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Jane Eyre : texte, contexte, ur-texte

Diverging Interpretations of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847): Franco Zeffirelli’s and Robert Stevenson’s Screen Adaptations

Divergences interprétatives autour de Jane Eyre (1847) de Charlotte Brontë : les adaptations cinématographiques de Franco Zeffirelli et Robert Stevenson
Delphine Letort
p. 123-138

Résumé

Franco Zeffirelli et Robert Stevenson nous offrent deux interprétations de Jane Eyre à travers des adaptations qui retiennent des choix narratifs souvent parallèles mais dont les mises en scène diffèrent, creusant un écart manifeste au niveau de la caractérisation du personnage éponyme. Le premier dramatise le récit pour souligner l’obstination de l’enfant et retracer le développement de la jeune femme tandis que le second adopte une approche hollywoodienne classique, utilisant le noir et blanc pour évoquer la fragilité de l’enfant et de la femme dans une structure sociale répressive soumise à l’autorité masculine. Les portraits esquissés par les réalisateurs reflètent des choix d’interprétation guidés par une lecture personnelle et contemporaine du récit de Charlotte Brontë.

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Entrées d’index

Index chronologique :

XIXe siècle, XXe siècle

Index thématique et géographique :

littérature, cinéma, société, Grande-Bretagne
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Texte intégral

  • 1  Gateshead Hall, Lowood School, Thornfield Hall, Moor House, and Ferndean.
  • 2  I. Whelehan, Adaptations: From Text to Screen, Screen to Text, Deborah Carwell (ed.), London: Rout (...)
  • 3  Brian McFarlane uses the word transfer “to denote the process whereby certain narrative elements o (...)
  • 4  George Bluestone also sees the filmmaker as an independent artist “not a translator for an establi (...)

1Topographically divided into five stages marking the eponymous heroine’s progress from childhood to her adult life1, the structure of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) is simplified in Franco Zeffirelli’s film version which retains only two parts: the first is devoted to Jane’s childhood whereas the second delves into her experience as a woman. Adapted for the screen by the director himself and Hugh Whitemore, the script turns the life story of Jane Eyre into a tale where love represents the last step to self-accomplishment. The novel having attained the status of a classic, it inevitably arouses expectations against which its film adaptations are measured, thus prompting the question of fidelity. While Imelda Whelehan explains “the comparison of a novel and its film version results in an almost unconscious prioritizing of the fictional origin over the resulting film2”, she also pinpoints that fidelity criticism misses out on other levels of meaning. Brian McFarlane invites the viewer to explore the transformation implied by the process of turning words into visuals when he argues “novelistic elements must find quite different equivalences in the film medium, when such equivalences are sought or are available at all3”. Even though both critics emphasize the fact that filmmaking is an art that has developed its own language4, a comparative approach to Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, Robert Stevenson’s 1944 black and white version and Franco Zeffirelli’s 1996 color film) furthers our understanding of the process of adaptation. The comparison allows readers and viewers to grasp the meaning of changes affecting the novel’s semiotic system as it is converted into visuals.

2Not only does the study of Franco Zeffirelli’s Jane Eyre illustrate that narrative choices are made necessary by the process of adapting a text to another medium, but it also suggests that the transference opens up a breach for ideological discourse. The film’s dramatic structure derives from various changes in the narrative, eluding whole sections of the novel while highlighting others, which most obviously affects characterization. While relinquishing the first-person comments of Jane Eyre on her life experience and some of the gothic imagery used by Charlotte Brontë to depict her heroine’s status as a female in Victorian England, the film director transforms the story of Jane Eyre’s development into a tale where self-determination and self-reliance prevail as dominant values driving forward the narrative.

  • 5  The reference to the reader first crops up in the fifth chapter when she comments on Miss Temple’s (...)

3Comparing the film with the original text that provided plots and characters helps us uncover the ideological stance of the director, who attempts to construct a personal interpretation of Brontë’s writing through a selective choice of scenes that reveal some of his favourite traits of the persona he has Anna Paquin and Charlotte Gainsbourg embody. Instead of using the voice-over narration that could translate the first person point of view characterizing the autobiographical style of the novel, the film mixes various point-of-view shots to render Jane’s life experience more vividly. Subjective shots help the viewer grasp Jane’s thoughts and feelings, yet they do not match the novelist’s first person narration in giving the reader a sense of intimate access to Jane’s world, sometimes even addressing the imagined “reader” directly5.

4Franco Zeffirelli’s mise-en-scene emphasizes the autonomy of the film with regards to the text, betraying a conservative agenda for its protagonist whose retrospective reflections are dispensed with. His film echoes Robert Stevenson’s 1944 black and white film version of the same novel on a narrative level as both have cut the same episodes in order to adapt the novel to a screen format. However their mises-en-scene differ most strongly, revealing different approaches to the character of Jane Eyre. The construction of the character is the focus of both the novel and the film, yet the screen versions reveal that each adaptation is the work of a filmmaker who infuses his images with his own vision of the novel. The directors envision Jane Eyre’s growth from childhood to adulthood as a different process according to their ideological framework.

