Desert Isle Keeper
Jane Eyre - Manga Classics (#24 on our Top 100 list)
Originally published 6th January 2017
FINALLY, my beloved Jane Eyre gets the adaptation it deserves. I enjoyed this graphic novel so much that I picked it for my best read of 2016.
The pacing of this long (324 page) novel is excellent. Jane Eyre is much bigger than the love story, a fact which seems to escape most adapters. Certainly film and TV scripts try to get to Rochester as quickly as possible, and so did the other graphic novel adaptation I’ve read. But Brontë didn’t, and neither does this adaptation. Jane the child, with her temper and her frustrations and her snarky remarks, is necessary to understand that Jane the governess is not silent because she has nothing to say, but rather because she’s learned not to say it. When older Jane has better control, story editor Crystal Chan makes good use of “voice-over” bubbles to let us see her internal life. For instance, when Rochester observes, “You may have intolerable defects to balance your few good points,” Jane thinks, but doesn’t tell him, “And so may you.”
Rochester is a bolder, more obvious character than Jane, so it’s less unusual to find a version that does him justice, but this version certainly did. I clearly got the sense of him “fishing” for signs of Jane’s interest and trying to provoke her into revealing her feelings. That’s essential to making Rochester a gentleman surprised and uncertain when he finds his soul mate outside his class, as opposed to a creepy employer taking advantage of his governess.
I also liked the art for Rochester. Most of the other Manga Classics I’ve read have been illustrated by by Po Tse, who does a very ornate, feminine “shoujo” style. That’s not a terrible mismatch for the Regency period, although I have, at times, wished for heroes outside of the pretty/skinny/androgynous style. This is my first by SunNeko Lee, and I’m just delighted by her work. Her linework is heavier and her characters less stylized than the Austen illustrations, which fits my personal “feel” for Bronte’s text. Rochester looks like a grown man, and never like a shadowed, haunted vampire (which is a great temptation for people who think every Brontë hero ever, by any sister, is Heathcliff). Jane is a bit generic, but she looks effectively young. The huge height difference Lee gives Rochester and Jane effectively represents, in visual form, their age and power gaps.
The story appears to be set a little later than most adaptations, costumed for the 1840s-50s rather than 1830s-40s. If you don’t care about costume accuracy, you can skip this paragraph, but it’s one area in which I do have some critiques. As is usual in graphic novels, the hairstyles are used for character differentiation rather than accuracy. Only Jane consistently wears her hair up, which all women should have done in the period. Rochester’s hair and sideburns are a solid match for the era, but in either the 1840s or 1850s a well-to-do gentleman should be wearing a frock coat rather than a high-waisted dress coat (cut at the waist with tails).
In positive news, Blanche Ingram is finally the dark beauty she’s described as in the book rather than a blonde to contrast with Jane. She’s also not in the character’s typical frilly, poofy dresses and spaniel curls. For costume nerds, it’s always annoying because those are a dated holdover from the 1830s and Jane’s dark, severe dresses are on trend. Both graphic novel women seem to be in the same decade.
Besides quibbling over the cut of Rochester’s coat, I could also ask for a bit more of the controlling darkness that characterizes Jane’s relationship with St. John. But these are nitpicks. The entire team behind this book has done a great job capturing the many spirits of a huge, thoughtful work. Jane’s coming-of-age story, the Jane/Rochester love story, themes of class and religion – it’s all there. I loved this adaptation and highly recommend it.