Field Trip: Thornfield Hall…

…by way of Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville, Maine.

What lucky timing, that our semester devoted to the works of the Brontës happens to coincide with the release of the latest film incarnation of Jane Eyre! Jane has been adapted for film and for television numerous times, and in our Brontë class at UMA, we’ve watched and discussed many of them. This was our chance to take a class trip and view the entire movie together.

I’ve never been to Railroad Square Cinema before. It’s a funky little three-screen theater that adjoins a Mexican restaurant. The whole place has a fun atmosphere – lots of color, lots of fun little touches, and one of the best bathrooms I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy.

Afterwards, we all convoyed to our professor’s house for a lovely lunch and discussion. Tarragon chicken salad, cheese, crackers, olives, sweet potato chips, and amazing brownies. Of course, you can’t properly discuss an English novel adaptation without tea, and we had that, too. I took pictures, but looking at them now, it would be unkind to show my noble classmates with forks in their mouths, so I will let these images stand in for our lovely meal (many, many thanks to Professor Jill Rubinson!).

And check out the whimsical tea bag. I almost wanted to take it home and let it dry as a memento.

So. The movie. Well, we couldn’t reach a consensus. Some thought Jane was too flat and dispassionate. The relationship with Rochester seemed to proceed too quickly toward love. And her time with the Rivers family was way too brief. What really comes through in the book is Jane’s independence, yes (which I think translates well to the film version). But twinned with that independence is her utter loneliness. She’d never been part of a loving family, and her kinship with the Rivers siblings grows to become profound. What the film edited out is the fact that they are, indeed, long lost kin. In the book, Jane insists on sharing her newfound wealth with her family; in the movie, it almost seems like she’s offering to buy them and adopt them as her own. Maybe the producers thought it too much of a coincidence for modern viewers, or maybe there just wasn’t enough time to develop the relationships.

That’s one of the hard things about adapting a three-volume novel into a two-hour film space: so much has to be compressed in order to meet the demands of the form. Other things gain importance – the gorgeous, moody music score; the austere, tightly constructed dresses and earthy looking hand knit shawls; the interior shots of the great halls, and fine houses and manor kitchen; the mossy stone walls that surround the gardens. And of course, brooding, imposing Thornfield Hall. Visually, the movie is stunning.

But was Rochester brooding and imposing enough? Was there enough of a mysterious build-up for the unveiling of poor, crazy Bertha Mason Rochester? Did we really get a sense of St. John’s religious fervor? Hmmm…maybe not so much.

And Jane, dear spirited Jane. As a little girl, she’s feisty and passionate. She fights back against her horrible cousin’s attacks. She survives Lowood School and finds employment for herself. She goes out onto the wild moors by herself and endures a storm and a dark night of the soul (in the book this extends over several days and nights). She starts a school for the daughters of the poor cottagers. Let’s face it, the girl’s got grit, and a streak of proto-feminist independence. Yet in this movie, three different men scoop her up in their arms, making her look decidedly like a Hollywood damsel-in-distress.

Something I really missed from the book was being privy to Jane’s thoughts as she looks out at the sky from the top of Thornfield Hall. In the book, it’s a real shout-it-from-the-rooftop speech, even though it’s completely internalized as Jane’s musing conviction that, basically, women want what men want and feel as men feel, that women want more than to be confined to making puddings and knitting stockings. No less an authority than Adrienne Rich called this passage Jane’s “feminist manifesto.” Yeah, well that’s not in the movie. There’s a bit of a proxy moment, where Jane looks out the window while talking to Mrs. Fairfax, but it just doesn’t carry the same weight.

I think my classmate got it right when she said we judge it harshly because we read and discussed and wrote about the book. We can’t help but compare. Plus you end up comparing it to all the previous film and tv versions, too. But I will go on record to say, I loved it. I’ll see it again and I might even buy it. It’s the best version of Jane Eyre I’ve seen, although I haven’t seen near to all of them.

Hmmm…I’m suddenly having the urge to watch all the available adaptations, in chronological order. My poor husband. Loading up the Netflix queue…first up, this 1934 gem:

(Jane Eyre with platinum blond hair?!)

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2 Responses to Field Trip: Thornfield Hall…

  1. E. Sheppard says:

    I will be back here as soon as I see this movie. I LOVE LOVE LOVE all Jane Eyre movies so I know I will like this one. :-)

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