Transforming Jane Eyre: Its Australian Stage Adaptations

Abstract

The history of Australian stage adaptations of Jane Eyre illustrates the shifting fortunes and reach of melodrama and its conventions, as they become psychologised over the course of the twentieth century. The earliest adaptation of Jane Eyre written for the Australian stage was Rose Evans’s Quite Alone (1872). Working within highly melodramatic codes, Quite Alone portrayed ‘hate, sympathy, love, and finally marriage’ (‘Miss Rose Evans’s “Quite Alone”’). Two creative engagements by Australian writers have reached wide international audiences: Helen Jerome’s 1936 stage adaptation, published in 1937, was the most performed and successful adaptation of the twentieth century; the chamber opera with music by British composer Michael Berkeley and libretto by Australian writer David Malouf premiered in 2000, and has been performed in Britain, Australia and the U.S. In adapting a three-volume novel within the demands of contemporary staging, both Jerome and Malouf explore the nuances of a particular affect in the relationship between Jane and Rochester. In Jerome’s 1936 stage adaptation the affect is passion, signalled in the published play’s subtitle A Drama of Passion; in Malouf’s libretto, the predominant affect is sympathy. Jerome’s adaptation struggles to mesh melodrama, realism and more modernist elements in her rereading of the novel for the stage, whilst Malouf and Berkeley’s chamber opera is late modernist. I place the adaptations in a broader history of creative engagements with Jane Eyre, drawing out intermedial influences on the staging of Jerome’s and Malouf’s adaptations in particular.

The history of Australian stage adaptations of Jane Eyre illustrates the shifting fortunes and reach of melodrama and its conventions, as they become psychologised over the course of the twentieth century.1 The earliest adaptation of Jane Eyre written for the Australian stage was Rose Evans’s Quite Alone (1872). Working within highly melodramatic codes, Quite Alone portrayed ‘hate, sympathy, love, and finally marriage’ (‘Miss Rose Evans’s “Quite Alone”’). Two creative engagements by Australian writers have reached wide international audiences: Helen Jerome’s 1936 stage adaptation, published in 1937, was the most performed and successful adaptation of the twentieth century the chamber opera with music by British composer Michael Berkeley and libretto by Australian writer David Malouf premiered in 2000, and has been performed in Britain, Australia and the U.S. In adapting a three-volume novel within the demands of contemporary staging, both Jerome and Malouf explore the nuances of a particular affect in…

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Published 31 October 2015 in Volume 30 No. 3. Subjects: Adaptation, Australian theatre, Drama, Melodrama, Charlotte Brontë.

Cite as: Thomas, Sue. ‘Transforming Jane Eyre: Its Australian Stage Adaptations.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 30, no. 3, 2015. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.13126253cc.