In Cary Fukunaga’s 2011 adaptation of Jane Eyre, the representations of confinement in the novel are captured through the use of imposing structures, towering hedges, enclosing boundary walls, shrouding darkness and the dull and restricting costumes worn by the female characters.
The barren landscape of the North, surrounding the remote dwelling of Thornfield Hall, seems to have seeped into the woman’s clothing, the colour palette of the female employees, predominately consisting of overcast grey, earth brown and the ominous deep blue grey of storm clouds. The women are further constrained by their confining corsets, tightly coiled hair or concealing caps.
On the surface these female characters seem more concerned with practically than fashion, befitting their subservient status; however upon closer inspection it would seem they are attempting to escape the drudgery of their circumstances through haberdashery.
Both Jane and Mrs Fairfax have a propensity to drape themselves with delicate floral shawls and wear lace collars and cuffs, when plain cotton would have been more serviceable, especially as there is nobody to impress with these attempts at fashionable enhancement, as both Mrs Fairfax’s and Jane’s positions within the household would make interaction with suitable gentleman practically impossible.
It is perhaps more understandable for Jane to enhance her appearance, as it would reflect a wish to appear more desirable to Mr Rochester. The fashion choices of Mrs Fairfax are perhaps more complex. Mrs Fairfax would have little expenditure, as she resides on the generosity of the estate and perhaps wishes to alleviate or escape her drudgery through fashion. With only desolate moorland, and her sex limiting her opportunities to see past the limits of the horizon (as the youthful Jane laments) makes it seem as if Mrs Fairfax is resigned to her fate of living out what remains of her life in a household which is not her own, surrounded by her meagre possessions. Her only comfort might be the luxuries she allows herself in her fashion choices.
In the picture we can see the lace fichu, which is worn for Jane’s tragic marriage ceremony; it is intricately embroidered, but what is perhaps most startling and poignant about the costume, is the apron, which is most noticeably apparent in the scene where Jane is introduced to Adele; the women are shown seated with their backs to a window, where the lead work, makes it appear as if they are encaged.
The apron is intricately and colourfully embroidered with flowers; a whimsical choice for a housekeeper, who should seem almost unapproachable to staff, in order to maintain her authority within the servant hierarchy. Yet these flowers seem almost wistful, as they are worn by a woman who is past the bloom of youth, and it hints at a longing for perpetual flora, which would be absent for the majority of the year, and when in blossom only able to be appreciated through the pane of a window, while looking out onto the master’s garden.
Emma Westwood (Jane Austen Society Member)