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A Pack of Pilots: Going to the Dogs in Jane Eyre – Just Because

As this horse approached, and as I watched for it to appear through the dusk, I remembered certain of Bessie’s tales, wherein figured a North-of-England spirit called a ‘Gytrash,’ which, in the form of horse, mule, or large dog, haunted solitary ways, and sometimes came upon belated travellers, as this horse was now coming upon me. It was very near, but not yet in sight; when, in addition to the tramp, tramp, I heard a rush under the hedge, and close down by the hazel stems glided a great dog, whose black and white colour made him a distinct object against the trees. It was exactly one form of Bessie’s Gytrash – a lion-like creature with long hair and a huge head: it passed me, however, quietly enough; not staying to look up, with strange pretercanine eyes, in my face, as I half expected it would.

Ah, Pilot – the animal extension of the Byronically volatile Mr. Rochester of Thornfield Hall. His familiar, as it were. Pilot’s presence plays such a significant role in three rather pivotal points in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, that I thought it worthwhile to examine his depiction in film.

RELATED: A ROUND-UP OF MR. ROCHESTERS – JUST BECAUSE

It is Pilot, who is the forerunner of his master, the harbinger of the man to come on that misty lane in the fading light. It is the sight of Pilot at Thornfield that hits it home to Jane that the grumpy stranger on the lane is none other than the heretofore unknown master of the house, Mr. Rochester himself. And it is Pilot who recognizes and greets the returning Jane; Pilot now the eyes of the blind Edward. “Pilot knows me,” says Jane to the wondering Rochester.

Ah, yes, Pilot knows.

So, the Silver Petticoat Review is going to the dogs today. Here it is, a veritable pack of Pilots as depicted onscreen. Just because.

* And just a quick little note, before we go to the dogs. My dog source is my hound-loving father, who has made his best-educated guesses based upon the photos here. Especially when it comes to apparent crossbreeds, it’s hard to know what exactly is “in” the dog. Yeah, this is my way of saying that there may be some mistakes in our identifications. So, doggonit, do pipe up in the comments, if you see a glaring error.


A Pack of Pilots – Just Because

(In Chronological Order)


1943 – Great Dane

The first intimidating appearance of Pilot out of the mist on the lane in Jane Eyre (1943). Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Orson Welles’ barrel-chested Rochester towers over his Jane, as does his harlequin giant of a dog.

Great Danes are German mastiffs known for their enormous size. Descended from boarhounds of ancient times, Great Danes were traditionally bred and trained to hunt wild boars, bears, and deer.

Although impressively powerful and outwardly intimidating animals, Great Danes are often referred to as the world’s largest lapdogs. They’re pretty laid-back dogs, taking it easy, generally getting on well with others, be they two-legged or four-legged. They don’t always seem to know their own strength or size, though.

So, a frolicking, physical-attention-seeking Great Dane is very much a handful or two or three.

Breed traits:

Height: Male 30-31” (76-79 cm); Female 28-30” (71-76 cm)

Weight: Male 110-180 lbs (50-82 kg); Female 110-180 lbs (50-82 kg)

Lifespan: 8-10 years


1970 – Great Dane

The blind Rochester (George C. Scott) seeking solace from Pilot. Photo Credit: British Lion Film Corporation.

Pilot’s a fawn-colored beauty of a Great Dane, looking decidedly younger than his grey-haired master in this Jane Eyre adaptation.

See above for more information on Great Danes.


1973 – Irish Wolfhound

Pilot and Mr. Rochester (Michael Jayston) are about the same size in this 1973 adaptation of Jane Eyre. Photo Credit: BBC.

Slight Michael Jayston’s Mr. Rochester is dwarfed by this hairy, grey giant.

Irish Wolfhounds are an ancient breed, with suggestions that they were brought to Ireland as early as 7000 BC. As their name suggests, they were bred to hunt wolves and are powerful, intimidating creatures. They are the largest of the sighthounds. A sighthound or gazehound is a breed of dog that hunts primarily by sight and speed and, among those breeds, can be found the fastest dogs on the planet.

RELATED: LITERARY ROMANTIC MOMENT: JANE RETURNS TO MR. ROCHESTER

Irish Wolfhounds are individualists, quirky creatures, highly intelligent and generally easygoing. “Gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked,” is the historical motto for this breed. So, they’re gentle giants, introverts, but fiercely loyal to and protective of their families/masters. If neglected by their families, left alone, they can become depressed and destructive.

Remind you of a certain Brontë Byronic hero?

