Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte versus Jane by April Lindner

Jane by April Lindner
384 pages
Published October 11th, 2010 by Poppy
Source: Library

(I own a copy of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte)

Synopsis of Jane:

Forced to drop out of an esteemed East Coast college after the sudden death of her parents, Jane Moore takes a nanny job at Thornfield Park, the estate of Nico Rathburn, an iconic rock star on the brink of a huge comeback. Practical and independent, Jane reluctantly becomes entranced by her magnetic and brooding employer, and finds herself in the midst of a forbidden romance. But there’s a mystery at Thornfield, and Jane’s much-envied relationship with Nico is tested by a torturous secret from his past.

Part irresistible romance and part darkly engrossing mystery, this contemporary retelling of the beloved classic Jane Eyre promises to enchant a new generation of readers.

 

Let me start by saying that I love Jane Eyre. There’s something so effortless about the way Bronte weaves her stories that even if I may not like the plot,  the strength of the prose wins me over every single time. The mastery of the words, the beauty of the sentences – all these things make me swoon.

I won’t say that Jane Eyre is timeless. I mean, yes, the themes explored in Jane Eyre are timeless but the actual events? No, not so much. At least, I don’t think so.

Jane retells Jane Eyre from a modern perspective. The character is a nineteen (or perhaps 20?) year old girl who is simply called Jane who, because of financial reasons, finds herself taking a position as a nanny at Thornfield Park (or just read the synopsis).

In Jane Eyre, Bronte introduces the reader to Jane when she was a young child. This lets the reader experience the sparseness of Jane’s childhood, her sufferings at boarding school; the reader is able to witness the growth of her character from a precocious child to a dignified young lady who keeps her inner feelings repressed. Who can forget the scene in the parlour when Jane finally spits outrage at her aunt for the vile things she has had done to her? Or that scene at boarding school where Jane disobeys and does not understand why she is being punished? Or that poignant scene when Jane says goodbye to her only friend at  boarding school. Because the readers accompany Jane through her formative years and are with her as she undergoes traumatic experiences, understanding her character, why she does and says things, why she reacts to things the way she does, becomes easier to understand.

Lindner, on the other hand, does not devote as much time to Modern Jane in her childhood and therefore sacrifices a gradual development of character. The readers are, instead, presented with a cold, remote Jane who we are told has suffered through certain indignities and cruelties due to neglectful parents and horrendous siblings. I could not relate to this Jane. I mean, I could understand the reason for her coldness but it wasn’t something that led me to empathize with her. If we had been shown some of her childhood, been present with her as she grew up and experienced these painful things, then yes, I’d be more sympathetic. Linder does away with the boarding school, the female friend (why am I not surprised?) and the episodes where Jane evinces the fiery spark that makes the original so compelling. Instead, we have a modern Jane, a very boring creature who, shows no awareness that she lives in the 21st century in the United States. I was not able to believe that she had to become a nanny even if she really did not want to. I mean, there are such things as student loans and state colleges. Flip burgers at a fastfood joint. Tutor kids. There are many more ways to earn a living than having to be a nanny. In the past, women had very few ways to earn money and that is not true any more.

Moving along, Nico Rathburn. Yeah. Hm. Right. No. He didn’t work for me. I’m sorry. I don’t like Rochester and I definitely do not like Nico Rathburn. In fact, I dislike Nico Rathburn even more because he’s just so sleazy and nasty and not–just, excuse me, ugh. She’s 19 years old; he’s worldly and experienced. Sure, if you argue that her innocence attracted him but…it’s still creepy. Also, this Jane, as I have mentioned, is tremendously boring.

In the original, the relationship between Jane and Rochester, though immensely problematic, has a certain charm to it. Rochester is a deeply flawed character and wins no points in my book but I will grudgingly admit that he is interesting. Nico Rathburn, on the other hand, behaves in a manner not befitting his age or his position. Which is not impossible I know but it doesn’t make him swoony or dreamy.  There’s no charm in his behaviour and I found more deplorable than anything else.

Moving along to the woman in the attic. In this day and age, keeping the crazy wife at home? Not so probable.  Nico says “I’ve seen those places, they’re horrible.” He’s a very affluent man able to afford people who will treat his wife with kindness – people who KNOW what they are doing instead of that undercover-alcoholic, not very responsible caretaker who seems to be too drunk to keep a proper eye on her. If he loves and respects his wife that much, he can illustrate this love and respect by keeping her in a place (with proper medication and professional help) where she’ll have at least a semblance of happiness. This is the 21st century. That kind of reasoning just does not work in this instance. Perhaps there was a need for a deviation from the original to maintain the credibility. In Original Jane Eyre, it works because the modern reader can accept that things have not progressed as far as they have today but in these times, it’s not probable. Not impossible but not something you’d expect someone like Nico Rathburn to do.

And St. John. He’s kind of an ass, isn’t he? I thought that in the original novel too. He seems more ridiculous in this contemporary retelling than he did in the original. The only reason he wants to take Jane along with him to Haiti is because he doesn’t want to be alone there; he wants someone he can talk to over there. The insinuation is that no one in Haiti will have the mental capability of providing good conversation to St. John because he certainly isn’t in love with Jane. In fact, he wants her along for his own convenience. There are other aid missions in Haiti with people he can talk to if the natives do not measure up to his standards. (-_-)

I feel that there’s a distinct difference in the culture that Jane Eyre was written in and for, and the one Jane is written in and for. Jane, the modern version, has been written for a culture that is part of a time past. And that is why it does not work. Jane Eyre answered to the desire women had for strength; it was a relevant piece for that time period and that’s what made it successful. Another reason for it’s continued success, I’d argue is Jane’s character – that strength she illustrates by running away from Rochester, surviving on her own and then going back to be him as a woman, capable of directing her own destiny. She chooses to return to him. This Jane does not show that strength of character. In fact, I remember her saying that she does not know why she ran away. That negates all the necessary growth (or in this case, lack of it) that she did while away.

A successful modern version would have retained the themes apparent in Jane Eyre and known when to deviate from the original and when to retain the plot. It would have successfully addressed the contemporary issues or found a way to address the questions of logic that this one ignored. Jane would have been a woman that evoked admiration and sparked in her readers a desire to emulate. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it did not. The original Jane has a vibrancy that she keeps suppressed. This Jane…well…

 

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