someone with some meat on their character bones. I’m pretty sure if the film were well-funded, they could find folks happy to be involved.

      I have done adaptations. In fact, my first (and best) screenplay was a Kipling adaptation. Damned impossible to sell. My manager was very well-connected and passionate, as well as being head of the Director’s Guild at the time. He pedaled that thing to every studio head imaginable. Every one said the same thing: it’s beautifully written, but why would we make an epic costume drama with no white actor-leads? Sigh. This was years ago, pre-Life of Pi or Slumdog Millionaire. Perhaps it would be better received now. I don’t know, as I’m long done with that game. It was nightmarish. I’d get calls like this: “I think I’ve got a director for you, at last! He’s done tons of great stuff with A-listers!” “Like who?” “Oh, his last movie starred Gary Busey and Raquel Welch!” “Those aren’t A-listers.” “Why are you so negative?”

      I’d rather eat my own foot than ever work in the movie industry again! Not that anyone’s offering…

      Reply
      • Hamish Downie

        Wow. I really wasn’t expecting you to be a screenwriter (albeit former). It’s a nasty business, especially for screenwriters. I loved the blog, but I was really taken aback with the way you talk about screenwriting, especially coming from a fellow writer. I mean, we never get mentioned, unless it’s negative. I just wish your blog wouldn’t perpetuate this.

        That said, there seems to be a really good “Jane Eyre” script burning deep inside you. So, why not put your money where your mouth is, and write it? Surely the way this blog just blew up shows that there’s interest out there for your version of the book. Screw the industry. It sucks. But the reason we got into it in the first place was to tell stories that only we could tell. Seems to me that for you, that’s the “Jane Eyre” script.

        I’m sure that your adaption will sell like gang-busters. Just remember, that when Ang Lee directed ‘Sense & Sensibility”, it was his first English-language film. None of his previous Taiwanese films had stars. And just look at him now. Just because a Director has directed A-listers before, doesn’t mean that he’s any good – look at Michel Bay for f**** sake.

      • jessicaminiermabe

        It’s is a nasty business, Hamish. That’s why I got out. I think screenwriters are amazing. It’s a serious skill! But the rest of the industry? Lordy. I don’t think I was implying that all screenwriters are bad… just that folks, either directors or writers, don’t seem to get this particular novel. I also know how much gets changed along the way, which is the main issue, I think.

        I know there’s a market for a Jane Eyre movie. It’s just such an investment of time and energy to do a great adaptation, and then to have people turn it down because there’s not enough sex, or it’s too old-fashioned, or they don’t “get” it, or… I’m not sure I could do it anymore. When I did the Kipling adaptation, I invested so much of my heart into it (it’s an adaptation of Kim, which is one of my all-time favorite novels), and it just seemed like no one really SAW it the way that I did. They could tell it was good (the reader at Dreamworks said the script was “Oscar-worthy”), but they didn’t see the possibilities inherent in it the way I did. They didn’t see why their investment of money would pay off due to my investment of time. Ah well.

        And I love Ang Lee, but that thing got funded because Emma Thompson wrote it and starred in it (and was way, way too old). How he got the film, I don’t know, but I suspect it was because of Eat Drink Man Woman, which was in English. She must have seen it and liked it, as she was definitely the driving force behind all the decisions on that film. And I hate Michael Bay too :). Have you seen the youtube video of “Titanic by Michael Bay”? It also has a JJ Abrams section, and George Lucas sections that are hysterical. It’s here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJxj1mou03M

      • Hamish Downie

        It’s a nasty business… but the same can be said for all of showbusiness. I like to think of it like Robert Redford’s character in “The Natural”. Despite all the happened to him, all he ever wanted to do was play baseball. Honestly, I think with Life of Pi making so much money, the time is right to float your “Kim” script again. No need to get involved in the business again if you don’t want to.

        I’d honestly love to hear about your experience with “Kim” in more detail. I’ve also written one of these “oscar bait” scripts (I’m talking about the subject matter, not the quality of said script), and would really like to ask you some questions about your experience. xxoo best 🙂

  53. pthalobluesky

    Great post! I agree with much of what you said. But, I also somewhat agree with the comment above mine. A film can never be as “good” as the original work that it is adapted from. Film is an entirely different medium. Bronte only had herself to please when she wrote her novel. A screenplay can pass through many different hands and be changed by all of them, then there’s the direction, the interpretation of the actors, etc. to factor in- it’s really quite remarkable that anything comes out coherent. Also, I agree with you 100%, the Stevens/Williams one is best.

    Reply
  54. Yamika

    You are probably my mum’s soul mate, my mum teaches literature so when we had to cover it in school I got the proper version and not the school recommended abridged. I didn’t get it then and so I enjoyed the movies. I attempted to share one of such movies with my mum. Her obvious disappointments lead me to a reread, which then turned into a yearly thing. I have since seen the error of my ways. Down with the system, also don’t get me started on ‘Little Women’

    Reply
  55. Leah

    I haven’t read the novel, but from the descriptions of it, I was always surprised that it made Valentine’s Day lists and appeared as other fictional characters’ favorite novels/movies. Great dissection of the issues and congrats on being freshly pressed!

