Written for the excellent Barrington Stoke Teen range, Tanya Landman’s Jane Eyre is a retelling rather than an abridged version, which is handy since I loathe abridged versions. The text is pitched at a reading age of nine. Rather than inhibit the story, the simpler syntax allows Landman to take the essence of this gothic novel and its descriptions and transform them into a breathless first-person narrative which cherishes many of the turns of phrase of the original. It also helps give it pace.
For those unfamiliar with the novel, Jane is orphaned, sent to boarding school and then earns her living as a governess at Thornfield Hall. When she meets her employer, Mr Rochester, Jane believes she has met her intellectual match. As the story develops and Mr Rochester plays with her affections, Jane’s confidence and self-awareness increases.
Tanya Landman is not one to shy away from unpicking myths. Previously, in her YA novels, she explored the representation of the American Wild West in Apache and Buffalo Soldier. In her version of Jane Eyre, much of the darkness of the references to the slave trade are left out apart from a few important ones. An oblique reference to Mr Rochester’s past is given when he asks: ‘A purely hypothetical question. Suppose there was a young man. Rich. Spoiled. Living a wild life in a foreign land. Suppose he committed a terrible error – an error, not a sin – and the consequences followed him for his whole life?’
At the climax we witness the symbol of the mistreatment of women and the legacy of colonialism in the form of the madwoman in the attic – Bertha: ‘And another creature, who crouched in the corners on all fours, a mane of grizzled hair covering and its face. It stood, rearing on its hind feet, and I recognised the bloodshot eyes, the swollen lips, the bloated features. It was my nightmare visitor.’ These two key references provide enough for a debate about the legacy of colonialism at secondary level.
The following extract could also open up a conversation about homelessness in today’s society: ‘A respectable woman can become a vagrant in a matter of days. She becomes hungry, dirty and dishevelled without a roof over her head, without a bed to sleep in, without regular meals, without money in her purse. She becomes a beggar. And then she becomes invisible.’ There is plenty of scope for discussion.
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