Book vs. Movie: Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre was already next on my Lit Flicks Challenge list, but when I happened to be the October giveaway winner and The Bluestocking Society kindly sent me the book (thanks, Jessica!) I wanted to get to it right away.

Before reading or seeing Jane Eyre, I did have some idea of the general plot: Jane is a governess who comes to work in a creepy house for a brooding man with a big secret. (It's a good thing I knew the secret, too, since my copy of the book included an introduction by Joyce Carol Oates that revealed all the major plot details and many of the twisty bits. Seriously, there should have been a spoiler warning with it -- surely there are some people reading the book for the first time with no idea what it's about who would like to enjoy a few surprises.)

Since I did know how the story would go, I was afraid that reading through the book would be tedious, but I actually enjoyed it very much. The way it's written (as a first-person account of Jane telling the reader her story) felt very intimate and interesting. The only time it didn't work for me was when the big secret is revealed; during this time things seemed a bit rushed and Jane's reactions didn't come until later. All I can assume is that she was struck and in shock, but coming to know the characters I think more would have been said and thought during this critical time.

If you don't like Jane, you will probably not enjoy the novel, but I really liked Jane. I liked her strong will and character. I also liked Mr. Rochester, despite his dubious past and the way he deceived Jane. Maybe I like him because Jane does, or because they do seem like a well-matched pair of intellectual equals. You can analyze a lot more about the various themes of the novel, like what it says about religion, morality, duty, forgiveness, and marriage, but I was happy enough to read through the rest because I really liked Jane and Rochester, and I wanted to see their love story play out.

The movie version I chose to watch was the 1944 adaptation, mostly because it stars Orson Welles, and I really like him. He is great as Rochester; he can carry off the speeches and he has the right amount of darkness and intensity to him. I was also delighted to see Agnes Moorehead, a young Elizabeth Taylor, the little girl from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Peggy Ann Garner) and child actress Margaret O'Brien, adorable as Adele. I wasn't particularly impressed with Joan Fontaine as Jane, though. (She also starred in Rebecca, based on the Daphne du Maurier novel which seems at least partially inspired by Jane Eyre.) Fontaine's Jane is much too meek and is really overpowered by Welles' Rochester. This removes what I enjoyed most about the novel, the match of equal minds that defines the relationship. In the novel, Jane is independent and holds her own against Rochester; in the movie I couldn't imagine what he saw in her, really.

I know it's always hard to show inner thoughts and feelings of characters in a movie, but I really missed how the book explains what's going on in Jane's head. Another thing that annoyed me about the movie: at the beginning, a book is shown onscreen and a voice-over reads what is written on the page. But the passage is way different from the book's opening. At other times during the movie, this same technique is used again. The voice-over alone would have been fine, but the suggestion that what is read is from the novel was really irritating. While I do understand the need to change and condense things when making a book into a movie, if you aren't remaining faithful to the book, don't show me text in a book as though you are staying completely true to the story. (Rant over.)

So, when it comes right down to it, does the book or the movie prevail? While the 1944 movie is beautifully shot and appropriately dark and atmospheric, it is also perhaps more melodramatic than even the crazy twists of novel would allow. The acting is mostly good, and it is fine as a movie, but overall I preferred the story in novel form. However, there are a lot of other Jane Eyre adaptations, and perhaps some do more justice to book. (I am intrigued by the version with George C. Scott because to me he really fits the description of Rochester: not exactly handsome, yet intense and strangely magnetic. If anyone's seen this version, or another adaptation, let me know what you thought.)

Oh, and while we're on the subject of Jane Eyre, I'd like to recommend Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair. It's the first of his funny Thursday Next series, which features a literary detective in an alternate reality where characters from books are quite real and traveling into the world of a book is physically possible. This story deals with Jane Eyre's kidnapping and the changing of the famous novel's plot. I want to re-read this now that I've finally read Jane Eyre.

So, that's two down for Lit Flicks, three more to go. I think I might deviate from my original list and choose something different for my next pick... stay tuned!


FilmDr said...

I haven't seen all of the Jane Eyre movie versions either, but having sampled a few, I recommend the Masterpiece Theater version, in part because it encompasses more of the novel, and because both the actors playing Jane and Rochester are convincing. Other versions left me scratching my head and thinking, he's nothing like Rochester. In comparison to, say, Scorsese's skillful film adaptation of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, the many adaptations of Jane Eyre show how much a great novel can consistently resist translation to the screen.

hopeinbrazil said...

I was already a huge fan of the book when I saw my first movie adaption back about 30 years ago. It was with George C. Scott and Susannah York and it has remained my favorite version. Unfortunately the DVD version is awful. It seems all chopped up and grainy. Scott was a great Rochester - not handsome, yet somehow lovable under all that gruffness. York was plain enough and yet coolheaded enough to be convincing.

thebluestockingsociety said...

I read this book for the first time last year. I really liked Jane too. This is a great book that slowly builds up an amazing amount of tension.

I've only seen the A&E version with Samantha Morton. I enjoyed it, but I'll bet there are other, better versions out there.

Congratulations on finishing a Lit Flicks Challenge selection.

Jessica @ The Bluestocking Society

Cesia said...

I saw the same movie you did. I hated it. Perhaps the lack of a strong female is why ... I'm not sure. I thought I would like it ...

Never read the book. Maybe I should?

Still want to read The Eyre Affair, too.

- Cesia.

Anonymous said...

This is my first visit hee (found you from Bluestocking) and I love this review post! Thank you. I've enjoyed all of your posts I've read, actually.

I so want to read that Fforde book and probably need to re-read Jane Eyre. Maybe I'll just rent the Orson Welles movie instead. Thanks!

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