Review: Jane

Jane: A modern retelling of Jane Eyre by April Lindner. Poppy, an imprint of Little Brown. 2010. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Oh, just go look up the Wikipedia entry for Jane Eyre.

Jane takes Jane Eyre and updates it; Jane Moore is a nanny for Nico Rathburn, a rock star.

The Good: Having Mr. Rochester turned into a rock star is brilliant. Jane, as ever, sees herself as quiet, invisible, next to him and his rock star/ model/ famous friends. The two, of course, fall in love and then…

Oh man, do I really have to have spoiler notices?

Reading this book without reading (or watching) Jane Eyre (is that even possible?): Jane is a romance, with the quiet classical music listening orphaned nineteen year old falling for the older world famous, world weary, slightly reformed rock star. Her honesty, as well as her blunt failure to be impressed by Nico-the-celebrity, create a romance that is believable from both sides. A wedding is planned. Then something happens! Jane flees Nico and the memories of what was and what might have been. She befriends three siblings, Diana, Maria and River St. John, who offer shelter, food, and time for her to heal. Jane’s love for Nico was real – can she contemplate a life without him?

OK, now onto a discussion of the book with spoilers a-plenty.

Lindner’s bringing Jane into the twentieth century involves more than making Rochester a rocker. Jane is young, having completed just one year of college before financial circumstances force her to take a job as a nanny. It’s quite well thought out: her parents just died, there is no money, and her older siblings are self-centered, so being a nanny offers her a chance to quickly find not just a job but also a place to live. While Jane is forced to leave college, she doesn’t give up her dreams of eventually returning. This doesn’t change, even when her relationship with Nico starts and he offers to pay for everything, even when she runs away and is practically penniless on the street. Part of Jane’s appeal, to the reader and to Nico, is her quiet stubbornness and sense of what is right.

When a book is brought up to date like this, one wonders what will be kept and what not. For me, going in, I saw two big issues that had to be “sold” to the modern reader: the wife and St. John Rivers. Well, three issues if you want to count the age difference between Jane and Rathburn/Rochester.

Jane Eyre’s madwoman in the attic is famous. It inspired what I sometimes point to as an example of how fanfiction impulses can be lead to literary greatness: Wide Sargasso Sea. What will Lindner do with the mad wife?

The answer is, keep her mad, keep her his wife, and keep her in the attic, literally, rather than figuratively. Bertha is now Bibi, a Brazilian model who partied hard with Nico back in the day and now suffers from schizophrenia. When she goes off her meds (which is often) she is prone to violence and setting fires. Nico blames himself for encouraging Bibi to do drugs and live dangerously, believing it helped trigger Bibi’s illness. Because he holds himself responsible and views all mental institutions as terrible, he keeps her in the attic. OK, not so much the attic as the third floor of his manor house. And if right now you are sputtering about his mad wife in the attic, all I can say is it’s the source material! Lindner cannot change that.

For the purposes of Jane, the question becomes, is it believable that Nico would feel responsible for Bibi? That he would also hope, for a while at least, for some recovery for her so he keeps her near? And, given today’s celebrity culture, would his fear of the media trying to photograph and access an ill woman be believable? Is it better to have her on a gated estate with a guardhouse, or to have her in a mental hospital with the risk that a low paid employee may sell something to a gossip website? Keep in mind the stories of Los Angeles hospitals selling health information. Think of the media coverage of Britney Spears and her hospitalization, or Lindsay Lohan and her rehab.

When Jane runs away, she meets the St. John family. Lindner’s take on this is also very believable; before her meeting with Diana St. John, Jane spends a pretty down and out twenty odd hours of realizing just what a terrible place she is in. Jane’s desperation is fierce and real. Her good luck to meet a kind waitress who becomes a friend is one the reader cheers. 

