söndag 8 april 2012

Jane Eyre revisited

Jane Eyre entering the tall, dark house.

"Last night I dreamed I was back at Manderley again..." That is such a great line, and  I've always wanted to use it. It draws on the memory of long lost houses, lost in the cobwebs of time, but still there, waiting, ready to haunt us... It's like a dream I had for many years, when I was constantly getting lost and finding myself in huge, dark  and dreary places. It's not very unusual. Don't we all know a house like Manderley, strange and frightening, and yet so intimate and familiar? Yes, of course, it's very Freudian. But I've always loved the way the way Joan Fontaine reads the line, in the beginning of Hitchcock's Rebecca, while the camera creeps through the shrubs and weeds of a forsaken garden, with her soft melodious voice. It's is both wonderful and scary.

Actually, I was going to write about Jane Eyre, and about the new film version of Charlotte Brontë's famous novel, which I fins very enchanting. The new film version has a script by Moira Buffini and is directed by Cary Fukunaga and Mia Wasikowska plays Jane Eyre to Michael Fessbender's Mr Rochester. The film also has a good part for Judi Dench, who plays an unusually interesting Mrs Fairfax, and there is a scene by the windows of Thornfield Hall,when she talks to Jane, that most certainly will haunt me for a long time. And there is a lot to be said about this beautiful film version as well. If you'll bear withe me, I'll get there.

Joan Fontaine och Laurence Olivier i Rebecca.
So why do I start with a line that has nothing to do with Jane Eyre? Well, Hitchcock's Rebecca was made after a novel by Daphne du Maurier, and it is a very obvious homage to Brontê's famous novel. The line from Rebecca just shows how Charlotte Brontë's heroine continue to live through the ages. She always seems to have something urgent to tell us, in our own time. And there are so many of us who keep coming back to Thornton Hall or Manderely, seeking for something tha we know is both lost and found. The spirit of Jane is always there, hovering over us with her clear "I". We need her and we can't get enough of her. That is why we by now can count to 12 film- or tv versions made from the novel about her. 

What is she telling us, this plain and young governess of 18 years, who survived both a cruel stepmother and a horrible institution like the Lowood school for young girls - only to fall in love with a man who is just as hard, brutal and commanding as the life she is trying so hard to leave behind? Here's my story.

The first time I met Jane Eyre was on the screen, in the early seventies. It was the film version with Susannah York as Jane Eyre and George C. Scott as Mr Rochester. I saw it in a cinema in Malta. I was nine. It was very scary and not surprisingly, it was the scene where Mr Rochester's first wife, Bertha, tore up Jane's bridal veil, that made the deepest impression on me. I was always scared of the dark as a child and I kept thinking that when I closed my eyes before going to sleep, strange creatures would appear to live around my bed, so if I suddenly opened them I'd see the most horrible things...

Mother should never have let me see that film. Later, I remember that Sister White, at our school, The Covent of the Sacred Heart, in S:t Julian's, was a bit surprised when mother announced that my sister and I were reading Jane Eyre. Were we not a little too young for that kind of novel, she asked? Mum assured her we weren't, but I think it was probably the Ladybug version that we actually read.

A few years later, my mother and I went to a book fair at Skansen, the out door museum in Stockholm, and I bought my most cherished copy of Jane Eyre. It was published in 1946 in USA to comemorate the centennial of the novel. With this edition came strange and beautiful illustrations by Nell Booker, an artist from North Carolina. Jane Eyre was her first comission as a book illustrator. She later did the illustrations for Wuthering Heights as well. The pictures were in color and in black and white, they looked as if they had just left the hand of the artist, there was something fleeting and swift about them, a clear spring breeze flew through them.

I remember very clearly that summer afternoon at Skansen when I got the book and I've loved it ever since, keeping it close through the years, showing it with pride to my daughters.
Today, I can see that Nell Booker's pictures recall the Hollywood film version with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. Yes, her again. She played both the second Mrs de Winter in Rebecca, and a few years later, Jane Eyre. Incidentally, she and I share the same birthday: October 22nd.

And that's a great line to end with. For now. But I'm sure I'll be back at Thornton Hall soon again.

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