Jane Eyre’s childhood: rebellion vs repression

5Franco Zeffirelli’s Jane Eyre starts with a prologue introducing the eponymous character through a voice-over narration that comments on a still black and white photograph of a country mansion, framed in a wide-angle shot the geometric construction of which pinpoints the austere architecture of the house. Even though the photograph looks faded, recalling Jane’s drawing activity, the memory it illustrates sounds quite vivid to the narrator who depicts the shot as a flashback into her loveless childhood at Gateshead Hall. The shot starts moving slowly through the pale colors enlivening the frame and heightening the gloomy greyish tone pervading through the stone house. The frontal view adds to the oppressive atmosphere generated by a still shot which seems to rummage into the past as the camera slowly zooms in on one of the dark window panes. The close-up on the window reveals but a dark void, which echoes Jane’s subjective voice-over comment synthesizing in a few words the dreary years spent as a child at Gateshead Hall: “My parents died when I was very young. I was sent to live with my aunt Mrs Reed and her children at Gateshead Hall. For nearly ten years I endured their unkindness and cruelty. They did not love me I cannot love them”.

  • 6  Jane’s questions reveal she longs for love and understanding: “Why was I always suffering, always (...)

6While visually expressing the depressive mood of the extradiegetic voice, the incipit of the film misleads the viewer into expecting a faithful rendering of the first-person narrative characterizing Charlotte Brontë’s novel. The comment quoted above illustrates Jane’s retrospective view as it opposes the present and the past, yet it also suggests she has not got over past cruelties. In the novel, the past tense enhances the distance between the narrative and the events she has coped with: “If they did not love me, in fact, as little did I love them” (JE, 14). The opening sequence of the film epitomizes the adaptation technique employed by the director who favours climactic scenes for dramatic effect and recoils from analyzing Jane’s plight in the light of a retrospective reading. Instead of furthering the use of the voice-over, the camera takes on the role of an intrusive narrator, guiding us through the girl’s carefully selected childhood memories. The sound of distant and piercing voices becomes louder as the zoom effect mentioned above stops outside the house, focusing on the black pane that conspicuously opposes appearances to reality. While spying on a scene of violence that contrasts with the agonizing stillness outside, Franco Zeffirelli dramatizes Jane’s raging outburst against her marginalization in a prison-like environment. The reference to love in the introductory voice-over comment proves to be no more than a rhetorical effect with reference to Jane’s desire for affection in Charlotte Brontë’s novel. Indeed the director dramatizes the conflict between the girl’s rebellious, obstinate nature and a repressive social order instead of delving into the contradictions of her character6.

7Because Jane is denied the narrative voice she is granted in the novel to comment on the daily torturous contrivances she endures from John Reed, the red room punishment does not inspire the terror inflicted on the girl in the novel:

  • 7  (JE, 16-17). She also confesses later: “Yes, Mrs Reed, to you I owe some fearful pangs of mental s (...)

My heart beat thick, my head grew hot; a sound filled my ears, which I deemed the rushing of wings; something seemed near me; I was oppressed, suffocated: endurance broke me down—I uttered a wild, involuntary cry—I rushed to the door and shook the lock in desperate effort7.

  • 8 Ibid., 14.

8Even though the camera spins round to translate the dizziness of the panic-stricken girl and focuses on her crying face in a close-up that expresses her desperate loneliness, the scene fails to convey the pathos of the heroine's predicament. The slow musical score starts at this very moment to arouse a feeling of sympathy from the viewers who may yet feel dismayed at the end of this prologue which has not allowed them to become acquainted with the characters. Jane Eyre appears as a shallow persona as she is locked up in the red room—a setting representing a decent-sized room that fails to convey a sense of claustrophobia despite its crimson hangings. The room is supplied with no background story in the film which resorts instead to a slow musical score in order to generate the supernatural images associated with the “secret of the red-room: the spell which kept it so lonely in spite of its grandeur8”.

  • 9  Her reading characterizes Jane from the first chapter of the novel: “I soon possessed myself of a (...)
  • 10 A. Paupe, “Place and Space in Franco Zeffirelli’s Jane Eyre”, in L. Bury & D. Sipière, Jane Eyre. L (...)
  • 11  The first time she sees Brocklehurst’s carriage is significant: “I saw the gates thrown open and a (...)

