Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1983 BBC TV Mini-Series)

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Jane Eyre, the Timeless Classic

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (under the pen name of “Currer Belle” to discombobulate her biological determinism) is neither a romantic novel about a lonely young woman falling for her rich master nor a proto-feminist literature subtly championing women’s economic independence and choice to select their lovers on their own. It is a story of a resilient and noble spirit armed with education, clothed in canopy of humanity, and adorned with reflective beauty of the mind that transforms physical plainness into comeliness. That’s what makes our heroine Jane Eyre timelessly unforgettable, undeniably attractive; perchance, that’s why this novel has been made into a series of film versions for television and cinema resurrecting the ambience of the period and bringing the hauntingly impassioned characters into life. Of all the dramatized adaptations of Jane Eyre, this 1983 BBC mini-series version merits itself in the movie firmament as the magisterial translation of Charlotte Bronte’s original novel, wonderfully delivered by a cracking screenplay, a brilliant cast of performers, and a truthful setting of the story, resembling none other than themselves all together in this riveting panoply of Bronte’s dazzling creation.

Written by Alexander Baron, this TV series is composed of eleven episodes that faithfully capture the epochal moments of the passionate heroine Jane Eyre from the moments she was cruelly castigated by her callous aunt and her equally sordid cousins to her eight years of boarding school experience, to the fateful encounter with the brooding but vulnerable Mr. Rochester, and to the consequential events packed full of surprises and serendipity worth every reward to the lonely Jane. The gem of this BBC miniseries is that each of the episodes is treated as a small story – that is, a story embedded in a whole story as if it were a short story itself – so you can skip the early years of Jane and jump into her employment as governess for Adele, the only daughter of Mr. Rochester at Thornfield without feeling adrift from the previous story that will defenestrate you to the middle of nowhere in the whole story. Of course, for those of us who have read and re-read the novel since the time immemorial, it’s a foregone conclusion, but even if you haven’t, take heart and play it fast forward to meet the grown Jane (although she’s only nineteen years old.) in her tantalizing suspenseful moments with Mr. Rochester and even St. John Rivers.

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Zelah Clarke as Jane Eyre and Timothy Dalton as Edward Rochester

At the heart of the drama lies the commendable performance of the characters: Jane Eyre, played by Zelah Clarke, Edward Rochester aka “Mr. Rochester”, by Timothy Dalton, and St. John Rivers, by Andrew Bicknell invest the drama with the beautifully nuanced dialogues and gestures, which are never outlandishly displayed, vying for individual attentions, but harmoniously concerted that impart the gusto and the verisimilitude to the story. In fact, the appearances, gestures, and diction of these three characters are exactly what I have always imagined them to be in my mind’s eye. Clarke’s rendition of Jane Eyre is the finesse itself that would make Charlotte Bronte happy with her performance as well as physiognomy. Jane is a passionate soul, but conservative, if not conventional. She is an intelligent woman who loves her gruff but deeply hurt and lonely Edward Rochester as her equal despite a sea of age difference and his petulant past. Unlike other Jane Eyres played previously and posteriorly, Clarke’s Jane epitomizes the heroine of oddly beautiful enigma personified: the plain but pretty, expressive but demure, passionate but docile, sensitive but strong, patient but yearning… Which is befittingly summarized by St. John Rivers, wonderfully and unforgettably played by Andrew Bicknell: “The grace and harmony is wanting in her features, but she is not beautiful…” I have seen other film versions of Jane Eyre, but none other than this Clarke’s Jane Eyre has won my approval in terms of all things regarding the heroine of Charlotte Bronte’s original novel.

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Andrew Bicknell as St. John Rivers

And so have Timothy Dalton’s irrepressible Edward Rochester and Andrew Bicknell’s stoical but misguided St. John Rivers. On a personal note, Bicknell seems to nail the role down as handsome and intelligent St. John Rivers, who prioritizes his religious duties as a parson over his human feelings and emotions for his beautiful and kind-hearted admirer Rosemund Oliver in arbitrary belief that stoicism is the grist for the mill of vocation as a man of cloth. He believes that it is his calling to be a missionary in India and that it behooves him to abnegate sensuous delights to which a man is naturally inclined with all his might. Watching Bicknell playing the character makes me wonder if the casting director or the screenwriter had the uncanny ability to conjure up the spirit of Charlotte Bronte and ask of her the fitting image of the character prior to the production of the drama. The tall, imposing manly figure of St. John Rivers with beautiful Grecian facial features and golden hair is just as the description created by Bronte in the novel as if she had seen Andrew Bicknell in the peculiar alchemy of literature that enabled her to look into the future and to see her character incarnate.

