Jane Eyre (#24 on our Top 100 Romances List)
An AAR Top 100 Romance
originally published on August 14, 2014
As nearly every romance reader knows, Jane Eyre is the story of a young woman who is mistreated by her relatives, attends a dire school, becomes a governess, falls for the master of the house, has to leave when a marriage obstacle is discovered, and eventually finds her way back to the man she loves. It’s a marvelous story full of scenes ripe for visual adaptation. Weighed down by muddy colors, unimaginative layouts, and boring art, this is emphatically not the visual adaptation Jane Eyre deserves.
Jane Eyre is a very long novel, and graphic novels usually tell less plot per page anyway. Combine these factors with a scant hundred-odd pages (the other pages are spent on reader guides), and you get a book which gallops at a disorienting pace. Ten years pass in the first five panels.
Worse, the pages aren’t laid out to match the story. A song should have important words on the main beats; Whitney would have sounded ridiculous singing “Annnnnnnnnnnnndd I will always love you.” Similarly, graphic novels should emphasize key moments by giving them extra space, by centering them, by causing lines to converge on them, by illustrating them with powerful colors or patterns, or by using other visual strategies to pull in your eye and make it linger. Not in this adaptation. The lightning that splits the tree in two? Shoehorned into the back corner of a small panel. If you didn’t already know, you wouldn’t have ever guessed that the bluish-white line was lightning or the fork of the tree was a split. Plus, it looks like Jane and Rochester are kissing about four feet away, and what kind of morons make out under trees during thunderstorms?
Even more egregiously, Jane’s wedding is interrupted and the shattering reason why is delivered in two cramped frames on a page holding five other frames – less space than was dedicated to Rochester’s failed affair with a French courtesan. The images in this scene are just snapshots of the people gathered in the church. In the novel, “Mr. Rochester turned and glared… His eye, as I have often said, was a black eye: it had now a tawny, nay, a bloody light in its gloom; and his face flushed — olive cheek and hueless forehead received a glow as from spreading, ascending heart-fire: and he stirred, lifted his strong arm — he could have struck Mason, dashed him on the church-floor.” The graphic novel shows a few people standing around. There aren’t even close-ups. Where is the drama?
The whole book is like this. 90% of the panels involve talking heads. It’s as if you took stills from a DVD and stuck dialogue bubbles on them. Since their mouths are nearly always shown as closed, regardless of whether or not they’re talking, we don’t even get facial expressions. There were a couple of nods to visual storytelling, but they’re mostly silly and heavy-handed. I don’t need to see a thought bubble coming out of Rochester’s head showing Jane as a green fairy when he’s just said she’s fairy-like.
The book is watercolor-ish color (I’m not expert enough to identify what was actually done), but the color selection is visually unappealing. In a majority of the scenes, the colors are dirty and dark, as if the artist forgot to change the brush water. Faces change to mustard or yellow-green mid scene, despite the fact that the characters are in the same room and haven’t moved. It wasn’t to indicate a mood or tone; the lines delivered in these frames seemed utterly random. I was completely disappointed in the scene in which Rochester’s bed is set on fire, which was somehow illustrated without the use of red. At least the large fire recounted at the end of the book is dramatically illustrated, and the bright orange-yellow makes the scene stand out the way it should because of its importance in the narrative.
The character art wasn’t great. Rochester starts off strong, with a clear resemblance to Timothy Dalton. However, the artist’s attempt to make him look scarred and hideous at the end mostly consisted of blacking out his eyes and drawing squiggly scar lines out of them. It looked as if they’d been pecked out. Jane is inappropriately pretty and Bertha is a caricature of a slavering banshee. The best depiction is of Blanche. Movies nearly always cast a blonde to contrast her with Jane and to tap into the visual stereotype of the catty shallow blonde, so I was pleased that this version accurately reflected her description in the book: “olive complexion, dark and clear… a fine head of hair; raven-black.”
As a huge Jane Eyre fan – I put it on my Top 10 romances list – and a huge graphic novel fan, I had high hopes for this adaptation. My hopes were not realized. While my review may make it sound terrible, Bronte’s plot is so good it’s still readable, and if you have a young person or English language learner struggling with the full text, this might help them follow along. That’s the best I can say for it.