    Reply
  56. dmchale

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. Your writing is invigorating and so deserving of being spotlighted on WordPress.
    You have an authentic voice that is rare on this forum. Keep up the good work..you have a fan in me and I will be following your blog closely. Bravo! Dennis http://www.dlmchale.com

    Reply
  57. lucindalines

    I used to teach high school English. Never enough time to teach a real classic, but I so enjoyed your post. It refreshes my brain to read something that makes you think. I first read Jane Eyre in high school then again a few times more as an adult. I love it and many of the other British classics. I agree that Hollywood doesn’t get it. I think they have recently fallen in love with the Austin books, but haven’t found anyone else yet.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Yes, lucindalines, I was lucky to teach at a private school, where we had lots of time for literature (though I also taught it to seniors at public school). My current favorite adaptation has to be North and South, which to be fair, is BBC, not Hollywood. It’s actually better than the book, for the most part. How often can you say that?

      Reply
      • pthalobluesky

        North and South is my absolute favorite! It is better than the book, Sandy Welch did an amazing job with it. And it didn’t hurt that Richard Armitage played John Thornton. 🙂 I wish I could get my hands on the script!

  58. thesisterslice

    I want to join your I heart JE club too!! I also have read the book 30 or 40 times and have seen every movie version on the planet. I have always thought that reading it let me live a bit in their lives while watching it let me see others living it. I always like the books better! Nice Post! (totally want to be like you when our baby blog grows up!)

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      You’re in, thesisterslice! I’m going to do it! When I have five minutes I can devote to something other than being Freshly Pressed :).

      Reply
  59. rememberyoumustlive

    I love Jane Eyre, it was the first classical novel I ever read so it means a lot to me too. However I do understand that a movie can’t concentrate too heavily on the dying and religiously abused children or on the fact that Rochester is a very eloquent dickhead it wouldn’t make a good ‘date’ movie. I also understand that of course a movie can’t be as rich or textured as a book, but what I’ve always wished is that they would just call it something else, so that those of us who love and understand our characters can live in peace!

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      rememberyoumustlive, I think the movie can concentrate less on abused children and more on the idea that redemption *isn’t* achieved through suffering in Jane’s world. That’s what I take away from Helen’s experience: redemption comes through how happy we make ourselves now. Rochester wouldn’t ever be my standard for a good date movie hero, as he’s such a jerk to Jane! I agree though: call it something else, or say you’re “inspired” by the book. I hate the fact that they claim to be adapting it, but aren’t.

      Reply
  60. ravensmarch

    A great post, which echoes many things my wife has said on the topic (and she also expresses a special befuddlement at the William Hurt version). There is a film which, I think, hints at the possibility of doing it NEARLY right– the 1995 version of Persuasion. In the leads, Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds are not unattractive, but they both lack the gloss one usual finds in top-of-credits actors, appearing almost un-made up and easily overlookable if the camera didn’t centre upon them. The rest of the cast is much the same; Wentworth’s fellow sailors all look thoroughly bashed about, and the rest of the Elliots have some point of deformity about them to reflect their inner failings. Persuasion is not such a hefty work as Jane Eyre, of course, but there’s hope.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Oh my god, ravensmarch, I LOVE that version of Persuasion! It’s the perfect adaptation to me: I love the richly drawn characters, the dirty reality of world, the natural lighting, the unmade-up women, the way the characters look like real people throughout… I can’t stand it! I could go on and on! Whenever I watch it, I say a little Hallelujah that the BBC allowed me to step, however briefly, into Austen’s world. And that book is my favorite of Austen’s now that I’m older, and I understand what it is to live with your own failures and regrets. The only scene they left out, that I wish they’d left in, is the moment where Anne explains to Wentworth that she believes that she made the only decision she could at the time, and doesn’t blame herself for making it, even though it was wrong. So mature and smart.

      Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Seen that one, LauriLau. I like Charlotte well enough, but HATED William Hurt with a passion (and I normally enjoy him). He just was like the anti-Rochester to me. 🙂

      Reply
  61. lizt84

    Love this essay, it really hit the nail on the head for me! Jane Eyre is a rich, dark and complex book and to sell it as a romance cheapens the rich source material.

    Basically, Jane is a badass.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Thanks, lizt84! I agree, Jane is a total badass. She’s so profoundly ahead of her time, so true to herself (though she makes mistakes as she goes)… she’s the most human of all literary characters, I think, even though it’s a Gothic novel.

      Reply
  62. dosayit

    I had a really tough time ever enjoying this book in classes because I always thought Rochester was such a total jerk. Reading this essay really makes me want to reread the book and give it another shot. I think I would appreciate it more with this new framework to look through.

    Reply
    • strawberrypiemovies

      I loved reading Jane Eyre on my own as I don’t think I studied it at school. On a side note, in Northanger Abbey I believe there was the brother of the villainous Isabella who said ‘damn’ all the time. That certainly made me smile but if I hadn’t studied it in class I wouldn’t have attempted it in the first place in my own time.

      P.S: Toby Stevens is the best Mr. Rochester. Closely followed by Orson Welles. And Joan Fountaine was a great Jane, but maybe I’m thinking that setting the standard because of her sister, Olivia de Haviland who was fantastic as Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind.

