Everyone has that classic they never got around to reading, but if I don’t mention how many years a Barnes and Noble leather-bound edition of Jane Eyre has been sitting on my book shelf, it’s probably because it’s not my proudest moment. Most likely it landed there around the time of my first encounter with the story, the 2006 Masterpiece Theater miniseries, Jane Eyre, starring Ruth Wilson as the titular character. This got watched after Wilson’s performance on the TV show, Luther (2010), and that about covers my background on Charlotte Brontë’s novel.
Jane is the first-time graphic novel of screenwriter, Aline Brosh McKenna, who with actress, Rachel Bloom, is responsible for my favorite current TV show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Known for intelligently addressing subjects of mental health and romantic misperception that usually fall against women (take the show’s title), Jane Eyre serves as a problem considering its answer to mental health was to lock the wife in a tower so her husband could put the moves on the governess (for another fun critique of this development see the second season of One Mississippi). That’s a spoiler for the original Jane Eyre but thankfully not the adaptation, which finds a much less insulting way to deal with Rochester’s first marriage, if one that keeps his character problematic as a modern love interest.
Any male romancer of classic literature could really be called problematic, depending on your poison of choice (there’s even one panel where artist, Ramón K. Pérez, has Rochester soaked from the rain, a wannabe Colin Firth-Darcy), but Rochester’s rise to parenting, after Jane points out he’s been neglectful, isn’t as impressive as Jane makes it out to be. To back track a little, McKenna’s Jane is a college art student who runs across a requirement where she must find a job if she wants to keep her scholarship. Unfortunately, nobody told Jane this until a week before deadline, so when a vague job listing is posted, Jane’s options are such that she chooses to pursue it.
It’s then that she learns her position will be as nanny to Rochester’s daughter, Adelle. Jane makes him aware he’s been an absent father after a single standoff, but his dependency on others to make him see the light is too much. Pérez uses checkerboard layouts to demonstrate Rochester’s dominance. He takes up multiple squares, while Jane can fit into one, but his attempts to make her submit fail. If his romantic intentions weren’t always existent you could maybe believe in his turn around as the Rochester who sits in a kid-sized desk at a parent-teacher conference. The fact this his interests aren’t pure leave him difficult to trust.
Irma Kniivila’s colors with Pérez in the prologue reminded me of Nicola Scott’s for Black Magick, where there are occasional, pointed uses of watercolor, but on a white base instead of grey. Later Jane is often the only one colored in a crowd of outlined, or solid, figures. When Adelle is similarly colored on the school yard there’s a solidarity with Jane’s narration about “A lonely kid is a lonely kid.” Deron Bennett’s lettering is like condensation on a window – soft spoken but clear it won’t fade away.
Jane’s fashion sense is comparable to Felicity Porter’s on Felicity. With their shared experiences of going to New York colleges for art, both the book and the show value realism, with Pérez putting every self-conscious hair touch and lip bite under a microscope. The prominence of Jane’s red rain boots in the beginning is eye catching. It’s not raining at the time, but her wearing them is practical, as one less thing to carry when she moves into a room the size of Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs, minus the context of abuse.
Many stories like to segregate the practical thinker from the dreamer, but Jane’s outlook on life is more complex. She toughs it out through a rough childhood, but never falls into the trap of believing it’s her set course in life to suffer more of the same. Saving up money on a fishing boat (the book never goes into the psychology of her taking this job when her parents were lost at sea), she’s able to afford college, where she declares a creative major. For however soapy the ending gets, because of her entanglement with Rochester, Jane’s journey is the reason to read Jane and where the graphic novel most excels.