I was going to post this for Valentine’s Day, but then I spent that day editing my master thesis and also cleaning out the drain of my shower which was clogged engaging in a number of fabulous, glamorous and very, very romantic activities, so I never got around to it.
But my idea was that I would share with you some of my favourite romantic pieces of literature. That would make a good top 5 or top 10, I figured. Except once I tried to come up with 5 or 10 examples I realized that I’m not in the habit of reading romantic novels. When I sit down to read it’s usually a novel about a decadent literature critic who goes on a self-destructive drunken rampage. Or the story of an ornamental woman who is slowly killed by the society that created her. Or even a short story about a neurotic Fillyjonk. I don’t read a lot of romance stories. Now, maybe this is simply because I’m a cold cynic who scorns the concept of love. Or maybe – and I think this is more likely to be the answer – maybe I’ve already got all the romance I need covered by just one book, namely Jane Eyre.
Because Jane Eyre remains the most satisfyingly romantic novel I’ve ever read, and I doubt it that anything more romantic will ever be written. And the reason why it’s so romantic is that the description of the relationship between Jane and Mr Rochester is such an incredible, ahead-of-its-time piece of feminist art. Charlotte Brontë very carefully resists ever getting Jane and Rochester together before they can face each other as equals, never stooping to let the woman come out as the victim or the damsel in distress. While never compromising a literary style that transcends any sense of something predictable or schematic, she carefully weighs Jane and Rochester against one another until she finds that their power over one another is perfectly balanced. Tricking Jane into believing that you’re marrying a rich, conceited bitch, are you, Rochester? Well, Brontë will make sure that Jane has a chance to trick you into believing that she’s marrying a frigid, classically handsome minister. And so forth.
And let’s face it, Charlotte Brontë hadn’t even needed to go through all that trouble. I mean, come on. She totally had us at the proposal scene. Anyone who’s ever read that proposal scene will be ready for Jane and Rochester to just go ahead and get married right away. Yeah, sure, it’s obvious that Edward is hiding something from Jane and that Jane would always be the Servant who was Swept Away by the Master if the marriage were to take place at this point. But it’s romantic enough that we’re willing to overlook that. But Charlotte Brontë isn’t, and that’s why Charlotte Brontë wrote this novel and we didn’t. And also why unlike most romantic novels, Jane Eyre never leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth, and you can read it over and over again and still find new details to gush over and love.
But the novel wasn’t really what I wanted to write about. There are whole (excellent!) blogs dedicated to Brontë novels already. No, what I wanted to write about was Timothy Dalton and the fact that he is the definitive Edward Rochester. Timothy Dalton played Mr Edward Fairfax Rochester in the BBC television series adaptation from 1983. Now, that series may have had its faults: It’s from that BBC era in which all the outdoors scenes still looked as if they were filmed with somebody’s home video camera, and while Zelah Clarke looked right for the part of Jane, she just wasn’t much of an actress in my opinion and wasn’t convincing in the dramatic scenes to me. But it’s a pretty great adaptation apart from these little peeves, and even if it hadn’t been, it would have had its raison d’être in Timothy Dalton’s Rochester, because he simply nails that part. There have been other great Rochesters, most notably Toby Stephens and William Hurt, but Dalton is in a league of his own. Dalton is so great in the dramatic scenes that you hardly even notice Clarke. Just look at this scene (major spoilers ahoy!):
But the thing with Rochester is that he isn’t just dramatic and angsty all the time, a walking, brooding enigma the mysteries of whom poor little Jane can only hope one day to fully understand. He’s also a really funny guy, and one of the things that make Jane and Rochester seem like convincing equals is the fact that Brontë has managed to describe them as a couple that actually have fun together. Rochester has a sense of humour, and Jane shares it, and this is partly what makes them respect each other. And Timothy Dalton carries off this part of the relationship wonderfully:
I *heart* his amused expression after “You little niggard!”! Dalton has that humourous twinkle in his eyes that William Hurt’s melancholy portrayal just doesn’t deliver, while his haunted declaration that Jane’s farewell is “blank! and cool!” has a gravity to it that Toby Stephens lacks. I also love how elegantly Dalton plays off the problematic governess/master relation that I always felt was an important factor in this scene. While Jane is acutely aware that she, as a governess, lingers somewhere ambiguously and dangerously between being a member of the household and a mere servant, Dalton’s Rochester is more than willing to gloss over the issue, and thus he first smirks when Jane tries to be all business about her salary, and then gets frustrated when Jane coolly and professionally executes her job as a governess, “teach[ing him]” how to say a goodbye.
Luckily, it’s not goodbye forever, though, and man does Dalton give good romance in the proposal scene. Best Rochester kiss ever:
“As we are. So… so, Jane!”
So, yeah. I like Timothy Dalton. I think he’s a sophisticated actor with a wide range. I also think that this made him the most underrated James Bond ever. I guess Sean Connery will always be the definitive Bond, but Timothy Dalton is my personal favourite Bond. If I were to be a Bond girl and I could choose between all the Bonds, this is the Bond I would go for. He even gets the subtle humour of Mozart operas – look at him laughing heartily during Le Nozze di Figaro!
“LMAO! I can’t wait till Marcellina realises that Figaro is really her long-lost son in the third act. Da Ponte’s writing cracks me the hell up.” That’s clearly what Bond whispers to Kara at 2:53 in the scene. While the other Bonds may be good at maneuvering in the boudoir, Dalton’s 007 also challenges his women intellectually and can hold his own in an opera house, and his interaction with Kara the Cellist in The Living Daylights is the best Bond/Bond girl interaction in the history of Bond, if you ask me. License to Kill was a pretty bad movie (sharks? What the hell?), but Dalton is great even in that one. I particularly like the subtle agony he displays as Bond finds out that his friend’s wife has been raped and murdered on her wedding night: James’s own bride Tracy was killed on her wedding night as well, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and Dalton is the only 007 who’s been dark and sophisticated enough to pay any convincing hommage to this part of the Bond backstory.
The one question remains: What happened to Timothy? Why has the world been so poor at administering this talent that Dalton had to stoop to playing Rhett Butler in that ridiculous Gone With the Wind sequel Scarlett in 1994? And, even worse, to playing the male lead in a 1997 comedy called The Beautician and The Beast opposite Fran f-ing Drescher??!
That’s just plain wrong, if you ask me. But at least now there’s a fan page for Dalton on facebook. I’ve joined it, and so can you – link is here.