9The prologue of Zeffirelli’s Jane Eyre skips the first chapter of the novel to lay stress on the heroine’s victimization in the Reeds’ household. The passive voice used in the voice-over is echoed in a series of visual motifs reifying Jane and turning her into an unwanted object that can be displaced at will. While the novel sheds a romantic light on her solitary life, alluding to her escape into clandestine reading9, she is given no moment of respite in the film. Franco Zeffirelli excludes her brooding over contradictory desires, simplifying her fierce, rebellious attitude into a need for vengeance when she publicly humiliates Mrs Reed by confessing her hatred of her in front of Mr Brocklehurst. Not only does the drawing-room provide a stage on which such characters as “the Reeds display their accomplishments and good manners10”, but it also symbolizes stiff societal conventions pressing on the unruly Jane. Franco Zeffirelli uses space to dramatize Jane’s defiant attitude in opposition to social constraints: the scene has no witness in the novel and by making it public in the film, the director gives Jane a subversive role as she speaks for equal justice. Still Jane can be disposed of like her literary counterpart—“I was like a nobody there” (JE, 15) she confesses. While the carriage taking her to Lowood School signifies her liberation from Gateshead in the novel and in Robert Stevenson’s film (which shows the girl whooping with joy in an open carriage careening through the night), it epitomizes her reification in Franco Zeffirelli’s view11. She disappears from view once she is lifted up in the carriage, taking her away like a bundle. Jane’s reification culminates into martyrdom when she is placed on a stool and ordered to stand there, exposed to the inquisitive glances of the other girls on her arrival at Lowood School. Yet Jane’s resistance is also put forward as she stares ahead without bending her head down, thus representing a model of bold bravery.

  • 12  “I knew he would soon strike, and while dreading the blow, I mused on the disgusting and ugly appe (...)

10As it stresses action over introspection, the film records images of entrapment that paradoxically help underscore Jane’s wilfulness. Even though she is bullied downstairs at the request of her aunt who is about to trust her to the care of Mr Brocklehurst, she does not give in to anxiety but stops in the middle of the staircase, turns round to glower at her cousin and he stares back with his sisters huddling behind him. Never does Jane let fear crop up and show as she behaves vindictively to counteract any sense of vulnerability. Franco Zeffirelli endows Jane with a power she is deprived of in the novel: “There were moments when I was bewildered by the terror he inspired; because I had no appeal whatever against either his menaces or his inflictions” (JE, 10). The first chapter of the novel depicts her hiding behind a curtain, hoping to remain unnoticed and shaking for fear her cousin might hit her too hard12. The film endows Jane with a power and a will to resist, shaping her character out of these qualities, whereas she admits to being “habitually obedient to John” (JE, 10) in the novel. When she hits back, an act which the author evokes through a euphemism (“I don’t know very well what I did with my hands”), it is but “a new thing” (JE, 12) for her.

  • 13  I. Whelehan, op. cit., 7.
  • 14  B. McFarlane, op. cit., 16.

11Comparing Robert Stevenson’s 1944 version of Jane Eyre with Franco Zeffirelli’s enhances “the weight of interpretations which surround the text in question, and which may provide the key to central decisions made in a film’s production”13. Even though the two films are adapted from the same novel, Jane’s characterization is affected by narrative choices as well as by mise-en-scene. According to Brian McFarlane, the subjective text is not aptly rendered by the voice-over: “those words spoken in voice-over accompany images which necessarily take on an objective life of their own”14. Still, Robert Stevenson repeatedly resorts to voice-over narration to complete characterization and to draw an obvious link between the film and the novel it is adapted from. As his camera lingers on the written words of a fake quote (for the novel is not cited but summarized in a few lines) in several close-ups that allow the viewers to become readers, Stevenson introduces narrative pauses during which Jane is able to comment retrospectively on her life experience, thus translating the autobiographical approach of Charlotte Brontë. Jane’s voice-over readings help render a subjective emotional state that Zeffirelli tries to fathom out through the use of a dramatic musical score. His film version avoids scenes of introspection, never showing Jane brooding over a book either at Gateshead Hall or at Lowood School, resorting instead to such art forms as music and drawing to evoke the character’s sensibility. The musical score attracts sympathy to Jane’s lonely struggle and her sketches reveal an astute sense of observation, yet these elements do not contribute to characterizing her beyond appearances.

  • 15  The description of the school conveys a strong sense of order in the novel: “Discipline prevailed: (...)

