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Film: Play it Again, Jane

By Henry P. Raleigh
ART TIMES online December 2011

Jane Eyre drawing by Henry Raleigh

If you thought Dickens’ Christmas Carol held the record for the most number of film adaptations, well sir, that novel doesn’t hold a patch to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. This Victorian romance has inspired, a staggering nineteen movies, the last just this past May.  The first, a silent, appeared in 1910.  I guess it might have shown up earlier except film hadn’t been around then.  Two more silents in 1914, another in 1915, a sound version in 1918 and thereafter barely a year goes by without someone churning out yet another. Some are direct adaptations; others are loosely based on the epic. And if this hadn’t been enough from 1955 through 2006 six television Jane Eyre mini-series have aired.

Jane never gets a rest, she is even required to adjust her stiff-upper-lipped suffering to accommodate other cultures- 1963 and 78 saw two Mexican Janes, in 1956 Hong Kong took a shot, India in 1972. Sometimes Jane can sneak into a film without you’re being aware of it.  Jacques Tourneur’s “I walked with a Zombie” in 1943 transferred the characters to the Caribbean jungle under a voodoo spell.  “Wild Sargasso Sea” in 1992 did much the same.

What is it about Jane Eyre that gingers up generations of filmmakers to turn it over again and again?  Not fond of this era of literature I had taken a pass on the novel and its film forms save for the 1943 one with Orson Welles glowering and swirling cape, notable also for a very young Elizabeth Taylor pathetically expiring of neglect.  However, pursuing critical fairness I tackled Ms. Bronte’s novel and in no time at all I had the answer to my question. I mean it’s all there in the first 130 or so pages: cold, incessant rain and fog, a couple of gloomy mansions, something maniacal in the attic, cruel, uncaring aunt, sadistic children, nasty servants, a martinet school master, a lot of burnt porridge, and the hint of a kinky relationship between a helpless girl and an older, eccentric man.  Why you could milk just these few pages for at least three, maybe four good quality B films.  I read no further.