Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jane Eyre and the moors

In which the setting becomes a character 

I finally got to saw the new Jane Eyre movie, and was smitten once again by this transcendent love story. The new adaptation of the Charlotte Bronte classic had a few surprising twists -- most notably, Director Cary Fukunaga started in the middle of the story, a place where brokenhearted Jane loses her literal and figurative way. Suitably, she spends a lot of time running despondent on the moors.

Maybe it was the cinematography, but aside from the dramatic plot elements of mystery, romance and horror, it was the setting that lingered most in my mind. The moors -- those sparse boggy, peaty, mossy stretches of land -- an ideal setting for a female protagonist to lose herself in misery.

I didn't analyze it as a kid, but I was affected in a similar way while reading Frances Hodgson Burnett's  A Secret Garden. Mary Lennox, the unhappy friendless little girl, wanders on the cold windy moors, which are more than a backdrop to the story.

I envisioned the moors in summer with lavender hued heather and other vegetation softening the brutal landscape. But the moors in winter are cold and barren. In Jane Eyre, setting reinforces mood, fueling the emotional engine of the story, almost like another character. I came up with this unscientific equation:

setting + mood = plot driver

Just a little idea to file away for future fiction writing. What are your thoughts on using setting to drive plot?

Next week:  An interview with Kathryn Erskine, author of the 2010 National Book Award winner, Mockingbird. Please check back -- you could win a signed copy!


The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

There is a little known version of Jane Eyre that starred Jack Benny as "Jack" Eyre and Mr. Rochester was played by Benny's sidekick, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson.

Whenever I drive, my set plots.

Loco in the Attic

Julie Musil said...

I had no idea there was a new version out there. Was it on DVD? In the theatre? Wow, I've got to see this.

I love it when the setting is almost like another character in the book.

Anonymous said...

I still haven't seen the movie, but I know I will. Jane Eyre was the first "grownup" book I read when I was a kid, and probably one of the reasons that I write. Beautiful. And it's true that especially in this book, setting is a character.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I loved the Secret Garden too. I enjoyed reading it to my students when I was a teacher. One year I was lucky enough to take my students to see a production of Secret Garden.

Barbara Watson said...

Enjoyed your post! Setting is an often overlooked character. Setting can get in a character's way (storm, mountains, desert, etc) or become part of who a main character is and then maybe they are torn from that setting. A change in the setting also drives plot.

I'm looking forward to the interview with Katherine Erskine! Loved MOCKINGBIRD!