Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Jane Eyre. The Graphic Novel - A review

Our thanks to Classical Comics Ltd. for sending us a review copy of each of these books.
Jane Eyre. The Graphic Novel
Charlotte Brontë
Script Adaptation: Amy Corzine
Artwork: John M Burns
Lettering: Terry Wiley

Design & Layout: Jo Wheeler & Carl Andrews
Publishing Assistant: Joanna Watts
Additional Information: Karen Wenborn
Editor in Chief: Clive Bryant

UK Publication Date: 29th September 2008
Format: 144 pages
full colour, paperback
246x168mm
Versions: Original Text (abridged) and Quick Text (2 different books)
Cover Price: £9.99


This comic adaptation of Jane Eyre belongs to an ambitious project carried out by Classical Comics whose aim is to bring to young people great works of British literature (following the guidelines of the UK syllabus) in a more attractive and exciting format. But we know what you are thinking - this is not the first time that we have heard of something similar. And you are right. However, this is not just one more honest (or not) effort. What Classical Comics is trying to do is not only entice young readers to read, giving them a glimpse of the classics, but trying to do all that with quality and high standards in the art department as well as in the scripts. All their releases appear at least in two versions: Original Text, where the original novel or play is abridged but most of the times quoted almost verbatim and a Quick Text version which might be more controversial in its editorial decisions(1).

Focusing now on Jane Eyre, the first thing we realises as soon as we had the graphical novel in our hands was that this adaptation was one of the Brontë events of the year. It is a long (long) way from other comic adaptations of Jane Eyre(2). Not only because the book is beautifully presented but also because, despite the unavoidable abridging, this adaptation is over 130 pages (which clearly shows the scope and ambition of this enterprise) divided into 38 chapters, exactly like the original novel(3).

We have been pleasantly surprised by the Original Text script adaptation which manages to aptly quote not just dialogues but also several descriptions and as much of Charlotte Brontë's beautiful, unique prose as possible. Of course, this also constitutes one of our main concerns about the Quick Text version (and about many other juvenile/abridged adaptations). If you extirpate Charlotte’s own memorable words from the story, what are you left with exactly? Only the bare bones of the story, which may retain some of the grace of the full body, but are not as exciting or interesting to look at and examine.

Both the script adaptation by Amy Corzine and the artwork by John M. Burns are highly respectful to the original novel, something which was practically a must in a collection named Classical Comics. There is no trace of any of the many critical readings which the novel has known since its publication. There are no parallels between the Red Room scene (which is somewhat of a disappointment in the final version of the comic(4)) and Bertha's imprisonment, and Bertha is treated in a pre-Wide Sargasso Sea fashion. She's nothing but the mad woman in the attic, the maniac... even her character profile is nothing short of a beast. The absence of a personal reading of the novel should not be understood as a drawback but as a conscious choice. Nowadays we are so used to subjective interpretations in most adaptations that an objective one is quite a rara avis(5).

As opposed to other comic adaptations of the novel meant for young readers (like the 1941 or 1962 Classics Illustrated versions) the structure of this version doesn't overdo Jane Eyre's childhood. For instance, Norbert Bachleitner shows in Jane Eyre For Young Readers. Three Illustrated Adaptations(6) how the 1941 Classics Illustrated version devotes 50% just to describe the childhood episodes. Classical Comics Jane Eyre devotes just 23% (as compared to 17% in the original novel). The other main stages of Jane Eyre's story are distributed like this: Thornfield Hall: 42% in the comic vs 51% in the novel, Moor House: 13% vs 22%, and probably the most relevant difference in this new version: the Ferndean Manor scenes represent 18% of the comic, whereas they are a mere 7% of the novel. This may be a conscious decision, taking into account that rushed endings are among the most common criticisms to different Jane Eyre adaptations.

