Jane Eyre (1943)

Action, Drama, Romance
Elizabeth Taylor, Orson Welles, Agnes Moorehead, Moyna MacGill
The movie begins in Gateshead Hall, where a ten-year-old orphan named Jane Eyre is living with her mother's brother's family. The brother, surnamed Reed, dies shortly after adopting Jane. His wife, Mrs. Sarah Reed, and their three children (John, Eliza and Georgiana) neglect and abuse Jane, for they resent Mr. Reed's preference for the little orphan in their midst. In addition, they dislike Jane's plain looks and quiet yet passionate character. Thus, the novel begins with young John Reed bullying Jane, who retaliates with unwonted violence. Jane is blamed for the ensuing fight, and Mrs. Reed has two of the servants drag her off and lock her up in the red-room, the unused chamber where Mr. Reed had died. Still locked in that night, Jane sees a light and panics, thinking that her uncle's ghost has come. Her scream rouses the house, but Mrs. Reed just locks up Jane for longer. Then Jane has a fit and passes out. A doctor, Mr. Lloyd, comes to Gateshead Hall and suggests that Jane go to school.Mr. Brocklehurst is a cold, cruel, self-righteous, and highly hypocritical clergyman who runs a charity school called Lowood. He accepts Jane as a pupil in his school. Jane is infuriated, however, when Mrs. Reed tells him, falsely, that Jane is a liar. After Brocklehurst departs, Jane bluntly tells Mrs. Reed how she hates the Reed family. Mrs. Reed, so shocked that she is scarcely capable of responding, leaves the drawing room in haste.Jane finds life at Lowood to be grim. Miss Maria Temple, the youthful superintendent, is just and kind, but another teacher, Miss Scatcherd, is sour and abusive. Mr. Brocklehurst, visiting the school for an inspection, has Jane placed on a tall stool before the entire assemblage. He then tells them that "...this girl, this child, the native of a Christian land, worse than many a little heathen who says its prayers to Brahma and kneels before Juggernautthis girl isa liar!"Later that day, Miss Temple allows Jane to speak in her own defence. After Jane does so, Miss Temple writes to Mr. Lloyd. His reply agrees with Jane's, and she is cleared of Mr. Brocklehurst's accusation.Mr. Brocklehurst embezzles the school's funds to support his family's luxurious lifestyle while hypocritically preaching to others a doctrine of privation and poverty. As a result, Lowood's eighty pupils must make do with cold rooms, poor meals, and thin garments whilst his family lives in comfort. The majority become sick from a typhus epidemic that strikes the school.Jane is impressed with one pupil, Helen Burns, who accepts Miss Scatcherd's cruelty and the school's deficiencies with passive dignity, practising the Christian teaching of turning the other cheek. Jane admires and loves the gentle Helen and they become best friends, but Jane cannot bring herself to emulate her friend's behaviour. While the typhus epidemic is raging, Helen dies of consumption in Jane's arms.Many die in the typhus epidemic, and Mr. Brocklehurst's neglect and dishonesty are laid bare. Several rich and kindly people donate to put up a new school building in a more healthful location. New rules are made, and improvements in diet and clothing are introduced. Though Mr. Brocklehurst can not be overlooked, due to his wealth and family connections, new people are brought in to share his duties of treasurer and inspector, and conditions improve dramatically at Lowood.The narrative resumes eight years later. Jane has been a teacher at Lowood for two years, but she thirsts for a better and brighter future. She advertises for a governess and is hired by Mrs. Alice Fairfax, housekeeper of the Gothic manor of Thornfield, to teach a rather spoiled but amiable little French girl named Adèle Varens. A few months after her arrival at Thornfield, Jane goes for a walk and aids a horseman who takes a fall.He is rude to her and calls her a 'witch' but she helps him back on the horse. On her return to Thornfield, Jane discovers that the horseman is her employer, Mr. Edward Rochester, a moody, charismatic gentleman nearly twenty years older than Jane. Adèle is his ward.Rochester seems quite taken with Jane. He repeatedly summons her to his presence and talks with her. Adèle, he says, is the illegitimate daughter of a French opera singer, Celine, who was his mistress for a time, though he doubts Adèle is his daughter. That same night, Jane hears eerie laughter coming from the hallway, and upon opening the door she sees smoke coming from Rochester's chamber. Rushing into his room, she finds his bed curtains ablaze and douses them with water, saving Rochester's life. Rochester says a matronly servant named Grace Poole is responsible, yet does not fire her, and Grace Poole shows no signs of remorse or guilt. Jane is amazed and perplexed. But by this time, Rochester and Jane are in love with each other, though they do not show it.Soon after the fire incident, Mr. Rochester departs Thornfield, reportedly to the Continent. He returns expectedly with a party of high-class ladies and gentlemen, including Miss Blanche Ingram, a beautiful but shallow socialite whom he seems to be courting. The party is interrupted when a strange old gypsy woman arrives and insists on telling everyone's fortunes. When Jane's turn comes, the gypsy tells her a great deal about her life and feelings, much to Jane's surprise. Then the gypsy reveals "herself" to be Rochester in disguise.That night, after a piercing scream wakes everyone in the house, Mr. Rochester comes to Jane for help in attending to a wounded guest, a certain Mr. Richard Mason, a queer Englishman from the West Indies. Mr. Mason has been stabbed and bitten in the arm, and a surgeon comes and secretly whisks the wounded man away. Again, Rochester hints that Grace Poole is responsible.Jane receives word that Mrs. Reed, upon hearing of her son John's apparent suicide after leading a life of dissipation and debt, has suffered a near-fatal stroke and is asking for her. So Jane returns to Gateshead, where she encounters her cousins Eliza and Georgiana Reed. Eliza has become a self-righteous puritan. Georgiana, much admired for her beauty in London a season or two ago, has become plump and