Friday, November 28, 2014

The Book Lover's Den #12: Jane Eyre - The Famous Proposal Scene

Welcome to my Friday feature!

In each weekly post, I explore 
my thoughts on several 
book-related topics.

The Jane Eyre Read-Along, hosted by Brian @ Babbling Books, and myself, has now officially ended, and I must confess to feeling lost and forlorn..... This might seem a bit melodramatic on my part, but there it is. That's just how I feel. I suppose that could be because I haven't read a great classic in a long time, but I suspect it's more than that. After all, Jane Eyre is my absolutely favorite classic, bar none! However, I had not analyzed this novel in such depth before. True, it was one of my high school English Lit. assignments, but I don't remember much about the analysis I did back then. This time around, I somehow saw more things, especially about Mr. Rochester's character, that I had not seen before.

Jane, too, seemed even more fiery and spirited than I remember her being, when I first read the novel. It was wonderful to read! I especially liked the dialogues between her and Rochester when they were first getting acquainted. It was obvious that they were meant for each other, for they were evenly matched in nearly every way, except spiritually. However, even that was overcome by the end of the novel.

I was feeling so downcast about leaving the world of Jane Eyre, that I decided I just had to enter it again. Last night, I took out and watched, for the first time, part of the 1983 BBC miniseries, which I had bought about a month ago. Timothy Dalton, the actor who played Rochester, was truly magnificent! His interpretation of Rochester is, I think, the one closest to the author's vision. He was a true Byronic romantic hero! His voice was mesmerizing,  his delivery and diction impeccable, his very gestures stamped him as Edward Fairfax Rochester in the flesh. I felt as if  I were encountering the character for the very first time, and it was exhilarating!

Sadly, I did not experience the same thing with Jane. Zelah Clarke, the actress who portrayed her, did not match Dalton's superb performance. Her interpretation left a lot to be desired, as her Jane was much too passive. I kept hoping she would show as much fire and spirit as the novel clearly demonstrated Jane to possess. It just wasn't there. I think, however, that part of the fault lies with two other people -- Alexander Baron, who wrote the TV adaptation, and the director, Julian Amyes. They apparently felt that Jane, as written by Charlotte Bronte, was just too passionately a feminist, even for 1983 audiences. So what they apparently did was to "tone her down" to a mere shadow of herself. She was no longer a  worthy match for Rochester, but a more quiescent heroine, perhaps more typical of those prevalent in fiction at the time this novel was written.

Below, I have included the famous proposal scene from the  novel, as seen in the 1983 miniseries. This is where Jane delivers a passionate speech to Rochester, declaring her true feelings for him. This was the most disappointing part of the 1983 miniseries. It should have been the most thrilling, romantic, and electrifying. I loved Dalton's performance, but Clarke's left me totally cold.....I am firmly convinced that Dalton was purposely emphasized in this version, to the detriment of Clarke, who was either not given a chance to shine, or simply did not know how to play her character effectively.

I then decided to go to YouTube in order to find other adaptations for comparison -- specifically of the proposal scene. I searched in vain for the same scene from the 1970 adaptation, starring George C. Scott and Susannah York. I saw this one years ago, but don't remember it well. I also looked for the Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine version, and found it. I wasn't quite satisfied with this one, either, mainly because Welles and Fontaine were speaking in their regular American accents. Besides, it was very obvious that Fontaine was closer in age to Welles than Jane Eyre is supposed to be. Furthermore, she, too, fails to embody the character as originally written. Again, Jane is a revolutionary person, so she was also toned down in this version; unsurprisingly, since this film was released in 1943.

The director was Robert Stevenson, and the screenplay was written by three people: John Houseman, Aldous Huxley (of Brave New World fame), and Stevenson himself.

Well, perhaps now no film adaptation can quite compare to the book, for me.... However, I did find a much more spirited Jane, in the proposal scene for the 2006 miniseries, also done by the BBC. The actress who portrayed Jane, Ruth Wilson, did a much better job of being the character, at least, in this particular scene. I would have to watch the entire series to see whether Jane is just as spirited throughout. As for the actor who portrayed Rochester, Toby Stephens, his style is totally different from Dalton's; it struck me as a bit unusual for this character. Still, I enjoyed the performance of these two actors much more. I especially liked how they got rained on, and excitedly went back to the house, where he was very reluctant to let her go.

The director of this version was Susanna White, and the screenplay was written by Sandy Welch. I wonder if this is the reason I find this portrayal of Jane to be more satisfactory. The previous directors and screenplay writers were all men.

