I’ve just finished re-reading Jane by April Lindner – it’s the height of summer here in Toronto, the days are long and stiflingly hot, and I felt like I needed a sizzling romance to get me through long days at work and exhausting train rides between my home in the suburbs and the excitement of a bright and humid Canadian downtown core.
I vividly remember reading the novel for the first time. It must’ve been during either my first or second year of university – I recall receiving the book for Christmas, my father telling me that he picked it up because of the title and the fact that he “knew I liked some Jane girl from literature”. My obsession with Jane Eyre (and with the incomparable and sexy Mr. Edward Rochester) was in full swing at this point, so he was right…more ironically, though, he had picked up a modern adaptation of the novel in which Mr. Rochester is made into the badass, mysterious and equally sexy rock star Nico Rathburn. I liked this premise for the novel a lot because it definitely seemed like an appropriate way to bring the story of “plain” Jane and her dark, brooding lover into the contemporary world, but I was even more excited when I read April Lindner’s acknowledgements (I have a tendency to get anxious when reading, and I often flip to the back of the book and peruse the final pages before finishing a novel) and learned that she was a fan of Bruce Springsteen, and had modeled Nico Rathburn after him. I am a huge fan of Springsteen (He really is called The Boss for a reason, people! I may or may not be listening to his music right at this very moment!), mainly because of my father’s love for his music. My dad and I have seen countless Springsteen concerts; we’ve traveled to different cities to see him and we often leave my mother and brother behind so we can focus on his music without the distraction of listeners who don’t know his repertoire as well as we do! Springsteen might be quite a bit older than me (okay, significantly older than me) but I think he is undeniably so sexy, and I definitely see the comparison between him and Mr. Rochester. Take for example a set of lyrics from one of my favourite Springsteen songs, “Brilliant Disguise”:
“Now you play the loving woman, I’ll play the faithful man / But just don’t look too close into the palm of my hand …. Is that me baby or just a brilliant disguise?”
Do these lyrics not essentially reflect the same anxieties and insecurities that Rochester reveals in his song for his new fiancée Jane?
“I dangers dared; I hindrance scorned; / I omens did defy: / Whatever menaced, harassed, warned, / I passed impetuous by …. My love has placed her little hand / With noble faith in mine…”
Springsteen’s troubled narrator guards a difficult, possibly love-shattering secret, and readers of Jane Eyre will know that Edward Fairfax Rochester does the same. He lies to Jane on multiple occasions; he is deceitful and secretive and is not honest or forthcoming until his dark deeds are discovered and he has no choice but to admit to the truth.
And yet, we love him anyway. Okay, I’ve come to accept that I’m probably a shallow and hypocritical person because of this (truthfully, I don’t really care at this point because I love ER too much!). If my best friend were dating Edward Rochester, I’d tell her to ditch that loser after everything he’s done to her. He’s a shady character, to say the least. And, I think this is where Lindner’s adaptation of the novel really shines: she depicts all of Rochester’s, or in this case Nico Rathburn’s transgressions harshly, without softening his demeanor or making excuses for him. Nico is a rock star, and so it feels okay, if not justified, to call him a rude, disgusting a**hole for everything he does to poor Jane Moore. For whatever reason, maybe because Charlotte Brontë’s narrative was so clearly written in another time and so is harder to judge by modern standards, it’s not as easy to label Rochester with our contemporary terms…and because he’s from another era full of idealized romance, it’s much easier to fall in love with him.
But Lindner brings Rochester effortlessly into the 21st century, and his actions are not quite so forgivable here. There were moments, the second time around, when I actually cringed reading how Nico manipulates Jane’s feelings for him. From my first reading, I remembered scenes that felt intoxicating and warm, like the interaction between Nico and Jane in the pool when he teaches her to swim, or when he announces his love for her and demands of her, “‘Let me love you the way you deserve’”. Not only are those moments in the novel incredibly sweet, they actually make my knees buckle and my stomach tingle. When I read the novel the second time, however, I was moved by the scenes when Jane is confused by Nico, when she’s frustrated and annoyed by him, when he is cruel to her. He does what Rochester does almost exactly and tries to make Jane jealous by feigning romantic feelings for a glamorous modelesque woman, Bianca Ingram:
“Mr. Rathburn laughed. ‘You’ll have to catch me when my back’s turned. And good luck with that; it’s not like I can take my eyes off you.’
Bianca moved in closer and said something I couldn’t hear. Mr. Rathburn, his arm slung across her shoulder, whispered something back. They looked so natural together – two supremely confident beings, drawn together by the inexorable laws of celebrity.
Mr. Rathburn whispered something else in Bianca’s ear, and she slipped from under his arm. ‘Not here,’ I heard her say with a laugh. ‘You naughty thing. Later. Tonight.’”
I found myself literally thinking, as I read this scene, What in the holy heck is Nico doing? It’s such blatantly rude and hurtful behaviour that I questioned his love for Jane. The trouble is that this questioning made me realize that I’ve kind of always questioned Mr. Rochester’s love for Jane Eyre too. I mean, love is supposed to be kind and wonderful and is supposed to bring both people to the peaks of happiness and serenity. I don’t see how telling lies (and both Rochester and Rathburn tell many more than I’d like to spoil here) fits into this narrative whatsoever.
No one questions Rochester explicitly though, least of all me, the infatuated reader. Jane Eyre herself forgives him for his conduct almost immediately, and Jane Moore does mostly the same with her Nico. But in Lindner’s version, people are generally more skeptical of Nico’s behaviour, most notably River St. John, Jane’s prospective second love interest. He troubles Jane’s acceptance of Rathburn’s deceit: “‘You’re defending him? After what he did?’”; and he encourages Jane to forget about the liar Nico Rathburn by outwardly saying, “‘Please don’t go back to him, Jane. I know that’s what you’re thinking. It’s written all over your face. He lied to you.’” True, Mr. St. John, you bring up a valid point there. River asks the hard questions that St. John Rivers of Brontë’s version can’t ask for propriety’s sake and that we, as loyal readers, choose not to. Jane Moore returns to her contemporary Rochester though, just as Jane Eyre does, and I can’t really blame her – he’s irresistible and their bond is too strong. They’re kindred spirits after all, like something out of the most beautiful and romantic of 19th century novels.
In this way, Lindner’s novel sheds some light on Charlotte’s original text, and brings out or highlights the elements that are less acceptable by modern standards. It also stays true to the original story, and it doesn’t interrogate Jane too much – she’s allowed to live her love story in the end, and the reader is left satisfied…this isn’t a tragedy after all, or at least not at its conclusion!
Maybe I wouldn’t necessarily let my BFFL date a Mr. Rochester or a Nico Rathburn…but I wouldn’t deny her the greatest, truest love with a soul mate, and so maybe I wouldn’t be able to stop her in the end. I certainly wouldn’t ever stop myself if Rathburn or Rochester or even Springsteen came knocking!
Yours in shared love for the dark, mysterious, guitar-wielding gentleman,
Girl with a Green Heart