It’s amazing the influence that one excellent teacher can have on a person’s life. I think I have mentioned in passing Sister DOS and her wonderful Classics class that I took in Year 9. Through that class I discovered the world of classical literature, a love that hasn’t yet faded.
Mind you, as with all long relationships, that love was periodically rekindled each time a marvellous adaptation came along. In recent years there has been a vibrant film version Pride and Prejudice (a very different but still enjoyable beast to the 1995 TV version), the page-turner of a series in Bleak House where Scully was reincarnated as a dame (the book unfortunately is not the easiest of reads), and of course the wonderful North and South which needs no introduction.
Consulting my favourite classics list, we come to Jane Eyre. Now that is a firm, firm favourite of mine. I was moved to tears reading it as a 14 year-old and the effect hasn’t lessened with each re-reading. As a teenager I identified strongly with with the fierce spirit of Jane, the orphan who sought to belong. Re-reading it a few weeks ago, I found that I could identify with Mr. Rochester more. He didn’t seem so manipulative when you consider that he was terribly, terribly insecure. If you were deceived into a literal hell of a marriage by own family (that you can never ever get out of), was mistreated by everyone you cared for, and only regarded in a good light for your money, then you would be bitter too! His vulnerability was rather attractive actually. But being a total sop of a romantic, I most loved the emotional and spiritual connection these two had, and the beautiful way in which they completed one another.
Yes, I am very attached to that book, but I know I’m not the only one! So it was then inevitable that the BBC finally got around to adapting Jane Eyre. Not for the first time (more like the 4th), but the last was the very literal Timothy Dalton version in 1983, that apart from a very sexy Rochester had nothing else going for it. I also recalled not being very impressed with the Francis Zeffrelli version – William Hurt as Mr. Rochester? Too handsome by far (I still had Orson Welles’ Rochester on my mind). Plus Jane Eyre in that version seemed mute, which is ridiculous considering they were supposed to be intellectual equals.
So what did I think when I found out that Toby Stephens was taking on the role? Not very much, though I don’t have anything against Toby. He was very fetching as the young Gilbert Markham in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and I’ve seen him pop up on TV or film occassionally since. But from the few pictures from the new series I’d seen he looked not very desirable at all. Which, I suppose, was the point about Mr. Rochester, since he’s not supposed to be very handsome – but how can you go all gooey about someone who didn’t look good?
Then one (not so very busy) day (at work of course), I found the fire scene. Oh… my… god… How (pardon the pun) hot is that? Wonderfully beautiful and sexy and all that the scene could be. I had never seen a version of Jane Eyre so intimate and erotic. Actually, I’ve hardly seen a period drama scene so erotic. Repressed passion, of course, but this was exciting. By the following day I’d viewed all the YouTube clips of the series I could find – all of them excellent! Then I found out that the screenplay was written by the same person that adapted North and South, and it was directed by the same person as Bleak House – so it was definitely quality.
There was nothing else to do but preorder the DVD from the UK, since who knows when the ABC will get around to showing it – I can’t wait until mid or even late in the year for this! Still, I will have to wait until mid-February when the UK DVD is released, and until then I will be re-reading the book – just one more time.