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Dear friends and readers,

Midnight.  I've just finished watching the first half (a couple of hours) of a powerful film adaptation:  Sandy Welch, Susanna White, and Rebecca Eaton's (screenplay writer, director, producer) 2006 Jane Eyre, starring Ruth Wilson, Toby Stephens (son of Maggie Smith, he was Gabriel Markham in a great Tenant of Wildfell Hall).  This after viewing both versions of The Turn of the Screw:  1999 by Nick Dear and 2009 by Sandy Welch.

The first shot of Jane Eyre (Ruth Wilson) grown up: what is she doing?  teaching a group of girls (as in Sabiha Sumar's Silent Waters (see this blog under women's films for a commentary-review), or The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

As I sat here under the spell of these two appealing (to me deeply) characters, Jane Eyre, and Mr Rochester,

Rochester confiding in Jane of his past with Adele's mother

I thought to myself, I first read the book at age 15, the same year I first read Mansfield Park.  I bought both inexpensive (45 cents or some such sum) at the same local drugstore (this was before the large chain bookstores came to the boroughs of NYC).  I can still remember the covers of each, the Jane Eyre a dark blue/green, a young woman in a full long dress; MP a white paperback with caricature figures on the front and a promise of "rollicking comedy" on the back.  When I came to the last page of MP, and read that stupid blurb, it startled me.  I assumed the writer of it had not read MP; now I know such lies are commonplace techniques to sell a book. 

How many years ago, and still I'm drawn in, moved deeply.  I've also seen at least 4 other film adaptations, the 1940s with Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles; 1970 with Susanna York and George C. Scott;, 1983 with Zelah Clare and Timothy Dalton,  1997 with Samantha Morton and Ciarhan Hinds in the key roles.  I've also read seen a number of Wuthering Heights films, the best to my mind a 1992 with Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche; and the 1996 Tenant of Wildfell Hall I spoke of above.

And still I was touched again and fully absorbed enough to stay up despite a headache from a long day.

This blog does not just record my watching of Bronte's Jane Eyre through Welch's film as a way of introducing my subject, film adaptations (to which I mean to return now, gentle reader). It also records my buying and now using a calendar called "A Year with Jane Austen." It's the kind one hangs from a nail so I've scotch-taped it to the back of my workroom door.  When I shut the door, I see it.   The pictures for each month are illustrations by Charles Edmund and Henry Brook for an 1898 complete edition of Austen's six famous novels.  These are only slightly better than Hugh Thomson's but they prettily colored and come with the lines in Austen's novels they were intended to illustrate.

So for March our scene is intended to visualize Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland riding in his curricle on the way to the abbey:

For each day of the year (a square space) the calendar makers could manage it, they have an entry from the life or writings of Austen.  Some days tell me when a character did this or that; others what Austen did that day in some year or other (including dying); some quote lines and passages from the letters and novels -- alas on the false principle of superficial cheer, but still they are what Austen wrote.  (I wonder if this calendar coheres with mine; it shows me I'm not the only one to have worked out a detailed one.)  Anyhow, there we are:  all Jane Austen all the time as well as 48 years of Jane Eyre (and last year I added Anne Bronte's Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall to the passionate mix).

It's April now and I'm looking at another illustration.  Outside the trees are in flower, the air warm.  No sun right now (it being midnight) but it'll be back by 7 tomorrow.

Before I begin writing again I thought I'd read a book on film studies for fun and get back into the swing of things, and have begun:  Diane Sadoff's Victorian Vogue: British Novels on Screen -- one of whose topics includes the film adaptations of Jane Eyre.   I discussed why I love these film adaptations before and had some thoughtful good comments from other bloggers.

Sadoff opens with the question someone on Trollope19CStudies asked the other day: whence this desire to return to the Victorians?  In a nutshell, we can work our own anxieties and needs out through this culturally analogous era.  At length:  we are not in a post-historical age; people who turn to these film adaptations and costume dramas as history seek to return to history and not as naively as critics suppose. We are looking at our present as historical and seeking to embed ourselves in a meaningful pattern.  And this is so: when the admiral and I and izzy for a number of years rented Landmark Trust places -- 15th century gatehouses, manors, 18th century duke hunting lodges, the gardener's house at Hampton court palace, an 18th century hotel in Bath -- our vacation seemed to take place on another plane; I felt somehow more special and loved to be in the place, to explore the building, read about it, the furniture, read the books left for us.  Sadoff says Raymond Williams is right to say we now look retrospectively at ourselves and the past.

