Wrong: Thoughts on The Autobiography of Jane Eyre

It all started when I saw the sub-titled screen captures and realized the woman with her face in the camera was supposed to be Jane Eyre. Thoughts piled up, one on top of the other more quickly than my mind could organize them. But the general idea was that these images were wrong. I have since spent the last week researching and trying to determine the best way to communicate those thoughts here. After much word-writing, I decided the best way to present them would be in the form of a list detailing my complaints and the reason for them.

The Autobiography of Jane Eyre, or AoJe, is a YouTube web series that modernizes Charlotte Bronte’s work Jane Eyre. For a modernization to be successful, I understand there are things that must change. Those things, however, should not be qualities key to the character of the heroin/hero. AoJE did just that. They changed Jane Eyre so much that she is unrecognizable to anyone who has read and understood the book. Continue below for my complaints and concerns.

1. The entire concept, or Jane with her face in a camera

I rejected this out of hand. It is as inappropriate and out of place as Ghandi driving a Porsche, George Washington being a fascist, or Caligula obeying the senate…this is wrong.
Jane Eyre is not one for the spotlight. Jane Eyre is not one to ask that people sit down and listen to her life story or one who asks for approval. This is not false modesty, this is not pouting…Jane did not want to be the center of attention. And who, after growing up with Jane’s Aunt Reed or after surviving an education at Lowood, would throw themselves on the mercy of YouTube?

So, Jane keeps to herself until questioned.

What Jane did want was to be cared for and to be loved. When she did fall in love and had that love reciprocated, she wanted her actions and words to matter to ONE person (Rochester). What Blanche Ingram thought, what Mrs. Fairfax thought, what the rest of society thought did not matter.

2. Jane as an indecisive, timid, apologetic creature with low self-esteem.

I look up to the character of Jane Eyre. In a world of female characters that rely on their fear or someone’s will besides their own to dictate their next move, Jane Eyre has ballast. She meets fear with a quiet, direct gaze and the knowledge that, no matter what happens in the next moment, no matter how extreme, she knows where she stands. Her will-power, her self-control, and her self-respect are all beautiful and admirable qualities. However, this web series removes Jane Eyre’s gall and replaces it with timidity. Is this a necessary step for modernization? No. But it is a necessary step if you are trying to make Jane Eyre a victim.

Moreover, timidity in general is not a theme in Jane Eyre. No character is timid or afraid to take what their heart wants. Jane listens to both her heart and mind and acts in complete obeisance to both, even to her own detriment. Rochester is determined to get what he wants, even if it damns him and Jane in the process. Even St. John Rivers is strong enough to quash a passion he sees as inferior to his calling. Does he shake? Yes. Does he blush? Yes. But does he give in? No. Even Blanche Ingram is bold enough to pursue Rochester’s fortune without guilt.

Jane Eyre is in no way a story about timidity and fear. Even the “villains” are strong-willed.

3. Jane Eyre starting a video blog because she wants to be more like the “confident” Elizabeth Bennet.

This is insulting for two different reasons. Firstly, Jane Eyre is not short on confidence. Jane is part of a lower class than Rochester and his circle of acquaintances, she is not considered beautiful, but she is not in need of confidence and she does not allow herself to be subjugated. This is exemplified in her famous poor, obscure, plain and little speech to Rochester. Secondly, Charlotte Bronte’s feelings on Jane Austen makes the above reason for Jane Eyre vlogging particularly ridiculous

Allow me to cite Charlotte Bronte’s letters to George Lewes for her feelings on Austen.

 

  • Her [Austen’s]business is not half so much with the human heart as with the human eyes, mouth, hands and feet; what sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study, but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of Life and the sentient target of Death- this Miss Austen ignores; she no more, with her mind’s eye, beholds the heart of her race than each man, with bodily vision sees the heart in his heaving breast. Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete, and rather insensible ( not senseless) woman…
  • Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. What induced you to say you would rather  have written “Pride and Prejudice” or “Tom Jones’” than any of the Waverly Novels? I had not seen “Pride and Prejudice” till I read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book and studied it. And what did I find? An accurate daguerrotyped portrait of a common-place face; a carefully-fenced, highly cultivated garden with near borders and delicate flowers- but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy- no open country- no fresh air- no blue hill- no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen in they elegant but confined houses.
  • Miss Austen is only shrewd and observant.”
  •  “Can there be a great Artist without poetry? What I call-what I will bend to as a great Artist, there cannot be destitute of the divine gift. But by poetry I am sure you understand something different to what I do- as you do by ‘sentiment” .It is poetry, as I comprehend the word which elevates that masculine George Sand and makes out of something coarse, something godlike…Miss Austen being as you say without “sentiment” without poetry, may be – is sensible, real ( or real than true) but she cannot be great.”

Taking all this into consideration, why in the world would Charlotte Bronte’s Jane EVER look to Austen’s Bennet for inspiration or guidance? Both the authors and their creations are as different from one another as frost from fire.

The Root of the Problem: the Creators of AoJE Want Jane Eyre to be an Austen Character.

The inspiration for The Autobiography of Jane Eyre was the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a web series that modernizes and serializes Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen’s work and characters lends itself to this medium. Like Charlotte Bronte said, Austen’s work is about shrewd observation and YouTube is mostly observation laced with opinion. Also, Austen’s work, for all its drama, is essentially satire.

In comparison, Jane Eyre is not about satire. It is not about drama. Jane Eyre is a gothic novel. It covers abuse, neglect, love death, deceit, the concept of the soul, the influence of the supernatural on nature and humanity, nature as a reflection of humanity, the role of human law and convention as opposed to individual morality…I could go on for days. By trying to soften all that, by trying to make it light-hearted and brightly-coloured, by trying to make it a Jane Austen work, which is what AoJE did, you ruin everything that makes not only Charlotte’s, but all of the Brontes’ passionate and poetical work important.

If you want light-hearted fun, you have come to the wrong place.

On Modernization: Jane Eyre Would Probably Have a Tumblr Account.

In the end, I believe the creators of AoJE got one thing right. Out of every social media outlet, I think Tumblr would be the one Jane would use. It is simpler and more straight-forward than Pinterest or Instagram, is not as cliquey and competitive as We Heart It, it requires little to no writing, and is mostly focused on the art of the image which is how Jane prefers to express herself. Do I agree with the content that the creators of the web series include? Not a bit.

And when it comes to the creation of a web series, I can imagine a successful modernization, but it would have to embrace the gothic quality of the story,  the fact that Jane is a product of her inborn nature twisted by a childhood of abuse, and present an image of the world seen by the modern woman who would be Jane. If it were well done, I believe it could be very powerful…But is it too deep for the YouTube wading pool?

Dear Reader, if you have made it this far in the post, I thank you for taking the time and reading it. It may have been biased and passionate, but I think it was warranted. While I can’t discredit the people of AoJE for taking on this project, I can say they did it poorly. No, not even poorly, plain out wrong. They didn’t capture the essence of the novel or its characters. Instead, they have gave us a weak Austen-esque woman with Jane’s name claiming to tell her story.