      Reply
      • jessicaminiermabe

        strawberrypiemovies, sometimes studying a book ruins it, particularly if the teacher stinks, so it’s probably best you read it on your own. I always try to enrich my students’ understanding of the book, not tear it apart. I haven’t read NA in years. I read all the Austen books, one right after another, when I was in college, but the less-popular of them: Emma, Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park left less lasting impressions on me. Suppose I’ll have to revisit!

        Toby is amazing. I have been watching the BBC’s latest version of the Robin Hood legends (only to ogle Richard Armitage, and let me assure you mightily that it’s almost not worth watching even for him… and that’s saying something!), and Toby has a brief guest appearance that is so fantastically un-Rochester. It’s amazing. I love that he’s Maggie Smith’s son, as well.

      • strawberrypiemovies

        Exactly. Didn’t want to do A Level English because I knew that I’d end up hating reading and I didn’t want that.
        In regards to all the other Jane Austen books, to be honest I took the easy way out and watched some of the adaptations (such as the Emma adaptation with Romola Garai.)
        I loved the Robin Hood BBC adaptation. Richard Armitage was great and it was good that Robin and Guy finally made it up in the end before it was too late. And when I saw the episode with Toby Stephens I suppose I expected him to strut on with his usual Rochester garb (because of course he carries it round with him everyday in a suitcase.) but still a great role nonetheless as Prince John.

      • jessicaminiermabe

        Yep, Richard rocks in that role. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have made it through the first two episodes (I barely made it through the first one, and was only because I was in the midst of deep Armitage withdrawals that I went back in and gave it another go) without Guy. He’s such a nasty, vicious, hysterical, sneering hoot. Toby was amazing as Prince John. I laughed out loud at his role, and at the appropriate moments, which is more than I can say for most of the rest of the show! “Do you LOVE ME?”

    • jessicaminiermabe

      Try it again, dosayit. Read it like this: Rochester is a jerk, but mostly he’s just desperate. He was a good person who was used and horribly disappointed by life. He doesn’t mean to hurt Jane, but he doesn’t know how not to. He longs to control her, he tries to set her up as someone he’s familiar with (a mistress), but in the end the reason he loves her so much is that she’s ISN’T susceptible to that sort of relationship. He loves her for the right reasons, but he just doesn’t know how to trust himself, and her, to make that love happen. It’s only when he cedes control to Jane, that things work out because in some ways he’s right: she is the answer, it’s just he has to be ready to actually hear it.

      Reply
  63. kiki2point0

    It is so hard to see a book you dearly love on film, especially one you have read so many times. You basically have a relationship with the characters and have envisioned them a certain way. Sometimes you even dismiss the authors example because you already ‘see’ the character in your head. I have read the majority of James Patterson’s Alex Cross books for the last ten plus years and only recently when coming across and advertisement for his Alex Cross movie did I stop and say to my friend, “Alex Cross is black?” I seriously did not see imagine that throughout all the books I read. He was a grouchy middle aged white man to me.

    And for all I know.. maybe James Patterson didn’t even write him to be grouchy. You can just imagine how I would have destroyed a remaking of Jane Eyre. Definitely don’t let me near it!

    Great essay. I enjoyed reading it. 🙂

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      I do envision the characters, kikipoint0, though I’ve read it so many times now, I think I’m going pretty much off Charlotte’s descriptions for everyone but Jane, now. I just think Jane would look a lot like Charlotte! Though that’s hysterical about the James Patterson novels. I’m such a stickler now, after teaching lit for so long, about things being IN THE TEXT, that I think I’d have to have exact quotes (with in-text citations in MLA please) for my own opinions :).

      Reply
  64. bobjarnes

    Hollywood can’t produce anything but Jane Eyre for Dummies. The Timothy Dalton version preserved the dialogue the best despite his being incredibly handsome instead of Vulcan-like.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      I’ll have to rewatch the Dalton version, bobjarnes. My mom liked that one. I remember thinking that Dalton was too good-looking, and that Jane was too passive (as usual), but it’s been a good twenty years since I’ve seen it, so perhaps I would feel differently now. At least about the passive part! Dalton, as I recall, loved the book and lobbied for the role. He may even have produced that version, so perhaps that helped.

      Reply
  65. Sarah Spaetzle

    Great essay! I find the film adaptations of Wuthering Heights even worse though. I mean, if Jane Eyre is not a romance novel, the same and more could be said of Wuthering Heights! The film adaptations I’ve sat through have made me so wild I’ve wanted to throw things at the screen. Thank goodness Charlotte and Emily can’t see the trash made of their wonderful books.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      WH doesn’t seem to translate at all, Sarah, from what I’ve seen over the years. I think it’s hard for Hollywood or the BBC to wrap their heads around how awful Cathy and Heathcliff are. They think we have to have happy endings all the time. I think I’ll just stick with the Kate Bush song (and now I’m howling “Wuthering, Wuthering…” in my head).

      Reply
  66. Katie Cross

    I’ve always been upset that Helen gets glossed over too! It’s nice to know I’m not alone. Have you ever seen the Broadway adaptation? At least she gets a song there 🙂

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      THERE’S A BROADWAY MUSICAL???? I’m not sure how I feel about that! I’m somewhere between thrilled and horrified. I’ve seen the play, but it was even less exciting than the movies.