All in all, this 1983 BBC miniseries of Jane Eyre will arrest your full attention to the every scene of the episodes without infelicity and pomposity that classical period dramas sometimes tend to produce on account of obsolete diction and outlandish gestures that look incongruously empathic to our modern senses and sensibilities. This is a quaintly gorgeous drama without the ostentatious glamor of television drama exhibiting luminous Vanity Fair; it shows that just simple good scripts based on the loyal adaptation of the original novel and excellent performance of the fine cast that seems to be destined for the roles can translate the imaginative world of the author into the visual firmament of television drama this beautifully and impressively in a way that makes you feel the emotions of the characters by passing over to their inner worlds.

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Pleasure Garden, Emerald Thoughts

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        Mary’s Proud Pleasant Garden

What an immaculately beautiful sunny Saturday it is! The sun claims its indomitable superiority alone in the azure sky without the scatterings of clouds with occasional pleasant breezes sent from the nearby Pacific Ocean, or “the Lethe of the Pacific,” according to Henry David Thoreau, who saw the West as Land of Rebirth or Rejuvenation where you could exorcise all your past easterly mishaps and misfortunes by the baptism of water in the Pacific. In the poetic eyes of Thoreau, a Lethean stream flew through the West, and it was imperative we drink it to forget the Old World and its Institutions in order that we could start anew in the West. With this poetic justice rendered by Thoreau in mind, Mary Lamb, a benign spinster and loving aunt of Sally Lamb, couldn’t think of doing anything more pleasant and uplifting than tending to her lovely garden this afternoon.

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   Everything grows with love.

Mary is an expert gardener trained in her old family home in New Jersey when she was little. It was her father Ted who inculcated in  her the wonder of nature and the beauty of simplicity. On point of digressive notes, people think that it was Leonardo da Vinci who legitimatized the aphorism of “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” But come to think of it, who would not have arrived at such stratagem of aesthetics throughout our human civilizations? It’s all about the merits of whoever said it. That is, your status weighs against the validity of sayings.  For what’s worth, Mary’s gardening skills and her love of gardening prevails on any such abstruse philosophical musings of influential talking heads just for the sake of its pleasantness.

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Homegrown organic vegetables!

Laura Collie, a good neighbor of Mary and trusty confidante, calls on Mary’s to look at her lovely garden in the afternoon. Laura wants to decorate her backyard with flowers and hedges around it, but the whole task of doing it seems daunting because she has so many other businesses to attend to: a wife, a mother, a shopkeeper, and a member of church’s guild for women. Laura thinks that Mary’s spinsterhood imparts freedom from marital obligations to her, which sometimes Laura secretly covets. But then unlike Mary, Laura is always surrounded by her laconic but loyal and understanding husband Paul and their perky and smart daughter Julie at home. Surely, looking at Mary’s gardening makes anyone think about the life itself. It’s a visual exhibition of life with its vicissitudes, with its impositions, and with its obligations, all beautifully embroidered with flowers, plants, and trees.

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      The laborer is worthy of the reward.

When Mary finishes her gardening, she invites Laura to have refreshments with her in her proud garden to bask herself in the beauty of the sun and nature in general. It’s also very gratifying to have a glass of cold orange juice or Fanta after laboring on the nature’s work, which Mary regards as a religious experience of being a guardian of nature with the power of appointment by the Creator. Mary, who is also an admirer of Thoreau’s work, understands why Thoreau did not go to church despite being a Christian; it’s because of this feeling of sacred guardianship of nature conferred by the Creator, which can’t be felt by mechanical recitation of prayers without understanding the meanings. Although Mary’s unorthodox views on faith and the church worry religious Laura to a certain degree in a way that makes her unmarried friend look perched precariously on the brink of heathenism like a solitary village cunning woman in Elizabethan England accused of being a witch, Laura admires her spiritual friend’s tenderness toward nature and aesthetic expression of herself through gardening that is all the more resplendent with her erudition from reading many a good book, mostly classics pertaining to previous centuries. While enjoying the carpe diem of the afternoon, both Mary and Laura think in harmony that God is in his heaven, and all’s well with this world.

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Still pursuing, still achieving

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Edge Of The Cliff Pourville by Claude Monet

Albeit delay
You may fret,
Sometimes it may
prove to be fortunate.

P.S. According to Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian who is regarded as the Father of History for his pioneering method of compiling historical records in a narrative form, the Germanic tribes in the Rhine considered repose from war as a time to recuperate their spent vigor and stamina for the next round of the battleground. They spent the repose doing absolutely nothing but performing their physiological and biological functions to the point of sloth and gluttony. (The accompaniment of German beer was primary, if not absolute.)