I also watched this same scene from the 2011 movie, starring Michael Fassbender as Rochester, and Mia Wasikowska as Jane. Here, again, I found the performances uneven. I liked Wasikowska's portrayal of Jane, but found Fassbender's Rochester lacking. He should have been much more forceful. Instead, he came off as a bit weak, although the montage of images certainly helped this particular scene.

The director of this film adaptation was Cary Joji Fukunaga, and the author of the screenplay was Moira Buffini.

So now I don't know what to think.... I am left with a restless feeling, or perhaps more of a feeling of incompleteness. I do need to watch the entire 2006 miniseries, to see how I like it. All the episodes are available free on YouTube. If it turns out that I like it, I will eventually attempt to acquire it, although it's out of print, and therefore, a bit pricey.

I also believe we're long overdue for a new version of this immortal novel -- one in which both Rochester and Jane are portrayed with equal passion,  equal firmness of character. Unfortunately, I am left with the nagging impression that just maybe, that will never be possible....

I really need to re-read this novel again soon. I don't think I'll ever get enough of it!!

Online Links

Have you seen any of these
film adaptations?
If so, which is your favorite?
Or do you have another
favorite I have not discussed here?


  1. One can never get enough if Jane Eyre Maria.

    I also thing that we had such great interaction and discussion during the read along that it is indeed difficult to let it go.

    I really need to spend some time watching these screen versions. I will try for the 2006 version. Amazing that Jane's character and feminist ideals was so toned down in the 1983 version! I am not surprised however.

    Timothy Dalton was born to play Rochester.

    1. Hey, Brian!

      That's absolutely RIGHT!! ""One can NEVER get enough of Jane Eyre"!!

      I totally agree -- we had a GREAT read-along, with very interesting discussions among all the participants and commenters,, so that's precisely why it's so hard to move on to other things, now....

      I'm glad you also concur that Jane's personality was much toned down in the 1983 version. In fact, I noticed a HUGE contrast between her and Rochester. Having read the book not that long ago, I thought the difference was considerable. The passionate speech in the book was not delivered as Bronte wrote it. First off, the actress did not deliver it all in one go, which is the way Jane did it in the book! And the part that mentions that Jane is speaking to Rochester "spirit to spirit", as if they both stood in front of God, equal...... This speech ends with the phrase, "as we are!" The whole speech is supposed to get more and more emotional, so that by the time Jane gets to "as we are", she's speaking VERY forcefully, VERY vehemently. But the way Clarke rendered it, she took all the power out of it..... I felt as if the wind had been let out of my sails.....SO disappointing!! But you know, I did find this surprising. I mean, we had the Second Wave Feminist movement in the '60s! Surely by 1983, things would have changed! At least, I would have thought so. It appears that everything sort of went right back to the way things were in the '50s; maybe not completely, but pretty much.

      As for Dalton, he was DEFINITELY born to play Rochester! He was just SUPERB!! Unfortunately, a side effect of his excellent performance was that he made Clarke look pretty bad. Lol.

      I'm glad you're going to investigate the 2006 version. I want to get a hold of it myself. Ruth Wilson was a MUCH better Jane!

      You know, I happened to see the1996 film version, with William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg. I was checking to see if I had any other versions of the book, and came across the DVD. So I watched it last night. Gainsbourg was pretty good, and Hurt -- well, NOBODY can match Timothy Dalton, but Hurt was not that bad. However, the movie as a whole was just OK. They made too many changes in the novel, compressing a lot of important things because they only had two hours to tell the story. The part about St. John Rivers was practically non-existent, and the fire at Thornfield Hall took place a lot sooner than it did in the book; in fact, it happened just as Jane was leaving, only she didn't see it because she was in such a hurry to leave, she never noticed the house was on fire.

      I'm now looking forward to watching the 2006 miniseries. I think all the episodes are available on YouTube. Not a good way to watch it, but it's a bit hard to find the DVE at a decent price. I won't give up, though. I'll keep checking on eBay.

      Thanks for the great comment!! : )

  2. Great post! I have never actually read Jane Eyre, but it is definitely on my TBR list. The movie is rarely as good as the book so it may be impossible to get the characters just right. :)

    1. Hi, Cynthia!

      Thank you for the compliment!!

      This is my very favorite classic novel, so I'm very much interested in seeing it done right. Lol. But you're right -- it indeed rare when a movie does justice to a book..... This particular novel is SO rich in themes and symbolism, it may never be done justice to in film.....sigh....

      Thank you so much for visiting and commenting!! : )


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