      I hated Helen when I was young. She was so damned GOOD, and I identified more with Jane’s fiestiness. Now I see how essential she is to the plot. She’s such a perfect contrast to St. John’s cold version of the same thing.

      Reply
  67. yellowcallalilies

    I don’t read fiction much but Jane Eyre is by far my favorite. I’ve read it several times.

    Reply
  68. shazza91321

    Finally someone said it!!!! Thanks for that up, my poor mind said this book has to be better then how it plays out on film!!! I will be reading it soon. My favorite version is the one from 2006. I think film does better interpreting the novel, Washington Square. Although it’s from an american perspective I suppose and Henry James wrote the book. That’s a good one about a plain woman in Victorian times, with a hard luck story.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Shazza, you should join us when we read it in the next week or so! I’m going to start on the pre-reading info I think is important to understanding the novel, later this week. The only problem is that I’ve been teaching it for so long, that I no longer remember my sources!

      Reply
  69. themodernidiot

    Top work! I wish they would explore the plight of the Victorian governess, as well as the West Indies slave trade. The great thing about the novel is that you have lines to read between, and implication can be incredibly expansive; but I suppose on film it might be harder to capture.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Thanks, themodernidiot. I think Charlotte really does a good job conveying, if mostly through the Rivers sisters, how rotten going off to be a governess would be, if one didn’t want the job to begin with. I don’t know about the West Indies slave trade in relation to the novel… is that what Rochester’s wife’s family do? How do you know? I know Jane’s uncle is trading wine, right? Interesting!

      Reply
      • themodernidiot

        Yup-Bertha. Jamaica specifically (UK & France-bloody awful business). Maman is Creole, so you get the US tie-in. You have to start in Virginia, but eventually it made its way forward through NOLA. We started the whole mess by trading slaves for cows when our indentured servant population dwindled (W.I. had no land to grow food on, we had no farm labor). That’s how we ended up with a booming slave industry.

        Even though the Haitian revolution put a wrench in the gears in the West Indies’ trade, and kind of ran the whites out, the mixed races they left behind rose up to become the new slave-owning elite. Not having been Euro-educated, they had that, “cast of mind common.” They wanted Bertha to marry Rochester, who was of a, “good race.”

        Bronte gets mad props, for being so concise as to allow for maximum expansion. It’s a big subject, and she uses the space between the lines like a pro. I mean, the novel just does so much work already! I was so impressed.

        I just wish she could have written more. I think someone of her talent would have really helped the (female) abolitionist movement of the time. But pick your battles, I guess. The Victorians had A LOT to tackle.

        Perhaps she did write about it-have you heard?

        leah

      • jessicaminiermabe

        Leah, I hadn’t caught enough of the history there to think of Bertha as from a slave-owning family. I assumed they were simply wealthy from trade, like the Eyres, but of course it makes perfect sense as you’ve written it.

        I haven’t heard that Charlotte wrote about abolition at all. Interesting though, as the Victorians were such an odd bunch about all this stuff: “Let’s colonize the entire world… but let’s also have a healthy abolition movement at the same time!” The contrasts of the period are what intrigue me the most. Thanks so much for the info!

      • themodernidiot

        I know what you mean it’s like the dichotomy of being proud to be an American. You can’t win.

        You’re welcome, and to you I extend the same appreciation.

      • jessicaminiermabe

        I compare the Victorian period to our own all the time! I’m continually being struck by the dichotomies they created for themselves. In fact, when I taught it regularly, we worked with something I called a “dichotomous continuum,” which is an oxymoron, but whatever. Basically, stick the extremes at each end, then watch the main, surviving characters work toward the middle. Happens in all good Victorian novels, as they quickly realized that the extremes were bad places to be.

      • themodernidiot

        Oh, I so agree. You can lay the Victorian period over current events and not see a difference. We just re-live history’s disasters over and over. Bunch o’ darn wizards we are.
        I am glad I finally ventured into Victorian lit. They were slick. And style? Oh man, they were cool.

  70. rebelrunner1957

    Also my favourite book. Strangely, I read it often and see different sides to it each time. I share your frustration with Hollywood and eagerly await each new film with the hope that the next one will have managed to be more like how I see it. Fab essay from you.:)

    Reply
  71. Beverly

    I agree. Jane Eyre is a wonderful, strong woman — that’s why we like her so much. It’s a great book for teenagers to read. So many levels of understanding.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      I agree, Beverly. They really relate to her struggle to be taken seriously. The moment where she tells Rochester that his experience doesn’t give him to right to talk down to her is priceless.

      Reply
  72. Eagle-Eyed Editor

    To my mind, the Rochesters they choose to cast seem too close in age to Jane. I picture Jane in her 18 and Rochester in his early 40s. Cieran Hinds came the closest to looking the part, and Timothy Dalton really brought out the passionate feelings between Rochester and Jane.

    Cieran also shows that Rochester has some humor. I love the scene where he’s giving Jane a hard time for not writing him when she was at her Aunt Reed’s. See YouTube “Jane Eyre (1997) Part 6” at about 7 minutes, 30 seconds in. It cracks me up every time.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      I have to rewatch Cieran’s version, I think. I love him so much in Persuasion that it’s hard to envision him as anyone but Wentworth, even after I saw him naked and dead in Munich!

