Emily Greffenius – Jane and Rochester Take the Stage

Source Text: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Chapter XIV, pg. 156-157

‘Speak,’ he urged.

‘What about, sir?’

‘Whatever you like. I leave both the choice of subject and the manner of treating it entirely to yourself.’

Accordingly I sat and said nothing: ‘If he expects me to talk for the mere sake of talking and showing off, he will find he has addressed himself to the wrong person,’ I thought.

‘You are dumb, Miss Eyre.’

I was dumb still. He bent his head a little towards me, and with a single hasty glance seemed to dive into my eyes.

‘Stubborn?’ he said, ‘and annoyed. Ah! it is consistent. I put my request in an absurd, almost insolent form. Miss Eyre, I beg your pardon. The fact is, once for all, I don’t wish to treat you like an inferior: that is (correcting himself), I claim only such superiority as must result from twenty years’ difference in age and century’s advance in experience. This is legitimate, et j’y tiens, as Adele would say; and it is by virtue of this superiority, and this alone, that I desire you to have the goodness to talk to me a little now, and divert my thoughts, which are galled with dwelling on one point – cankering as a rusty nail.’

He had deigned an explanation; almost an apology; and I did not feel insensible to his condescension, and would not seem so.

‘I am willing to amuse you, if I can, sir – quite willing; but I cannot introduce a topic, because how do I know what will interest you? Ask me questions, and I will do my best to answer them.’

‘Then, in the first place, do you agree with me that I have a right to be a little masterful, abrupt, perhaps exacting, sometimes, on the grounds I stated, namely, that I am old enough to be your father, and that I have battled through a varied experience with many men of many nations, and roamed over half the globe, while you have lived quietly with one set of people in one house.’

‘Do as you please, sir.’

‘That is no answer; or rather it is a very irritating, because a very evasive one. Reply clearly.’

‘I don’t think, sir, you have a right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.’

‘Humph! Promptly spoken. But I won’t allow that, seeing that it would never suit my case, as I have made an indifferent, not to say a bad, use of both advantages. Leaving superiority out of the question, then, you must still agree to receive my orders now and then, without being piqued or hurt by the tone of command. Will you?’

I smiled: I thought to myself Mr. Rochester is peculiar – he seems to forget that he pays me thirty pounds per annum for receiving his orders.


Remediation: Jane and Rochester’s Conversation as a Stage Play

CHAPTER XIV 

MR. ROCHESTER and JANE sit in the dining room. The lit chandelier and blazing fire in the hearth create an ambiance of warmth and light throughout the room, an atmosphere augmented by the deep, rich colors of elegant curtains. They hold the warmth in, bathing the two conversationalists in comfort and quiet, protecting them from the winter wind and rain beyond the windows. While they seem far removed from the rest of the world, they are not the only two present in the scene; MRS. FAIRFAX sits with ADELE on the sofa across the room, the young girl curled in the older woman’s lap and speaking quietly but incessantly. ADELE does not wish to disturb the room but cannot refrain from chattering. MR. ROCHESTER reclines in a high-backed armchair upholstered with damask, and JANE sits beside him in a much smaller chair, closer than she might have wished.

MR. ROCHESTER

Speak.

(he gestures toward JANE as though the movement in and of itself would convince her to do so)

JANE

(she remains still, wooden almost, the words clear and clipped)

What about, sir?

MR. ROCHESTER

Whatever you like. I leave both the choice of subject and the manner of treating it entirely to yourself.

(JANE sits in silence, meeting MR. ROCHESTER’S gaze resolutely but refusing to speak. Her silence carries the feeling of stubbornness – she has plenty to say, but simply does not wish to share)

MR. ROCHESTER

You are dumb, Miss Eyre.

(MR. ROCHESTER waits a moment for JANE to respond before bending his head toward her silent form, holding her gaze and peering with interest into her eyes)

Stubborn? and annoyed. Ah! it is consistent. I put my request in an absurd, almost insolent form. Miss Eyre, I beg your pardon.

(MR. ROCHESTER sighs softly, leaning away from her again and resting against the back of his chair. Even in a relaxed position, he remains physically above her)

The fact is, once for all, I don’t wish to treat you like an inferior: that is I claim only such superiority as must result from twenty years’ difference in age and century’s advance in experience. This is legitimate, et j’y tiens, as Adele would say; and it is by virtue of this superiority, and this alone, that I desire you to have the goodness to talk to me a little now, and divert my thoughts, which are galled with dwelling on one point – cankering as a rusty nail.

(he expresses himself as if he is merely suggesting a logical proposition, as though he cannot fathom why anyone would refuse his request for some conversational distraction. He delivers this calm request with complete confidence in his superiority)

JANE

(raising her eyebrows, with a sort of subtle incredulity)

I am willing to amuse you, if I can, sir – quite willing; but I cannot introduce a topic, because how do I know what will interest you? Ask me questions, and I will do my best to answer them.

