Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jane Eyre

I said here that I was going to try and review all the movies nominated for Best Picture this past month so I could award my own Oscar, and I'm still going to try and do that, but they're mostly out of theatres so it may take longer than expected. So far, out of The King's Speech, True Grit, Black Swan, The Social Network, and Inception, I'd give the thing to True Grit. For today, though, onto a movie that's playing in theatres now.

I've noticed that the human race, or at least the hipster human race, seems to be divided into two camps: the ones who have never read a book in their lives and the ones who, apparently under the impression that it is not possible to have completed a Bachelor of Arts without having ever read a book, can come up with a Shelley quote to befit occasions as diverse as a friend's breakup and a new haircut.

Being a hipster-in-denial, I naturally think I am the one who is different from everyone else, so I have been working hard my entire life to avoid falling into either of these groups. It is for that reason that I admitted here, not without a touch of pride, to seeing Barney's Version without having read the book, and that I will proclaim now with an equal touch of pride that I was not in that situation when I recently saw Jane Eyre.

I don't know who I think I am to criticize a novel that has sat comfortably at the top of the bestseller list since before my great-great-grandmother was born, but I'm going to anyway. It seems to me that the story of Jane, the impoverished and long-suffering orphan turned romantic and kind-hearted woman, suffers from the same plight as almost all Victorian literature: it wraps things up into too neat a package, where people are confronted just as they should be and die just at the right time. I quoted a bit from Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses here that expresses this idea far better than I ever could, so I'll reproduce the quote again now:

"When you read Dickens you're reading a long ballad from a vanished world, where everything has to come together in the end like an equation."


Jane Eyre isn't by Dickens but you get the idea. Why oh why does Jane, woebegone and cast off by all who should have loved her since she was a child, grow up to love the right man the very first time around, even though he is brooding and secretive, even though he flirts with other women, even though he seems, as Jane herself says, that he is "not to be trusted"? Because it's a Victorian novel, of course!


Anyway, the (latest) movie version had beautiful shots of the Yorkshire moors and a gorgeous classical soundtrack, but the story was a bit of a mess, perhaps because of the filmmaker's attempt to scramble the narrative and generally make the too-perfect story seem a little less so.


Of course, there is ultimately no messing with the Victorian novel. You have to take it as you find it.
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2 comments :

  1. Why oh why does Jane, woebegone and cast off by all who should have loved her since she was a child, grow up to love the right man the very first time around, even though he is brooding and secretive, even though he flirts with other women, even though he seems, as Jane herself says, that he is "not to be trusted"?

    Because it's True Love? or maybe that is a bit too harsh on Bronte.

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  2. That "scrambling" of the story was one of the best things in the movie. Telling the story chronologically, as the novel does, creates two different stories -- the romance at Thornfield, and the "antiromance" of St. John Rivers -- which have always fit together very uneasily to my mind. Using the Rivers section as the frame within which to tell the romance as a flashback worked wonderfully to integrate the two parts of the story -- much better than Bronte's conventional sequence.

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