When I first read Jane Eyre, I was fifteen. I remembering cheering for Bronte’s fiery heroine as she moved from one hot mess to another. Bronte’s wrote Jane as a survivor and a woman of incredible integrity. Her struggles captivated me as a young reader, and still thrill me now.
Last night, I saw Jane at my local bookstore. The cover features the heroine staring into a gray sky, her skirt askance, her long hair blowing in the wind. I didn’t have to read the jacket summary to know that Bronte was involved. At $24, however, Jane wasn’t cheap. I went home and bought the ebook this morning.
This version of Bronte’s classic is set in the present day American northeast. Jane Eyre is now Jane Moore, a struggling college dropout. Lindner begins with the death of Jane’s parents. Impoverished and unable to continue studying, she is forced to join a nanny agency.
The agency places Jane Moore with a girl named Maddy. Maddy is the daughter of the famous Nico Rathburn, an aging and eccentric rockstar just past his prime. Her job takes her to Thornfield, now transformed into a majestic estate in Connecticut. Its broodiness is faithfully similar to the original.
In Jane, the tradeoff between English nobility and American celebrity culture is a smart one. Though royalty derives its cache from centuries of exaltation while celebrity calls on the cult of personality, each possesses a captivating, addictive mystique. Rochester’s wealth and reputation translates seamlessly to Nico Rathburn’s celebrity and raw charisma.
Rathburn’s character is the best part of this book. A troubled, aging rockstar used to attention, he finds Jane a welcome challenge. Their friendship is sudden and explosive, forcing Jane to come into her own against a formidable equal. The scenes featuring Nico Rathburn and Jane interacting are well-written. I do believe their sudden descent into mad love, her intense jealousy when he tries to fake her out for a photographer named Bianca Ingram, and her impassioned plea to him just before she believes she will leave Thornfield forever. His terrible secret — like Rochester’s, it has to do with a crazy wife locked in an attic — is familiar and well developed.
By contrast, Jane is more restrained than in the original. She displays none of Jane Eyre’s seething anger. No; Jane Moore is more melancholy than righteous, a hollow shell seeking just to survive.
Lindner’s treatment of Jane’s family is also problematic. In the original, Jane Eyre faced abuse from an aunt and her wretched cousins. In this version, Jane’s tormentors are her own blood relatives. Before they died, her parents were neglectful. Her sister is materialistic and selfish. Her brother, an abusive sociopath. As a result, Jane came across detached and depressed rather than blisteringly angry in the face of objective evil. I find that inconsistent with Bronte’s vision.
The second half was more enjoyable than I expected. I didn’t expect much, because I thought the second half of Jane Eyre dragged a bit.
Devastated that Nico kept an insane not-quite-ex-wife a secret, Jane flees to New Haven. There, she lives with two kind sisters — Maria and Diana — and their gorgeous activist brother River St. John. Desperate to forget the deep, whirlwind romance she had with Rathburn, she throws herself into work and her anonymity as she builds a family among her new friends. Here, she admits to herself that she needs to be needed.
River St John, at first wary of her, grows to love Jane in his detached way. He is impressed by Jane’s dedication to social service and comes to trust her motives. He then asks Jane to accompany him on a mission trip to Haiti. So, like Jane Eyre, Jane Moore has to decide whether she can stand always being second to a man’s work and vision.
We all know who and what she chooses.
Plotwise, Jane is as faithful as possible to the original. Something of Jane gets lost in the transformation, though. I just want the old Jane’s craziness back.