NOV / DEC 2013: BY CHARITY BISHOP
Have you ever despaired of ever seeing a “perfect” adaptation to one of your favorite stories?
Jane Eyre is one of those over-filmed classics. Every decade or so, a new screenwriter tackles the gothic romance full of insanity, devotion, and a choice between faith and desire. Yet, no adaptation has ever truly captured the nuances of the book, except for a little-known, short-lived (fortunately, available as an audio CD) Broadway musical. There, audiences can find the richness of Jane’s character, her desire to “wander,” and feel her raging indecision over pursuing the wishes of her heart and abiding by her moral integrity, set to music.
Nearly every adaptation of this wonderful tale removes the faith at its forefront, either deliberately or in such a way that it is simply under-played. As a believer who enjoys that aspect of the book (it is, after all, Jane’s only reason for leaving Rochester), I find that difficult to forgive. In the musical, faith is at the forefront of Jane’s decisions. She cries out to God on many occasions, as does Rochester in the end, who finds redemption in the closing lyrics, as Jane says, “we acknowledged with full hearts that God had tempered judgment with mercy.”
One of the most memorable songs is “Sirens” and its reprisal, where Rochester likens Jane to a siren, luring him to a watery death if he can’t resist “the darkness that invades my soul, it sucks my blood, it takes control.” Jane saves and condemns him for he knows in pursuing her, he’ll be damned. While Rochester sings of Jane’s hold over him, Jane sings a prayer for him: “God, save him if he can be saved, free him if his soul is enslaved, clear the clouded refuge of his mind, quell his anger, calm his storm, let his spirit be reborn, help him gather sight where he is blind!” In the reprisal, Jane considers running away with him and whether she can live with the shame of not sharing his name, while he tries to lure her back into his arms. The reprisal continues as a prayer, with Jane asking God, “Lord, is this what you would have me do, break my sacred vows to you? Destroy the laws of heaven here on earth?” In the chorus, the lyrics reverse (“let me sail away, and make this vow, that what my heart wants, I will not allow…”) and Jane flees her temptation, unlike Rochester.
Charlotte Brontë’s themes of religion and true faith are explored in the lyrical style of different characters. Jane represents the true believer, devoted to faithfulness to her Lord above all. Helen represents another selfless kind of love, in her encouragement for Jane to have faith during their time at school. Eventually, Rochester cries out to God and admits “the purifying flame has washed us clean… [in a] miracle of God.”
It’s only in the latter half of the story that the subtleties of Brontë’s over-reaching theme are apparent. Many of the lyrics are direct quotes from the novel, so the foreshadowing of Rochester’s blindness is startling. He and Jane reference his figurative blindness on many occasions, in an allusion to his later loss of literal sight. And when vocal references to blindness aren’t present, it’s still a constant undercurrent, such as in “The Gypsy,” where Rochester masquerades as a fortune-teller to discern Jane’s affections for him—and she can’t see through his façade, just as she can’t see past the larger deception that envelops Thornfield.
Even though the story is a serious drama, it has moments of levity and amusement as well, such as the duets with Mrs. Fairfax, who objects to certain things only to be softened toward them with a little persuasion. Even though portions of dialogue are missing, all the most important plot lines are set to music, which means the fullness of the story is experienced, right down to Jane’s unflattering comparison of herself to Blanche as she “pain[s] a portrait.” It plays out as beautifully musically as the book does for an engrossed reader; the music transcends and enhances the emotion of the story in such a way that we truly feel the intense emotional despair in them both, particularly as Rochester rages to the heavens over Jane’s departure.
Like many audio presentations, merely hearing the music allows us to create a rich visual world in our imagination, populated with images from the book rather than specific faces from various adaptations. Jane, for the first time, is a passionate, emotional character rather than stoic, a perfect match for Rochester’s tendency to become “lost in [his] pain.”
Even though you may never see this musical (except as a high school production), you can still listen to it in all its original Broadway glory, and that is a blessing, considering it’s the first and only adaptation that, for me, captures the true themes, passions, secrets, perils, foreshadowing, and emotional intensity of the book. ♥
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charity Bishop would dearly love to spend all her free time mulling over, theorizing, and philosophizing on the vast spiritual / moral lessons of cinema and Victorian literature, but alas, she must make a living, so her days are spent doing editorial work. She devotes her free time to babysitting her bipolar cat, writing books, blogging, and searching for spiritual truth in all aspects of life… when she isn’t editing Femnista!