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Book Review: Jane may spoil Jane Eyre

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Charlotte Brontë’s much-beloved classic, “Jane Eyre,” is, understandably, very challenging to see under a modern pretext.

Published in 1847, it is contemporary with times that are now nearly two centuries removed from today’s readers. In an attempt to connect this well-loved tale with its present audience, English professor and aspiring author, Ms. April Lindner, has written a modern spin-off of Jane Eyre, entitled “Jane.”

“Jane” was published in 2010 and takes place in the eastern United States. The setting alone provides a sharp contrast to cold, dreary, yet placidly beautiful England. However, this lone point does not succeed in even scratching the surface of the differences between the two novels. Though they may seem quite comparable when taken at face value, a closer and more discerning look reveals that “Jane” should perhaps be considered a mockery of, not a tribute to, “Jane Eyre.”

On almost all matters of plot, “Jane” is faithful to its model. An orphaned, moderately educated, and financially troubled young woman leaves an unloving and abusive family to become the nanny of the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy and socially prominent man. In the modern retelling, Lindner shows true originality when creating the necessary class difference between Jane and her master; fans of Brontë’s melancholy hero, Mr. Edward Rochester, are forced to chuckle when they see that Lindner has recast him as a world-famous rock star by the name of Nico Rathburn. This example of creativity accounts for one of the challenges to adapting “Jane Eyre” to modern times. However, other roadblocks concerning laws, customs, and viewpoints that are outdated are explained rather weakly, leaving much room for a reader’s common sense and practicality to question the turning of events, which shows quite plainly that Lindner has chosen to sacrifice her characters’ rationality in the name of keeping the story as close to the original as possible.

Lindner has chosen to sacrifice her characters’ rationality in the name of keeping the story as close to the original as possible.

Lindner’s stated purpose in writing “Jane” was both to accredit the genius that is “Jane Eyre” and to draw new readers into checking out Brontë’s classic. In reading and reflecting upon both versions, it seems as if Lindner has failed on both fronts.

Firstly, the main themes that earn “Jane Eyre” so much love and respect are excluded from “Jane.” While the focus of “Jane Eyre” is on preserving one’s integrity even at the expense of one’s happiness, Lindner’s “Jane” makes her choices based on fleeting passions rather than thoughts of integrity. Lindner fails to earn the respect of the reader and sometimes even fails to earn sympathy. Lindner’s Jane is somewhat of an insult to Brontë’s Jane, as her actions scorn the moral convictions Brontë set forth in her novel.

While “Jane” might inspire some curiosity in readers unfamiliar with the story of “Jane Eyre,” it is unlikely to make said readers appreciate Brontë’s masterpiece. In a way similar to watching the movie before reading the book, “Jane” spoils “Jane Eyre,” and, continuing with the movie-and-book analogy, “Jane Eyre” is far superior to Lindner’s “Jane.”

Readers who already know where the story is going and are not caught up in the suspense and anticipation of “Jane Eyre” are unlikely to muddle through the difficult text just to have what they know confirmed. Reading “Jane” before “Jane Eyre” spoils the original and lessens the probability that the reader will finish the classic novel.

While it was undoubtedly interesting to read afterwards and compare with the original, “Jane” is not recommended as a means of warming up to “Jane Eyre.” There is a reason why the original is famous and the spoof is not. Readers should be wary.