MR. ROCHESTER

(he meets her gaze, leaning toward her slightly again as he speaks, expecting to encounter unqualified cooperation)

Then, in the first place, do you agree with me that I have a right to be a little masterful, abrupt, perhaps exacting, sometimes, on the grounds I stated, namely, that I am old enough to be your father, and that I have battled through a varied experience with many men of many nations, and roamed over half the globe, while you have lived quietly with one set of people in one house.

JANE

(her gaze steady, and apparently disinterested)

Do as you please, sir.

MR. ROCHESTER

(after pausing briefly to think, he opens his mouth to speak before closing it again, taking another moment and furrowing his brow)

That is no answer; or rather it is a very irritating, because a very evasive one. Reply clearly.

JANE

(begins slowly, carefully choosing each word and crafting her sentences with thought and care. As she continues, her voice gains strength incrementally, demonstrating her dawning confidence in her own perceptions)

I don’t think, sir, you have a right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.

MR. ROCHESTER

(smiling despite himself)

Humph! Promptly spoken. But I won’t allow that, (waves his hand as though physically swatting JANE’S words away) seeing that it would never suit my case, as I have made an indifferent, not to say a bad, use of both advantages. Leaving superiority out of the question, then, you must still agree to receive my orders now and then, without being piqued or hurt by the tone of command. Will you?

(JANE smiles, and the expression is thoughtful, but detached, as though she is listening more closely to her own thoughts than to MR. ROCHESTER’S words)


When we read Jane Eyre at the beginning of the semester, I immediately fell in love with the story and with Jane herself. For that reason, I was excited about the opportunity this assignment presented to work more closely with the text. The process of reworking my chosen scene, however, proved more difficult than I had anticipated. In order to successfully transform the scene between Jane and Mr. Rochester from novel to play format, I had to articulate my previously unconscious images of what took place between the novel’s lines. I have had far less experience with stage plays than I have had with novels, so in addition to an experiment in remediation, this exercise also became, for me, an experiment in writing. While I anticipated some of the resulting effect, my finished work still surprised me in a few ways.

In translating this scene of conversation from Jane Eyre into stage play format, I expected to, and did, in fact, lose narrative representation of Jane’s inner thoughts. Since the script of a stage play is meant to be performed by more than one person and cannot, therefore, adopt a single person’s perspective, the reader/audience loses Jane’s personal commentary about Mr. Rochester and the situation at hand. For example, we are no longer privy to her rationale for stubbornly refusing to accept Mr. Rochester’s conversational gambit or to her observation about the peculiarity of Mr. Rochester’s seeming not to remember that he pays her for her work and can therefore require her to do virtually anything he wishes. We do not necessarily lose entirely the effect of these thoughts, though – Jane’s actions, laid out in stage directions, can reflect her mindset to some extent – but we lose the explicitness and acuteness of her perspective. There’s a moment in the original text where Jane tells us, with a brief parenthetical interlude, that Mr. Rochester was “correcting himself,” but I couldn’t include this in the stage play format as it is an inference of Jane’s. While audience members can logically draw this conclusion themselves, they need to do so without the benefit of Jane’s intellectual support. Without her thoughts related to them word for word, interactions between the two characters become much more open to interpretation, and an actor looking to portray one of these roles or a reader perusing the play might – even with stage directions – glean something different from this reimagining I’ve created than they would from the novel itself.

An unexpected benefit I found from this translation was a greater ability to paint a picture of the physical setting and the characters’ facial expressions and movements. In the original text, there is very little to the scene other than dialogue and a few lines of narration from Jane herself. The addition of stage directions in the play, however, enlarges the scene from simple recitation of dialogue, with a little narrative commentary interspersed, to the visual and experiential connection between the two characters. Jane’s and Mr. Rochester’s positioning on the stage as well as their facial expressions and minute actions can play a part in the overall message and effect of the scene. The original text, for example, does not say anything about the actual height of Mr. Rochester’s and Jane’s respective chairs, but I stated in the stage directions that Mr. Rochester sits physically above Jane, as this would make sense for the type of chair in which he sits – a large, ornate, and elegantly upholstered piece of furniture. The stage play format makes possible this level of specificity and adds an entirely new dimension to the scene, as it directly reflects and even subtly underlines the topic of their conversation – superiority. The inclusion of actions also allows us to see the nature of their relationship more clearly, as actions and interactions communicate a lot about how one person must feel about another.

When translating this moment of Jane’s story into a play, I expected that I might simply lose the personality and intimacy of Jane’s perspective. The particular contributions the stage play provided were unanticipated but thought-provoking and welcome. The original text leaves characters’ actions, facial expressions, and movements largely to the reader’s imagination. This can be a benefit or a disadvantage, depending on one’s point of view. Overall, however, while the stage play form filled this gap in the novel, I do not think that this benefit outweighs the effectiveness of Jane Eyre in the novel form. Jane’s first person perspective is too integral to the overall success of the narrative. A stage play, necessarily excluding this perspective, does not provide nearly as effective an experience.