I’ll start as I mean to go on. That is, I don’t tend to hold much back. When someone asks me ‘how are you?’ I’m more likely than not to tell them exactly how I actually am, instead of the rote ‘fine, and yourself?’
I have long struggled with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, panic attacks and depression. After a couple of shocking, life-changing events in the last three years, I now can add PTSD to that list. My bench of coping mechanisms is broad and deep. Books have forever been my allies in this. But by far, the single best way to keep a multi-day trainwreck in my mind at bay is to lose myself – totally let myself fall in love all over again with one of my treasures.
Last month, I had a two week affair with Jane Eyre, and it was mind blowingly wonderful. I had no idea exactly how intense this affair would be, I never know when my mind will latch on to a story and refuse to let it go. It started as a lark: my sixteen year old niece was spending the weekend at my house, spending quality time with her Godpug, General George Washington. I jokingly said I’d turn her into a lover of classic lit yet, and started the BBC’s 1983 Jane Eyre with Timothy Dalton as Rochester and Zelah Clarke as Jane. So true to the book it’s ridiculous.
Fiery love, shocking twists of fate, and tragic mysteries put a lonely governess in jeopardy in JANE EYRE
Orphaned as a child, Jane has felt an outcast her whole young life. Her courage is tested once again when she arrives at Thornfield Hall, where she has been hired by the brooding, proud Edward Rochester to care for his ward Adèle. Jane finds herself drawn to his troubled yet kind spirit. She falls in love. Hard.
But there is a terrifying secret inside the gloomy, forbidding Thornfield Hall. Is Rochester hiding from Jane? Will Jane be left heartbroken and exiled once again?
The Bronte sisters excelled at shadows, showing humans as pillars of strength and piles of rubble in the face of untempered passion. Jane Eyre is a morality play, God’s judgement on one saint and one sinner, desperately in love, all wrapped up in a Gothic bow. The story, under all the old and dusty language, remains a gem.
I’d always looked at Jane and Rochester through my own lens of English Lit lover. Watching the BBC ‘83 series with my niece brought up nuances that, while I’d noticed, I’d never given much credit to. Jane Eyre took the absolute bullshit toolbox life had handed her and turned it into a feminist fortress. She learned early that a poor woman had few choices, but steadfastly, insistently, demanded her independence. She references equality, being equal, being an independent woman frequently.
Three hours in, just after Jane runs away from Thornfield after realizing that being in close proximity to Rochester would tempt her into bigamy:
My Niece: That girl has some stones.
Me: Why do you say that?
Niece: Mr. Rochester. Who could leave him after that speech? But she is, because she can’t trust him. And she won’t give herself up. She loves herself more than anything else.
Me: And that’s … bad?
Niece: No! That’s good!
There are three scenes I go back to over and over in the book or any adaptation, and Rochester trying to convince Jane to stay, live with him as his wife even when she can’t legally be his wife is one. The tension, angst and power of that scene is overwhelming. Good lord knows, I don’t know that I’d be that strong or true to myself in that position.
Two hours later, we reach the end of the BBC ‘83 adaptation:
Niece: THAT ENDING WAS NOT OK!!
Me: Why not? Things ended as well as they could have.
Niece: No! I did not spend five hours watching this, getting involved only to have the ending last all of thirty seconds!
Me: Okay. Want to watch a different one, a shorter one that may have a more satisfactory, drawn out ending for you?
Niece: I hate you.
And here – here is where my obsession kicks into overdrive. After watching this super-intense and detailed adaptation, like my niece, I want more. So I started reading the book again. After work, in the evenings after I’d fed the Generals and my son, I’d sit down and search for more adaptations of Jane Eyre that I may have missed. For the next two weeks, all of my free time was spent either reading Jane Eyre, reading about Jane Eyre or watching yet another adaptation of Jane Eyre.
Five adaptations, two re-reads and unknown online articles read – it started invading my dreams. In being so absorbed with this story – so familiar to me, but now coming at it from a different perspective – my brain fully derailed from the clusters of panic attacks I’d been having. Bliss.
Here’s what I learned from my two week obsession with a 170 year old story of love, morality, the wrath of god and redemption:
- If you’re intimidated by the antiquated language of the book, start with a recent, short adaptation. I’d recommend the 2011 adaptation, Jane Eyre, directed by Cary Fukunaga, starring Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre and Michael Fassbender as Rochester. My only real marks against this version are: Jane and Rochester are supposed to both be unattractive, and I can’t think of much that would make Mia Wasikowska or Michael Fassbender plain. (I’m serious. Look at him, omg.) There is a lot of sunshine – and that may seem to be an odd criticism, but it’s a gothic novel. Shit’s supposed to be dark, that’s really clear in the book. That said, I’ve never been one to pose too many negatives when the overall work is so true to the feeling of the novel. The scene where Jane resists the temptation to stay with Rochester is the single best version out of the dozen adaptations I’ve seen. I lost my breath. (No swoons, though. I’m okay.) If you get anything out of this rambling post – make it to watch this adaptation. If you don’t fall in complete Bronte adoration, after that, you never will.
- I am an absolute sucker for watching adaptation marathons. Seeing all of the different perspectives, how actors chose to portray Jane’s strength against Rochester’s desperate (and manipulative) determination.
- When the book calls for someone to lose a hand and have horrific face burns, and the actor playing Rochester ends up with a stiff hand and a bit of a scar it’s laughable. It’s hard to buy his dialogue about being a monster and a vulcan when it just looks like he face planted off his bike a few weeks ago, but a bit of Neosporin will fix that right up. I will forgive my recommendation in item #1, if only because Rochester generally looks like crusty hell by the end. (Yet still my number one Rochester. (Look at him, omg)
- If you want a sixteen year old girl to be intrigued by 17th century literature, best to trick her into it with a watch party. Because, guess what we’re watching on our next Godmother/Goddaughter/GodPug and GodBugg weekend? That’s right – another adaptation of Jane Eyre.
- I have a list of Rochesters I would have an affair with. I asked my husband if I could have a free pass for the three Rochesters on my ‘go for it’ list. He said no. I love my husband, but he is stifling my dreams.
Timothy Dalton (granted, 1983 Timothy Dalton) from the 1983 BBC Series. He is all of your 80’s era soap opera dreams come true.
Toby Stephens from the 2007 BBC Series. Dark, gothic, brooding, but plays to Rochester’s soft side so well once the defensive walls come down. So much the heart flutters. And his voice – I adore his voice.
Best for last: Michael Fassbender from the 2011 film adaptation. His portrayal of Rochester is just excellence wrapped up in jaw dropping emotive power. If you can watch the three pivotal Rochester scenes (marriage proposal, begging Jane to stay and ending scene) without adoring this man, you are superhuman. (Look at him, omg)
Any other Jane Eyre fans out there? Any others like me who get so caught up in a story they just can’t let go for awhile? Are you insistent on authenticity down to the minor details? Or, are you more flexible as long as the bare bones remain true? Anyone else just flat-out lusting over Michael Fassbender? (Look at him, omg) Tell me!