Breed traits:

Height: Male 32-34” (81-86 cm); Female 28-30” (71-76 cm)

Weight: Male 120 lbs (54 kg); Female 90-105 lbs (41-48 kg)

Lifespan: 6-10 years


1983 – English Springer Spaniel Cross

Mr. Rochester (Timothy Dalton) enjoying a moment with his cute little companion, Pilot. Photo Credit: BBC.

Except for his black-and-white coloring, this friendly, eager, little mopsy is grossly miscast as the forbidding, fear-inducing, leonine Pilot.

My father was somewhat in doubt as to what cross this Pilot is, but he’s pretty sure that he’s mostly English Springer Spaniel.

RELATED: 10 FANTASTIC REASONS TO WATCH THE 1983 JANE EYRE ADAPTATION

English Springer Spaniels are gun dogs, which means they are bred and trained to assist hunters. They flush out fowl from their hiding places and they retrieve downed birds. “Springer” stems from their hunting role, in scaring the birds, springing them into the air, where the sights of a rifle can take aim. They’re medium-sized, compact dogs, alert, attentive and companionable. Springer spaniels are quick to learn, eager to please and willing to obey; they train well. Highly sociable, if left alone too long, they get bored. And boredom leads to mischief.

Breed traits:

Height: Male 18-20” (46-51 cm); Female 17-19” (43-48 cm)

Weight: Male 50-55 lbs (23-25 kg); Female 35-45 lbs (16-20 kg)

Lifespan: 10-15 years


1996 – Belgian Shepherd, more specifically Tervuren

Pilot appearing on the lane in Franco Zeffirelli’s adaptation of the Brontë classic (1996). Photo Credit: Miramax.

Our morose, near-tears Rochester gets a guarding protector with this Pilot, the only herd dog in the pack.

Tervurens/Belgian Shepherds, as their name suggests, are herding dogs, bred and trained to corral sheep. These shepherds are highly sensitive to their environments, alert and watchful, making formidable guard dogs. Highly intelligent and super energetic, these are dogs that need activity and structure, that need something to do, a purpose.

RELATED: JANE EYRE (1996): A HANDSOME, BUT CHILLY ADAPTATION OF A BRONTË CLASSIC

They form strong bonds with their families/masters but can be rather nervous and shy around outsiders. So, they are not the world’s most easily sociable dogs, but they are very trainable and obedient. They can be taught, but teaching requires time and devotion. So, Tervurens are often seen as high maintenance animals.

I suppose having a Byronic hero as a lover is also rather high maintenance.

Breed traits:

Height: Male 24-26” (61-66 cm); Female 22-24” (56-61 cm)

Weight: Male 56 lbs (26 kg); Female 44-55 lbs (20-25 kg)

Lifespan: 10-12 years


1997 – Landseer Newfoundland

A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society, oil on canvas, by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, 1838. Tate Collection. The breed gets its name from this painting and the artist’s name.

There was much to criticize in this adaptation of Jane Eyre, but with the casting of Pilot, they hit the nail on the proverbial head. This is the Pilot of Charlotte Brontë’s original description.

RELATED: JANE EYRE (1997): LOATHE IT OR LOVE IT – AN ADAPTATION THAT GROWS ON YOU

Gentle giants, Landseer Newfoundland dogs were traditionally bred and trained for swimming, used by fishermen to tow nets to shore. They’re powerful dogs, hardy, agile, courageous, intelligent and generous. Landseers are known for their sweet temperaments and devotion to their families/masters. Playful, patient and sociable, they are great with kids. Although they can be a bit difficult to train – they are very sensitive to vocal tones – and nothing will keep them from getting wet. They love water.

Breed traits:

Height: Male 28-31” (72-80 cm); Female 26-28” (67-72 cm)

Weight: Male 143-176 lbs (65-80 kg); Female 110-150 lbs (50-70 kg)

Lifespan: Under 10 years


2006 – Scottish Deerhound

The happy ending. Pilot with his family in Jane Eyre (2006). Photo Credit: BBC.

Disclaimer: I grew up with Scottish Deerhounds, have hugged and cuddled and loved beyond measure more than a few. So, it is decidedly with a good portion of bias that I say that the best adaptation of Jane Eyre also has the best Pilot. Even though he’s not completely true to the source material. He’s a fine adaptation!

Scottish Deerhounds, like Irish Wolfhounds, are an ancient breed of sighthounds, with roots going long back before we humans started keeping records. As their name suggests, they were bred and trained to hunt deer, to course or pursue deer by sight, running them down. A Scottish Deerhound in full stride is indeed a sight to behold.

