This is probably going to send my high school English teachers into convulsions, but I actually liked April Lindner’s Jane more than Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.
If you’re not familiar with the story of Jane Eyre, it’s about a young woman – Jane, of course – who comes to work as a governess to the child of a wealthy man, Mr. Rochester. Over time Jane falls in love with Rochester, but because she’s plain, quiet, and modest she holds no hope that he’ll ever return her affections. Jane’s spirit and goodness do eventually captivate Rochester, but just as the two reach the brink of happiness a dark secret is revealed that puts their relationship at risk.
I read Jane Eyre in high school and again for one of my literature classes in college, and I liked it both times. It wasn’t until I read Jane, though, that I felt like I truly connected with the story. Lindner is faithful to Brontë’s masterpiece but freshens it up, making the story more interesting and polishing Brontë’s characters until they shine. All the parts that I found unlikely or boring in the original are changed or gone completely in this retelling, like the tedious opening scene in the Red Room, Jane’s time at school with Helen Burnley, etc. What remains is the heart of the novel: an unlikely romance between a dowdy young girl and her wealthy employer, a love story about being true to yourself no matter what.
Here are just a few of the things I loved about this book:
Mr. Rochester is a rock star. Literally. In Lindner’s adaptation, Mr. Rochester is replaced by Nico Rathburn, a famous musician with a history of drug abuse, trashed hotel rooms, and a string of volatile relationships. Although some die-hard Brontë fans might faint dead away at the thought of a rock star Mr. Rochester, I assure you it works surprisingly well. For one thing, it provides the necessary context for fitting Jane Eyre into the modern world. Nico’s fame explains why he’s so wealthy and sought after, as well as why it’s unexpected for him to be seen with unremarkable, unworldly Jane. The rock star lifestyle also adds all sorts of interesting complications, like paparazzi, groupies, world tours, band mates, and gossiping maids who want to sleep with their boss. And let’s be real – what book doesn’t get more exciting with the addition of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll?
Jane is the epitome of quiet strength. At the beginning of the book, Jane seems like a bit of a weirdo. She rarely smiles, doesn’t approve of swearing, and is completely out of touch with popular culture. She’s never had a boyfriend, is serious and reserved to the point of being somber, and would rather spend her free time listening to classical music than socializing. If you happened to be seated next to her at a dinner party, never having met her, you’d probably be bored to tears within the first five minutes.
And yet…once you get to know her, you realize there’s much more to Jane than meets the eye. She may be odd and quiet and subdued, but her plain exterior hides a strong, passionate spirit. Anything Jane feels, she feels deeply, and she wants to be desired and loved just like anyone else. Jane may not be outgoing and flashy, but Lindner imbues her with a quiet courage and resolve that I really admire and respect.
There’s a strong message about being true to yourself. As already mentioned, Jane is nothing to look at. I don’t mean she just thinks she’s ugly but in reality is just unconventionally beautiful; no, Jane is legitimately not attractive. Many girls would try to change this, spending a ton of money, time, and effort on hair care regimens and beauty products; not Jane. There’s one scene where two of Nico’s band mates’ girlfriends take Jane under their wing and give her a makeover. Jane is amazed at how gorgeous she looks, yet she washes the makeup off before Nico ever sees her. She knows in her heart that the glamorous girl in the mirror isn’t her, and she won’t compromise herself, even if it means missing a chance to impress Nico.
Does it hurt Jane’s feelings when people tease her because she’s plain? Absolutely. Does she wish she were beautiful? Hell, yeah. But that doesn’t mean she’s going to change who she is. This isn’t a novel about a geeky girl who gets a makeover and then gets the guy. It’s a novel about a girl who gets the guy because she DOESN’T get the makeover. Jane’s refusal to be anyone but her herself – plain face and all – is a huge part of what makes her stand out and shine.
Jane and Nico actually build a real relationship. I had no complaints about the romance in Jane Eyre, but it wasn’t until Jane that I really saw why Jane and Rochester, or in this case Jane and Nico, fall for one another. In Brontë’s novel, Jane and Rochester don’t really do much together besides talk and occasionally take a stroll. In Jane, Nico and Jane actually spend time hanging out and establishing a rapport. They go for walks, paint, spend time with Nico’s daughter, and go out for seafood. Nico teaches Jane to swim. They tease one another and bring out each other’s best qualities. For example, Jane has a wonderfully dry sense of humor that only comes out when Nico’s around:
“I’m not even sure I have a bathing suit,” I told him[…].
“What?” He was frowning at me now. “No bathing suit? Are you sure you’re not a nun?”
“Some nuns swim,” I said.
I’m grateful to April Lindner for taking a classic that I liked and retelling it in a way that made me appreciate it even more. It won’t be for all Jane Eyre fans, but it definitely worked for me, and I know I’ll be reading Lindner’s other retelling, a reimagining of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.