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Jane Eyre returns to WOSU TV. Itâ€™s about time.
Thereâ€™s a reason why this novelâ€”and its subsequent movie and television adaptationsâ€”have been so popular since Charlotte Bronte first brought to the worldâ€™s attention feisty but quiet Jane and the brooding Rochester (you really canâ€™t write about nineteenth-century heroes without using the word â€œbroodingâ€).
This adaptation has pretty much everything: â€œstar-crossedâ€ lovers, mysterious obstacles to their love, stormy landscapes, snarky friendsâ€”the list goes on. What makes the series work is the cast, Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens, the landscape, and a great gothic story. Wilson and Stephens do a pretty wonderful job bringing to life the lovers. Jane may be plain (a real bummer that her looks are always such an issue!), but her plainness goes only so far. Sheâ€™s strong, resilient, interesting, and deep. What you see isnâ€™t what you get, and most of us have learned that the deeper the person, the more interesting and compelling they are. Jane is deep, and she is compelling. Rochester learns this very quickly after meeting her, and the story is set in action.
The director, Susanna White of Bleak House, brings in enough of Janeâ€™s upbringing to explain her backbone; she does the same for Rochester. We understand him fairly well tooâ€”why heâ€™s drawn to the depth of Jane, the promise of a better lifeâ€”a fulfilled lifeâ€”if he could just win her over and transcend the huge obstacle of his life: the madwoman in the attic.
I always forget the name of Rochesterâ€™s first wifeâ€”Bertha Mason. I always remember the name of the feminist text inspired by her: Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubarâ€™s The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination. Others have certainly remembered her as well; The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys tells the story of Jane Eyre from Bertha Masonâ€™s perspective. Whiteâ€™s depiction of Bertha Mason here suggests why Bertha is such a pivotal character. For me, she also manages to convey the sense that Rochester doesnâ€™t simply hate Berthaâ€”he seems to be genuinely torn between a past passion, sympathy and horror at what she has become, and the tragedy his life has become.
As in the book, the St. John Rivers character is the least satisfying for me. Blake once said of Milton that he was â€œa true Poet, and of the devilâ€™s party without knowing it.â€ St. John could use some of thatâ€”he tries too hard to be good, and his character is never really peeled back enough to determine whether thereâ€™s any fire beneath the surface. He serves a purpose both in the book and the series, but we all know that for Jane, thereâ€™s only one guy. The fun of watching this particular Masterpiece Theatre is to see how it all comes together at the end.
Weâ€™ve said this before, but really, tune in tomorrow night, December 9, at 10pm. You wonâ€™t regret it!
Guest Blogger: Susan M.