Jane Eyre Movie History
Not many classic novels have persisted as much in today’s world as Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre in terms of devoted readers and numerous film, TV, and stage adaptations. There is something special about a novel that has captivated readers since 1847 and still remains fresh on readers’ minds into the twenty-first century. The story of a young governess eventually marrying her employer has a Cinderella-like ending after all the gothic and mysterious plot twists. There is something naturally appealing about Jane Eyre, who goes from being poor, orphaned, and unloved to finding her independence, discovering family, and gaining the love of her soul mate, Edward Rochester. Although she describes herself as small, poor, and plain, Jane finds her way in the world through her own intelligence, faith, and indomitable spirit.
It was only natural, then, that with the advent of film, people would try to bring the novel to life, showing not only the events of the story but capturing its soul. These screen adaptations, along with stage performances and other forms of media, have kept the Jane Eyre readership alive and vibrant, with fans communicating with each other in new ways given the age of computer forums and blogs. With Jane Eyre appearing in a recent musical and popular books like Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea and Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, Charlotte Brontë’s novel remains fresh in the modern reader’s consciousness.
Currently, there have been over twenty film and TV adaptations, with another film announced for 2011 featuring Mia Wasikowska of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. (You can also read my review of Jane Eyre 2011: Cary Fukunaga's Gritty, Gothic Adaptation). What is remarkable is how the Jane Eyre movies and miniseries have allowed fans of the novel to share their feelings, opinions, and questions about Jane Eyre. People who are introduced to the story by an adaptation meet on online message boards with longtime fans of the novel. When I browse through the message boards for Jane Eyre on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), I find that the fans (or “Eyreaholics”) belong to different “camps,” so to speak. There are those who will defend one adaptation’s merits over another’s, arguing fiercely in favor of the 1983 miniseries over the 1973 version (or vice versa). Purists gripe about Jane and Edward’s “racy” farewell scene in the latest 2006 adaptation, while others appreciate the modern touches.
In addition to examining how the Jane Eyre adaptations have presented the story, I will look at the responses of “Eyreaholics” and determine how they represent the modern readership. Note that since 1910, there has been at least one Jane Eyre adaptation per decade. Since there are so many, I will focus on the most significant ones, including the five that I have seen: the 1970, 1973, 1983, 1996, and 2006 versions. Yes, I am something of an Eyreaholic myself.
 The term “Eyreaholic” was apparently coined by IMDb user Lovely Drama. I use the term in the paper to refer to Jane Eyre aficionados who express their love for the novel online.
Early Silent Pictures and First “Talkies”
The first American film adaptation was released in 1910, and it was a silent picture. I say first American film adaptation because Italy released a silent film adaptation in 1909 (“The Enthusiast’s Guide to Jane Eyre Adaptations”). Several more silent films were made in the next twenty years. Lucasta Miller notes that the silent films “made the most of the wild-eyed madwoman” in the attic, obviously relishing the sensational gothic aspects of the story. The silent film of 1914, for instance, ended with Jane saving the blind Mr. Rochester from falling off a cliff (“Films”). (Evidently, even some of the older versions took certain liberties with the text!)
The Jane Eyre movie of 1934, directed by Christy Cabanne, was the first “talkie” film adaptation; it featured Virginia Bruce and Colin Clive. At only sixty-two minutes, this adaptation made numerous changes to the plot and characters. (As any reader of the novel knows, Jane Eyre’s plot is too complex and long to effectively compress into an hour!) Characters such as Helen Burns and Mr. Mason were omitted; Adele became Mr. Rochester’s non-French niece (“Jane Eyre 1934”). A reviewer on IMDb, “overseer-3,” complained about all the changes the film makes. For instance, Blanche Ingram is “ugly and older,” while Jane is a “platinum blonde with Mary Pickford curls,” which is the opposite of how they are in the novel. Overseer-3 offered several humorous instances of absurdity in the adaptation. For instance:
there is no attempted wedding scene. The “insane” wife just walks into a room at Thornfield in which Jane, Rochester, and the minister are standing and announces she wants to see her husband. The servants spirit her away and she protests in a totally normal voice: “I want to see my husband!” LOL [Laughing out loud]! Why didn’t they LET HER SEE HER HUSBAND??? I was starting to think that everyone in the house was insane, and Bertha was the only normal one! (Overseer-3)
While it may be unfair to criticize the film due to its short length and the filming limitations of the age, fans generally felt that the 1934 version missed the point of the original novel, and that it seemed like a different story altogether. "The Enthusiast’s Guide to Jane Eyre Adaptations," a fan website that offers bite-size reviews for each film, puts it this way: “Have you ever thought Jane Eyre was too sad? Or that it would be so much better if Rochester would just give Adele a puppy? [Then] this one is for you.”