      Reply
      • Eagle-Eyed Editor

        Cieran as Wentworth is my hero! I love how he teases Anne Elliott before the concert.

        Anne: “Have you come for the concert?”
        Wentworth: “I have come for a lecture on navigation, Am I in the wrong place?”

        And right there with Richard Armitage as John Thornton. Ahhhh.

  73. elegantextracts

    Wow! Great essay… and so true. I am not really a great fan of Jane Eyre (confirmed Austenite). Hollywoodish Austen adaptations face many of the exact same obstacles. If I could but only make screenwriters understand once and for all that the Bennet family is not poor, only not as well off as others, such as the Darcy’s… but I digress. That last adaptation of Pride and Prejudice nearly caused me to have a fit of apoplexy.

    In a way, I wish I had read Jane Eyre in my youth before being influenced by the films. Now when I try to go back and read it, it just leaves me unsatisfied because I already have a picture in my head.

    I will say that I am very glad that I did read Elizabeth Gaskell’s work before the “newish” craze to adapt her books in the last few years. If the book version of John Thornton had come fully formed in my mind’s eye as the actor, Richard Armitage from the get go, I would have never believed it was possible for him to be such a brutish “tradesman.”

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Thanks, elegantextracts. I agree, once you see an actor in something, it’s hard to picture anyone else.

      I didn’t mind the latest P&P that much, though it annoyed me that Matthew Macfayden was too lazy to read the book, and totally missed that Darcy is both shy and an arrogant ass, at least to start. I felt like that movie was a “version” of something I loved, but not too closely related. The best was definitely Firth and Ehle, which I watched in Ireland as it debuted on the BBC, week after week. Loved it right from the start.

      Reply
      • elegantextracts

        Ha! Agree. Darcy is an ass. And I don’t care how much money he has, or how big his estate is! I keep wondering about who else in Austen would suit Darcy other than Lizzy Bennet, and I have come up with the only answer: no one else! He is an animal unto himself. Now, if I could take my pick, Wentworth would be my choice in the husband department.

      • jessicaminiermabe

        Wentworth for the win! I love the book’s Wentworth, and their conversation at the end about what they do, and don’t regret. Le sigh…

  74. Alynia

    I had to read this book for secondary school, and couldn’t quite come through, English being my second language. Even at 18 years old I found it worth to read the Dutch translation to get the story, and then again in English like I should. It has been one of my favourite novels since.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Alynia, I love the book too. I’m so glad you were able to read it in English! It’s not a particularly easy read, so that’s pretty amazing.

      Reply
  75. 14amanda

    great post you have here… how i love a feisty woman character like JE and how she tried hard to go against the convention ..but I always go for the kinds of Mr. Darcy than Rochester , hands down. Not because I am an Austen fan , but he is more kindly, intelligent and thoughtful, just have to look beyond that gruff exterior…besides, Firth is my all time favorite Darcy… I missed the Mia Wasikowska starrer but if you will be writing the script for the next movie adaptation , I will surely watch it. ha ha.. good luck!

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Thanks, 14amanda! I agree, she is fiesty. Darcy is a good guy, but I also love Rochester, just for being such in imperfect human being. He’s so wounded, and I love that Charlotte lets him redeem himself, despite his desire for Jane to save him.

      Reply
  76. Kevin Eagan

    Reblogged this on Critical Margins and commented:
    Here’s a great reflection on a classic novel: Jane Eyre. As I sort through boxes this week and catch up on organizing my summer reads, I thought it’d be nice to share this excellent look at one of the 19th Century’s best novels.

    Reply
  77. longislandpen

    Never did understand what Jane saw in Rochester at all! Well written and informative. More importantly – I enjoyed reading your writing and learned.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Thanks, longislandpen. I think she sees, beneath all the bluster and bullcrap, someone who believes passionately in love. That’s the appeal, in the end, and that once he stops all his insecure fussing, he truly loves her for who she is, whereas most of her society doesn’t even see her.

      Reply
  78. Katie Sullivan

    I love Jane Eyre, although I did find it by way of The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Which was hilarious. Regardless, Jane Eyre was probably the first classic book I ever read and enjoyed (Wuthering Heights scared me off the Bronte sisters for quite a while).

    I enjoyed your essay and found myself nodding along quite a bit. You have some great insights that I hadn’t considered before. I’ll have to re-read the book with fresh eyes – thank you!

    Reply
  79. dmc

    I love this analysis. I never made that connection between St. John and Helen. I’ve always thought that last letter from him, written from China (??) to Jane, was somewhat sad–as if he had come to the realization that he’d chosen wrongly, but still couldn’t admit it. And it reads like he’s twisting himself into a knot mentally, to do that.

    I very much enjoyed reading this. Beyond the quality of Charlotte Bronte’s writing, I’ve always admired that she tells a great story.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Thanks, dmc! That last letter is sad, but I don’t think he thinks he’s wrong: I think he’s incapable of believing that he is anything other than correct, even the eve of his death.

