Jane Eyre. The name may strike fear through high school English students everywhere. You’d be hard pressed to finish your education without having read Charlotte Bronte’s seminal work or that of her sister Emily’s, Wuthering Heights. I first read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre not for a high school class, but on my own. I found my high school education lacking and decided I needed to read the classics in order to understand contemporary works. I wasn’t impressed by either story in my youth, but that began to change as I got older, and they became beloved. Why do the stories of the Bronte sisters still resonate over 200 years later? What makes these stories, primarily Jane Eyre, still so relatable? Is it the not quite forbidden romance between Jane and Rochester? Is it Rochester’s Byronic manner? Is it the gothic moors that trap our secret blackened souls? Is it Jane’s independence born from her early hardships? Whatever it is that made Jane Eyre so timeless, Aline Brosh McKenna has attempted to recapture it in the modern-day graphic novel retelling Jane.
In Jane, the story sends a young woman from a poor fishing village to a New York-esque city to attend art school and make her mark in the world. Upon her arrival, Jane discovers her scholarship can only be kept if she finds a job by the end of her first week (having been a scholarship student, this makes zero sense but hey, I’m not the writer). Within a short time, Jane is hired by a house manager as a nanny to Adele, the daughter of a mysterious man, Mr. Rochester. Jane, relating to the young girl’s loneliness and solitude, befriends and cares for Adele. Of course, this endears her to Rochester. Similar to the original book, Jane eventually claims her independence and leaves, but comes back. In the graphic novel, the set up is similar, but not quite as potent. There is a fire involved and, like the book, a misunderstanding. There is also, of course, a happy ending.
Jane, the graphic novel, bears very little resemblance to Jane Eyre, the book, no matter how much Aline Brosh McKenna wants you to believe it does. Blurbed as a modern interpretation of the classic, the only thing, other than a few superficial plot similarities, that shares any commonality with Jane Eyre is the protagonist’s name and that of her dishy love interest, Mr. Rochester. (Mr. Rochester is the man we cannot have and therefore he is dishy.) You could argue, and I would understand this point of view, that the graphic novel covers many of the same main plot points as the original and takes out the subplots to conserve time, which sure, I’ll buy into. There is a hidden wife, a fire involved, a misunderstanding, falling in love, and finally, resolution. I cannot quibble about that, but I can say, with pure and unadulterated honesty, that what made Jane Eyre so prescient was the character of Jane herself: her tenacity and grit, her independence and her choices, and her relationships and experiences to people other than those at Thornfield Hall. This is where Jane the graphic novel falls apart. Missing those subplots changes the story to just that of a young naive girl who falls in love with a dreamy man and they live happily ever after—which is not what Jane Eyre is about. Bronte’s novel is a story about a girl who overcomes numerous hurdles to get what she wants, but on her own terms and, unlike McKenna’s graphic novel, is much more than a gothic romance that ends, albeit shakily, with a happy ending.
The graphic novel also incorporates some obvious tropes: the sassy gay roommate and the token black best friend. Which, okay, it’s 2018 and we definitely need representation of all types of people, but really? We’re going with the sassy gay roommate, who wants to be a drag queen, and the token black best friend? Why not subvert the original and have Jane herself be gay? Or a person of color? Disabled? Something, anything, beyond the pale milkweed of a character? As a reader, I was a bit taken back that the artist made Jane an attractive blonde. Did he miss the memo where Jane is to be “poor, obscure, plain, and little?” Who can relate to a character who looks like the all-American girl next door?
Speaking of looks, let’s dig into the artwork and colors. What I liked in the beginning of the book is the muted blue watercolor overlay the book takes on while Jane is telling her history. Her family ran fishing boats, so the muted blue gives credence to her words and as her history progresses, the color moves to become monochromatic as the story becomes somber. The line art in the beginning seems jerky and unsure which, as Jane is unsure of herself, works wonderfully to get us in the mood of what Jane is feeling. When Jane arrives in the city, the line art strengthens and the colors pop. The palette moves from from a few colors to a symphony of color. I have some issues to the character depictions of Jane that depart from the Bronte description of her, but the clever uses of line art and color to set the scene were well done.
I’m still on the fence if I should recommend Jane or not. As a introduction to Jane Eyre and the Brontes’ work? Absolutely not. As a standalone graphic novel, I would recommend it only to libraries looking to boost their romantic graphic novel collection, but with the caveat that it is not a good retelling of Bronte’s novel.
by Aline Brosh McKenna
Art by Ramon K. Perez
Publisher Age Rating: Adult