12The incipit of Robert Stevenson’s film illustrates the burden of interpretation between the novel and its screen versions: the film begins after the climactic scene of the red room as the terrified girl is liberated from her confinement. Jane appears as both vulnerable and brave as she endures the humiliation of the male servant twisting her left ear and chastising her verbally. She resists crying or shouting, yet her strong will does not compensate for her fragility, metaphorically exposed through the gothic setting that oppresses her wherever she goes. The director uses expressionist lighting to emphasize her singular position in the world: Jane’s isolated figure is surrounded by ominous shadows that lay stress on her victimization. From Gateshead Hall to Lowood School to Thornfield Hall, her environment is designed in a sharp, hostile contrast of black and white shapes which conveys neither a sense of security nor peace but dramatizes the differences between Jane’s sensitive nature and the stiff conventions of Victorian society. Still Jane stands up as she voices her anger at injustice, rebelling against how she and others are treated. Not only does she rebuke her aunt for telling lies about her disposition (“he struck me first” is her retort to her aunt’s remark on her passionate character), but she also proves her courage when speaking her mind in front of authoritarian adults like Brocklehurst (opposing his cutting Helen’s curly hair). Lowood School symbolizes a stifling sense of order as the girls standing in rows draw oblique lines across the frame, echoing the architectural symmetry of the place, enclosing Jane in a setting of light and shadows suggesting prison bars. Lowood School signifies the structural harshness of a system built on social hierarchy, to which the girls living in the school have to submit. Franco Zeffirelli distorts Charlotte Brontë’s vision of the school as a place of oppression in so far as it is embodied by characters (Mr Brocklehurst and Miss Scatcherd) instead of being perceived as a system. The girls gather informally around the piano teacher whereas discipline and order prevail in the novel15.

13Striking as this may seem, the same camera techniques do not produce the same effects in the two films. Both Robert Stevenson and Franco Zeffirelli resort to point-of-view shots to replace missing first-person comments in the novel, yet they do not employ the same angles which affect the overall portrait they draw of Jane. They do not highlight the same traits as the 1944 film abounds in low-angle shots conveying the girl’s feeling of powerlessness in front of authority figures like Mrs Reed and Mr Brocklehurst whose decisions are not to be questioned. The slant views generate a feeling of unease and evoke a biased attitude toward the poor victimized child who stares back in awe of Mrs Reed and Mr Broklehurst. While this stare might be interpreted as an appeal for understanding and support in Robert Stevenson’s film, it is turned into an act of defiance by Franco Zeffirelli’s lingering shots. The duration of the shots sheds light on the girl’s determination: she is not to be subdued as indicated by eye-level shots that undermine Brocklehurst’s hasty judgement. While the novel expresses her childish fear of Brocklehurst as she scrutinizes his face, no extreme close-up renders her repulsion: “What a face he had, now that it was almost on a level with mine! What a great nose! And what a mouth! And what large prominent teeth!” (JE, 31).

  • 16  T. F. Davis, “Moving Pictures: Representation of Victorian Fictions”, in W. Baker & K. Womack (eds (...)
  • 17  The girl with curly hair is Julia Severn in the novel and Mr Brocklehurst declares that he “will s (...)

14These visual techniques endow the narrative voice with a power of omniscience that objectifies the original autobiographic style of the novel. Restricted to an exclusively narrative function, voice-over crops up four times in the films: it introduces the story as a flashback, twice compresses the narrative by summarizing several chapters, and concludes the film. Robert Stevenson’s 1944 version makes use of the voice-over to enrich the subtext of the film and give depth to the character. While depriving Jane Eyre of this metalinguistic tool, Zeffirelli paradoxically grants her more power. Her rebellious feelings are exacerbated to compensate for self-doubts that the director has chosen to subdue in his own interpretation of the novel. For Todd F. Davis, “Zeffirelli clearly imparts his own twentieth-century imprint”, “highlighting her [Jane’s] strength in a way undoubtedly affected by the significant and abundant feminist critique devoted to Brontë’s text over the past forty years”16. Comparing Zeffirelli’s interpretation of Jane Eyre to Robert Stevenson’s, one may also posit that Jane’s characterization as an assertive child bears testimony to children’s change of status from objects to subjects in modern societies. Not only does Jane defy Mr Brocklehurst’s authority when she challenges him to cut her hair, but she also expresses a demand for respect for both herself and her friend Helen Burns whom she feels is wrongly accused of having long curly hair. The scene does not belong to the novel17 but comes from the scriptwriters’ minds and the digression points out that Jane’s acts of courageous disobedience are triggered by her concern for others. The two directors use this made-up scene to complete Jane’s characterization, yet the girl’s performance is not given the same significance: Jane voices her self-awareness in Zeffirelli’s version whereas she calls for justice in Stevenson’s, echoing the conflict that opposed her to Mrs Reed in the novel. Jane felt an urgent need to fight against injustice when she decided to voice her anger:

Speak I must: I had been trodden on severely, and must turn: but how? What strength had I to dart retaliation at my antagonist? I gathered my energies and launched them in this blunt sentence – ‘I am not deceitful: If I were, I should say I loved you; but I declare I do not love you’ (JE, 34).

15As demonstrated by these examples, both directors refer to the same episodes in Jane’s childhood, yet they do not seem to grasp the same meanings as their films illustrate different aspects of her persona. The distance between their interpretations becomes all the more obvious when they deal with the narrative of her adult life.

