Friday, April 08, 2011

Jane Eyre - one more thing...

One more thing I wanted to discuss about the latest movie incarnation of "Jane Eyre" - unlike every other version - including the original story by Charlotte Bronte - only the Cary Fukunaga version and my version have Rochester pointing out to Jane that there are not many options for a crazy wife in Regency England.

This is of interest to me because thanks to so many critics being familiar with the Polly Teale Jane Eyre adaptation, there's this feeling that Rochester is doing Bertha wrong. On top of that, Teale portrays Bertha as Jane Eyre's sexual alter-ego. So basically it looks like Rochester's role in Jane's story is to suppress her sexuality. I blogged about this in May 2008.

Amy Freeman's review of my adaptation complained that I was unsympathetic to Bertha:
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.

This is why it's a problem when critics (if you can use that term for non-professional web-based off-off Broadway review authors who often as not review friends' shows without bothering to disclose the relationship) base their understanding of an adaptation of a work on other adaptations, not the original work. Both the novel and my play clearly establish that Bertha/Antoinette's insanity is hereditary, not the result of a loveless marriage. If loveless marriages caused insanity, most of the women in Regency England would have been crazy as loons.

Freeman's understanding of the story was based on Polly Teale's "English-department notions" as Michael Feingold, (a professional theatre critic who writes for the Village Voice) described it.

I don't have the movie script so I will have to paraphrase - but in the movie Rochester points out to Jane that there is nowhere for Bertha to go but in the attic - he explains to her that in insane asylums the inmates are caged and beaten.

The Rochester in my play does the same thing:


Only after the marriage did I discover the lunacy which runs in her family. Her mother was already in an asylum. Once I began to know my wife, I began to perceive signs that she would carry on the family tradition. But not before she dragged me through the mud. She had no appetite for quiet conversation or intellectual accomplishment, but she had a massive craving for the pleasures of the flesh, and she betrayed me with a half dozen men at least. Don’t you pity me and my youthful stupidity Jane?


I do pity you.


And so what was I to do Jane? Should I have sent her to Bedlam with the other lunatics, to be gawked at, and tormented and perhaps die? As much as I wished to be rid of her, yet I do have a conscience, whatever else you may believe about me. I pity her Jane. I can’t love her, or bear to spend time in her company, but I do pity her. But by the laws of our society she is mine, forever, for better or for worse.

In the book, Rochester only points out that he didn't try to passively kill Bertha/Antoinette off:
I was wrong ever to bring you to Thornfield Hall, knowing as I did how it was haunted. I charged them to conceal from you, before I ever saw you, all knowledge of the curse of the place; merely because I feared Adèle never would have a governess to stay if she knew with what inmate she was housed, and my plans would not permit me to remove the maniac elsewhere—though I possess an old house, Ferndean Manor, even more retired and hidden than this, where I could have lodged her safely enough, had not a scruple about the unhealthiness of the situation, in the heart of a wood, made my conscience recoil from the arrangement. Probably those damp walls would soon have eased me of her charge: but to each villain his own vice; and mine is not a tendency to indirect assassination, even of what I most hate.

But then Rochester doesn't need to spell out the horrors of insane asylums of the time for Jane or the novel's original readers. Those horrors were well-known.

But you can't expect all of your audience to have enough historical awareness of this fact, and so it's important, I think, to spell out the horrors of those establishments. Although really, no matter what you do, you can't protect yourself with 100% efficacy from clueless, obtuse, careless theatre "critics."