Robert Stevenson, 1944
The next major adaptation, directed by Robert Stevenson and released in 1944, is one of the most famous ones because of its stars Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. Fontaine had previously been nominated for an Oscar for her starring role in Rebecca (1940); in 1941, she won the Oscar for Suspicion (“Biography for Joan Fontaine”). Incidentally, Daphne du Maurier drew several plot elements from Jane Eyre for her novel Rebecca (Campbell 3).
Welles, of course, was famous for his directing and acting in Citizen Kane (1941). His role as Edward Rochester was apparently designed to make him a star; the film “transforms Charlotte Brontë’s gruff, hard-featured, middle-aged Rochester into a tall, dark, svelte matinee idol” (Campbell 2). Some critics were concerned that Welles’s presence in the film overshadowed Fontaine’s Jane, the protagonist. Critics Kate Ellis and E. Ann Kaplan argued in “Feminism in Brontë’s Novel and Its Film Versions” that Jane’s rebellious nature was diluted, and that she was seen mostly from a male perspective (83-84).
Gardner Campbell countered that Jane’s position in the film’s mise en scène reinforced her role as the main character and the narrator. Mise en scène refers to the way characters and objects are arranged and presented for the camera; it encompasses everything that appears in the shot—costumes, props, lighting, etc. Welles’s Citizen Kane was revolutionary for its use of deep focus cinematography—that is, keeping the foreground, middle-ground, and background all in focus. To take advantage of this technique, Welles often arranged “one character on one side of the frame in the extreme foreground, one figure on the other side of the frame in the middle ground, and one figure in the center in the background, all in focus” (Campbell 6). Campbell argues that Welles brought his film techniques from Citizen Kane to Jane Eyre and often made Jane the dominant figure in the shot.
Previous critics complained that certain scenes, such as the dinner party scene with Blanche Ingram and the other guests, have Jane skulking in the background, forgotten. However, Campbell suggests that due to the limited availability of the film at the time of those reviews, the critics may have misremembered the actual mise en scène of those scenes (6-7). Jane is not lost in the background, but prominent on the side of the frame in the foreground. While she is passively withdrawn from the action of the dinner party scene, her position in the foreground suggests that “her own imagination captures and represents the action for us.” The novel Jane Eyre is, after all, a first-person narration, and the framing of these shots reinforces Jane’s “double authority as character and narrative creator” (Campbell 6). It is important for an adaptation to remember who is telling the story, and how it affects the narrative. Future works such as Fforde’s The Eyre Affair toy with this concept even more.
Read More From Reelrundown
What about the fans’ responses to Jane Eyre 1944? The ages and looks of the two principal characters are frequently discussed on message boards and in reviews. Fontaine and Welles were both pushing thirty when the film was made, making Jane ten years too old, and Rochester ten years too young. A message board thread on IMDb asks, “Wasn’t Joan Fontaine too pretty to play Jane?” Poster “sma 88 05” acknowledges that Jane is supposed to be plain-featured, but states: “I personally loved Joan's interpretation of the role and I like her performances as an actress in general so I really enjoyed the film anyway despite this initial drawback.” “BoomerMovieFan” replied: “Yes, but now that you mention it, she was too pretty to play the second Mrs. de Winter in REBECCA. Both characters are described as ‘plain’. I guess it was the time. Studios weren't accustomed to putting unpretty character actresses into romantic leading roles, especially in major productions. Offhand, I can't think of an exception from this Hollywood period, can you?” They bring up a valid point about the attitudes of Hollywood and the expectations of movie viewers at the time. Even to this day, audiences want attractive lead actors.
Regardless of the actors’ ages or appearances, fans generally praised the fine acting. Poster “delphii” said of Orson Welles: “he was one of the few that could use Brontë's language without it sounding wooden or like a rambling mouthful. He controlled the language, not the other way around.” Fans also mention the uncredited appearance of a young Elizabeth Taylor as Helen Burns (“Jane Eyre 1944”).
Delbert Mann, 1970
The 1970 adaptation, directed by Delbert Mann, starred Susannah York and George C. Scott. It appeared first in theatres in Europe, but only on TV in the U.S. the next year. This Jane Eyre movie is somewhat obscure, but it still has a dedicated following and a memorable musical score by John Williams. Unfortunately, the original film was lost, so DVD copies are of poor quality. Still, fans of this version enjoy the acting and the chemistry between Jane and Rochester. George C. Scott has the appropriate gruff and brooding manner. He is also a little older than Rochester, but it was a suitable choice to have an older-looking man instead of a younger, handsome one. Poster “roghache” says that Susannah York, while old for the part and attractive, “gives a flawless performance, perfectly capturing Jane's dignity, self-reliance, restraint, modesty, and underlying passion” (“Jane Eyre 1970”).
