Modern Gothic?: A Modern Retelling of Jane Eyre

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JaneI'm going to be honest, I was REALLY worried when I heard Little Brown and Company were going to publish Jane by April Lindner, a modern retelling of Jane EyreJane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is one of my lodestone books that I reread twice a year. I started reading it at a strangely early age (maybe 10?) and it's been one of those books that I've grown with.  I think I first was taken with young Jane's rebelliousness at school as well as with her wicked Aunt and cousins, a fascination which morphed into an interest of the part of her book where she finds a job.  Of course, my later teen years had me fascinated with the romance between Jane and Mr. Rochester and now my favorite part is the part on the moors as she considers a different future with St. John Rivers and realizes what a real family feels like.  It's a dark, gothic novel with a tremendous sense of place and I love it.

So with this love fest, you can imagine my trepidation when Jane by April Lindner was published.  I was so relieved to wholeheartedly enjoy the interpretation.  It was gutsy to actually make the evil cousins of the original books her actual dissipated brother and selfish, beautiful sister, with all the sadness and cruelty contained in that relationship.  Their parents die in a car accident and Jane, the youngest child habitually neglected by her distant parents, has to leave after one year of Sarah Lawrence College, because she can't afford to return.  But what does a 19-year-old art and French major do for a living?

Become a nanny, of course. The nanny service quickly realize that this serious college student is not the usual pop culture junkie who comes their way, which immediately qualifies her for a plum position at rock star Nico Rathburn's home in Connecticut, Thornfield Park.  She takes to his 5 year old daughter, Maddy, and the kind staff on the estate right away and is able to use the fields and outbuildings as wonderful fodder for her artwork.  But enter Nico, and Jane's world is turned upside down.

I was fretting as I read about Jane being 19 and Nico being obviously older (probably in his mid-30s).  Was this going to be creepy?  But Lindner pulls it off, largely from writing Jane's character as a serious young woman with a  deprived childhood which has aged her long past her real age.  Combine that with Nico's extended adolescence and only recent membership in the adult club (right around the time he begins to pursue sobriety and fatherhood) and you've got two people pretty well matched in the maturity department.

I'm not going to put in any spoilers, but it's a wonderful writing job how she managed to handle the climax of the novel and I adored how she handled Jane's "wandering on the moors" part.  Renaming St. John Rivers, Rivers St. John and making him a Yale Divinity School student bent on his upcoming Haitian mission who lives with his two charming sisters in a dilapidated apartment in New Haven is a stroke of genius.  Jane's growth during this time felt very natural to me, as did the way she finds out about what happened to Nico after she left.  It's a totally heartwarming ending, just like in the original.  Total bliss.

Portrait of Charlotte Brontë
I have a sense of appreciation for the author - she obviously spent a great deal of time and energy getting to understand Charlotte Bronte's work and Jane Eyre specifically.  According to April Lindner's website, her next project is a retelling of Wuthering Heights, called Catherine, and set in punk scene of the East Village.  I can totally picture Heathcliff as a punk rocker!  I'll be interested to see if I like Cathy more in this context, because she really annoys me in the novel - we'll see if Lindner can work her magic on this one!  The book is due out in 2012 and I will be sure to read it.


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August 17, 2011 3:18 AM delete

It's interesting that I didn't really like the story of Jane Eyre but this book caught my attention.