      Reply
  80. angelanowak

    Thank you for taking time to write about this film. I shall be frank – I absolutely hate most things that come out of Hollywood. Alas, I can’t say the same about this latest film. I went to the cinema to watch it and I was astonished. The actress actually prayed out loud to God for help to resist Rochester’s charms & affection. Humanly speaking it made no sense. Unless God was at work there. I haven’t read the book recently, so it is not that fresh in my memory. But that’s how now I see Jane – in spite of all the sufferings & spiritual hypocrisy around her, she still maintains her faith in God. Simply amazing. I believe Charlotte had to write about some of her experiences in the novel, being a daughter of a clergyman I can’t imagine faith in God wasn’t important or at least ingrained in her mind if not her heart. For that alone I say Bravo to Hollywood on this film. For once they got something right!

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      angelanowak, Jane is definitely Christian, and does believe in God. That said, the biggest criticism of the novel at the time was that it was somewhat sacrilegious, and it is, in the sense of the Victorian world. Jane loves God, but she also thinks that society’s vision of religion, and morality, is skewed.

      Reply
  81. tygerchild

    Hi,
    First let me say I love Jane Eyre. I have loved it since I was in middle school, and love it still. However, things have been brought to my attention through a class I have taken this summer, and you seem scholarly enough to accept this not as hostility, but sharing of knowledge. So, I say, what about Rochester’s first wife? Perhaps one of the most important characters who you don’t mention. I say this because of my class in Studies in Contemporary Global Literature. My professor said what about his wife who was locked up? Was she really crazy or was it that she was taken away from her home? She also told me of a book called the Wide Sargasso Sea which is told from the perspective of his Caribbean wife. I haven’t read it yet, but I thought you might want to know about it.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Thanks, tygerchild. Rochester’s wife is insane. He says she inherited it from her mother. When Jane feels sorry for her and wonders how Rochester could reject her for that, he says that’s not the issue (it’s only why they can’t divorce). The problem is that she was wildly promiscuous, which led to her contracting an illness that hastened the onset of her madness (essentially, syphilis, though Charlotte was not a medical expert on that one). It’s this voracious promiscuity that disgusts Rochester, not her madness itself. He implies that he has long-since stopped sleeping with her, which means he probably escaped contracting the illness. Wide Sargasso Sea is an interesting book, but it really doesn’t have much to do with the story in Jane Eyre, as Rochester isn’t recognizable as a character.

      Reply
  82. Between Commercials

    I love this post, but I think the problem lies not in Hollywood ‘not getting’ the book, but in Hollywood’s perception of mass viewership. In versions I’ve seen and based on your essay, they seem to dumb down the book for the sake of captivating a larger audience. What they miss is that patronizing viewers will leave those viewers disappointed, because all the intricacies that your essay talks about? Those matter! Even if the audience doesn’t understand why (although I think that assumption underestimates viewers).

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Between Commercials, I agree. I guess the problem is that they don’t “get” the audience, rather than the book. They assume we’re too stupid to understand the book we all clearly love. That’s what annoys me so :).

      Reply
  83. rachelannfrench

    Brilliant! I always feel deflated after watching some version of my faveourite classics. They’re usually miles away from being write, or annoyingly, if they had put a tiny little more effort in, they’d have got it! I always go back to the book, to reassure myself it was as good as I thought!

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      rachelannfrench, me too. I think one of the big issues is that very few screenwriters are prepared to really do a book justice. Adaptations are a whole different kettle of fish than original work. And then the directors don’t really “get” the book, either, so that compounds the problem.

      Reply
  84. Christy Thomas

    Beautifully explained. I too have read the book multiple times and have yet to find a movie version that worked. The St. Johns character is actually the most important one to me–the temptation on Jane’s part to choose safe without passion and the inner character that permits her to fight that temptation with clarity and integrity.

    Reply
  85. ghostbusterbev

    Unfortunately Hollywood scripts are not written with biographical/historical accuracy in mind…screenplays adhere to Hollywood formula and of course the bottom line is to entertain = viewers = money. Thank you for your very thorough, insightful review of a great classic!

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Thanks, ghostbusterbev. I guess what frustrates me is that Hollywood doesn’t have to be that way. Great movies have repeatedly shown that there’s an audience for sophisticated work. I just don’t understand why Hollywood can’t seem to see that.

      Reply
  86. LucyBre

    I have always wanted to read Jane Eyre but have never gotten round to it, this post has just reminded me of that (I shall have to put it on my bucket list on my blog 😉 ). It’s not even just Jane Eyre, the book is always better than the movie and sadly for me I always read the book first. So that is probably why I hate so many movies…

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      You’ll have to join us, LucyBre, when I get the “class” on it started up! But yes, with some rare exceptions, the book is always better. I’m okay with that, as long as it feels like the movie made an attempt!

      Reply
  87. tessmorris

    I’m an avid lover of the newest adaptation of Jane Eyre, and after visiting Bronte parsonage, i bought the book. However, when i read it, the feel was so much coarser and less romantic and now i can scarcely watch the film without wincing at the lack of focus on the other characters and the fabrication of insignificant sections in comparison to those that remain left out or merely ‘mentioned’. This essay sums the whole unfortunate letdown of the Hollywood interpretation and i have to say…i totally agree with each and every one of your 5 points, summed up perfectly!