As with most adaptations, this version glosses over or alters parts of the story. The film begins with young Jane arriving at Lowood School, leaving out her life at Gateshead with Mrs. Reed. Similarly, her time at Moor House is shortened, she does not inherit her fortune, and her being related to the Riverses is not revealed. However, the segments taking place at Thornfield are mostly faithful to the novel. The film manages to capture the quiet and reflective atmosphere of the story, such as in scenes showing the bleak beauty of the moors or of Jane walking outside at sunset.
Miniseries, 1973 and 1983
In 1973 and 1983, the BBC released two Jane Eyre miniseries. The first, directed by Joan Craft and starring Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston, is made up of five episodes, 275 minutes total. The second, directed by Julian Amyes and featuring Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton, has eleven thirty-minute episodes. An obvious benefit of a miniseries is the extended time available to tell the story. The director can develop the story at a more leisurely pace and choose to leave in small details that would be excised in a theatrical version.
Once again, Eyreaholics are divided over which miniseries is better, although it is really a matter of personal preference. The 1973 miniseries includes voice-over narration from Jane, which garnered mixed reactions from the viewers. Poster “dr_mendoncacorreia” defends the use of Brontë’s original prose in the voice-overs, stating:
In a way, the camera works as the eye: by itself, the camera can show you basic emotions and simple thoughts, as they can be expressed by the so-called "body language"; just by itself, the camera cannot show complex thoughts and reasonings, because they have to be expressed by words. (“Jane Eyre 1973”)
My mother and I watched this miniseries together, and I remember the proposal scene in particular. Rochester says, “I love you like my own flesh. You, poor, and obscure, and small, and plain as you are. I entreat you to accept me as a husband.” Jane’s voice-over then says, “His earnestness and incivility began to give credit to his sincerity.” We laughed particularly hard at that line, at the fact that Jane is so reassured by Rochester’s bluntness. So while Jane’s voice-over narrations were sometimes redundant or in unusual places, they did allow the script to stay remarkably true to the original text.
The 1983 miniseries was the first adaptation I saw, so I have a particular fondness for it. Almost five and a half hours long, it is probably the most faithful version that exists, preserving Brontë’s original text in most of the dialogue. Jane’s experiences before and after her time at Thornfield, which are usually the ones severely condensed in adaptations, remain almost in full. Thus, viewers see the child Jane’s meetings with the apothecary and Mr. Brocklehurst, the servant Bessie visiting Jane at Lowood School, and Jane’s wanderings on the moors before reaching Moor House.
Timothy Dalton is best known as James Bond, and some fans complain that he is too handsome for the role (although, maybe “complain” is the wrong word). “Martisco” believes that Dalton “gives a very dynamic performance and has tons of charisma and passion.” The poster “mamascara” adds: “I love when he calls her Janet, just as in the book. That never happened in the 2006 [version]. And the woman who plays Jane is small and elf-like, as in the book. Dalton overflows with passion for Jane” (“Jane Eyre 1983”).
Eyreaholics generally agree that Zelah Clarke has the right look for Jane, but they seem to either love or hate her performance. They often compare Cusack’s and Clarke’s performances; the two actresses seem to bring different aspects of Jane’s personality to the screen—Cusack her assertiveness and fiery spirit, Clarke her seriousness and calm. Ultimately, both the 1973 and 1983 versions are very appropriate for any Eyreaholic looking for a complete and faithful adaptation.
Franco Zeffirelli, 1996
The 1996 Jane Eyre was the first major theatrical adaptation since the 1944 version. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, its complete title is Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. It is significant that Zeffirelli, well-known for adapting Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet, would emphasize Brontë in the title. At the time of this film’s release, there had been a spate of adaptations of classic works—Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, The Scarlet Letter, all 1995 releases (Berardinelli). Also in 1996, Baz Luhrmann released his own William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. Zeffirelli seemed to be following a trend of highlighting his film’s classical origins.
Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt took the two lead roles. Gainsbourg, a French actress, played Jane with a stoic exterior hiding her inner passion. In his review for American Spectator, James Bowman says of Gainsbourg:
her intensity and purity of spirit, just right for the role of Jane, almost single-handedly save the film from the merely dissolute performance of William Hurt as Mr. Rochester. Instead of the volcanic passion, barely contained, of George C. Scott or the brooding romanticism of Orson Welles, both of whom have made decent screen Rochesters, Hurt can only turn his stock new age, sensitive-man, inwardly-Hurt performance up a few notches. This is all wrong. (58)
Critic James Berardinelli and many fans agree that Hurt’s Rochester lacks presence and passion. The 1996 film also had memorable performances by Anna Paquin as the young Jane and Joan Plowright as Mrs. Fairfax. In this adaptation, Paquin’s young Jane becomes a fierce rebel at Lowood School. When Mr. Brocklehurst orders that Helen Burns’s hair be cut short, Jane has hers cut too as a sign of protest.
