Charlotte Bronte is I think generally the best writer among the three Bronte sisters (Anne and Emily are the other two): I think Jane Eyre, Shirley, and Villette are my personal favourites among the dark and brooding novels of the Bronte family. But I must confess it’s a long time since I read Jane Eyre and that the last time I read it I skipped over much of the earlier part of the book. I find long descriptions of oppressive school days to be particularly uninviting, and generally skip over them wherever I find them.
So I feel somewhat unqualified to think about the relationship between the 2011 Jane Eyre movie and the novel on which it is based. I suspect, however, that it does a lot of streamlining; there’s no way you could fit a novel like that into the time constraints of a feature film without leaving out large sections of the narrative. That being the case, simply as a movie (without considering the editing of Bronte’s original story) I think it’s quite interesting. Mia Wasikowska gives us a fine, spunky performance as Jane, and we quickly get a sense that here is a rare individual who is not going to allow the sufferings that life has thrown her way to overcome her spirit. Michael Fassbender also gives a good performance as Edward Rochester, and of course Judi Dench is always a pleasure to watch in every role she plays.
But I must confess to still having a lot of unanswered questions about the movie and the story it tells.
Yes, the Yorkshire moors are depicted for us in all their bleak and cloudy glory, and yes, we get stately homes and period costumes and everything as authentic as possible (the rooms look dark in the evenings when lit by candlelight: most modern movies ignore that fact!). That is all very satisfying.
But I’m still not sure why Jane is as strong as she is. Nothing in the story of her life explains to me how it is that she is able to rise above her circumstances and become the rare individual that she obviously is, when so many others could only sink and drown. What is the source of her inner strength? And what exactly does she see in Edward Rochester? What is it that makes her fall in love with this dark and brooding landowner many years her senior? And when his terrible secret is revealed – literally at the altar as their wedding is about to take place – why does she later forgive him and go back to him, when he has been shown to be so fundamentally dishonest?
It’s obviously time for me to go back and give the novel Jane Eyre another read. But given the size of my current book pile, I’m not sure when that will happen!