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Thanks, tessmorris. That’s just it, isn’t it: the book really isn’t about romance. The funny thing is, I think that’s why everyone loves it so much still, nearly 200 years later. If it were just a swoony romance, we’d all be over it. It’s the depth and brilliance of Charlotte’s story that sustains it.

      Reply
      • tessmorris

        definitely, without the sharpness of reality, the story would just become another tale of unlikely love and therefore would not be credited as a book which tackles the social issues of the society in which Charlotte wrote. It is the lack of romance in the novel which makes it a well loved and universally recognised classic.

      • jessicaminiermabe

        Exactly! The *lack* of romance is exactly right. Anyone who finds Rochester romantic for most of the novel needs to reexamine their romantic priorities! Thanks.

  88. andmorefood

    great post – I don’t have your passion for jane eyre (I’ve read it once and had to force my way through it) but I feel the same about p&p and all the indecencies film adaptations have done to it.

    but in the spirit of making-with-what-we-have, I find british adaptations (bbc and the like) far more in line with the spirit of the books than american ones – with too many insipid actress – *cough* keira knightley.

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      I agree, andmorefood, that the BBC adaptations are generally much better. I think that’s what makes the latest BBC version of JE so disappointing: I know they’re capable of much, much better.

      Reply
  89. Dreamer of Dreams

    I’ve not watched a single one of those films, but have read the book hundreds of times. My father gave me my beautiful copy of it when I was about thirteen years of age (I’d read it from the lending library before that, but after that I owned it!) — and I devoured every page, every year for the past thirty-five years. And I agree with all of your points without ever having seen the movies — if the directors/casting directors give short shrift to the beginning and the ending, if they mess up the “looks” aspect of it, if they don’t show how Jane rejects the false morality and hypocrisy and religiosity of that time, if they don’t show the contrasts in looks and character of the different women in the book — then, they have lost the point of the book entirely.

    Thank you for a brilliant point by point analysis of some of the best aspects of the book! I loved your penetrating insights into Charlotte Bronte’s characterization and plot.

    (“Jane Eyre” has been, and will always be, one of my TOP favorite books for all of my life.)

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Dreamer of Dreams, skip the movies for now, and just keep on loving the book! It’s my top book too, tied in a way with Heart of Darkness, which is a different kettle of fish altogether!

      Reply
  90. One of 7 Billion

    Hm, now I have to reread the book. I remember disliking it and what I thought to be its theme. . . now I think I may have missed a few things.

    Reply
      • scottrudolph

        Jessica, this is an awesome piece. Do you ever guest blog? You’ve got some amazing points in this article. Thank you for sharing. Best regards, Scott

      • jessicaminiermabe

        I’m not opposed to guest-blogging, but I generally just write whatever and whenever I like, which doesn’t lend itself to guest-blogging very well! Thanks again.

  91. The Nourishing Nut

    I am embarrassed to admit that despite being an avid reader this is a book I have never read and a movie I have never seen. The book just became the top of my things to do list though. Thanks for the inspiration. I love your passion and clear love for this story.

    Reply
  92. TrashBash

    I think this is brilliant. However its opinion, its not what we all think, I also think in some cases it is a love story. Not a conventional one, but a version that was only offered to Jane. Book adaptation is never going to please everyone, least of all the avid source text fans. Fact. What you’re failing to realise is that they’re not usually there to be truthful to the text, they’re there to tell their own versions, for entertainment and to appeal to audiences wider than those who have read the book. What they do do however is keep the originals alive, people naturally become curious about Brontë and are more likely to go back and read it. There is always a tie in with bookshops and the release an adapted classic. The key point is Hollywood. When was Hollywood ever about being loyal to the text or ‘getting the point’ of an old English story? Its not what will sell tickets to the masses as you point out, and if they get part and not all of the essence of the story right, then that’s good enough. I work in film and I know how difficult and restrictive it can be making everything exact – it just doesn’t work and even the ones that are close never really stick to it 100 percent. Its not realistic and it’s not Hollywood. Chiamanda Ngozie Adichie said something in a talk she was giving about her new book Americanah. She pointed out that the film version of Half A Yellow Sun was so removed from her that she didnt want anything to do with it, not because she hated the idea, but because the book was hers and the film belonged to the director. She understood things would be ADAPTED because it was for cinema. On the other hand you have people like JK Rowling who had a lot to do with the adaptations of her books, but to a certain point. Whatever Hollywood doesn’t get about Jane Eyre now, maybe they will in the future – maybe not, maybe they don’t need to because its all about artistic licence, projecting a version of the same story for different people.

    Great post.

    Reply
  93. chengboiser

    what a great article, nicely done.
    Jane Eyre has always been my fave book, and of course we can always just hope that Hollywood would give justice to any literary wonders out there.