When one poster on IMDb wondered how Paquin’s passionate Jane grew into Gainsbourg’s “bland and wooden” adult version, “jrice-11” argued passionately in Gainsbourg’s defense: Jane’s “strength of purpose was her desire to live, her beauty was wanting to live correctly as well as stay alive. Jane [Eyre] wanted little out of life but to do her duty as she saw it, and Ms G. [Gainsbourg] portrays that well, yet allows us to see that Jane has a warmth, a passion beneath that exterior” (“Jane Eyre 1996”).
While many fans enjoyed the acting, there were complaints about the degree of faithfulness to the novel. Bowman wryly comments that he felt as if the money ran out two-thirds of the way through the film. The last part of the film is very rushed, with St. John Rivers’s part all but cut. Of course, it is a common problem for adaptations that have to compress the story into two hours.
The tone and atmosphere of the 1996 Jane Eyre movie are quite distinct. Berardinelli says it is “marked by stark realism and a pervasive sense of misery.” The cinematography is beautiful but grim and gloomy, with many shots dark and full of shadows. With the colors in the film so drab and muted, and the tone so cheerless, it is a stark contrast in the end when Jane and Rochester are reunited, “a moment of joyful catharsis” (Berardinelli). However, fans’ reactions to this version are mixed and tepid. One poster said that seeing this movie would not have made him or her want to read the novel (“Jane Eyre 1996”). It does not arouse as much fervor from the Eyreaholics as other adaptations have before and after.
Robert Young, 1997
The next year, 1997, saw another made-for-TV adaptation, this one directed by Robert Young and starring Ciarán Hinds and Samantha Morton. It followed the growing trend of casting actors to look like the novel’s descriptions of them. Morton, who was around nineteen when the film was shot, may be the youngest Jane to date, the closest to Jane’s age in the novel. However, several viewers took issue with the actors’ interpretations of the lead roles. In a user’s review for IMDb titled “At least they got Pilot right!” the poster “jback-5” was heavily critical of Morton and Hinds. For Morton, the reviewer commented: “Gone is the interesting duality of Jane's character in the novel, her outward shyness, guardedness and modesty on the one hand and her fire and passion on the other. Morton's Jane speaks her mind boldly right from the beginning and never stops doing so throughout the film” (jback-5).
Even worse, jback-5 and other fans believe, is Hinds’s portrayal of Rochester as a bullying, shouting brute. For the farewell scene, Hinds throws a tantrum; “Rochester insulting Jane when she intends to leave him, bullying her, throwing her suitcase over the banister and telling her to go if she does not love him enough to stay? Absolutely ridiculous!” says jback-5. In an interview, Hinds acknowledged that he has not read the novel or seen any of the adaptations. Robert Young cast him as Rochester after hearing him perform the character in a radio production. Hinds interpreted Rochester as arrogant, bullying, and chauvinistic (Bronteana). Many Eyreaholics questioned his decision to interpret a major literary character without having read or studied the novel.
 Pilot, of course, is Mr. Rochester’s faithful dog. Jback-5 says Pilot was well-cast.
Susanna White, 2006
The 2006 four-part miniseries brought a lot of buzz and excitement to Eyreaholics. Here was a Masterpiece Theatre production with lush sets and scenery, richly detailed costumes, and a slightly modern flavor to the classic story. The series opened with young Jane, played by Georgie Henley [Lucy Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia], walking alone through a vast desert. The film then shows Jane hidden in her window seat, engrossed in a book so much that she seems to enter different worlds. This was a memorable and creative way to start off the new adaptation, suggesting to the audience that there may be some surprises and changes along the way. Additionally, the viewer becomes privy to Jane’s inner world, much like it is in the novel.
Directed by Susanna White and starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens, the adaptation featured slightly modernized language. While previous versions usually tried to incorporate Brontë’s original text into the script as much as possible, screenwriter Sandy Welch went for a different approach. In a message board thread titled “Not Brontë’s Jane Eyre,” fans discussed the updated language. “Alfa-16” stated: “Ruth [Wilson] is absolutely Bronte's Jane. It's much more important to be faithful to the character and authorial intention and then remember you're working in a completely different medium beyond the scope of Bronte's imagination” (“Jane Eyre 2006”). The poster makes a valid point about remembering the author’s intention. An adaptation can maintain the original dialogue from the novel and still neglect the spirit of the story. There is more to adapting a classic than simply copying every line and scene from the text.
This adaptation also focused on the passion the lead characters feel, for a highly-charged, “sexier” version than what was done before. The producer Diederick Santer explained that the screenwriter Welch “mined Bronte's novel for every ounce of passion, drama, colour, madness and horror available, bringing to life Jane's inner world with beauty, humour and at times great sadness” (“About the Show”). Fans and critics seemed to agree that newcomer Wilson was made for the part of Jane, exuding a confident and mysterious presence. Stephens’s performance was also highly praised, and his rugged handsomeness immediately sent Eyreaholics on IMDb into a frenzy.