Jane’s growth into adulthood: “A woman with a will of her own18

  • 18  The quote comes from the film and echoes Jane defiance of Rochester in the novel: “I am a free hum (...)
  • 19  The novel also contains this ellipsis, but Jane’s childhood contains more details as she notes: “H (...)

16Franco Zeffirelli enhances the emotional drama in Jane Eyre’s life by focusing on the narrative climaxes of the novel and eluding less cinematic chapters. The film visualizes Jane’s growth into adulthood by a new face—that of Charlotte Gainsbourg, who first appears on screen after an ellipsis representing a lapse of eight years19. Emerging from the cemetery where Helen Burns is buried, Jane’s adult figure can only be identified thanks to the voice of Miss Temple calling for her and to which the young lady responds. The metamorphosis has taken place off screen, thus endowing her femininity with mystery. Her physical transformation cannot fail to strike the viewer as the child’s wilful look and defiant glance have softened into a flickering smile and a low soft voice. Her self-confident pace has given way to a hesitant stride as she turns round to talk about her remorse at leaving Miss Temple and Lowood School.

  • 20  Close-ups on Charlotte Gainsbourg’s face distort her features into plainness while her dresses hid (...)
  • 21  See L. Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Screen, vol. 16, n° 3, Autumn, 1975, 6-18.

17Stevenson’s reading of Jane Eyre generates a different character as the frail girl has blossomed into a lovely lady who takes leave from Brocklehurst after owning up to him how much she despises his patronizing and disdainful attitude. Zeffirelli’s adult Jane Eyre is discreet and reserved, two qualities which Charlotte Gainsbourg embodies through her lank figure and features made plain by low-angle shots20, whereas Joan Fontaine’s Hollywood style lends more feminine assurance to the character in Stevenson’s film. The latter underscores Jane’s independent will of her own as she is shown taking steps to gain her freedom. The film includes such episodes as Jane’s rummaging through Mr Brocklehurst’s mail for Mrs Fairfax’s letter or a few minutes’ wait at the George Inn where she is conspicuously gazed at before the arrival of the coachman who is to drive her to Thornfield Hall. These scenes relating both her decision to leave and her journey were added to the script and contribute to characterizing her as a “woman with a will of her own”, for her femininity is associated with actions that challenge Victorian definitions of femininity as well as Hollywood conventions traditionally ascribing women a passive function in the spectacle to be watched21.

18Zeffirelli’s version does not include such steps as part of her emancipation from society’s constraints, using instead Mrs Fairfax’s voice-over reading of a letter sent to Jane to provide the logical link between the two parts of the narrative. The intradiegetic voice summarises missing information while also introducing the second part of the film. Jane’s move to Thornfield Hall is depicted as a smooth event with the reassuring female voice-over of a mature woman acting as a guide away from Lowood into a new life represented by the magnificent castle first seen in a high-angle shot, looming over the valley. The picturesque scene is filmed from Jane’s point of view, betraying a mixture of feelings oscillating between admiration and apprehension: the castle stands in the distance as in a fairy tale, catching the eye of the curious visitor and yet standing as a mystery to be deciphered. The castle’s vertical structure metaphorically evokes some hidden danger as Jane’s figure is dwarfed while the camera follows her gaze scanning the exterior and the interior of the castle, betraying both her fascination and her intrigued curiosity. Naïve though she may sound, Jane shows she is no dupe when she is left in her own room fearing “tomorrow I will discover this is a dream from which I must awaken”. That Thornfield Hall belongs to no fairy tale is indicated by the gothic imagery used in the film as proleptic clues to the tragic events to come—long dark corridors leading to closed doors, vertical architecture underlined by upward or downward shots of the stairs, a mysterious woman’s howling.

19The second part of the film depicts Jane Eyre’s new persona, which develops thanks to her status as governess. Instead of pointing out the progress made by the girl through her education, the film underscores the transformation of Jane Eyre, who is able to display qualities that were never even mentioned in the previous sequences. The two faces of Jane Eyre are hard to connect, for missing details of her childhood undermine the role Jane Eyre is to play as an adult. Her teaching Adèle sheds light on the quality of her education since she speaks fluent French, plays the piano and practices art sketching. Yet this knowledge reveals a chink in the construction of the character, for Jane never proved to be sensitive to artistic activities except for drawing.

  • 22  A. Paupe, op. cit., 259.

