Thursday, July 26, 2012

Twilight vs. Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre (2011)

Fictional characters are compelling people. Just because they don't exist beyond the written page, the computer screen, or the digital image/film doesn't mean that they can't affect our lives just as much as real people can. My family continues to laugh at me when I cry while reading books or watching movies. The characters come alive, and for a few hours I am transported into their worlds and inhabit them as completely as I inhabit our book-lined mountain cabin.

Once character I've been fascinated by is Stephenie Meyer's Edward Cullen from the Twilight series. And it's not because handsome Robert Pattinson plays him in the movies; it's because of Edward Cullen's literary heritage. Like me, Ms. Meyer became an English major because she adored books--she loved inhabiting new (or old) world peopled with incredible characters. 

So when she created a vampire-with-a-conscience in Edward Cullen, Ms. Meyer drew him from some outstanding male characters throughout literary history. If you've read the books, some of Edward's predecessors are obvious: Emily Bronte's Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, Shakespeare's Romeo, Austen's Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, and Stoker's Dracula. But others may be more difficult to spot. In the character of Edward Cullen I also see shades of the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, of the Byronic Hero of Don Juan, of Raskolnikov from Dostoyevsky's masterful Crime and Punishment, of Edmund from Austen's Mansfield Park, among others. But for me, the most obvious literary predecessor of vampire Edward Cullen is another angst-ridden Edward: Edward Fairfax Rochester of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1

I can almost place a Robert Pattinson, aged by 15 years, in the role of this older and more urbane Edward, one equally haunted by his past sins and tied to a dark mystery in which he drags a young, innocent girl into because of the depth of his love. Only Edward Cullen leaves his Bella while Jane Eyre leaves Rochester behind...but both leave for what they believe is the "right" reason.

The women of both Jane Eyre and Twilight, and their stories, definitely parallel each other. Both raised in unusual circumstances, Jane an orphan and Bella parenting her own parents, Jane and Bella are rather strong-minded in some ways, yet their teenaged romanticism colors their world greatly. They're young, innocent, trusting girls who are drawn to dark, angsty men who conceal dangerous secrets and checquered pasts. After a climatic event in the story line, a separation ensues during which both women discover another possible love interest, Jane with St. John Rivers and Bella with Jacob Black. Both women's lives are in danger because of this relationship as Jane could easily die on the missionary fields of India where St. John intends for her to join him while Bella learns to love a werewolf.

Supernatural forces (Jane hearing Rochester call for her, and Bella learning of Alice's vision of Edward's suicide attempt with the Volturi) bring the couples back together, Jane to a blinded and contrite Rochester, Bella to a contrite and apologetic Edward. Choices must be made regarding which love interest the women will choose, and of course they choose their angsty guys, marry them, and live happily ever after, children and all.

And the two Edwards are so similar. They both possess sinful pasts that they are reluctant to share with their innocent teenaged loves, and both have a deep-seated self-hatred based on those pasts and on their perceived danger to their women. Once restored to their loves, both are appropriate contrite although Rochester has truly changed during the separation from Jane while Edward Cullen was altered by Bella more before the separation.

Both male characters are loners to an extent, have past romantic interests in Blanche Ingram and Tanya from Denali, neither truly worthy of the angsty guys, who inspire jealousy in their teenaged loves. Both men are altered greatly by the introduction of these pure, idealistic women who look past the ugliness in the men's lives (Rochester's physical ugliness and the ugliness of who Edward is as a vampire) and love them not only despite the men's flaws but perhaps because of them.

If you haven't yet had the pleasure, I cannot more highly recommend the 2011 film version of Jane Eyre with Mia Wasikowska (from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland) and Michael Fassbender. For a short film version, it's masterful, even though it omits much of the faith element of the book (one of my top three favorite novels of all time) and rushes the ending a bit. It's far better than the Twilight films in quality and faithfulness to the book. 

Always reading,


Suz said...

I love being taken away by a movie...even love to see how a screen writer adapts a book...what he leaves in what/ she takes out :)...I'm no sexist...hee hee
But Heathcliff...nasty man...the book did it the best
But Mr. Darcy...Collin Firth...swoon...even I couldn't have dreamt him up
When a movie can move us to tears..we have been transported into ourselves....
do go ahead bawl like a baby...I'm right behind you

Susanne Barrett said...

Thanks for commenting!! I agree; there is no Darcy like Colin Firth! That man is magical as Darcy, expressing Darcy's inner thoughts with his eyes or a simple gesture, and words are secondary.

No movie moves me to tears like Dead Poets Society. Amazing film. But I cry over television shows, too, and my children just roll their eyes and pass me the tissues.... ;)

Thanks again for commenting!! :)


Blog Widget by LinkWithin