Thursday, May 15, 2008

More on the Jane Eyre reviews

I won't mention the other two reviewers of JANE EYRE by name, although I have a beef with each, because I don't want them Googling themselves and finding my criticisms.

But I WILL mention Amy Freeman because she should not be a reviewer, and I hope she won't review anything by me in the future.

Here is why:
Greg Oliver Bodine falters a bit initially by seeming to inject a bit of postmodern insincerity and sarcasm into his early flirtations with Jane. Bodine strengthens in the end, when his character has lost everything and is in the depths of despair.

Jane Eyre questions the role of women in society. Jane refuses to be a kept woman, and does not return to Rochester until she has secured financial independence. The woman in the attic, named Antoinette in the stage version, represents the domination of men in the nineteenth century. Is she really insane or is her insanity a result of being used as a pawn and her resulting loveless marriage? The production does not portray Antoinette sympathetically. She draws blood after biting her brother's neck, sets fire to Rochester's bed curtains, and tears Jane's wedding veil. The portrayal of Antoinette, a character who should be pitied, seems at odds with the portrayal of Jane, another strong woman, who has been allowed her independence, and therefore will avoid the fate of Antoinette.

It is best for fans of Bronte's novel to stick to the book, as even the best of actors cannot replace the beauty that is to be found in there. McClernan makes a valiant effort in transplanting the sprawling work to the confines of the stage, but in the end, as our high school teachers always said, it's best just to read the book.

Firstly - there was nothing "post-modern" about Bodine's performance. But unlike many other adaptations of the novel, his Rochester wasn't constantly scowling, bellowing and brooding. In other words, he was closer to the Rochester of the book.

Second - "The woman in the attic... represents the domination of men in the nineteenth century."

This is the clearest demonstration that Freeman's understanding of "Jane Eyre" is based exclusively on adaptations. Charlotte Bronte never intended for the mad wife in the attic to represent male dominance and neither did I. But recent adaptations of the novel, notably the Polly Teale version, do. As Michael Feingold said in his review of a 2000 production of Teale's adaptation:
Meaning to view the myth through a modern feminist prism, Teale exploits a predictable strategy: The mad wife locked up in Mr. Rochester's attic is the heroine's Doppelgänger (or more precisely Doppelgängerin), beginning as the naughty second self for whose misbehavior her aunt punishes her in childhood. Extending this English-department notion over three hours of theater produces exactly the diminishing returns you'd expect— especially since, in accordance with the official feminist rules for approaching nonfeminist women's literature, the principal male figure has to be utterly deromanticized.
Although I disgreed with much of Feingold's review (he doesn't like the original novel much) he's onto something here. The implication of this male dominance theory is that Rochester is a bad guy.

The idea that the wife in the attic represents male domination is so prevalent that Freeman doesn't even think twice before proclaiming it as a settled matter of fact. But Rochester, in the novel, is not a force of represssion, but is rather the supreme object of desire. Any adaptation that denies or downplays this fact diminishes the power of the story.

More thoughts on this travesty of a review soon...