20Her relationship with Mr Rochester reproduces the conflicts that opposed her to such authority figures as Mr Brocklehurst and Mrs Reed. Confrontations with others have underlain Jane’s maturation, providing dramatic climaxes in the film and leading her to assert herself against conventional attitudes. Only thus does she demonstrate she is “no caged bird”. Yet one can hardly analyse her progress as a symbol of emancipation and quest for freedom considering that her “process of maturation is more strongly linked to returning to places than was the case in Brontë’s novel22”. Zeffirelli’s film emphasizes the character’s wilfulness against her surroundings by marginalizing her from the rest of the family at Gateshead Hall and from the other pupils at Lowood School. Although she tells Rochester that “she was never trampled upon” at Thornfield Hall, she experiences the same humiliation when she is condemned to observe elegantly dressed ladies smirking at each other yet ignoring her during the party held there. Never does Rochester invite her to act or make a step toward her in front of the women who despise the governess, thus forcing her to keep remain distant from society gatherings, although she may observe them. The scene replicates the exclusion she had to endure as a child, turning her into a viewer of an act of social representation. Once again the living-room is used as a theatrical setting for the performers to demonstrate their understanding of the art of appearances. Her humiliation becomes public when she discovers that Rochester is about to marry her even though his mad wife is still alive.

21Instead of demonstrating an independence of spirit acquired by education, the director emphasizes that Jane’s behaviour is dictated by her emotions. Her path from Gateshead to Thornfield allows no progress but from solitude and loneliness to redeeming love as she is able to forgive Mrs Reed for whatever misdemeanour she may have committed. Franco Zeffirelli explores the contrast between Jane’s fiery temperament and her self-restraint to point out that she manages to cope with both thanks to her love for Rochester. Jane proves that she has grown more mature by overcoming her self-doubts. She is twice shown looking at herself in a mirror: when she hears Rochester may marry Miss Ingram, she turns to the mirror and realizes she is too plain to draw his attention; later she is satisfied at the reflection of herself wearing a wedding dress, an emblem of her future role as Rochester’s wife and a symbol of her seductive femininity. His gaze has taught her to love and to trust herself as she is able to prove when she decides to leave on learning about his wife’s existence.

22Robert Stevenson and Franco Zeffirelli explore the relationship between Jane and Rochester as a source of excitement and suspense for the viewers. The two films focus on the development of their mutual attraction, yet they do not define femininity in the same terms. The 1944 version enhances Jane’s emotions in various close-ups on her worried face exposed to the key light underlining the actress’s beauty. The contrast between light and dark surrounds the two characters both inside and outside while their confession of love triggers lightning streaks across the night sky. Jane’s development as a human being stops at Thornfield when she becomes dependent on Rochester. The voice-over reading of a fake quote emphasizes the fact that Jane is completely devoted to Rochester from their first encounter onwards:

What sort of man was this master of Thornfield?—so proud, sardonic and harsh? Instinctively I felt that his malignant mood had its source in some cruel cross of fate. I was to learn that this was indeed true, and that beneath the harsh mask he assumed lay a tortured soul, fine, gentle and kindly.

  • 23  In the novel, Jane is torn apart after she makes her resolution: “The answer my mind gave—‘Leave T (...)

23Her decision to return to Bessie’s after the wedding is cancelled illustrates that Thornfield has not allowed her character to grow. Another fake quote explains that she is following instinctive behaviour and is not reasoning out her plan: “At last old memories, rather than my will, drew me back to Gateshead Hall—to Bessie who had once been kind to me23”.

  • 24  Chapters XXVIII and XXIX relate Jane’s struggle.

24Even though the 1996 version faithfully records most of the novel’s conversations between Jane and Rochester, thus showing Zeffirelli is more interested in their love affair than in Jane Eyre’s personal growth, every tête-à-tête is represented as a power struggle allowing Jane to gain more self-confidence in her femininity. Thus is she able to refuse St. John Rivers’s proposal—a part of the narrative which is eluded from Robert Stevenson’s film. Franco Zeffirelli changes the narrative as he does not content himself with a retrospective account of the fire which destroys Thornfield Hall (a story told by Mrs Fairfax in Robert Stevenson’s film) but shows the whole scene, thus dramatizing the disastrous consequences of Jane’s walking out on Rochester—including the deaths of Bertha and Grace. The episode adds suspense to the film as the viewer is aware of an element unknown to Jane until she decides to return. This narrative strategy draws our attention away from Jane’s plight, her destitution and her desolation after she leaves Thornfield Hall being dismissed from the film’s plot24, to focus on Rochester’s tragic destiny. Jane’s final bliss is simplified as the climax of her love story, celebrating the redeeming power of love since she wishes to stay with Rochester despite his physical injuries and past errors. Love has turned unruly Jane into a faithful, reliant wife whose generosity is celebrated in a Vermeer-style portrait that glorifies her devotion to Rochester. Jane brings the film to a close with a voice-over comment, which echoes her introductory words, while the colours of the shot fade into a black and white sketch recalling the opening of the film and suggesting Jane herself imprints her signature on the film.