The watercolours by John M. Burns are completely in keeping with the script adaptation. His artwork is beautiful, clear and always illustrative(7). His choice of colours and general style evoke even a period-look not at all unrelated to the traditional kind of drawing and colouring used by Mr Burns as opposed to other more modern techniques, such as the one used by Dame Darcy in her illustrations of Jane Eyre. As Bear Alley has noticed in his review, Burns's work tries to bring to life not only the main events but also the imagery of fairies and green men with which Jane is associated by Rochester or the many bird metaphorical allusions of the novel(8) as well as Jane's drawings or dreams.

We have noticed, however, that this Jane Eyre is somewhat beautified in some of the illustrations, but not so much so that it interferes with the narrative. Along this line, we have also observed that her eyes are depicted à la Rochester, that is, hazel rather than green(9). Like Jane, we also excuse the mistake.

Both editions include a short but rather good biography on Charlotte Brontë(10), a Brontë family tree, a chronology and a letter from Charlotte to her publisher dated 24th September 1947, concerning the first part of Jane Eyre.

It is said that a book review should judge the book for what it set out to achieve, not for what the reader expected of it. In this case, we can confidently say that Classical Comics have both achieved, by and large, what they aimed at when they conceived this project, and have earned - or should earn - any lover of Jane Eyre's respect by treating this well-loved novel with such respect and care. But it doesn't stop there: they are also paving the way for future lovers of Jane Eyre who will find - to their amazement, no doubt - that the classics in general and Jane Eyre in particular are not dead things of the past, but stories very much alive and enjoyable. For our part, what can we say? We are extremely looking forward to Classical Comics' forthcoming Wuthering Heights, but preferably in the Original Text edition.

Notes

(1) The Shakespeare adaptations are also published in plain text editions.
(2) An incomplete list would include such titles as Classics Illustrated, No 39, Illustrated by Harley M. Griffiths, 1947; Classics Illustrated No 39, Illustrated by H.J. Kihl, 1962; Jane Eyre, Limewire Graphics, Ed. Philip Page & Marilyn Petit, Hodder & Staughton, 2003.
(3) Except for the prologue (not in the original novel) which recounts the facts pertaining to Jane Eyre's parents and Mrs Reed's promise to keep her as her own daughter.
(4) Somewhat unexpected because the scene both visually and dramatically leaves a lot to the imagination.
(5) We are aware that this is a naïve interpretation because even an objective reading is a reading of sorts. Furthermore, the script - consciously or unconsciously - excises some of the best-known quotations from the novel. The comic doesn't begin with the famous There was no possibility of taking a walk that day... and, though rephrased, the Quick Text version is more similar to the original opening than the Original Text version. The women feel just as men feel speech is absent as well. There isn't even a Reader, I married him -it has been subsituted by a more laconic I married him in the Original Text version and by a more to-the-point We had a quiet wedding in the Quick Text version. Also on the negative side we can quote several French typos in Adèle's speeches (p. 40). By the way, in the Quick Text version Adèle's French becomes a laughable parody of English with French accent.
(6) A Breath of Fresh Eyre. Intertextual and Intermedial Reworkings of Jane Eyre. Edited by Margarete Rubik and Elke Mettinger-Schartman,
Rodopi, Amsterdam/New York, NY, 2007.
(7) Curiously enough this wasn't the first Brontë experience of John M Burns in his long career in the comics world. He adapted Wuthering Heights for the comic publication Diana for Girls (No 42. 7th December 1963).

(8) Interestingly, the famous I'm no bird... quotation has been left out.
(9) As Rochester says in the novel (ch. XXIV): "... This little sunny-faced girl with the dimpled cheek and rosy lips; the satin-smooth hazel hair, and the radiant hazel eyes?" (I had green eyes, reader; but you must excuse the mistake: for him they were new-dyed, I suppose.)
(10) Curiously, and although it is stated that Charlotte Brontë was pregnant when she died, her death is attributed to tuberculosis, thus overlooking other, most probable causes, particularly hypemeresis gravidarum.

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Comments :

2 comments to “ Jane Eyre. The Graphic Novel - A review ”
Anonymous said...
on  

I have found this excellent review in its entirety on many other sites, such as Amazon and Green Metropolis, but it is never cited. Is this the original source for the review?

Cristina said...
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Yes, this is the original source of the review. Thanks for saying it's excellent!

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