In the eyes of the learned and culturally sophisticated Greek, however, it was a sight to behold, a wondrous admixture of lackadaisicalness and  prudence in a way that looked effective for rejuvenation.

My repose is not as starkly static as those ancient Germans, but it is a time of getting my hands off the helm of existential duties and responsibilities for a little while – to write a new chapter of my life in the continuous search of meaning and purpose thereof as a pioneer woman on the 21st century western frontier. Hence I wrote this very short poem during the current repose. 

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The Hound of Troubadour

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Into the dark of the night, we all travel
tranced in the eurythmics of rainfalls
outside the moving coach in a dazzle
of somebodies packed full of stories
to carry them over the westerly end
of our dreamscapes, half-assured but
willing to take on Fortune’s loose end,
as we head for our unknown Fortune.

P.S. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Thinking is the function, and life (i.e., putting thoughts into actions) is the functionary.”

Along the line of this maxim, anyone who’s been on a long distance cross-continental bus travel contracts sociological and psychological strains of Stockholm Syndrome; that whoever rides on the same bus with you will be an aggregate of the ad hoc assembly of accidental passengers, a surrogate band of battle soldiers from all walks of life, vivacious or lugubrious, voluntary or unintentional, funded or impecunious, assured or doubtful. That’s also an elemental attribute of the travel because there’s always something unexpected that happens along the way, which is what makes it all the more interesting and enriching for our life experience.

After a long but worthwhile travel by bus, you will understand what made the former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli during the reign of Queen Victoria declaimed about the lesson of travel thus: “Travel teaches toleration.” Which is also to be yoked into the ever truthful Nietzschean tenet of existentialism: “What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger.” I can vouch for it on account of my own veritable veni vidi vici empirical learning acquired alone after five nights on two Greyhound buses from New York City, NY to Los Angeles, CA . I have lived thru it. I take the liberty of positing that I am now also become something of a student of life and literature following the existential experiences of George Orwell, Viktor E. Frankl, Henry David Thoreau, Stephen Crane, Bill Bryson, and Jane Eyre (the fictitious but realistic character) into the bargain.

Things can only get better

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Getting ready for work

Patricia has been recently working as a legal secretary at a personal injury law office in the city, the job she secured through her former boss Alfred Petersen, Esq., a high-profile defendant insurance lawyer at a powerhouse Gothic City law firm. Patricia, a principled, intelligent, and discreet character could have found a position commensurate with her ability and experience in the city had the hiring managers in the HR departments been understanding of a nine-month lapse after her resignation from the position of paralegal at a boutique real estate law firm in downtown last year. The reason for her leaving was that the field of law did not turn out to be her best match, pace her previously held naive anticipation that it would require of her less contentious meeting with demanding clients and less leg work that would push her to be out of the doors most of time. Besides, she did not get along with her boss, Susie K. whose whimsicality flitted though the ebbs and flows of her melancholia and in the weather of her sanity with all too frequent paroxysm of hysteria. Patricia wanted to keep her sanity and dignity rather than to succumb to the incivility of an irreparable solipsist. Hence the lapse in her work experience.

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At home

When Patricia needed a helping hand to secure her employment with a B.A. degree that would leave you either overqualified or under-qualified in this ever volatile job market and the inglorious gaping period in-between employment history, she could not help but think of Mr. Petersen who was a lot like the empathetic boss of Bartleby the Scrivener in Herman Melville’s eponymous short story : that intellectually brilliant, characteristically benign, and professionally equable epitome of a “good” boss. Likewise, when Mr. Petersen whose heavenly blend of moral character and intellectual gifts endeared him to many of his admirers got email from Patricia out of the blue, he was willing to cast her a life jacket on a perilous sea under the aegis of his perennial benign influence. Since Mr. Petersen knew that Patricia was a good person who had not only the intellect but also the heart, an angelic admixture of humanity, he phoned one of his best lawyer colleague in town and connected him to her by sending him her resume via email for review and consideration that did not de rigueur need afterthought; it was the job to be had for the asking.

So far Patricia has been well adjusted to her work routine in the new office and the work style of her new boss who’s fair and magnanimous. She only secretly wishes that the current state of things will remain unperturbed because she feels that she’s worthy of such reward after what she went through while being the subject of the vertiginous treatment that knew no reason and stratagem at the expense of her wailing spirit smothering in the existential daily duties and responsibilities. Isn’t it a crime for anyone to yearn such a continuation of equilibrium?

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