Conclusion

25To conclude Robert Stevenson and Franco Zeffirelli have constructed Jane Eyre according to their reading of the novel, retaining and eliding elements that contribute to characterizing the eponymous character as a different persona in their respective versions. Whilst Zeffirelli’s choices may have been influenced by his work as an opera director, paying close attention to the musical score for emotional purpose, to the setting for action scenes and to the narrative construction for dramatic effect, Robert Stevenson attempts to create an impression of fidelity to the novel by including fake quotes read over by Jane herself. The two films examined and compared show that Jane Eyre does not convey the same values for both directors.

  • 25  The chapters eluded from the film may give more power to the happy ending. Régis Dubois explains t (...)

26Franco Zeffirelli underscores Jane’s self-accomplishment as an educated lady who manages to get through life difficulties thanks to her determination and to her love for Rochester. Secondary characters are hardly developed, providing just a backdrop to her singular behaviour facing social conventions embodied either by the Reeds, Mr Brocklehurst or Miss Ingram. The film deletes the chapters of the novel relating Jane’s extreme poverty and need for help after she leaves Rochester, thus revealing the director’s interest is restricted to what he deems as the character’s positive qualities. He lingers on neither her weakness nor her doubts, thus quieting Jane Eyre’s social subtext and turning her into a model of self-reliance since her success is presented as the result of her sense of initiative. Thornfield Hall is captured in a picturesque landscape that redeems the gothic undertones of the castle, enhancing the fairy tale aspects of Jane Eyre’s biography. The final tableau is shot in an idyllic natural setting, metaphorically representing Jane’s happy and harmonious relationship with Rochester as the ultimate definition of female bliss25.

  • 26  “The woman is more fully in the light, the man posed so that he seems to intrude into, yearn towar (...)

27Robert Stevenson’s interpretation of the novel conveys more violence as Jane’s figure is always surrounded by dark shadows threatening to shatter her dreams. The noir undertones of the novel are put forward as the use of expressionist lighting creates a hostile environment made of geometric compositions generating a sense of omnipresent danger and entrapment. In this context, Rochester plays the role of a protective figure, thus adapting the story of Jane Eyre to Hollywood gender rules. Richard Dyer expounds on how light helps define gender in classic Hollywood narrative while noticing that generally “the woman is more fully in the light, the man posed so that he seems to intrude into, yearn towards it26”. Jane Eyre is portrayed as an attractive lady whose love for Rochester is thwarted by stiff social conventions, symbolized by Thornfield Hall walls which are filmed as though they were a prison. The film links the happy ending with the destruction of these walls, which allows both characters to voice their feelings freely.

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Bibliographie

BLUESTONE George, Novels into Films, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, [1957] 1973.

DAVIS Todd F., “Moving Pictures: Representation of Victorian Fictions”, in William Baker & Kenneth Womack, A Companion to the Victorian Novel, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002, 239-261.

DUBOIS Régis, Hollywood, cinéma et idéologie, Paris: Editions Sulliver, 2008.

DYER Richard, White, London: Routledge, 1997.

MCFARLANE Brian, Novel to Film: an Introduction to the Theories of Adaptation, New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

MULVEY Laura, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Screen, vol. 16, n° 3, Autumn 1975, 6–18.

PAUPE Anne, “Place and Space in Franco Zeffirelli’s Jane Eyre”, in Laurent Bury & Dominique Sipière, Jane Eyre, Le Roman de Charlotte Brontë et le film de Franco Zeffirelli, Paris : Ellipses, 2008, 251-261.

WHELEHAN Imelda, Adaptations: From Text to Screen, Screen to Text, Deborah Carwell (ed.), London: Routledge, 1999.

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Notes

1  Gateshead Hall, Lowood School, Thornfield Hall, Moor House, and Ferndean.

2  I. Whelehan, Adaptations: From Text to Screen, Screen to Text, Deborah Carwell (ed.), London: Routledge, 1999, 3.

3  Brian McFarlane uses the word transfer “to denote the process whereby certain narrative elements of novels are revealed as amenable to display in film” and the term adaptation to refer “to the processes by which other novelistic elements must find quite different equivalences in the film medium”. B. McFarlane, Novel to Film: an Introduction to the Theories of Adaptation, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996, 13.

4  George Bluestone also sees the filmmaker as an independent artist “not a translator for an established author, but a new author in his own right”. What they adapt is a kind of paraphrase, “characters and incidents that have detached themselves from language”. Bluestone reminds us that some stories are better suited to one medium than another because “what is peculiarly filmic and what is peculiarly novelistic cannot be converted without destroying an integral part of each”. G. Bluestone, Novels into Films, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1973, 63.

5  The reference to the reader first crops up in the fifth chapter when she comments on Miss Temple’s looks: “Let the reader add, to complete the picture, refined features”. Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre [1847], New York: Dover Publications, 2002, 45.

   All parenthetic references (JE,  ) will be to this edition.

