It’s all Charlotte Bronte’s fault

Instead of writing, instead of researching, instead of eating more than peanut butter on saltines for dinner, I spent Shrinky’s vacation reading and watching various adaptations of Jane Eyre. And I infected others with my obsession–didn’t I Swell?

With Shrinky in the land of Cannoli and Chianti I was all set to write and write and write. I had a month to myself to shape And She Was into a full fledged novel with a beginning, MIDDLE, and end. I failed miserably, thanks to Ms Bronte, Jane, and Mr Rochester. More blame falls to Orson Welles, the BBC & Boston’s PBS station, WGBH, Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens as well. Yeah, yeah, yeah…I know you know I write contemporary romance. I write romantic comedy in a world where new contemporary and new contemporary romantic comedies are near impossible to find (let alone be published). What the hell am I doing reading a Historical romance like Jane Eyre, right? 
Here’s where I confess to two things. Recently, OK, yesterday, I pilfered schtuff from the housekeeping cart at a four-star ocean-side hotel (Hint: You shove the plundered goods into your socks, NickyStrickland of the gorgeous hair Sticklands) and, (as many of y’all already know) I have an obsession with Jane Eyre, a bizarre affliction that struck me when I was a Jane-poor, plain, obscure, and little fourteen year old. And let me tell you, a snowy Michigan winter makes a man like Edward Rochester mighty, mighty appealing to a friendless, short-arsed teenager.

What happened in Shrinky’s absence was this: I was sucked into the Bronte vortex. I read the book again and the next day, I went out and bought the 2006 BBC Toby & Ruth because I’d only seen it twice before. I watched all 4 hours in one evening. Then I dragged out the other versions I had; Orson Welles with Joan Fontaine from 1944, The A&E one with Ciaran Hinds, 1983’s Timothy Dalton offering, the 90s Zeffirelli adaptation with William Hurt. I watched those all too. And I read the book again. In the dead of winter, alone as I was when I was 14, 21, and 27, I felt compelled to read, to watch, to breathe Jane Eyre over and over. In one short weekend it became vital, as vital as my morning Starbucks, for me to read Jane and watch Ruth and Toby.

Yes, much has already been written about the sublime four year old adaptation, but now you get my buck and a half on the matter. Ruth Wilson is the first to get Jane right. No actress has ever managed to capture her loneliness, her stubbornness and passion–the kind of stuff that made me feel like Jane when I was 14 and all those other ages. Ruth’s predecessors were stiff, made of wood, cardboard, or some kind of faux-wood substance that pre-dated Botox and didn’t allow their facial features to move. Ruth made Jane live at last! As for Rochester, well, until Toby Stephens took on the role, it was all Orson Welles for me. Orson had the surliness, some sensitivity, a few flashes of wit and humour. However, Toby left Orson for dead. Toby nails the characterisation. Able to be both ugly and ridiculously handsome, Toby made Rochester, a man prone to moodiness and brooding moments, utterly human and therefore truly heroic in my eyes.

‘Scuse me while I sigh and swoon a moment. Yes. I used the word swoon.

And now for the yes, I’m a freak part. In the last two months I have viewed the Toby Stephens/Ruth Wilson version of Jane Eyre 64 times. Had my plane been on time yesterday I would have made it 65 consecutive days of Jane. You can say I am quite well versed in Jane. Ahem. But wait. Here’s the scary part of my compulsion. Since the Toby & Ruth adaptation was, and is, so perfect, I’m shaking in my size fives about an upcoming adaptation. Yes, babies, Jane Eyre is being re-adapted once more. Because many of the pre-Toby/Ruth versions have been shite, and, what with all the misery in the world, I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. Is it wrong of me to ask God to make the upcoming 2011 Jane Eyre release with Mia Wasikowska & Michael Fassbender a non-blow or suckfest?

Your comments are appreciated.

3 thoughts on “It’s all Charlotte Bronte’s fault

  1. no you’re not wrong

    You’re absolutely NOT wrong to want Mia and Michael to fail. Question is why did someone decide that a new version of JE is worth doing when JE2006 is so fabulous and so recent? From what I’ve read, the new version will emphasize the gothic parts of the story–important, of course, but that is not, in my opinion, a good emphasis. Wonder if the success of Twilight books and movies led someone to look around for another vehicle to cash in on dark, supernatural sorts of stories, and hit upon JE as a story no longer copyrighted and with a great plot, one which could be made sort of ghoulish or at least weirdly mysterious. No matter the motivation or inclination, this is a mistake. I predict that JE2006 will continue to be the triumph it is/was long after Mia and Michael have had their fun.

    • Re: no you’re not wrong

      Perhaps I need to re-word what I’ve written.
      Allow me to clarify. I don’t want the Mia/Michael JE adaptation to fail, I simply ask that it doesn’t suck or blow. I want to be open-minded about the potential because the story itself is so wonderful–even though Toby and Ruth were such, as you put it, a triumph.

      Yes, we have the Ultimate Rochester and Perfect Jane…and this has turned into an ongoing argument that’s akin to who’s the best James Bond…


      • Re: no you’re not wrong

        I have to confess to being a huge Toby Stephens fan so that’s part of my reluctance to see Jane Eyre remade (as well as my personal feeling that JE2006 can’t be topped.) Again, I question the speed of making a new version and search for a reason, and fail to find one I think is valid. But I will be curious to see how Mia and Michael turn out.

        And I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth about your wanting the new version to fail. In fact maybe I was projecting!

        By the way, I totally agree that Jane Eyre is much more interesting than the Austen books. They’re really not very much alike except that they both require men to be dressed in very sexy period costumes. Jane Eyre is sensual and dark, and Austen is courtly and dainty/pretty. With Austen stories there is a mannerly overtone which Jane Eyre just doesn’t bother with. To the extent Jane is mannerly it comes from an inner morality as opposed to societal structure imposed upon her. And she will ignore the societal structure when she feels it wrong, whereas Austen ladies always follow etiquette and social norms.

        Great to discuss this with you! God bless you and Toby and Ruth!

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