One of the most talked-about scenes was when Rochester tries to convince Jane to stay with him after their aborted wedding. They sit on a bed together; just after Rochester insists that they can live together chastely like brother and sister, they lie back on the bed and begin kissing. Some viewers were shocked by the steamy scene and how it strayed dramatically from the novel. However, others argued that passion is a major underlying theme in Jane Eyre and that showing Jane and Rochester expressing their desires was natural (“Jane Eyre 2006”). Personally, I side with the purists and argue that Brontë’s intent was to have Jane not give in to her desires. I will concede though that the scene makes Jane’s painful separation from Rochester very poignant and believable.
Jane Eyre the Musical
It is worthwhile to bring up Jane Eyre’s impact in other forms of media besides film. Jane Eyre has a long history on the stage, and in 2000, it had its Broadway debut as a musical. Jane Eyre the Musical features twenty songs, the music and lyrics by Paul Gordon and the book by John Caird. Marla Schaffel and James Barbour star in the Original Broadway Cast (“The Musical”). The lyrics faithfully maintain a lot of the original text from the novel, and some of the songs give a special voice to the characters.
A particular stand-out song is “Sirens,” in which Jane and Rochester separately voice their growing desire for one another. While the novel is told from Jane’s perspective, the lyrics to this song show what must have been going on in Rochester’s mind, as he sings: “Oh, let me sail away / Where I won't hear her voice / Where I am blind and free / For as sirens call the sailors / She calls to me” (“Lyrics”).  It is remarkable how well Brontë’s original words fit into song lyrics.
The musical creators deserve credit for respecting the integrity of the novel and making some of Brontë’s lyrical passages sound even more like poetry. Consider the song “The Proposal,” which keeps Rochester’s passionate words, so often abridged in film adaptations: “If I had a string under my ribs / Knotted to you, connecting our frames / I'd be afraid that many a mile / Would sever the tie / And I would take to bleeding inwardly” (“Lyrics”). The success of the musical speaks to the power of stage productions and the adaptability of classic works.
 Interestingly, the lyrics make several references to blindness. As we know, Rochester is blinded at the end of the novel by the fire at Thornfield.
"Novel" Adaptations: Wide Sargasso Sea and The Eyre Affair
Popular novels have also taken Jane Eyre to new levels. In 1966, Jean Rhys published Wide Sargasso Sea, a prequel of sorts to Jane Eyre. The novel features Bertha Mason as the protagonist and her meeting and marrying Rochester. It has also been adapted to film. Poster “yaweh yireh” jokingly refers to the age difference between Rochester and Jane when she describes her reaction to watching Wide Sargasso Sea: “He kept telling Bertha how much he loved her, and I kept thinking, 'No, you don't. Back in England there's a little baby who you're going to find true love with in fifteen years!'” (“Jane Eyre 2006”). The story explores why Bertha went mad, and it was well-received by critics and readers (“Notes on Novels: Wide Sargasso Sea”).
Another recent work that turns Jane Eyre on its head is Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, published in 2001. The novel is the first of a series featuring protagonist Thursday Next as a literary detective in a wacky literary alternate world. In Thursday’s world, the lines between reality and fiction are often blurred, with people able to enter the classic works, such as Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit and Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” Thursday belongs to a special literary police force that handles cases like stolen manuscripts, werewolf sightings, and time travel.
When the villain Acheron Hades steals the original manuscript of Jane Eyre and kidnaps the title character, the world panics. When someone alters or destroys an original manuscript, every other copy in the world is affected. Thursday must enter Jane Eyre herself to prevent Hades from committing literary homicide. Thursday’s presence “behind the scenes” in Jane Eyre leads to the novel being tweaked into the version we know. Erica Hateley examined The Eyre Affair as a parody of Jane Eyre, popular culture, and the postmodern novel (1025). She points out that Thursday Next is remarkably similar to Jane Eyre, being very independent and opinionated. Supernatural intervention has a similar effect on her as it does on Jane:
as she lies in a hospital bed, she sees herself arrive in the room and tell her to accept a job in Swindon, her hometown. This has obvious corollaries with the ‘‘clairvoyant’’ episode in Jane Eyre when Jane hears her name being called across the moors. Ultimately, Thursday is reunited with her crippled lover after years of separation, and they are married. (Hateley 1026)
Brimming with sly jokes and literary allusions, The Eyre Affair offers a new twist on Brontë’s and other classic authors’ works. It was my first exposure to Jane Eyre, and it made me interested in reading the novel, not knowing exactly what the “true” ending was.
