A few years back there was a big trend, in part inspired by the success of The Lizzie Bennett Diaries of adapting classic literature into a vlog-style web series. TLBD and Carmilla the Series were arguably the two most popular and prominent of the trend, going on to build huge fanbases and generating additional media and merch. But there was also an adaptation of Jane Eyre.
The show had its ups and its downs. I remember enjoying it, but there were times when the script was so long the actors couldn’t memorize it and were obviously reading cue cards or even holding pieces of paper that were clearly portions of the script. And then there was the major issue I had with the adaptation: how it approached the wife in the attic. Most of the modern adaptations approached the big conflicts of their original texts with a new angle. Lydia and Wickham didn’t run off together in a scandalous non-marriage, there was a sex tape. But when faced with the opportunity to reimagine Mr. Rochester’s dark secret, this web series did not.
And this is where my issue with Jane Eyre in a modern world develops. This is the only modern adaptation of the novel I’ve encountered, and even it could not come up with a better way to approach Mr. Rochester’s dark secret. A wife in the attic is actually a huge thing, and while he got away with it in the original novel probably due to wealth and social status, can you imagine the same scandal today? Wealth and social status wouldn’t have cushioned him all that much. And the vlogs appear to reveal this information to the entire world. Rochester does in fact almost commit a real crime–bigamy.
The wife in the attic is usually where folks draw the line for the relationship between Jane and Rochester. A questionable romance to begin with, the wife really pushes it over the edge. And how do you repackage that issue for modern day without making a pure horror story? To be entirely honest, I don’t have an answer to that. The wife in the attic is such an iconic part of the story, and the single modern adaptation’s failure to come up with a better way to address it just demonstrates how hard it is to separate that plotline from Jane Eyre.
Jane also makes decisions based almost entirely on her life as it is shaped by the circumstances of her time period. A modern Jane would have significantly more freedom as an adult and thus might make different choices regarding Rochester and later with the missionaries. I also can’t imagine a modern Jane actually choosing to return post wife-in-the-attic reveal; it’s hard to imagine the original Jane doing so.
What do you think? Is it possible to adapt Jane Eyre to a modern story? What would the main conflict be? Would it end differently?