She shows the disdain and mockery of the way history is presented in these films is snobbery and often inadequate. In fact they do show versions of history, enough to bring the past back to us so we can make what use of it we want.  Then the films project nuanced varied readings, often in conflict within them, and they reflect the source novel, its era, the film's precursors in other films and books, and our own era all at once.  She suggests the eras where costume drama took huge strides forward and were commonly done (1930s, 80s, 90s) are times of strong disquiet politically and socially. She sees neo-liberalism at an impasse.

One of the most favored actors for these costume dramas is Ralph Fiennes (brilliant as Heathcliff), and here he is as Todd Jackson in a Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala adaptation of Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans

The movie takes us back to the opening of the 20th century and the utter chaos of a society falling apart; it's apocalyptic in the way of these 2000 films (often they break all narrative and just immerse us in ultimately distraught spectacle).  Sadoff discussed the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala productions in her book throughout with a long section of one chapter on homoerotic sex in these costume dramas of 19th century through Edwardian (and post-modern historical novels of the Booker Prize type) novels and history.

Several important principles guide her book:  the movie is always literary:  those studies which don't also ground themselves in the source text remain hollow.  We have to look at the other films that influence and shape each one:  costume drama and many other films too are part of a global marketplace and allude to and imitate one another intertextuality. We must look at the film's genre, its categories and audience, and when it was made sociologically.  Each makes a new historical moment. 

I like Sadoff's multiple perspectives, some of the images that repeat so she will delve (the country house beautiful, the male eroticized body, the important continual queer component), the use of horror imagery and gothicisms, how viewers long themselves to be embedded in heritage culture.

Colin Firth as Darcy striding back, the house glimpsed in the sunlight (1995 P&P)

Sandoff's first chapter treats Jane Austen films as an instance of the heritage industry and this turn back to earlier history we can identify with.  Sadoff says that the most common responses when people are asked why they like costume dramas are retrogressive positions in all areas, but she says this is what people are willing to say, and in fact if you look at the movies themselves you discover they critique, reassess, rehistoricize and lampoon notions of tradition, rank, nation, and (she avoid this here; it's another chapter) sexuality.   The idea seems to be that the sore spots these films so soothe are so sore, or the transgressive thoughts (disliking social life) so unacceptable, they are not openly voiced.

She also suggests, interestingly, the films reveal modern liberalism's (leftist as well as neoliberalism) impasse.

If we watch the Austen films with attention, we find they are about socially insecure people, and the characters are continually shadowed by anxiety.  At the same time while they live in high luxury, they are often in an imprisoning situation where they either are or are in danger of being humiliated or thrown out.. A powerful example of the kind of film adaptation costume drama that dramatizes women's problems are both version of The Turn of the Screw:  1999 by Nick Dear and 2009 by Sandy Welch.  Austen's own family were fringe people:  she could have ended a governess had Edward not inherited that property by being adopted; Henry Austen went bankrupts and ended a poor curate.

She then goes through the films showing status anxiety in them -- of all sorts.  They also feed the kind of pleasures the well-educated professional and managerial class enjoys, party out of real taste for it (cultured) and partly because it fits their image of themselves, is something they are comfortable with. She dwells on the sequence in P&P where Elizabeth and the Gardeners tour Pemberly and are welcomed by Darcy and his turn-about to be anxious to be friends with them.  She critiques Bourdieu and says social capital and cultural capital are utterly dependent on capital and class itself.  The Gardners and Elizabeth must pass muster -- as the viewers know they must when they socialize. 

The famous image of Darcy swimming comes in a sequence surrounding the house which is the sheltering beauty and order and peace.

Another specific aspect of Austen's books is how she depicts the nuclear or small families in intimate space. Troost and Greenfield say she also depicts the way people around the globe seem to end up in a small group of family and friends who they spend their existence among and whom they feel they must value and celebrate. 

I would add (as Troost and Greenfield show) the odd thing is Austen is alienated to some extent, Austen jaundiced and this is edited out of many of the films, especially those which are free adaptations and those of the 1990s. My own feeling recently is that In the 1980s and since this aspect of Austen -- her understanding of the torments of social existence -- is there in the film or brought back strongly once again.

