Jane Eyre 1944 Makes List of Best Adaptations
Tash Robertson from the A.V. Club has made an interesting list of film adaptations that live up to the source material, and the 1944 film of Jane Eyre starring Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles has made the cut:
Jane Eyre is one of those classics that gets remade for every generation, sometimes multiple times, but while there have been more faithful adaptations, none has quite captured the book’s spirit like Robert Stevenson’s 1944 version, in large part because of Orson Welles. Most filmed versions seem to forget that Jane is supposed to be a plain woman, and her explosive employer Edward Rochester is supposed to be scary and ugly as well as compelling, but Joan Fontaine fits the Jane Eyre bill reasonably well, while Welles could have been born to play the storming, brooding Rochester. Their performances carry the film version more than the elided script does.
While it is gratifying to see the merit of this film acknowledged- it is truly a cinema classic- there are a few things wrong with the picture this paragraph paints for us. Firstly, this is the first time I have heard Joan Fontaine referred to as a plain woman! And most often than not, people would not term Orson an ugly man. But that’s not really what troubles me. Here, again, is this strange idea that Mr Rochester is something ferocious- ‘scary,’ ‘storming’ and ‘explosive’. Who is afraid of him, I would like to know? He asks Jane if she is afraid of him because he ‘talks like a sphynx’ but that’s as close as we get to scary. As for explosive, the word is ‘changeful’ and he’s ‘abrupt’. I mention all of this because it seems to be an issue lately.
All of this reminds me of a late Victorian work, Henry Brocken in the Strange, Scarce-Imaginable Regions of Romance (or something of the sort- the entire work is available on the side bar of this blog) which gives us a picture of Rochester after his marriage with Jane. Somehow, Rochester taking his tea reminds the narrator of storms at sea. Or, to quote myself in a bit of fanfiction I wrote: ‘He frowned a bit and, somewhere, lighting flashed in Greenland.’