6  Jane’s questions reveal she longs for love and understanding: “Why was I always suffering, always brow-beaten, always accused, for ever condemned? Why could I never please? Why was it useless to try to win any one’s favour?” (JE, 14).

7  (JE, 16-17). She also confesses later: “Yes, Mrs Reed, to you I owe some fearful pangs of mental suffering” (JE,19).

8 Ibid., 14.

9  Her reading characterizes Jane from the first chapter of the novel: “I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one stored with pictures” (JE, 71). When she is recovering from her punishment in the red room, she begs Bessie “to fetch Gulliver’s Travels” (JE, 20). Other works are also mentioned: “Goldsmith’s History of Rome”(JE, 11), “Arabian tales” (JE, 36).

10 A. Paupe, “Place and Space in Franco Zeffirelli’s Jane Eyre”, in L. Bury & D. Sipière, Jane Eyre. Le Roman de Charlotte Brontë et le film de Franco Zeffirelli, Paris : Ellipses, 2008, 253.

11  The first time she sees Brocklehurst’s carriage is significant: “I saw the gates thrown open and a carriage roll through” (JE,29). His arrival opens up a breach in Gateshead daily life, yet she is also reified as she is taken away: “my trunk was hoisted up; I was taken from Bessie’s neck, to which I clung with kisses”(JE, 40).

12  “I knew he would soon strike, and while dreading the blow, I mused on the disgusting and ugly appearance of him” (JE, 10).

13  I. Whelehan, op. cit., 7.

14  B. McFarlane, op. cit., 16.

15  The description of the school conveys a strong sense of order in the novel: “Discipline prevailed: in five minutes the confused throng was resolved into order, and comparative silence quelled the Babel clamour of tongues. […] Ranged on benches down the sides of the room, the eighty girls sat motionless and erect; a quaint assemblage they appeared, all with plain locks combed from their faces, not a curl visible” (JE,44).

16  T. F. Davis, “Moving Pictures: Representation of Victorian Fictions”, in W. Baker & K. Womack (eds.), A Companion to the Victorian Novel, Westport and London: Greenwood Press, 2002, 241.

17  The girl with curly hair is Julia Severn in the novel and Mr Brocklehurst declares that he “will send a barber tomorrow” (JE, 61).

18  The quote comes from the film and echoes Jane defiance of Rochester in the novel: “I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you” (JE, 238).

19  The novel also contains this ellipsis, but Jane’s childhood contains more details as she notes: “Hitherto I have recorded in detail the events of my insignificant existence: to the first ten years of my life I have given almost as many chapters. […] I now pass a space of eight years almost in silence: a few lines only are necessary to keep up the connections” (JE, 79).

20  Close-ups on Charlotte Gainsbourg’s face distort her features into plainness while her dresses hide her femininity.

21  See L. Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Screen, vol. 16, n° 3, Autumn, 1975, 6-18.

22  A. Paupe, op. cit., 259.

23  In the novel, Jane is torn apart after she makes her resolution: “The answer my mind gave—‘Leave Thornfield at once’—was so prompt so dread, that I stopped my ears. I said I could not bear such words now. […] But, then a voice within me averred that I could do it and foretold that I should do it. I wrestled with my own resolution” (JE, 279).

24  Chapters XXVIII and XXIX relate Jane’s struggle.

25  The chapters eluded from the film may give more power to the happy ending. Régis Dubois explains that Hollywood has never shied away from re-writing the end of a novel deemed as too pessimistic to be adapted to the screen—Grapes ofWrath, My Fair Lady… The ultimate goal of the happy ending is to restore moral and social order—which is easily achieved in Jane Eyre as the novel itself provides a happy ending. R. Dubois, Hollywood, cinéma et idéologie, Paris: Editions Sulliver, 2008, 39-40.

26  “The woman is more fully in the light, the man posed so that he seems to intrude into, yearn towards it; the dark shape of his body rears up into the light of hers; he is dark below and gradually lighter, often from the shirt or neck up. […] There is a frightening, disfiguring darkness to the sexuality that, moth to a flame, yearns towards the pure light of desirability.” R. Dyer, White, London:  Routledge, 1997, 134.

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La Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. VII - n°4, 2009

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Delphine Letort, « Diverging Interpretations of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847): Franco Zeffirelli’s and Robert Stevenson’s Screen Adaptations », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. VII – n°4 | 2009, mis en ligne le 28 juillet 2009, consulté le 27 juin 2017. URL : http://lisa.revues.org/848 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.848

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Auteur

Delphine Letort

Delphine Letort teaches American civilization and film studies at the University of Le Mans. She wrote a thesis on myths and stereotypes in film noir and neo-noir. Her research centers on issues of representation in American films, including gender, race and ideology. She also studies the concept of genre in relation to its socio-cultural context.

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