And then we have River, my second issue with the original Jane Eyre. Confession: I cannot stand St. John Rivers from the original Jane Eyre.  This may be more about me as a reader than  you as a reader. River St. John in this retelling is just as obnoxious and judgmental. Which, bonus points to Lindner for keeping this accurate! Instead of going to India to become a missionary, River (who is studying to be a minister) wants to go to Haiti to help the poor. (Note how here, just as with mad wife, Lindner tries to keep as true to the original characters as possible). River’s desire to dedicate his life to charitable works is noble; both his sisters half-worship him for living a life dedicated to his ideals.

I found Rivers as judgmental as St. John. Worse, River’s dreams and desires sidetrack Jane in a way that Nico’s rock star life never did. Jane considers giving up her own dreams of college and art to go with River to Haiti. Part of it is his overwhelming (and pushy) belief that any other way of living is wrong and of course Jane, as a good person, will want to come and do good things. Part of it, though, is also Jane’s unspoken need to run and hide from the happiness she had with Nico. Unfortunately, for a bit it just seems as if Jane is wimping out of being her own person and instead is letting a man decide her life for her. After sticking up for herself in the face of Nico’s magnetism (and her love for him), that Jane appears to give in to River shaping her future annoyed me no end. Luckily for all of us (Jane included), Jane wises up before it’s too late. While the author’s note for the books talks mainly about updating Rochester to Rathburn, what I want to know more about is Lindner’s take on St. John Rivers.

As for the age difference, I was fine with it. Angieville addresses it a bit in her review (which, like mine, is favorable).

Lindner is an English professor; she also loves rock and roll. And Bruce Springsteen! How can you not love that? It also means that Jane is retold by someone who knows her stuff, rather than someone who bought the original book last year and maybe read it twice with a highlighter before “updating” it. (C’mon, we’ve all read that type of book). Since I haven’t read Jane Eyre in years, I’m sure I missed tons of details and shout-outs to the original. Jane remains Jane; Adele becomes Maddy; why is Grace Poole now Brenda?

To offer balance, the mad wife aspect did not work for some readers. Check out Chasing Ray for a different perspective.

6 thoughts on “Review: Jane

  1. The age difference/power differential really didn’t work for me. I didn’t like Nico because I found him arrogant and controlling and manipulative, and would never root for that guy. I know that’s the story, but in a modern context its ickiness really stood out.


  2. I agree with your favorable review of Jane. Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books. I recently read this retelling and thought, like you, that Lindner did an excellent job of updating the story in a way that will really appeal to teen readers (and adults too) while being true to the original. The updating of the mad wife in the attic is believable given Nico’s celebrity status and fear of the media. Even with the improvements in health care for people with mental illnesses, I know families that would commit their loved ones to a facility only as a last resort.

    The original setting in Jane Eyre where Jane’s run away and wandering the countryside, destitute and hungry is more dramatic but the updated scenario in Jane is well done as well. The fact that she can’t afford a place to stay and without an address can’t apply for work is scarily realistic.

    I thought making River a “do-gooder” who wants to help the poor in Haiti was a nice touch and something that teens care really relate to. But I was glad to see Lindner didn’t change his character. His outwardly unselfishness masks his self-righteousness and rigid inability to understand that not everyone is as noble as he is.

    I wasn’t sure how Lindner would portray the way Jane knows Nico needs her in the end as Bronte did in the original. That very romantic but improbable *knowledge* in Jane Eyre was done in a much more realistic way here. I’m also glad Lindner’s retelling made Nico’s *predicament* consistent with his rock star profession.


  3. Jennifer, this type of age difference is the thing that in real life would bug me. I would see the teen as thinking they are more mature than they are, because someone so much older likes them. While I’d look at the guy and think, a, immature if you have that much in common with someone so much younger and b, you want someone young who is easily impressed. The guy wants someone who is not his equal. Here, it worked for because it’s a book and I’m much more forgiving in fiction. Plus, since we “know” these two, we see Jane is mature and she isn’t impressed by Nico just because he’s older than she is. Plus, I thought Nico came across as less mature — I had to keep reminding myself about how old he was.

    Sharon, yay! While brief, her 24 hours of not having any options was well done by Lindner. I’m so glad you came over to comment!


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