Having discussed several Jane Eyre film and TV adaptations, stage performances, and popular novels, I believe there are many factors affecting the modern readership of Brontë’s novel. Online message boards, websites, and blogs serve as a social reading community in a way people in Brontë’s time would never have imagined. Whether fans discuss their reading a book or visually “reading” a film adaptation, online posters and bloggers share different insights, interpretations, theories, and questions. As times change, so do the concerns of Jane Eyre readers. I often find, for example, that some people are concerned about the age difference between Jane and Rochester. How young can an actress playing Jane look without turning off some viewers? Ciarán Hinds said jokingly that Samantha Morton treated him like a grandfather when they were not shooting (Bronteana). Attitudes toward such a relationship will always be shifting.
One thing that remains steady since 1847 is the enduring appeal of the novel itself. Lucasta Miller talks about Jane Eyre’s “interiority” as the key to its originality—because the novel lets the reader directly into the mind of the narrator, it is especially compelling. IMDb posters also weigh in on why they love the story. "MystRose" cites Jane’s steadfast drive to survive and love in a harsh world:
And the love between [Jane] and Rochester was as real as literature can make it be. As you can see from these boards, they are so finely drawn that people draw blood over who should play them, as they do Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. Jane and Rochester knew the worst of one another, and persisted, because of the good in what each was, and in spite of what each was not. And in the end, there is redemption. The story has scope, love, despair, mystery, drama, suffering and finally, redemption. That's been a successful formula many are drawn to for centuries. (“Jane Eyre 1997”)
I have already described why I am drawn to the novel. Charlotte Brontë created a character whose strong sense of self and spirit guide her through the world. As evidenced by the reactions of countless Eyreaholics and the continued efforts to adapt Jane Eyre to film, the novel’s readership will continue to grow and evolve.
Read more about Jane Eyre
- Jane Eyre Sequels, Prequels, Spin-Offs, and Retellings
Since its publication in 1847, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre has inspired numerous adaptations--on the stage, on film, and most recently, in novel retellings and sequels. The characters of the original...
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“Jane Eyre (1983).” Internet Movie Database. 1 Dec. 2008
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“Jane Eyre (2006).” Internet Movie Database. 1 Dec. 2008
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“Lyrics.” Brave Enough for Love: Jane Eyre. 1 Dec. 2008 http://www.theatre-musical.com/janeeyre.html.
Miller, Lucasta. “Prim and Improper.” The Guardian. 23 Sept. 2006. 1 Dec. 2008 http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/sep/23/fiction.charlottebronte.
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Teresa Vandal on June 18, 2019:
I would be very happy to be known as an Eyreholic though I must admit, I saw many of the movies first before I actually started reading the book, and I have to say as well that I disagree with many points the critics made. First the simplest; though Ms. Bronte wrote Pilot to be a rather large dog; I prefer the different dogs chosen for the various movie versions I prefer. I don't associate with a large Pilot; rather a dog that could be used as a shepherd dog as much of the income for an estate came from sheep. I do not like the George C. Scott movie version as I think there is no depth to his depiction of Mr. Rochester, he is milktoast. I very much prefer both the Toby Stephens version as well as the William Hurt versions as they best show the broodiness that Rochester was supposed to have. I do think I like the Toby Stephens version best because he does treat Jane as the human being she deserves to be, and I feel for Jane when she is insulted by Rochester's guests.
I do want to say also that I have absolutely no interest in Ms. Rhys' "prequel" Wide Sargasso Sea. I will admit, I've not read the story, but only plot overviews, but in my opinion there is too much that was done in this novel that makes mistakes about the why's and wherefores of Ms. Bronte's work. For example; Bertha was actually a rather popular name in Ms. Bronte's England, so to me it makes no sense that the character of Antoinette would beg Rochester to stop calling her that. Second, I've read other blogs that complained about Rochester claiming that the comforts he tried to provide for Bertha made her better off than if she were sent to an asylum. The problem is that this was true. In those days asylums were more often than not dirty, over-crowded, and abusive. Most people sentenced to an asylum died there, and were often chained to the walls of their cells.
Finally, though the science of mental health was only just emerging, it was hard enough for Ms. Bronte to find an actual possible diagnosis for Bertha, but she did try, and there is actually a possible real-life diagnosis for what Bertha could have suffered from. Today it is called Intermittent Explosive Disorder, and the majority, if not all the symptoms Bertha is shown to have in the way Ms. Bronte wrote the book actually match up with this diagnosis. For these reasons I would not be interested in Ms. Rhys' novel as it is too different than the original story written by Ms. Bronte.
Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on October 12, 2016:
Those three are tops for me as well!
Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on October 12, 2016:
Thanks! I enjoyed Michael Jayston as well.
Rosie on September 22, 2015:
I've seen at least 7 versions of the novel. I like at least four of them and love three versions. The ones I love are the versions from 1983, 2006 and 2011.