vapid, always moaning about her love affair with Lord Edwin Vere. Eliza, out of envy, had prevented their marriage. The two sisters despise each other and are barely on speaking terms.Although she rejects Jane's efforts at reconciliation, Mrs. Reed gives Jane a letter that she had previously withheld out of spite. The letter is from Jane's father's brother, John Eyre, notifying her of his intent to leave her his fortune upon his death. Mrs. Reed dies in the night, and no one mourns her. Eliza enters a convent in France, and Georgiana travels to London, eventually marrying a wealthy but worn-out society man.After Jane returns to Thornfield, she and Rochester gradually reveal their love for each other.Though Jane accepts Rochester's proposal of marriage, she is plagued by doubts about it. She feels she is Rochester's inferior and continues to address him as "master" even after they are engaged. Her forebodings deepen when a strange, savage-looking woman sneaks into her room one night and rips her wedding veil in two. Yet again, Rochester attributes the incident to Grace Poole.The wedding goes ahead nevertheless. But during the ceremony in the church, the mysterious Mr. Mason and a lawyer step forth and declare that Rochester cannot marry Jane because his own wife is still alive. Rochester bitterly admits this fact, explaining that his wife is a violent madwoman whom he keeps imprisoned in the attic, where Grace Poole looks after her. But Grace Poole imbibes gin immoderately, occasionally giving the madwoman an opportunity to escape. It is Rochester's mad wife who is responsible for the strange events at Thornfield. Rochester nearly committed bigamy, and kept this fact from Jane. The wedding is cancelled, and Jane is heartbroken.Back at the manorhouse, Rochester explains further. Under pressure from his father to make an advantageous marriage, and lured by Bertha's vast inheritance and personal beauty, Rochester had as a young man married Bertha. When Bertha became openly insane, Rochester locked her up in Thornfield and departed for a life of sensuality in Europe.Rochester then asks Jane to accompany him to the south of France, where they will live as husband and wife, even though they cannot be married. But Jane refuses to give up her self-respect by becoming a rich man's mistress, even though she loves him still.But she does not trust herself to refuse a second time. In the dead of night, Jane slips out of Thornfield and takes a coach far away to the north of England. When her money gives out, she sleeps outdoors on the moor and reluctantly begs for food. One night, freezing and starving, she comes to Moor House (or Marsh End) and begs for help. St. John Rivers, the young clergyman who lives in the house, admits her.Jane, who gives the false surname of Elliott, quickly recovers under the care of St. John and his two kind sisters, Diana and Mary. St. John arranges for Jane to teach a charity school for girls in the village of Morton. At the school, Jane observes the interactions of St. John, a cold and stern man but a truly devout Christian, and Rosamond Oliver, a beautiful but silly young heiress. Jane comes to believe that the two are in love, and boldly says so to St John. St. John confesses his love but says that Rosamond would make a most unsuitable wife for a missionary, which he intends to become.One snowy night, St. John unexpectedly arrives at Jane's cottage. Suspecting Jane's true identity, he relates Jane's experiences at Thornfield and says that her uncle, John Eyre, has died and left Jane his fortune of 20,000 pounds. After confessing her true identity, Jane arranges to share her inheritance with the Riverses, who turn out to be her cousins.Not long afterwards, St. John decides to travel to India and devote his life to missionary work. He asks Jane to accompany him as his wife. Jane consents to go to India but adamantly refuses to marry him because they are not in love. St. John is not cruel or hypocritical like Mr. Brocklehurst, but he does not respect other people's feelings when they conflict with his own. He continues to pressure Jane to marry him, and his forceful personality almost causes her to capitulate. But at that moment she hears what she thinks is Rochester's voice calling her name, and this gives her the strength to reject St. John completely.The next day, Jane takes a coach to Thornfield. But only blackened ruins lie where the manorhouse once stood. An innkeeper tells Jane that Rochester's mad wife set the fire and then committed suicide by jumping from the roof. Rochester rescued the servants from the burning mansion but lost a hand and his eyesight in the process. He now lives in an isolated manor house called Ferndean. Going to Ferndean, Jane reunites with Rochester. At first, he fears that she will refuse to marry a blind cripple, but Jane accepts him without hesitation.Speaking from the vantage point of ten years, Jane describes their married life as blissful.I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blestblest beyond what language can express; because I am my husbands life as fully as he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edwards society: he knows none of mine, any more than we each do of the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together. To be together is for us to be at once as free as in solitude, as gay as in company. We talk, I believe, all day long: to talk to each other is but a more animated and an audible thinking. All my confidence is bestowed on him, all his confidence is devoted to me; we are precisely suited in characterperfect concord is the result. Meanwhile, St. John has gone to India as a missionary and dies there. However, some claim St. John does not die in the scope of the book. Jane writes, "I know that a stranger's hand will write to me next, to say that the good and faithful servant has been called at length into the joy of his Lord. While his death may be implied, it is never clearly stated.Rochester eventually recovers sight in one eye, and can see their first-born son when the baby is born.
  • 1943-12-24 Released:
  • N/A DVD Release:
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  • Robert Stevenson Director:
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