Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and Sherri Browning Erwin
Okay, so I haven’t read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies yet. (Sidebar: how disappointed am I that Natalie Portman will no longer be playing Lizzie in the film adaptation of that book? Very disappointed.) I do own a copy of it, but I just haven’t gotten around to it, and at this point in the year, I might as well wait for October, no? So I’m much more familiar with the absolute legions of knock-ups it produced—including, of course, Jane Slayre. I’m actually kind of baffled that I had to buy it; I’d been so sure the public library would have a copy! Still, it’s a small price to pay to actually cite this in an academic paper.
Jane Slayre follows the story of Jane Eyre pretty closely—except with a generous sprinkling of vampires, zombies, and other things that go bump in the night. Young Jane Slayre (yes, that’s her actual name in this book) is hated and abused by her relations the Reeds, a family of vampires. When locked in the Red Room, Jane is visited by the ghost of her beloved uncle, who tells her about her Slayre heritage. While Jane doesn’t set out to train, her time at Lowood (zombie infestation!) ends up preparing her well. When she sets out to become the governess of Thornfield Hall, she hopes her skills will only be used for occasional self-defense, but there’s definitely something weird going on. Besides her growing attraction to the master of the house, of course.
Mash-ups like this, where the original text is changed slightly instead of wholly rewritten, are a bit difficult to review. As you may recall, I thoroughly enjoy Jane Eyre—after all, I’m writing my senior thesis on it. (Well, Jane Eyre and fanfiction. Thank God I read Textual Poachers and Boldly Writing, I think it’s gonna come in handy.) So all the parts quoted wholly from Jane Eyre (including Rochester’s heartwrenching lines about the bond between him and Jane and how it might be snapped in twain) are, obviously, really good. It’s when it gets to Sherri Browning Erwin’s contributions that I can actually evaluate the text—and, of course, how her additions interact with the source text, the entire point of my paper.
And for the most part, it’s actually pretty well-done. The subtextual violence of the original is made explicit here; the Reeds are inhuman to Jane and the children prey upon her? Well, obviously, they’re vampires! Most of Jane’s most action-packed encounters with vampires, zombies, and the rest occur at moments of great emotional upheaval or important moments to her. When she meets Rochester for the first time, she dispatches a handful of vampires. Jane’s skills give her a unique connection with her family, the Slayres (yeah, that doesn’t get any less goofy to say), which informs the last third of the novel, and, more importantly for me, other women. Mrs. Reed’s death becomes more of a moment of trust, and Miss Temple becomes her mentor in vampire and zombie slaying. It also gives Jane more physical agency. It’s sometimes so easy to forget how physically circumscribed women have been in the past; part of the reason those Austenian dances were so important was because dancing was often one of the very few ways a woman could stretch her limbs. Here, she lifts weights, wields daggers, and, at one memorable point, does the splits. I’m not going to say that it gives the text something it lacked, because that’s untrue, but am going to say that I appreciate how these additions illuminate the original text. They seem thoughtful, rather than random.
Well, at least until the end. Once Jane meets St. John hunting vampires, it all sort of falls apart and the additions become more random. Jane’s treatment of Bertha, who is a werewolf, is particularly appalling. I get the idea of making Bertha into a supernatural creature—she’s barely treated as human in the novel, and it’s literalized here. But Erwin seems to think that the only obstacle between Rochester and Jane marrying is Bertha, so we get scenes of Jane pondering how to kill Bertha and remove her with the same attitude one might reserve for removing a particularly pugnacious skin tag. But that ignores the central issue of Rochester and Jane’s first engagement—Rochester is treating her like a child. They are fundamentally unequal, and Jane’s personal journey isn’t done yet, on top of the whole issue of honor. It cheapens the complexity of the relationship to get in lines like “Reader, I buried him” (…yeah), and, given that Erwin had previously done an interesting, if not amazing, job of marrying the text and the additions, it’s really disappointing.
Bottom line: Jane Slayre starts out with interesting violent and supernatural additions to the text that literalize subtext and give Jane more physical agency, but it falls apart in the third act. If you’d like.
I bought this book from Amazon.