Colin Garrow from Inverbervie, Scotland on July 21, 2015:
I loved the BBC series with Michael Jayston - for me, he is the quintessential Rochester (though it's a few years since I saw it so maybe it won't stand up against some of the more recent versions). Also, I love Jasper Fforde's books, especially The Eyre Affair. Class! Nice Hub.
Rosie Powell on June 04, 2015:
Joan Fontaine was 26 years old when the 1943 movie was shot. She wasn't too old for the role.
Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on October 10, 2013:
I didn't know that about Newfoundlands. Thanks for sharing, Valerie.
Valerie M. Frost on October 10, 2013:
Please read the book. To date the only "accurate" dog for PILOT was the Landseer Newfoundland who played the part with Timothy Dalton. The book describes "a great dog, whose black and white colour made him a distinct object against the trees ............ a lion-like creature with long hair and a huge head.......barked it'll the evening hills echoed the sound, which was deep in proportion to his magnitude." No other breed could so accurately be depicted by this description. I have a 165-lb black Newfoundland Service Dog named "Bubbles". I detest typos in movies/plays, etc. Read the book. Depict the accuracy of the book. Val and Bubbles, my Newfoundland Service Dog, in Ottawa, Ontario, CANADA.
Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on July 16, 2013:
I haven't seen the Charlton Heston version and I've seen only short clips of the 1934 one. I also enjoy the 1973 and Zefferelli versions although my favorite has to be 2011, followed closely by 2006. Thanks for reading and commenting!
David Sutton on July 11, 2013:
There is a tv version of Jane Eyre starring Charleton Heston as Rochester.
I saw it at the Motion Picture and Tv museum in Beverly Hills (?) It's okay. I may be wrong but it may be from the Hallmark TV series tv episodes.
It's funny, but the thing that sticks out in my mind is Rochester wears boots that are a bit distracting--like Peter Pan boots. I like all versions of Jane Eyre but for different reasons: my favorite is 1996 Franco Zeffirelli then 1973 BBC version; the 1934 version I don't like at all.
Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on October 12, 2012:
I agree, Bluevelvet. I "see" something new each time I read the book and gain a deeper appreciation for it too. Thanks for reading!
Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on October 12, 2012:
Thanks for reading, Celine. It's funny that we had the same experience regarding "The Eyre Affair." I do like how creatively Jasper Fforde weaved the two stories together.
Bluevelvet on September 26, 2012:
Read the book read the book read the book!!! Its the most beautiful adaption there is! I like to pretend I am jane! Iwill NEVER find a novel as good as this one. I make my OWN movie in my head as I read the book, and its the best adaptation there is! READ THE BOOK and form your own "best adaption" that's all your own!
Céline B. on September 17, 2012:
thanks for this very complete and interresting article. It's funny for me to see that I'm not the only one who read the novel thanks to "Eyre affair" (and I had the same problem to know which end was true so it was very stressful !)
(sorry if I did mistakes in my comment : I'm french)
Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on June 17, 2012:
Thanks for the kind words, website promoter. And thanks for reading.
website promoters on June 10, 2012:
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Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on November 20, 2011:
Thanks again, Lady F, for reading and sharing your thoughts. I like the imdb boards because the Eyreaholics can get into really involved discussions about each of the adaptations, comparing scenes and actors, etc. I enjoyed both Mia W. and Michael F. in the latest film. Love the 2006 miniseries. I appreciate the 1983 one for being so close to the original text (agree with you about the awkward height difference). I've only seen the 1973 miniseries once, so I can't recall specifically how I felt about the two leads. But thanks again for stopping by; it's nice to get comments from readers.
Lady F on November 19, 2011:
Now that we have so many Jane Eyre adaptations and so much fan discussions, I suggest we make a poll page for Eyreaholics to vote for best/worst Blanche Ingram, Best/worst Adele, Best/Worst Jane, Best/Worst Chestnut Proposal, Best/Worst library scene, Best/Worst gypsy scene, etc. Definitely Eyreaholics can do it.
Best firesaving-thanking scene: 2006. 2011: cheesy. 1973: nice. 1996: agreeable.1983: awful. Timothy Dalton, so tall, closer to the camera which makes him even bigger, Zelda Clark, small and short, at the end of the frame which makes her even smaller! (The great difference between their heights is really annoying in the movie)
The most important factor of the scene is the expressions of Rochester’s face, which we don’t see at the first half of the thanking process :)
Lady F on November 19, 2011:
Thanks for the faithful analysis of Jane EyreS :)
I read the book as an adolescent, re-read it as an adult and gathered the adaptations (1996, 2006 and 2011) during time. But it's like a thirst that can't be over, I need to see more.