RELATED: JANE EYRE (2006) TENTH ANNIVERSARY REVIEW – THE DEFINITIVE ADAPTATION?

Deerhounds – for all their intimidating looks – are incredibly friendly and docile creatures. They love to laze about and are eager to please. And they love to give chase. Getting them to call off the chase can be a bit of problem sometimes. Without exercise, they can get a bit destructive and irritable. They thrive with companionship, especially another dog, and are very loyal, longsuffering and loving.

Wait, did I just describe our dear Jane there?

Breed traits:

Height: Male 30-32” (76-81 cm); Female 28” (72 cm)

Weight: Male 85-110 lbs (39-50 kg); Female 75-95 lbs (34-43 kg)

Lifespan: 8-9 years


2011 – Golden Retriever-Labrador Cross, a so-called Goldador

The wounded Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender) with his faithful Pilot by his side. Photo Credit: BBC Films.

Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are two very popular gun dogs, hunting dogs traditionally bred and trained to do as their names suggest and retrieve, retrieve the downed fowl. Goldadors, as the hybrid of these two hunting breeds, carry the same attributes as their parents.

They’re faithful, companionable, fast learners, obedient, intelligent and are used widely as service dogs. These are dogs that require activity, a purpose, work of some sort, training. Alert and observant enough to make good watchdogs, goldadors are hopeless guard dogs; they’re too friendly. Their friendliness can border on excitability at times.

RELATED: JANE EYRE (2011): POETRY IN MOTION IN TIGHT BREECHES

Goldadors are people dogs. They thrive on human contact. And in their haste to come in contact with humans, they can sometimes be a bit rambunctious. This can be trained out of them.

So, the standoffish Rochester has the world’s friendliest furball? There must be something there.

Breed traits:

Height: 22-24” (56-61 cm)

Weight: 60-80 lbs (27-36 kg)

Lifespan: 10-12 years


Do you have a favorite adaptation of Jane Eyre as well as a favorite Pilot? A favorite dog? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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By on October 24th, 2018

About Jessica Jørgensen

A lover of words, stories and storytellers since her youth and just plain curious by nature, Jessica embarked on a very long academic journey that took her across a continent (from Canada's west coast to its east) and even to the other side of the globe, where she currently lives an expat existence in Denmark. She now trails many fancy initials behind her name, if she ever cares to use them, and continues to be ever so curious. She's a folklorist, a mother, a wife, a middle child, a small town girl, a beekeeper, an occasional quilter, a jam-maker. She curates museum exhibits, gets involved in many cultural projects for this and that, collects oral histories when she can find the time and continues to love stories in all their many and varied forms. The local librarians all know her by name.

More posts by this author.

6 thoughts on “A Pack of Pilots: Going to the Dogs in Jane Eyre – Just Because”

  1. What a fun idea for an article! I hadn’t realized how much the Pilots vary in each adaptation. I must say, not only is the 2006 version my favorite, but I also think this Pilot best fits the story. Dark, gothic looking and bit rough around the edges, but hiding a soft heart.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Brittaney. I have a father who always looks at the dogs in films, always naming what they are, etc. He’s one of those annoying men in the movie theater, who will be mentioning such things out loud…So, in all my many viewings of Jane Eyre adaptations, I started noticing the many and varying Pilots (-:

      Reply
      • Jessica, your Father must be a top bloke who knows his dogs. Suffice to say, I have the same habit. I have rescued many dogs in Thailand, and have my own pack of 10 rescues, ranging from a German Shepherd (Heroic Rintintin circa 1960 lookalike) to Thai Ridgebacks, to a tiny long haired Chihuahua, and a Dandie Dinmont Terrier. I love dogs in literature and movies, provided they don’t get hurt. I agree with the author that Pilot is really a black and white Newfoundland, as depicted by Landseer. Though the Harlequin Great Dane would also be a good choice, but not so much on the cold, bleak Yorkshire Hills.

        Reply
        • (-: Oh, my father is rather a top bloke, Stewart. Sounds like you have a good pack to keep you busy. My own father is down to one dog these days, but he’s had his fair share of packs through the years. Thanks for the feedback!

          Reply
  2. Watched a marathon of Jane Eye adaptations – 2006, 1997 and 1983 yesterday and was watching the 1943 version this evening as I began wondering about the different dogs used in each movie and found myself on this blog.

    Reply
    • That’s about the same for me — was also bingeing on Jane Eyre adaptations a couple of years back and started noticing all the Pilots (-: Then I reread the novel, thinking about Pilot and his role. And this is the result. Thanks for reading (-:

      Reply

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