    Reply
  94. pymette

    I loved reading this. The Toby/Ruth version is my absolute favourite, probably because it wasn’t trying “too hard” to be an exact copy. I think of it more as a tribute film. The ones that try to replicate the book end up failing a bit more. I’m a huge Timothy Dalton fan, but he’s the opposite of how I imagined Rochester when I read the book (i.e. devastatingly handsome vs. unattractive)

    Reply
  95. sevennotesofgrace

    Love it!!! I do have a copy of the latest film on DVD which I have not yet watched, got it for Mothers Day, keep meaning to . . . you have inspired me to go watch it – even though it has great potential to disappoint. At least some of the modern versions of the film might send people (esp younger people) off to read the book out of interest. They will be surprised, and pleasantly, to discover many goodies the films can never recreate! Thanks

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Agreed, sevennotesofgrace. I often showed my students the Toby/Ruth version, and they loved picking it to shreds after reading the book. Film has so many virtues, in terms of bringing people to literature. That’s why a good version would be so amazing!

      Reply
  96. dancingpotatotes

    Wonderful post, made my day! 🙂 Jane Eyre is my all-time favourite classic and the movies (haven’t seen the mini series yet) don’t create the same magic that the book does! Also, I too would wear a ‘I heart Jane Eyre’ tee haha

    Reply
  97. wildacademicwoman

    Loved this post times a billion! Jane Eyre is my number one favorite book of all time. I read it as a teenager (never for school, actually). After my divorce, I read it again and cried almost the whole time–my life experiences made me see things differently than before. Maybe it’s time to read it again this summer…

    Reply
  98. Feigning wisdom

    I agree..
    I have been a huge Bronte sister fan, even though they’ve written so less.
    The characters are always such a disappointment. Helen Burns and Bertha Mason need to stronger and so much better.

    Reply
  99. Amina Amatullah

    Great, thorough essay. I read Jane Eyre in my second level community college English course. I love the book, and like you said, the movies NEVER match up. I have only seen one version. I cannot recall the year it was released. I question why Hollywood continues to dish out a version. Hopefully a movie will be produced that will appease readers and make Miss Bronte pleased.

    Reply
  100. Editor

    The only point you make about the new film is that Fassbender isn’t allegedly like Rochester?

    In what way?

    What’s so wrong with the film? It is, of course, the two hour version and must be compressed. The article did very, very little to relate to the films. What exactly do you claim the latest production is doing wrong? I thought Mia Wasikowska was wonderful. The story is apparently there, and so what’s the gripe?

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Hi Editor! Thanks for writing. Somehow you ended up in my spam file for a few hours. Glad I caught you!

      Fassbender is a great actor, but he’s too small-boned and not imposing or imperious enough for Rochester (as well as being too pretty, as always). He’s thin and wirey, and Rochester is meant to be blocky and powerfully strong. He’s also fairer-haired and eyed than Rochester. But none of that would matter to me if the rest of the film worked better.

      I thought the new movie was truncated in a strange way. I liked Mia, actually, though she’s still too pretty (but hey, as I’ve said, I can deal with that). The beginning was too fast and barely touched on the Reeds or Lowood, and the middle was oddly too long and yet almost nothing happened. Much of the dialog between Jane and Rochester in the book was cut (which it would have to be), but there were many long shots of scenic vistas that I felt could have been cut to allow another moment between Jane and Rochester. It felt rushed, yet it was 3/4s of the movie. Then the end was rushed, again. I believe it was Jamie Bell as St. John? Terrible casting. It was never made clear what was going on between them, or why she rejected him (other than her love of Rochester). The movie skimped on the beginning, skimped on the end, did little with the middle… and there were too damned many shots of rocks.

      I thought the backward-plot thing also didn’t work. It wasn’t necessary, and spoiled the idea that Jane was going to grow as a person over time. And then it led to a repeated shot of Jane wuthering out on the moors, which was more time wasted from the story. It was the exact same 30-second shot, twice. If you’re going to cut half of Jane and Rochester’s dialog out, then at least don’t show me the same shot more than once!

      And I like Fassbender. I do. I like Mia. They’re great actors. Shame was truly inspired. Best acting I’ve seen in forever, and Michael was naked and miserable through 90% of it. I just didn’t like this adaptation any more than any of the others. It had its good points, and frankly, Mia was one of them, but it still didn’t get it right. Which was the article’s point: not that these are all terrible films, because they’re not. They’re just not good adaptations of Jane Eyre.

      Your opinion may be different, of course! I love lots of movie adaptations that make other people groan. 🙂

      Reply
  101. corinnelopez777

    I started to read your post and love it so far! I will read the rest when I have finished the book. I am linking your post to a short one that I am writing. It is woefully inadequate compared to what you have written! Masterful analysis!

    Reply
  102. moondustwriter

    A well pointed essay
    A great part two whould be classical literature when it is made into a movie. (worse than Cliff Notes) Movie makers barely skim the surface; rather than use thematic conflicts and contrasts they paint a “pretty” picture

    Reply
    • jessicaminiermabe

      Exactly! The thematic elements are key, but I honestly believe that most people are never properly taught how to look for them, so they can’t find them as screenwriters or as directors.

      I think part of this is the heavy focus in classrooms on symbolism and literary criticism over discovery of broader themes. I still don’t remember what the rose bush growing at Hester Prynne’s door represented, though I know we agonized over it for days in high school English. I do remember, twenty-five years later, the hypocrisy of the Puritans. Which one was more important, in the end?

      Reply

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