The gentry daughter at risk becomes the fulcrum, and we have in the films here losses.   Persuasion is about the loss of the house. (I'll add to Sadoff the depiction of a house swathed in sheets -- ghostly -- is ubiquitous in these films)

Lady Russell and Anne Eliot (Susan Fleetwood, Amanda Root) talking over Anne's deep sense of loss amid the ghost house (1995 Persuasion)

The 2005 Joe Wright P&P exploits anxiety everywhere from the run-down Longbourne home, to a sympathetic Mrs Bennet, to the real pity for Mary shown by Mr Bennet, the haunted Mr Collins (Tom Howard), Charlotte Collins (Claudie Blakeley aggressively saying to Elizabeth: "Don't you dare judge me"), and the notorious ending where Darcy comforts Elizabeth that she is now safe ("Mrs Darcy forever).  They are "incandescently happy" in front of the eroticized dream house:

If you pay attention to Mansfield Park, you see it's about a house and culture under threat -- from loss of money, of slaves or property, from the Crawfords who bring in modern coolness and indifference and lack of depth of feeling as a basis for social life.    This is everywhere in the story of three women on the move in S&S and the women are ejected (the Elizas -- come to think of it Austen's cousin was an Eliza, she could have been ejected as illegimate). 

She moves on to show status anxiety in the 1790s and Austen's world, to show the strong political conflicts there, and where this comes out in Austen from her particular vantage. 

The rest of the chapter goes into further individual movies with different perspectives on the same matter: the 1940 movie reacting to war; Fay Weldon's claustrophobic 1979 P&P, the attempt at consolation (I call it Chekhovian) 1983 MP.   I found the section disappointing because I thought she would go over how the films replay aspects of one another, but maybe I ought to be relieved she stayed with explicating for this view, for then my book would be upstaged. 

In her second chapter she talks about contemporary uses of fidelity which I have found in Welch's Jane Eyre too.  See the comments which explain some of the significance of the many beautiful landscape and family scenes (Rochester, Jane and Adele) in the 2006 Jane Eyre:

Jane returned home, walking with Rochester -- the long time together after the Ingrams leave and he tells her of his love

The three together, she sewing, he reading, Adele talking (2006 Jane Eyre) -- see comments for continuation

I now have read the fiction book swirling around Jane Austen I promised to read, edited and sent it to the author, and have written a final version of The Politics of Gender in Anthony Trollope's novels (which is good and concise) and sent it off my review and it's been accepted by the peer-edited journal, so I can possess my soul in peace, and return to my movie project.  I need not think about the Northanger Abbey paper for JASNA until May, and not need start any work until June. 

So I have two movie projects at least. I must finish summarizing and commenting on the Palliser films, and then I must return to my book and finish the section "Seeking Refuge: Adaptation Austen's Sense and Sensibility. I have a fifth movie to go, Andrew Davies and Anne Pivcevic's 2008 S&S.  Then I'll send it to Continuum to ask what they think of it.  I may then do the same for all 10 P&P movies or turn to Trollope and try to write a paper on the film adaptations of Trollope's novels. I thought of my "On Living in a New Country" -- aborted project on Trollope's travel books while doing the review because it did lead me to books which could give me a thesis; I just couldn't come up with one before.

I'm reading Victorian Vogue because I enjoy reading film studies the way I enjoy reading literary criticism, but and what I need for my book still is some framing and she is (I hope ) giving me ideas beyond a typology which I've finally faced interests so few people.  Viewers seem not to care what type adaptation they are watching, even if it enables them to grasp the finished film's design or aims better.

And that gentle reader is my last for tonight, for Jim is home from watching a marathon 18 hour Wagner Ring cycle (HD movies from Valencia) at the Wagner society in a George Washington University's auditorium.  Sadoff's next chapter is about the uses of fidelity in movies based on 19th century novels, memoirs, history.

I do know how pathetic all this is, by which I mean how much a substitute to fill my loneliness and inability to do anything about some insoluble problems in my and my family's situation that needs fixing.



( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 5th, 2010 01:26 pm (UTC)
On homoerotic sex
"Sounds fairly predictable (Sadoff's identification of homoerotic sex in Merchant-Ivory)." Tell me more. Laurence Raw (author of Adapting Henry James).

Apr. 5th, 2010 01:28 pm (UTC)
On homoerotic sex
Yes I did make the connection so generally that I didn't bring out what was valuable in it. The chapter which connects the country house to eroticism to homoeroticism comes out of a paper by Sadoff (which I could share if anyone is interested) where she traces a relative prudery to the present relative candour about sexuality in British-connected film adaptations -- including the Henry James subset. I've not yet gotten to her later chapter.

