Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Jane Eyre is one of my all time favorite novels. The first time I read it, I was in high school, and I liked it so much that as soon as I (weepingly) finished the last page, I immediately began rereading it. I've probably read it a dozen times since then (addictive personality, what?) and each time it evokes new emotions, new questions. Why does Jane, the most sensible person in the world, not try harder to get a direct answer out of Rochester about the mystery in the attic before agreeing to marry him? Is Bertha's madness purely due to genetics or does Rochester has some culpability for bringing her out of her natural habitat in the exotic West Indies into oppressive Victorian England? What does it say about gender in 19th Century England that Jane and Rochester can't get together until Rochester has been made a cripple, robbed of his physical robustness and independent lifestyle?
April Lindner's Jane is a modern day, YA-geared take on Bronte's classic, in which Jane Moore is a 19 year old nanny to ultra-famous rockstar Nico Rathburn. It just so happened that I was in the midst of an 8th or 9th honeymoon with the original (inspired by the new Masterpiece Theater adaptation, by far the best one out there in my opinion) when I heard about this book. I preordered Jane on my Kindle and counted down the days until it was released. After which I sat down and read it in one sitting (yesterday).
Jane is enjoyable and frustrating at the same time. Lindner does do justice to the main characters - although perhaps more so to Jane than Rathburn. I was impressed, for the most part, at how well both characters' voices translated from Victorian English into modern day American vernacular (though I did miss phrases like "Deuce take me!"). Rathburn is still prone to the vulgar outbursts and ironic quips that have made female readers of the original swoon for nearly 200 years--and Jane still responds to him with that calm, succinctly worded logic that we all wish we could possess in the face of such a dead-sexy (if occasionally violent) master.
While I do adamantly believe that it's essential in these types of projects for the characters to stay true to the original, I find it irritating when the plot is a direct replica. And this is where Jane failed for me. Every single scene that happened in Jane Eyre is replicated in Jane, such that it's impossible to ever, for even a moment, stop comparing the two. And in doing so, Jane, of course, always falls short. The whole idea of turning Rochester into a rockstar was a creative spin on the 19th century English aristocrat concept, but that's about where Lindner's imagination ends. She should have been bolder, more confident in her own creative abilities, and less chained to Bronte's plot in its every minute detail.
Let's consider for a moment another modern day adaptation of a 19th century English classic: Clueless. Here, the characters are recognizable to those in Emma, and by the end of the movie they basically end up at the same place as they did in Emma. But along the way there are numerous variations, so that you really can forget for huge gaps of time that you're watching a "remake." Clueless can stand alone as a great movie in its own right, whereas Jane will never be more than a carbon copy of Jane Eyre.
That's not to say Jane isn't a fun read, or a thought-provoking one either. I liked Lindner's interpretation of the relationship between Rochester and Bertha (Bibi, here). Bibi is not just some lunatic with a genetic disorder - she's a woman that Rathburn actually deeply loved, once upon a time, and, we're led to believe, could love again if she could ever be cured from her insanity. Rathburn's negative influence (through the drugs, alcohol, and generally wild lifestyle of a rockstar) on her was a direct cause of her descent into madness, and he has never been able to forgive himself for it. The true history of Rochester and Bertha is one of the biggest mysteries of Jane Eyre and I found Lindner's take on it very interesting and believable.
For me, aside from the boring scene-by-scene imitation of Jane Eyre, the other low point was the final few chapters. Without giving away any spoilers, I'll just say that these final chapters seemed rushed and lacking in feeling compared to the rest, which was very disappointing for me, as I am always overcome with emotion when reading the final chapters of Jane Eyre.