Nov. 19, 2020

Tale of Woe: the Heartbreak and Happiness of Jane Eyre

Tale of Woe: the Heartbreak and Happiness of Jane Eyre

In this episode I talk about one of the best filmed versions of the classic novel Jane Eyre: the 2011 romantic movie with Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska. In my humble opinion, ahem.

<p>Project Gutenberg, a library of more than 60,000 free e-books!</p>

<p>The Mr. Rochester book.</p>

<p>The second fireside conversation between Mr. Rochester and Jane.</p>

<p>The proposal scene. Passion played out in the woods and/or nature! Always a winner! See also The Grabby Kiss episode. Mia breaks my heart each time I watch this scene.</p>


Tale of Woe: the Heartbreak and Happiness of Jane Eyre 2011

I love anything Jane Eyre. That novel — and Middlemarch and Wuthering Heights—remind me of a survey of 19th century British literature I took  in college. I adored every minute of that course.

I think there were 12 or 13 huge novels assigned in that 16-week semester. I  remember getting to page 30 of 800? pages of Middlemarch  thinking: I won't be able to do this! 

 Then the story just kicked in — I fell in love with Dorothea, the romance, the characters of that small English town.

I adored the professor of this course— he was handsome, bearded,  maybe in his 40s? When we discussed Jane Eyre, I remember him correcting us that the character wasn't "St. John" but "Sinjen. "I wondered how he knew that… 

 He would diagram the plots of the novels in chalk across a blackboard wide as the room, with the story symbolism in little squares linked by lines like a flow chart.

 I always waited after class with a question.  I didn't care that I looked like little miss perfect — I couldn't stop thinking about these stories. I think I related to the orphan in Jane Eyre, and the orphans in Charles Dickens,  because I felt like an orphan in my own family.

 It never occurred to me that I might've seemed like…what's the professor equivalent of a groupie? We’d start talking in the classroom as he packed up his briefcase and I would walk with him clear across campus still talking about these stories.

I’ve watched many versions of the Jane Eyre story at this point, including the somewhat odd George C. Scott 1970s version, but I think I love the 2011 one the best. 

In case you haven’t read it, it’s a story about a woman orphaned as young child, who went to live with an abusive aunt and her children, then got thrown into an institution for girls where she was neglected and abused, but eventually becomes a governess, which is a life-saving moment for her after she answers an ad for a job at Thornfield Hall, a grand county estate. The job is governess to the ward  of the mysterious man who runs Thornfield Hall.

There's a lot more to the story and it's well worth reading.

But if you can only watch, this 2011 version is visually stunning—  it's full of muted earthy colors, reminding us how elemental and close to nature these characters are. The  indoor scenes are lit by candlelight and fire and are so beautiful. They're often shot against dark wood  paneling, too,  like against ground or mud.

 The sound design is rich and layered, especially the spooky night sounds in Thornfield Hall.  

The way the movie is constructed shows that Jane’s strength comes from her woundedness and her rich interior life, which I think is an accurate reflection of the novel. 

That kind of psychological story was pretty pioneering in the mid-19th century.

So Jane has been at Thornfield Hall quite a few weeks but hasn't met her boss Mr Rochester  formally, but he’s intrigued by her and one night he asks her to sit by fire with him.

 they look directly at each other throughout this scene. He's taking advantage of the power difference, the age and class disparities, but she doesn’t hesitate to meet his eyes as an equal.

[film clip]

 Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester and Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre are perfection to me.

I'm very picky about my Mr. Rochester's–- don't make him too gruff and remote or too sensitive and romantic, because to me, his character is quite maladjusted and bitter and his transformation, through his love for Jane, exactly as she is, is what makes this story so powerful.

This movie doesn't over romanticize Mr. Rochester— he seems to have more self awareness about his flaws which I think is in keeping with the book but i'll see as I reread..

I'm also listening to the audiobook Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker, which imagines Mr. Rochester's back story and how he came to be who he is. It's fascinating and the narrator is dreamy. 

 To me, the transformation in this story has to highlight the peculiar romantic partner that Rochester represents and Jane's choice to accept him. She leads with her heart because of the abuse in her past – she sees the wounded bird in him and herself and how they might heal each other. One partner transforming the other -- one of my favorite romantic tropes!

The second time they speak,  it’s first time they're really alone. What a different conversation than the first. It's intimate, he's dismissive then self-pitying and selfish, but she doesnt break her glance and seems to look right into him. This is a long clip but hang in there — there’s a  poetic end that foreshadows the romance to come.

[film clip]

Mia's performance is brilliant. Since the story is first-person, she finds a way to reveal her interior life and  thoughts without dialogue.

Her stillness , her neck stiffens when she disagrees, she makes minute shaking movements to show high emotion, lifts her chin to show backbone, and the intensity of her gaze is the engine of every scene she's in. 

In another long but gorgeous clip:, Jane congratulates  Rochester in the Hall courtyard on what she thinks is his marriage to a noblewoman.

She sets off for a walk to gather her thoughts, and at the very bottom of the frame you see her tiny figure almost crossing a bridge and Rochester running to cross it and catch up with her. 

[film clip]

The scene ends with a storm, a portend of what's to come...

Oh, a damaged man battered by life trying to persuade a wounded woman battered by life to take a chance on love. Oh the transformative power of love trope!  Now that's romance.

This story has been known for more than 150 hundred years so no spoilers here…here it comes…

After their horrible aborted wedding, Jane meets Rochester in the hallway at Fairfield Hall. 

They end up in a sitting room and Rochester lights a fire. The match touching the kindling is in extreme close-up — what a fantastic symbol.He tries to explain what happened, and each time Jane takes a moral stand, she can only break his gaze by lifting her chin towards the ceiling. 

You can see she is so in love but will sacrifice evythng  for doing the right thing — which is secretly what Rochester loves about her but would dearly love to violate for his own comfort. 

[film clip]

The story ends with a tragedy but lots of love and happiness too. I just love watching movies like this in the autumn with all of the wood fires and windswept moors and neglected people finding family. This story reminds me that we’re forged and made better by adversity, and we can all feel like orphans at times.

Jane Eyre got her happy ending by never running from who she was. Now that's a romance role model.