When I get there I'll post about it. Today I've teaching stuff to do (all the livelong day probably) and tomorrow I must get back to a study of the Palliser films I've been doing, some of which is here:


and here:


so Wednesday is my target day for returning to Sadoff on the Victorian Vogue. Life as slow bustle :),
Apr. 5th, 2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
Jane Eyre Movies
I love the Ruth Wilson-Toby Stephens version of Jane Eyre too. Another favorite, which I notice you didn't mention, is the BBC mini starring Michael Jayston and Sorcha Cusack. I've not heard of Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche playing Rochester/Eyre and will have to look into it.
Apr. 5th, 2010 04:55 pm (UTC)
Jane Eyre movies
Thank you, I didn't know about the Michael Jayston and Sorcha Cusack JE movie. I presume those are the names of the actors playing Jane and Rochester. I can't find it. What year was it? Who was the director or screenplay writer.

I know of Zeffirelli's 1996 Jane Eyre with William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourgh in the roles. But that's not a mini-series. I've not seen it.

There are so many Jane Eyre movies one needs more information to find each one.

Apr. 5th, 2010 09:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Jane Eyre movies
The Jayston/Cusack Jane Eyre is available on DVD and runs 248 minutes. It is definitely worth a look.
Apr. 6th, 2010 12:00 am (UTC)
Jane Eyre Movies
Thank you Judy and anonymous. I've been tempted and fell: I bought a used copy of the 1973 JE (Region 1, Wide Screen). I love this era, and the package (announcing its allegiances) is that of the Oliver Twist and Dombey and Son I watched not long ago.

I've gone on to Part 2: I am so drawn by the depiction of Rochester as unwilling to betray Jane and only asking her to love and live with him after a long summer together and her speech about how he has treated her as an equal. He is made so sympathetic. Also the theme of home and the landscape. This one has my heartstrings.

Apr. 6th, 2010 12:28 pm (UTC)
Have we changed?
From Diana B:

"How can it be we've never talked about Jane Eyre? Only one of my lifelong favorite books in the world. I've known it as by heart as I do the Austens, since I was 13 years old. What a wild natural talent, one of the most gripping narratives ever written. *Yes* the same books satisfy me as they did when I was 15: MORE so, because now they have nostalgia attached! For 50 years I have loved Jane Eyre and Alcott and Wilder and Streatfeild (and the Mouseketeers). And we are not alone. That is why I belong to the GO (Girls Own) community. They all feel that way! ...

How much have we changed since 15? You tell me!


Apr. 6th, 2010 02:28 pm (UTC)
Using fidelity to speak to us today in this new Jane Eyre
One of Sadoff's comments early in the chapter on film adaptations of 19th century novels (I've gone not much further than that) is that apparent fidelity is used to present issues of intense absorbed interest to viewers.

Watching the first part of the second half of Sandy Welch's Jane Eyre, I could see that. The 2006 movie opens out, differs interestingly in this second half from all others I've seen. In this one a long time is felt to ensue between the time of the Ingrams leaving Thornton and Rochester proposing to Jane. There is a long time said in the book, but it's not felt. In the book Rochester (meanly, or not kindly) tries to trick Jane into revealing her love and jealousy, teases her successfully and upon her saying yes, she cannot bear to leave Thornton and live far from Rochester, he proposes marriage.

Not in the 2006. There he does not tease her, and instead is loathe to betray her. He stalls out of love for her. A dialogue about how with him and in this house she has known the only equality she ever did, has been valued as never before, feels this is home moves him to tell her he loves her and ask her to live with him for the rest of her life, which she interprets as a proposal of marriage. He does not deny it, but he has himself not literally lied.

Their relationship is touching and builds so slowly without the neuroticism of Ciarin Hinds-Samantha Morton as comforter, and it is more modern -- about us too -- than the Dalton-Zelah Clarke.

The depiction of Bertha is not of a monster thus far. We see her as a beautiful if hidden young girl in flashbacks and she is shown at her prison window watching outside. She is a prisoner and we are made to feel there is someone human there.

The film is particularly beautiful. Stunning shots of landscape -- this is brought in meaningfully as Ruth Wilson as Jane so loves her home, her refuge. The episode with Mrs Reed shows her as along, the Victorian governess is translated into modern terms of the anonymous person who has no backdrop or family for real to turn to.

