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Introduction[]

Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer

Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer contributed to the numerous stage adaptations of Charlotte Brontė 's 1847 novel Jane Eyre with her play, Jane Eyre or the Orphan of Lowood, which was first performed in 1853 at the Hofburgtheater in Vienna. At least eight different theatric versions of the story had been performed in England, America, and continental Europe by 1900, one within three months of the novel being published. In her book Jane Eyre on Stage, 1848-1898 , Patsy Stoneman introduces all eight plays for the first time as well as including information about the playwrights, the original texts, the theatres where the plays were performed, reception of the plays, and distinctive features of each individual play. The 1870 bilingual German-English edition of Jane Eyre or the Orphan of Lowood in Stoneman's book, as well as the other adaptations in the collection, should be relevant to readers interested in literary and theatrical history, cultural studies, and adaption studies.

thumb|left|Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer|link=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_Birch-Pfeiffer contributed to the numerous stage adaptations of Charlotte Brontė 's 1847 novel Jane Eyre with her play, Jane Eyre or the Orphan of Lowood, which was first performed in 1853 at the Hofburgtheater in Vienna. At least eight different theatric versions of the story had been performed in England, America, and continental Europe by 1900, one within three months of the novel being published. In her book Jane Eyre on Stage, 1848-1898 , Patsy Stoneman introduces all eight plays for the first time as well as including information about the playwrights, the original texts, the theatres where the plays were performed, reception of the plays, and distinctive features of each individual play. The 1870 bilingual German-English edition of Jane Eyre or the Orphan of Lowood in Stoneman's book, as well as the other adaptations in the collection, should be relevant to readers interested in literary and theatrical history, cultural studies, and adaption studies.

Unique features in this play[]

In Jane Eyre or the Orphan of Lowood, Jane is a typical melodrama heroine, “femme étonnante” or “astonishing woman,” who has the desire to vehemently express her point of view and emotions (Stoneman 10), which is shown in her fervent speech pouring out her bitterness towards Aunt Reed, delivered only to Aunt Reed in the original text but delivered in the presence of Mr. Blackhorst (Brocklehurst), and also the audience of course, in this play. German audiences particularly valued the morality presented in this play as Birch-Pfeiffer “restructured Bronte’s material by giving it a much simpler, morally and emotionally much less complex plot” (Stark qtd. in Stoneman 150). The fact that Bertha is actually Rochester’s brother’s wife, not his, frees him from moral blame and allowing him to marry Jane with no guilt on his conscience. Another major change in the narrative is that the Reed family, grown up, take the place of the Ingrams, and Georgina appears in place of Blanche Ingram. This modification enables the Reed family to get what they deserve for their past sins against Jane when she was a child.

Feminism[]

Birch-Pfeiffer’s play addresses gender-relations but in a more conservative manner than occurs in Brontė's Jane Eyre. Jane is portrayed as a victim but a victim with talents. Rochester is very impressed by her paintings, but after her artistic talent is recognized by the familial “protector,” no real revision of gender relations is apparent. Significantly, the first English version of Birch-Pfeiffer’s play was performed in 1867, the same year of the Second Parliamentary Reform Bill in England, which enfranchised most middle-class men. But John Stuart Mill’s amendment for women’s suffrage was not passed because the protection of a male relative was enough to care for and protect women. English patrons of the theatre during this time period would have been paying close attention to Birch-Pfeiffer’s treatment of women and the role of protector that men were called to play in society as portrayed on the stage.

Male responsibility[]

The idea that men have a responsibility to care for women and children is central in this adaptation, a responsibility which extends beyond the immediate family, so that Rochester is described as a father to the whole neighborhood. The importance of caring for orphans is a theme throughout this play, in regards to the orphan Jane and the orphan Adele. Aunt Reed’s servant Henry wishing he could provide for the orphan. Jane declares Rochester’s paternal care “meritorious,” again presenting Rochester as a more moral character than the original text connotes. The man in authority, Rochester, declares himself as Jane’s protector, which allows her to sleep well and causes her to declare “we have a severe but a reliable protector – now we have a MAN in the house!” (Birch-Pfeiffer qtd. in Stoneman 171). When Mrs. Reed attempts to drive her away from Thornfield, instead of planning to fend for herself, Jane plans to flee to another male authority figure, her uncle. In Birch-Pfeiffer’s play, there is less emphasis on Jane’s ability to defend herself and more prominence placed on her having a resilient and honorable defender in Rochester.

Rochester’s character[]

Rochester’s Byronic nature is shown more in this version as compared with earlier stage adaptations. He is described as brooding, devouring, fickle, negligent, dictatorial, abrupt, misanthropic, and secretive (Birch-Pfeiffer qtd. in Stoneman 172, 174, 175, 188). Furthermore, in this adaptation Rochester was wrongly declared insane after his brother married Rochester’s sweetheart, and as a result of his tumultuous life, he no longer identifies as a Christian.

Education[]

Education plays an important role in this adaptation of Jane Eyre. Blackhorst’s stated goal for Jane’s education is humility, which is contrasted to Rochester’s goal for Adele’s education, namely modern languages, music, painting, and "everything necessary to a liberal education” (Birch-Pfeiffer qtd. in Stoneman 179). Rochester is clear that though humility is a good virtue, subservience is not, thus negating Blackhorst’s harsh vision of education shown at Lowood. On the other hand, Aunt Reed thinks serpents often hide behind books, linking books, governesses, and evil, in her non-intellectual view of the world. The play clearly shows that Aunt Reed and Blackhorst represent the older views on education, whereas Rochester shows the new direction of education in the 19th century.

Adaptations of this play[]

Stoneman’s book gives the full text of two other variations of this 1870 edition of the play, one published anonymously in 1867 and the other published by Mme von Heringen Hering in 1877. The anonymous play, actually published three years prior to this edition by Birch-Pfeiffer that Stoneman included in her book, is a highly condensed version of Birch-Pfeiffer’s play and is an obvious derivative of her work. Hering’s play, written in Danish, mainly follows the narrative of Birch-Pfeiffer’s play but is different because of its unusually full and detailed stage directions and instructions to the actors. There were other riffs off this play but these were not included in Stoneman’s book. A Viennese teacher Jakob Spitzer also wrote an adaption based on this play but took away the “imaginative, gothic and psychological elements” out and focused on the theme of education, which makes sense based on his profession (Stark qtd. in Stoneman 150).

Works Cited

Stoneman, Patsy. Jane Eyre on Stage, 1848-1898: An Illustrated Edition of Eight Plays with Contextual Notes. Ashgate: England, 2007. Print.

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