A Modern Retelling

In 2010, April Lindner's novel Jane was published by Little, Brown. It is a modernized retelling of the Jane Eyre story, apparently aimed at the “young adult” book audience.

Following is my review of this homage. 


Jane: A Jane Eyre for Modern Young Adults?


Modernizing a well-loved old tale is a challenge. It can be done with wonderful skill, as when Romeo and Juliet was turned into the smash musical West Side Story. It can also be done mediocrely, of course, with too many examples to name. (Off the top of my head, I’ll cite the 1998 film Great Expectations, set in the late 20th century and lacking the lavish Victorian-era social mannerisms of Dickens’s original story.)


As you can imagine (given this website’s title), I was excited to open my local paper earlier this winter and spy a review of a Jane Eyre homage. Jane is the first novel from April Lindner, a member of Saint Joseph’s University’s English department. The book’s premise, as cited on its dust jacket: “What if Jane Eyre fell in love with a rock star?” 


Many ready answers for that question leaped to mind, but I decided to read the book first to see what Lindner thought. 


The good news, as far as it goes, is that she hews fairly closely to Brontë’s general story line. The not-as-good news is that her book is a “young adult” novel in which many important details differ substantially, and in which the tone may repel typical Jane Eyre fans. 


The largest change is that Lindner omits the whole Jane-as-a-child, Jane-at-evil-boarding-school introduction, which occupies about one sixth of Jane Eyre and sets the book's tone as well as creating the motivations for many of Jane’s later thoughts and actions. Instead of being orphaned as a youngster, Jane Moore loses her parents in a car crash and thus has to leave Sarah Lawrence College — a prestigious liberal arts school that is nothing like the miserable Lowood School, where poor girls are taught inferiority and self-denial.


Each Jane ends up seeking a position as a governess/nanny. Jane Eyre makes her way to Thornfield Hall; soon after arriving, she helps a mysterious man who has fallen from his horse – a man who turns out to be her employer, Edward Rochester. Similarly, Jane Moore is walking toward Thornfield Park, the modern mansion of musical hero Nico Rathburn, when he swerves away from her and wrecks his Porsche. Both romances proceed from those unpromising beginnings. 


If you’ve read Jane Eyre, you know roughly what happens from here. (If you haven’t read Jane Eyre, please stop now, as some “spoilers” are coming!) 


In each book, Jane bonds with the young girl she’s caring for and learns from the “man of the house” how this girl came to be living with him. She discovers that her new home is a peculiar place, with a weird nighttime visitor who sets a fire in the master’s room. Later, a group of the master’s privileged peers spends time at the house, including a pretty woman who is clearly currying (and receiving) the master’s favor. 


Both books feature a man named Mason visiting the house and being attacked by a mysterious attic-dwelling creature. After leaving Thornfield to tend to some unpleasant family matters, each Jane returns, only to find the master apparently intent on proposing to his earlier beautiful houseguest. Jane suffers and threatens to leave ... until the master discloses that she is his true object of affection. 


Although they ride similar paths, the two stories have greatly different means of conveyance: the yearnings of a tortured, lonely, and fate-buffeted man in one tale, the sometimes obscenely expressed passions of a world-renowned rock star in the other. The latter is, I suppose, meant to be more enticing to the target audience (late-teen girls?) than the former. 


As part of writing a young-and-hip book, Lindner didn’t shy from adding nasty language. Here is how Nico bares his tender innermost feelings to Jane (pardon me for partially bleeping out the crude words): 


Jane: “Some of them probably want to sleep with you for your money,” I told him. 

Nico: “Maybe so. But that’s still not the same as wanting me because they know and understand me and like me even though I’m a flaming a__hole,” he said. “Jane, you get me. And I think I get you. Now can you f___ing well believe me?” 


Further obscene and degrading epithets spew from the mouth of the attic-dwelling lunatic, who merely makes animalistic noises in the original work. 


For another taste of the contrasts between these two books, compare the endearments that each man shares with his respective Jane once she has consented to be his love. 


Rochester: “Come to me – come to me entirely now,” said he; and added, in his deepest tone, speaking in my ear as his cheek was laid on mine, “Make my happiness – I will make yours.” 


Nico: “Come inside with me,” he whispered, “and let me make love to you” – he undid another button – “all night long, and then all day tomorrow, and then the day after that ...” 


Urgh. In light of the touching sentiment murmured by Rochester, Nico’s whispered come-on strikes the reader as cheap hormonal cliché-speak. 


To conclude the storylines: each Jane accepts her master’s marriage proposal, but shocking events stop the weddings. Jane secretly leaves Thornfield, has trouble surviving on the streets, and throws herself on the mercy of a family of strangers. In the end, after facing a life-altering choice, she returns to her master, and ... well, if you want a happy ending, you’re in the right place. 


Reading Jane Eyre leaves me overwhelmed with Brontë’s torrents of lyrical passion. Her brilliant dialogue and sharp social criticism are juxtaposed with her depictions of the heroine’s depth of feeling, determination, and passion — remarkable attributes for a mid-1800s female character. Reading Jane, however, merely makes me disappointed that the author aimed her book at such a low standard.


My answer to the dust-jacket question — “What if Jane Eyre fell in love with a rock star?” — is that she wouldn’t be Jane Eyre any more, or at least her story wouldn’t be the story of the Jane I knew. Overcoming fate and suffering to win a tempestuous, idiosyncratic heir’s love is simply not analogous to hooking up with a platinum-selling rocker seeking authenticity in a world of groupies, magazine covers, and easy conquests. This book may serve as a younger reader’s gateway to the original story, but I fear that someone who enjoys this book will find Jane Eyre a tough slog.


I give April Lindner credit for undertaking a near-impossible task, but in the end, her book strikes me as a literary exercise — a grad student’s thesis task, perhaps — rather than as an inspired work of literature. It’s not awful; it’s just, in a word, tawdry.