This will be the first in a mini-series looking at different authors and how their works have become the most loved adaptations in film and television. In this series I will be looking at specific novels and how they are adapted and portrayed to an audience, it will be both complimentary and at times critical.
In this post I will be looking at the Bronte sisters and their works.
Currently I am reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte after seeing many varied adaptations of this novel, I decided it was about time I read it. I cannot put it down. Even though I know what happens, it is still the anticipation of reading the inner most thoughts and feelings of the characters which you don’t get in film or a TV series. Upon my research I noticed there were many versions of Jane Eyre and I have seen three of them.
Firstly I started an interest with the Bronte sisters and their works at high school when I read a short story by H. G. Wells The Red Room, which had extracts about the red room in Jane Eyre.
The first version I saw of Jane Eyre was the 2011 version with Michael Fassbender as Edward Fairfax Rochester. I did enjoy it when I saw it originally. Then I saw the 1997 film again I enjoyed this and finally the 2006 TV mini-series with Toby Stephens as Rochester and Ruth Wilson as Jane Eyre. The 2006 version I thoroughly enjoyed in many ways and could say is my favourite. This is especially based on the interaction and chemistry of the two actors, which gave it a dynamic that was entertaining and captured the characters accordingly. I have not seen the 1983 version with Timothy Dalton, but I have seen a few clips on YouTube of his portrayal and many see this as their favourite. I can see why as this is the closest to the novel. Being close to a novel is always a thumbs up with fans of any kind of novel being transformed into a drama piece.
After a while I think it is important to read the novel of a classical piece of literature which has been adapted so many times. Why? The reason is that the adaptations are all different and do not include characters which can be important to the story, even scenes are chopped, changed or erased completely. I will admit I was surprised at the notable differences once I started reading the book, in comparison to what I had watched. For me the importance of Bessie when Jane is a child with her Uncle Reed’s family and Miss Temple at Lowood school are highly undervalued. Both characters show a kindness and some endearment to Jane which not many adaptations have picked up on, maybe ever so slightly with Bessie meeting Jane to tell her that her aunt has asked for her as she is dying. However in the novel it is Bessie’s husband and the one time that Bessie and Jane did see each other again is when Jane is at Lowood as an 18-year-old.
Other scenes that have been completely left out apart from one or two is the gypsy scene where Rochester dresses up as a gypsy to antagonise and to draw out the women’s desires and views for his own piece of mind and satisfaction. This scene is vital for the reader as it indicates Rochester’s feelings towards Blanche Ingram and those towards Jane. We never hear what is said between gypsy Rochester and Ingram, which leaves many to the imagination and reading between the lines somewhat. As for a reader that is always brilliant when we get to work things out. The gypsy scene was done in the 1983 version, amazingly done by Timothy Dalton and also in the 2006 version, but instead of Rochester being the gypsy he pays a woman to do it instead, while he hides. Whether it is done in either of these ways, this is an important moment for the reader/viewer as they get to see Edward Rochester in another light altogether.
Out of the versions I have seen in comparison to the novel, in my opinion for me 2011 version is the worst to others I have actually seen. I can see the creativity of starting the film of a scene halfway through the novel, where Jane leaves Thornfield Hall after the non marriage. But if that was your first time seeing or learning about Jane Eyre it is very confusing. But I do applaud the direction it was trying to take. Also the chopping and merging of scenes gave it a mishmash and sometimes rushed feel. Unfortunately with the calibre of talent and the beautiful music and scenery it could have been a success. But for me it falls far from the mark.
My favourite in comparison to the novel would be the TV mini series, as it gave more time to be complex in story and character which probably gave more freedom for the actors. In comparison to the book it gave the essence of character which I thoroughly appreciated and was sorry that it ended as I could have watched more. For me where this succeeded where the other failed was it started chronologically. Also it didn’t merge scenes to the extent of the 2011 film. But this can really be explained by the time constraints of a film and TV series. For me the way the characters were played was spectacular, the difference in Rochester was that it saw a teasing, overtly sexual, worldly and confident Byronic hero. As well as the big difference in Rochester, Jane was a significant difference between the 2011 and 2006 version, as the 06 one gave a vibrant, playful and conflicting character to who she is and what she believes, where 2011 gave off a plain Jane. A plain Jane is definitely not my perception of Jane Eyre from the book.
One thing I find important about Jane Eyre is Charlotte originally published it under a pseudonym of Currer Bell. This is significant as women were expected to be a certain type in social circles, as well as only publishing certain material and Jane Eyre would not have been suitable for the writings of a demure woman. It is important to say that the book was a phenomenon until Currer Bell was identified as a woman and then it was shunned as something a woman should not write. It was not part of their social norm. In today’s world, this particular work of literature would have been celebrated and ironically it still is, with many screenwriters, directors and actors still rolling out a Jane Eyre product somewhere. The reason I specifically mention the social aspects of the publication of Jane Eyre is because this translates to the novel. For me this clash in social values of the time is what makes a film or series of Jane Eyre a success in my view.
In conclusion Jane Eyre is seen as a woman who is modern beyond her years of wanting to advertise and self-assured in an era where women were not seen socially as independent, but as a dependent on a good marriage rather than a career, which Jane strives on as a governess in being a teacher. It is a timeless classic of love, finding out who you are and standing up for what you believe in, even if it will cost you the happiness you wanted.
So which version is your favourite?
Next time I will be continuing the theme of the sisters by looking at Emily Bronte’s novel of Wuthering Heights.