Bronteana: Bronte Studies Blog Archives

February 13, 2006


Filed under: Uncategorized — by bronteana @ 6:53 pm

From ‘Vision, Flame, and Flight: Adapting Jane Eyre for the Stage’ – By John Caird

I have been rather quiet. I was bedridden yesterday and still feel unwell. But I have a new reason to keep my faculties together- Harlene has sent me several fascinating items on the Jane Eyre Musical, one of these is ‘Vision, Flame, and Flight: Adapting Jane Eyre for the Stage’ written by John Caird, the lyricist for the show. Here are a few excerpts:

An attic is a potent metaphor. If a house is a metaphor for a human life, then the attic is the mind where all the secrets reside. In this respect Thornfield is the ultimate example of such a metaphor, representing as it does the life and status and history of Rochester and all the centuries of Rochesters before him. Hidden in the attic is the awful reality of a tragic life but also a metaphor for the lies and deceit that haunt Rochester’s mind, making him incapable of honouring his love for Jane without perjuring himself into the bargain. Jane too has her secrets and her terrors – lies she has told herself about her unworthiness, her plainness and her lack of grace – all of which must be overcome before she is able to live for Rochester as she would live for herself, with absolute openness and integrity. One of the most evocative moments in our adaptation is when the secrets and lies in Rochester’s life collide with the secrets and lies in Jane’s, as the two brides stare at each other across the darkened attic and across the years with a mutual mixture of the most painful reproach and the deepest understanding.

Another major difference in story-telling technique between the novel and our adaptation is the way that Rochester is treated. Because Bronte chose to write using an autobiographical narrative device, the reader must never know more than Jane herself knows. So Rochester and his motives must remain obscure until the novel is half over. The reader may suspect that all is not right but not so much that Jane would seem to be stupid not to suspect anything herself. In a sense the reader becomes Jane, and Rochester’s actions are every bit as obscured both reader and heroine. In the theatre this trick is all but impossible to pull off, and in any case not really desirable. A director or book-writer cannot instruct the actor playing Rochester that he must play everything as a mystery to Jane. Playing the part of an enigma would soon become tedious for the actor and audience alike. The actor needs to know what Rochester is to himself to his audience with whom he has as strong a relationship as the actress playing the part of Jane. For their part the audience is not looking at Rochester through Jane’s eyes – it is looking at the man himself without the aid of an interpreter. Paul and I decided therefore that we had to reveal Rochester’s deep feelings for Jane, at least before the intermission falls, or he would risk losing so much sympathy with the audience that they would never forgive their heroine for wanting to marry him! Achieving this dramatic end without giving away the central secret of the story was perhaps the most delicate task of the whole adaptation.

This stripping away of the mystery around Rochester also allowed us to examine more closely one of the story’s most elusive themes – that of vision. At the beginning of the story, Jane has nothing. As we have Miss Scatcherd saying just before she leaves the school – she is ‘a girl with no money, no talents, no beauty and no class’. But without material possessions or prospects of any sort, she still has one significant talent, in spite of Miss Scatcherd’s mean portrait. Jane has her insight or moral vision, strong in her from childhood but greatly strengthened by her friendship with Helen Burns. So a young woman with nothing but insight travels across the moors to her first job and there she meets and falls in love with a man who has everything – everything that is except insight. His class, his status, his family and his history are all powerfully represented by the chestnut tree, growing proudly in the gardens of the house. But Rochester, materially rich and astonishingly enlightened about so much, is morally blind. Of course the greatest irony in the story is that he has to become actually blind before he is worthy of Jane’s love for him. The agency of his blindness is the fire – the first that in other parts of the story has illuminated and warmed and now returns to destroy and purge. Thus at the end of the story all the metaphors are powerfully linked together – blindness, the house and the fire – to provide a single potent dramatic image, the young woman of vision becoming the eyes and hands for her blind lover as they sit together under the stricken chestnut tree in the shadow of the burnt out house that was their home. As Paul’s lyrics put it ‘the secret of the flame is that there is no more to hide. It cures our blindness and our pride’.



  1. John Caird’s comments are very thoughtful and interesting; they are good criticism of the novel, too. Thank you for posting some of them. Do you know if the essay ‘Vision, Flame, and Flight: Adapting Jane Eyre for the Stage’ has been published anywhere (other than in a theatre program, I mean)? I ask only because I’d like to read the whole thing. Thanks again!

    Susan in Regina

    Comment by susan — February 16, 2006 @ 9:11 am |Reply

  2. Hey it’s Harlene here! Glad to be of help to you! I have got the pics as promised and will post them in some form or other so you can use those too.
    Love this blog by the way!!

    -Harlene xx

    Comment by Anonymous — February 16, 2006 @ 3:53 pm |Reply

  3. to Susan:

    I believe this is the first time it has been republished outside of the theatrical brochure. I’ll be posting the rest along with another transcript Harlene made of ‘revelation and Delight’- a short essay by Paul Gordon at some point. But here are a few more paragraphs for now:

    At the heart of all the greatest love stories is a pair of journeys. Whether it be Romeo and Juliet, or Antony and Cleopatra, Jane Eyre and Rochester or Peter Pan and Wendy, for a love story to be truly great, both the lovers must be unalterably changed by their exposure to each other on their journeys through the story. The master-stroke of the novel “Jane Eyre” is the way in which Charlotte Bronte interweaves the journeys of Jane and Rochester so that they change each other in this unalterable manner while simultaneously interweaving Jane’s story with her own, no doubt changing herself as a woman and as an author in the process.

    When Paul Gordon and I decided to dramatise the novel for the musical theatre, we resolved that unless we told both of these stories – the autobiography and the love story – then we would be selling our author short. So, while we accord the relationship between Jane and Rochester the central place in our adaptation, we begin where Charlotte begins, with Jane’s early childhood, so redolent of her own and that of her sisters. But this is also where a reader of the novel will notice the first significant difference between the page and the stage. In the novel the child Jane is punished by being locked in the ‘red room’ where her uncle died. In our version we have put her up in the attic, hiding from her abusers in the house below. Our purpose here is to draw a clear parallel between young Jane at the start of her life and Bertha Mason at the end of hers, so that the meeting between them on the morning of the aborted marriage to Rochester can illuminate both of their fates and draw attention to one of the central themes of the story – secrets and the lies that secrets create.

    Comment by Brontëana — February 16, 2006 @ 5:28 pm |Reply

  4. to Harlene:

    As you know, I think these pictures are terrific stuff. I cannot wait to work them in. The artist and scenic designer in me is also very excited by the scrims etc. All looks so lovely. I should really index these posts. You would be interested in some earlier posts with interviews with Mr Barbour, I think…

    Comment by Brontëana — February 16, 2006 @ 5:33 pm |Reply

  5. from Harlene:

    I feel proud to have contributed to your excellent work in some small way.

    I would be very interested in some earlier posts with interviews with Mr Barbour! How do I find them?

    Comment by Anonymous — February 19, 2006 @ 12:14 pm |Reply

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