Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010 12:03 am by M. in , ,    2 comments
We are very grateful to April Lindner for sending us an ARC of this book:
April Lindner
Poppy Books
# Hardcover: 384 pages
# Publisher: Poppy (October 11, 2010)
# ISBN-10: 0316084204
# ISBN-13: 978-0316084208
She and Mr. Rochester sang a duet."
"Mr. Rochester? I was not aware he could sing."
"Oh! he has a fine bass voice, and an excellent taste for music." (Jane Eyre, Chapter XVI)
April Lindner says in the author's note that she felt the need to write this novel because
Jane Eyre has a lot to say to twenty-first century women and girls. She's such a free thinker, and she never takes the easy way out. (...) My husband and I were musing over why such a great story of love and self-discovery didn't seem to be getting the Pride and Prejudice treatment. I had a theory: some elements of Jane's story seemed hard to bring into twenty-first century America.(1)
Therefore, Jane is created following those premises: as a contemporary retelling of Jane Eyre with the premise of preserving its power of inspiration, its Bildungsroman quality addressed mainly to young (female) teenagers. The successes and failures of the novel should be judged in the light of these intentions and its ability to reach its target audience.

The task of updating Jane Eyre is combined here with the YA reconfiguration of the narrative resulting in a rather coherent but difficult coexistence. Both goals are condensed in the figure of Nico Rathburn, the Rochester-meets-Bruce Springsteen(2) wild bad-boy but who is also a sensitive rock star willing to be saved and redeemed. The media celebrities represent a new nobility and this choice both accomplishes a possible update and grabs the attention of teenagers, who are particularly vulnerable to the wonders of the backstage world.

Jane Eyre is here Jane Moore who, like Charlotte Brontë's original, becomes a nanny not by vocation but by necessity. Her character tries to ressemble her predecessor. She is young and inexperienced but with a strong personality and solid principles. Nevertheless one misses a bit of the passion that Charlotte's Jane exhibited particularly in her stance with the Rivers/St Johns(3). This Jane is not the same who throws an 'I scorn your idea of love' to St John... This Jane is more restrained, which in the end represents an iconic sign of these politically correct times(4).

April Lindner's Jane follows almost literally the events of Jane Eyre which is both satisfying - as this is the author's intention (i.e. a updated retelling) - and frustrating for the experienced reader (which should be borne in mind is not the main target of a novel like this) who knows exactly what is going to happen page after page. Consequently, it is precisely in the few moments where Jane articulates a personal discourse/interpretation of the previous material when the novel flies higher. For instance, April Lindner lets go of the orphan scenario and the Lowood elements and concentrates the (unhappy) childhood of Jane around a dysfunctional family where she never felt valued or loved(5).

The author also softens some of the angles of the original novel which are more dependent on serendipity. We don't have convenient dead uncles or newly-discovered cousins. The building of a familiar relationship between Jane and the St Johns happens in a nice and well-structured way with no need of blood links. There are not fantastic elements either like Rochester's voice travelling into space to be heard by Jane. Here this element is presented in a very convincing way (which, by the way, is very similar to the treatment of the same moment in Elizabeth Sternberg's Sloane Hall).

The main problem with the present retelling concerns the crucial resolution of the Bertha/Bibiana situation in Rochester/Nico's house. In Jane, April Lindner is too faithful to the letter of the book and unable to generate a believable 21st-century context for the madwoman in the attic scenario. And this is no small problem as this moment is the natural turning point of the narrative both in Jane Eyre and in Jane.

Returning to the aforementioned premises under which a novel like this should be judged, we can conclude that as a contemporary update the novel works well (occasionally brilliantly) in general and although it is a matter of debate whether a YA reader who loves Jane will be directed to discover Charlotte Brontë's original, we are certain that said reader will have a very nice time reading it.

(1) In spite of April Lindner's statement, Jane Eyre retellings have appeared with regularity in the last few years (fewer than Austen ones, though). Just listing the most recent ones: Jane Eyre's Daughter (apparently a sequel, but more a retelling), Jillian Dare (a contemporary Christian retelling with which Jane has some common points), Chocolate Roses (an LDS romance), Jane Eyre: The Untold Story (an 'update' of the language and some situations), Sloane Hall (more a recreation than a retelling)...
(2) The Boss is the confessed inspiration for the character of Nico Rathburn. There are several direct or indirect references to Bruce Springsteen: one of the described album covers reminds us very much of The River cover, one of his hits 'Wrong Way Down on a One-Way-Street' seems a combination of two unreleased tracks by Bruce Springsteen from the 1978 Darkness on the Edge of Town album: One Way Street and Wrong Side of the Street (now available on the 2010 album The Promise).
(3) In Jane, the original Rivers are the St Johns and St John Rivers becomes River St John. The missionary trip to India is changed for aid work in Haiti  (which unfortunately renders the book all too contemporary) .
(4) Nevertheless we applaud April Lindner's courage in showing a Jane which is able to accept Nico's sexual advances without losing not a bit of her self-esteem and rationality.
(5) The Red Room in Jane becomes an attic imprisonment which explicitly connects it with Bertha's/Bibiana's confinement in the third storey. A Gilbert & Grubar's Madwoman in the Attic reference? Maybe through Polly Teale's Jane Eyre adaptation?

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  1. Because of my recent Jane Eyre obsession I have been looking forward to ordering and reading this, but now I am not so sure.. I usually like well-done modern adaptations of classics (there aren't so many), but a repeat of the story might be a bit much to read? Anyway, I am unsure if it is usual to leave comments on this blog, but I wanted to thank you for the two mentions of my posts lately! I am so glad to have discovered this great source of Brontë reading :)

  2. Well, if you are interested in all things Jane Eyre and particularly modern retellings you should absolutely read it, if only to draw your own conclusions. As a matter of fact, our review wasn't meant to be discouraging. Other bloggers and reviewers have seriously loved this book.

    Thanks for your comment - comments are always welcome.