Jane SlayreIt's the sign of the times. Postmodern literature (with its main focus on irony, scepticism, metafiction, deconstruction in Derrida's sense where any text is open to repeated and not coincident interpretations...) is coming to an end and the current paradigm is shifting again to what has been called post-postmodernism characterised, according to Mikhail Epstein, by the re-birth of utopia after its own death, after its subjection to postmodernism's severe scepticism, relativism and its anti-utopian consciousness(1). And it is a current trend in any change of paradigm that the dying model play its last card taking no hostages. Giving it all it's got and burning its bridges. Mashup literature is as much a symptom as the logical conclusion of the most extreme and literal interpretation of postmodernism. In recent years we have lived an ecclosion of dozens of titles starting with the seminal work of Seth Grahame-Smith Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and continuing with many others: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Android Karenina, Alice in Zombieland, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim, Little Vampire Women...(2)
by Sherri Browning Erwin and Charlotte Brontë
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
(13 April 2010, US / 29 April 2010, UK
It's a phenomenon that is not exactly new as we can trace many other examples of mashup in comics and cinema (and quite obviously in music and art). Jess Nevins's League of the Extraordinary Gentlemen, Paul Di Filippo's Steampunk Trilogy... William Beaudine's western-meets-horror films of the sixties: Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter or Billy the Kid versus Dracula, the Universal monster mashup movies of the late 1940s, etc(3).
Mashup literature (when it uses classics like Austen, Brontë, Twain, Alcott, etc...) is obviously quite related to fan-fiction but should not be considered a legitimate version or a mass market version of fanfic. The audiences are quite different. Fan-fiction is created and addressed to a public who knows by heart the original works and enjoys creating imaginative (or not) deviations. Mashup literature is addressed to a general audience, particularly the ones that will never read a classic. We don't really think that the vast majority of the audience that reads the new version will feel the need to read the original. In this sense its (legitimate) purpose is unlike, for instance, the different comic adaptations that from time to time spring up.
In this context we have the recent publication of Jane Slayre by Charlotte Brontë and Sherri Browning Erwin. Of course the double authorship gives caché and is sellable but we are not talking here of the original novel with a few suppresions and several additions(4), the novel is a complete rewriting of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. There are fragments that are kept identical (not the most iconic, which are quite modified) but the general impression is that the narrative has been abridged or trivialised, the language simplified and the structure shifted to increased dialogued parts at the expense of the meticulous descriptions of Charlotte Brontë which are systematically axed. Nonetheless, the language and tone of the novel are consistent and the two authors are in harmony with no recognisable changes of style.
On the whole, Jane Slayre follows the events of Jane Eyre quite faithfully, changing several circumstances, introducing fantastic elements some of which work better than others. The Gateshead episodes with the vampire Reed family turn out surprisingly well(5), the Lowood zombie splatstick section (which Peter Jackson would have loved in the days of Braindead) is great fun or the St John stake-o-matic moments which are gloriously silly. Nevertheless, the lycanthropy topic in Thornfield Hall is not so successful and particularly the proposal scene of Rochester and Jane is very badly handled. Not only are the passion and emotion of the original lost but the fantastic elements do not accomplish any purpose and do not add anything but subtract a lot. This scene signals the worst moments of a novel which sometimes presents an annoying tendency to introduce an alien element (usually a vampire attack) with methodical periodicity which turns the initial surprise and interest into a routinary appearance of vampires which are quickly disposed of by our heroine(6).
The character of Jane Slayre is altered, modernised (this causes no few creaks in the novel where her reactions and actions cannot be acommodated in the sociohistorical context of the novel) becomes a sort of Victorian Buffy. It will not present any problem for a new reader which does not know the original novel (as the character is well delineated) but it gives a few troubles to the Jane Eyre connaisseur as sometimes Miss Slayre behaves in a way that Miss Eyre would never do. This is a Jane who guesses what is going on in the third storey in the wedding scene, who has few ethical problems when it comes to thinking of disposing of Bertha. A Jane who does not say 'I will scorn your idea of love' to St John. A Jane who does not need to explain to her readers that 'women feel just as men feel' maybe because this is a Jane from the 21st century incarnated in a 18th century heroine.
We would have preferred it if the novel had renounced to the co-authorship of Charlotte Brontë and the retained fragments had been reformulated as a reinvention in an alternate Britain full of strange and dangerous creatures fought by the terrible aliance of the Slayres. Without Charlotte Brontë's self-imposed corset it is likely that Sherri Browning Erwin's narrative would have been freer and more fluent. But, of course, we know what the imperatives of the market are.
Next step: Wuthering Bites.
(1) Mikhail N. Epstein, Alexander A. Genis, Slobodanka M. Vladiv-Glover (Editors), Thomas Epstein (Introduction), Russian Postmodernism: New Perspectives on Late Soviet and Post-Soviet Culture, Berghahn Books, 1998
(2) The Brontës are not immune as apart from Jane Slayre, Sarah Gray's Wuthering Bites or Wuthering Heights and a Werewolf...and a Zombie by Ralph S. King are scheduled to be released this month.
(3) There are also plans for a movie version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or low budget films like Bonnie & Clyde vs Dracula (2008).
(4) Other recent mashups rely too much on the original text limiting themselves to a cut and paste work that transforms the novels into a sort of Frankenstein-like product. Curiously, Mary Shelley's novel is explicitly referenced in Jane Slayre.
(5) What doesn't work so well is the fantastic landscape of this Britain plagued by vampires and zombies where depending on the moment everyone is alert to their dangers or thinks that all these creatures are nothing more than superstitions. Suspension of disbelief needs also coherence.
(6) One has to admit that Jane Slayre's first meeting with St John is much more believable in its context in Sherri Browning Erwin's take than in Charlotte Brontë's original. Nevertheless we cannot but regret that opportunities given by the narrative are not used. The Gytrash myth is curiously not mentioned and possible jokes are overlooked (for instance, the tombstone of Helen Burns with its Resurgam engraving...)
Categories: Books, Jane Eyre, Review, Sequels