So, last night was the third episode of the BBC's latest adaption (by Sandy Welch) of Jane Eyre. The first episode was rushed and underwhelming, if stylish, with little chance for you to emotionally engage with the important early scenes at the brutal Lowood school. On the plus side, Ruth Wilson captured Jane wonderfully, but Toby Stephens's Edward Rochester didn't convince me at all (too handsome? too young? not sure). I missed the second episode because the telly was broke, but due to the combined power of me, Mrs Book, and the In-Laws, the telly is now fixed and last night we (well, me and Mrs B, not the In-Laws) settled down to watch the latest installment.

Costume dramas are the epitome of middlebrow entertainment, but I'm still a sucker for a good one. Normally, they simply remind me that the novel is a hundred times better, or bring my attention back to a "classic" that I've somehow conspired not yet to read. Last night's episode was well-paced and Toby Stephens stepped up to the plate with a much better performance than he put in earlier on. He's still a bit wooden, mind. Ruth Wilson was inspired.

Tonight the fun continues with an adaption, on BBC4, of Jean Rhys's Jane Eyre-prequel (and post-colonial theory favourite) Wide Sargasso Sea which "paints a rather different story of Mr Rochester's first wife" ...

Other adaption news: just this month Viking (Penguin USA) released The Illustrated Jane Eyre. Its a very curious thing. Its the full text of Charlotte Bronte's novel with drawings and illustrations (some on separate colour plates, some as full page black and white chapter openings, some, like marginalia, within the pages of the story itself) by cult, goth comic-artist Dame Darcy (best known for Meat Cake [Fantagraphics]; think Tim Burton or Emily the Strange). I'm not quite sure who Viking think they'll newly reach by scribbling on Bronte's book but, perhaps, all those Goths doing Bronte for A-level (or its American post-16 exam equivalent) need "darkly elegant illustrations" to "draw back the novel’s curtain, revealing the depths of human depravity, despair, and ultimate redemption" therein.

Readers Comments

  1. I'm enjoying JE especially, like you, JE herself. Stephens is a bit near the cod villain. At any moment, I imagine that he's going to glance at the camera, twirl his moustachios and say, '...and I have the mort-gage!!! aha!!!' and then turn back to the action.

    Another aspect that's interesting is what they think they're doing cinematically. Of course there's the usual fourth wall stuff ie we're looking again and again at sets through proscenium arches, and the camera doesn't often get in between and around and through. This is the stilted aesthetic of costume drama invented in the stone age and repeated forever by nearly everyone. It's almost as if someone said that you mustn't use handheld cameras in costume drama or people will think it's 'modern' so somehow the twentieth century invention of the movie camera on a tripod is 'nearer' to nineteenth century fiction than handheld!

    That said, there's an interesting layer of meaning coming through in relation to the landscape and set - the coldness, emptiness, greyness, brown-ness through which J and R are acting out their desires and histories. And the costumes of J and R are the perfect Gothic paradigm of noble hard-done-to middle class Protestant versus the dangerous, dark, Catholic aristocrat.

    By the way, why (oh why) is it forbidden for TV adaptations to use the first person voice that a novel like JE uses? It's a voice that allows for the modal: it's full of might haves/would haves/dares/wishes etc etc (and all the negatives of those). But it also in the case of a fairly reliable narrator like JE give us authority. JE is less a spectacle and more agent. French cinema has no worries about giving us Voice Over as part of this narration. Why can't classic English do it? Thus, there were a several moments last night where the dialogue was taken from Jane's inner discourse and it wasn't an appropriate voice for her and her address to R. Peculiar.

  2. Yeah, good luck to you also. May the best blog win and all that.

    James (Yer Mam!)

  3. For the month of April 2008 the Brooklyn Public Library is hosting an online book discussion of Jane Eyre. Please join us. In Google just type brooklyn book talk

  4. There is an AudioText version of the book (complete etext with audio narration on the same page, plus clickable definitions for every word!) at the Adam Smith Academy:

  5. Jane Eyre fan Tuesday 08 March 2011

    The Jane Eyre version from the BBC is my favorite adaptation. Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens was spectacular in that version. It would be hard topping that but I'm looking forward to watching the 2011 film nonetheless.

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