At each turn as the film moves into this phase, something in the book is pulled out in a new way to speak to us

Wilson is particularly good as conveying calm and inner tranquillity as central to her character -- this is Bronte's, but it's used differently here -- about mothering too for Adele. Scenes of the three of them together abound.

And we are made to feel their happiness as the day approaches. Since we know the story, that is used. We are ever aware this is an interlude and it seems so precious. The time waiting for the marriage after the semi-proposal is also made to feel lengthened.

Apr. 11th, 2010 02:41 am (UTC)
The Rivers sequence and close of JE, 2009
The Rivers' sequence is truncated in time, but all the essential elements kept: I though the use of voice-over and dreams of Rochester for Jane while with her Rivers's cousins moving; this is the story we care about. Also the way there is a slow build-up of the relationship when Jane returns to find Rochester crippled and blind. It seemed more believable than most. I had a hard time with the last still in front of a suddenly ideal brick house and tidy gardens, but thought to myself it was a kind of visual joke. It re-emphasizes the distance between what people show of themselves in public and what is done and said in private. So here is the conventional picture, but behind it there is rich individuality, suffering and joy. Even Grace Poole was there.

A wonderful achievement since, as with the 2009 Turn of the Screw, our own preoccupations and longings and wishes are intelligently conceived as part of the movie and acted out in front of us.


Edited at 2010-04-11 02:43 am (UTC)
Sep. 7th, 2010 05:21 pm (UTC)
Jane Eyre 1996: Zeffirelli, Hurt and Gainsbourg
I am really sorry to say I found Zeffirelli's film of Jane Eyre (rented on Netflix) the least good one of the 7 or 8 I've now watched; indeed I was disappointed -- this for the first time. Part of the failure was it was too short, and we had too little time for the actors to develop their relationship, but I know that the 1997 Young (with Hinds and Morton) was 108 minutes, the 1943 Stevenson (with Wells and Fontaine), 97 minutes, and at least the Hinds and Morton film showed a deep relationship between the two principals that persuaded.

It's partly that Hurt just couldn't get into the role; on some level the story and feelings he was expected to spout (about misery at the unfaithfulness of the dancer) embarrassed him. I don't remember seeing him in this kind of costume drama before. And he didn't fit with Charlotte Gainsbourg (superb in a more sensual if withdrawn type role in The City of Your Final Destination). The script stripped the encounters to romance mostly too; no witty rebarbarative growing together, only at first estrangement and alienation, and then sudden romance with creamy music. They did have the core idea: two broken people come together, and when Hurt began to remind me (uncannily) of Alan Rickman in expression, body posture and tones, the film came alive. Otherwise it lurched.

Very pretty scenes, too pretty throughout.

Partly it waws that the film was moving towards what the 2009 Welch (Wilson and Stephens) was open about. Bertha not a monster but pitiable. Adele, jane and Mr R a displaced family but as we were given not enough about how society had inflicted all this on them, the scenes didn't have the meaning they have in the 2009.

The best scenes were in the opening with Anna Paquin as the young rebellious Jane and Amanda Root as Miss Temple -- too few and too short but the most effective.

And as a commercial film they overdid some of the turning points, and clearly built up Mrs Fairfax's role just because it was Joan Plowright.

The gothic books I've been reading most of them have at least a small section and some a major chapter on Jane Eyre: they show its importance to women is Jane's independence, how she doesn't give in and fights for what within her and again this one didn't have that. Instead Jane just says at the end she'll never desert this broken man again. Rivers' section was basically omitted.

So the 1973 and 1983 are finally the best as sheer transpositions with the 83 Julian Amyes (Dalton and Clarke) the most inwardly convincing couple and the 72 Craft (Jayston and Cusack) having the realest, the most believed in Rochester by a fine actor). George C Scott did Rochester as aging and broke (70, Mann directing with York as Jane). In each case of the 97 film (Hinds and Morton) it's that we are given new insight in to the couple or the 2009 one (Stephens and Wilson) the society around them _vis-a-vis_ ours

An interesting thing about these as a set is there is no free adaptation. It might be thought that so many stories of this kind (gothics) are versions of Jane Eyre (Turn of Screw, Mary Reilly but especially Rebbeca) but they are all so different, and there is no adaptation that critiques as a commentary. Probably this a ur-text directors are afraid to touch too much and there's another problem for Zeffirelli, he didn't quite omit what he was bored by and had no feel for what he wasn't (Fiona Shaw as Mrs Reed was given pragmatic unbelievable lines just to have the hinge point of Jane leaving for a while in).

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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