Guilt or Innocence

Well, I’ve just finished reading Re Jane by Patricia Park and I promised I would have a review for you all, so here it is…

Yes, I realize that opening sentence isn’t all that enthusiastic, and that fact pretty much reflects how I feel about the book itself. I’m not overwhelmingly passionate about it, it didn’t sweep me off my feet, and I don’t think I’ll be rushing to re-read it any time soon. It really is a shame because I am absolutely one of those people who adores reading modern adaptations and retellings of my favourite classic stories, and I had such high hopes for this particular novel. But, unfortunately, it paled in comparison to some of my preferred retellings of Jane Eyre (most notably April Lindner’s young adult version Jane which I wrote a quite impassioned review of here on the blog and which I have recommended endlessly to people!), and for some reason it just didn’t grab my attention or treat my favourite characters as lovingly as I would have liked.

Case and point is the portrayal of Mr. Rochester as Ed Farley, a male lead who lacks substance and personality. I’m of the opinion that Mr. Rochester is one of the most unique, easily distinguished male protagonists in literary history, and his manner of speech and particular history and circumstances are very distinct. Ed Farley, on the other hand, doesn’t really do much of anything, and when he does speak, his lines are flat, cliché and frankly not very interesting. I’ve read reviews that say that the novel is meant to be focused on Jane Re’s development and self-discovery, and I totally agree, but I don’t think that is an excuse for letting all the other characters (and especially a male character who is such a driving force in Jane’s narrative) act as stand-ins without any defining characteristics or traits. I just thought Park could’ve elaborated on her other characters a bit more thoroughly.

What I do think Park does well, however, is address a question I’ve always struggled with in my readings of Jane Eyre: Is Jane guilty or innocent? If you know the story of Jane Eyre and her romance with Mr. Rochester, you know that Jane falls for and is pursued by a man that is already married. In the world of the 19th century novel, Jane does not know that Mr. Rochester is married, and so I believe that most readers (myself included) do not place any blame on her shoulders for the quasi-infidelity that exists in the story. I would argue that Jane has no way of knowing that Bertha Mason Rochester exists – despite the fact that many creepy and unexplainable things occur at Thornfield Hall, I wouldn’t necessarily blame Jane for not jumping to the conclusion that her employer has a mad wife locked in his attic. I mean, it does seem a bit out of the ordinary, to say the least. So, I have never faulted Jane for her part in the adultery that Mr. Rochester intends to commit, and I can respect her as a literary character with a clear conscience.

On the other hand entirely, in Patricia Park’s adaptation, Jane Re acts as an au pair for both Ed Farley AND his wife Beth Mazer…and so the Bertha character (and Ed’s wife) is very much present in the novel. Jane Re knows that Ed is married and, more than that, she works for his wife and has a relationship (almost a friendship, really) with her. Jane is therefore aware of the fact that she is falling in love with a married man, and although she does feel some guilt, she tends to try to justify her actions by focusing on Beth’s shortcomings as a wife. This was something that bothered me more than a little while reading the novel and it was something that made me uncomfortable and that I couldn’t look past.

Bottom line, it was very difficult for me to like or identify with Jane Re because I totally disagreed with her decisions and actions. I just couldn’t warm up to her relationship with Ed (albeit short lived) because I recognized that Jane had deliberately betrayed an employer who had treated her with kindness and respect. Sure, I didn’t love Beth as a character either, but I don’t think she deserved to lose her husband and to be deceived in the way she was. While I saw Jane’s guilt and her struggle with what she had done a little bit, I didn’t feel she was as remorseful as she could have been and that made it hard for me to feel sorry for her.

I guess, if I had to summarize my feelings at all, I would say that I just didn’t love the structure of this adaptation as much as others I’ve read (like Lindner’s version, for example). I do believe that infidelity is an important subject that can be treated so eloquently and powerfully in literature, but I feel that this novel approached it in more of a nonchalant fashion and spent very little time (and very little literal space in the text) exploring it. Maybe I’m put off by the fact that it made me question Jane Eyre’s complicity in the original act of infidelity that inspired this adaptation, but I think more than that I felt that Park could’ve delved deeper and gone further with her investigation of Jane Re’s guilt and the effect of her choices on a married couple and their child.

So, basically, this is another post that sadly lacks passion and my usual excitement. But hopefully that is about to change as I delve into a novel I’ve loved for years…and begin reading The Time Traveler’s Wife for the third time! I’m super happy to hang out with Henry and Clare again, and I’m going to have a lot to say about them, so stay tuned!

Until next time,

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

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