My obsession with Jane Eyre has brought me to the point of downloading both 1983 & 1973 versions, after reading “The Enthusiast’s Guide to Jane Eyre Adaptations” two months ago. In my humble opinion, in 1983, Timothy Dalton plays as if it is a stage scene or a tele=theatre. His acting, load and too-exaggerating, is the opposite of short-figured, low voiced, depressed Zelah Clarke. T.D tries too hard to act Rochester, I suppose. He is too harsh or too happy, yet he's nice. But Z.C is like a submissive, obedient, sad woman. She is short, yet has not the slim figure of Jane. Her bust is big although she is short. I think she is way shorter that what Brontë had imagined. Her play is satisfactory but she is not as determined, strong & stubborn as Jane. And her custom design is AWFULL: she dresses like a widow, with that long collar lace. In 1973, Michael Jayston is adorable. He plays Rochester with ease, as if it EMANATES from him. He says all the dialogues of R. fluently, as well as his "devil..." and "elf" expressions about Jane. But we hear the sound of his breathing during the scenes when he speaks. Although he is not dark enough, but he is the best Rochester I have seen. Sorcha Cusack plays the same during the series, but she had to play more rigid when arriving Thornfield, and then changed during the time. She says most of her dialogues in the same way, by moving her eyebrows too high! Ruth Wislon is the most believable Jane up to now. In 2006, the innovations in the screenplay by Sandy Welch are a breath of fresh air: the way the story begins, the red scarf, the thrilling score, R and J flashbacks (Paris, West Indies, Departure): great visual language.In 2011, Mia Wasikowska is quite likeable, excpet she kisses Rochester under the chestnut tree like a pro! And why such a big fuss about Michael Fassbender? He plays a sad, depressed, melancholic Rochester, with no effect of the complex layers of the character. He doesn't look like an English gentleman, because of his German features. His acting does not have the soul of R. The only good parts of this movie, are when Jane tells Adele about Gytrash and when she is looking out of the windows of Thornfield.The Hay-LANE Scene is no good at all. The horse appears in front of Jane out of nowhere!
Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on December 04, 2010:
Thanks for the fun video, Elaine, and thanks for reading!
Elaine Clayton on August 06, 2010:
I just made a very kitschy and fun adaptation (sort of) of JANE EYRE. For anyone who loves Jane Eyre as much as I do, you might have fun watching it. I had the best time making it. To see JANE EYRE: SCENES FROM MY LIFE @
Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on July 30, 2010:
Good points, Dolores Monet, and funny too (about Rochester)! About Joan Fontaine, you're probably right on the lack of makeup--that would be enough for plainness by Hollywood standards at the time (and maybe now).
Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!
Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on July 29, 2010:
Painted Seahorse - wow, what an excellent hub! Stumbled and voted up. I could go on and on but I will not. I do,however think that the plainness of Joan Fontaine was in her lack of make-up and the fact that she was not fancified.
Also, I never thought that Jane Eyre had a Cinderella like ending. Rochester was blind, the house was in cinders, and he was a bit of a pain in the ass besides. In marrying Rochester, Jane took on the role of the strong one, the nurse maid and the one in charge (very similar, as you pointed out to the unnamed woman in Rebecca).
Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on May 19, 2010:
I've seen...six or seven now. And I still want to watch more! Can't wait for the next one coming out in theatres.
Tricia Mason from The English Midlands on May 19, 2010:
I have seen a few of these ~ but I shall have to look out for some more :)
Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on May 05, 2010:
Thanks, Jaclyn! Glad I'm not the only JE-obsessed person too! I even like the same versions you do--the 2006 and 1983.
Jaclyn L. on May 05, 2010:
So every now and then, I'll go a little crazy and spend hours re-watching several versions of Jane Eyre, mainly the 2006, 1983, and 1996 versions. This has been one of those times. I'm so glad I came upon your hub! It's good to know I'm not the only one with a little bit of a Jane Eyre obsession :). I absolutely adore the 2006 BBC version, mainly because it was the first one I saw after reading the book. Second place would have to go to the 1983 version. I think it's very well done. I can't wait to get my hands on some of the older versions. Anyway, I enjoyed reading your reviews!
Brittany Rowland (author) from Woodstock, GA on May 03, 2010:
Thanks, Kendall! I'm glad there's another person out there who's watched so many JE adaptations!
Kendall H. from Northern CA on May 02, 2010:
I love every Jane Eyre hub you write! I think the first Jane Eyre version I saw was the 1944 version and I love it to this day. Fontaine and Welles gave the characters interesting dimensions that I haven't seen in most other versions. Then the 1983 miniseries is by far the most faithful. I do like Timothy Dalton but I guess my interpretation of Rochester was never melodramatic. In the scene after Jane faints and she wants to leave Thornfield, I felt that Dalton made Rochester into a whimpering baby. It is still a good adaption though. Then 1996 is alright and I've loved the 2006 version every time I watch it. Thank you also for mentioning the musical. I was amazed how brilliantly the lyricist used phrases from the novel as well as their thesaurus to make each character's song suit them. Great job!