Jane Eyre: The Graphic Novel is a 2008 adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s novel for the Classical Comics series. Adapted by Amy Corzine and illustrated by John M. Burns and Terry Wiley, this original-text version features text taken directly from the novel and color illustrations. Jane Eyre: The Graphic Novel is available in both original and quick-text editions; this entry discusses the original text version.
Jane Eyre is a girl who lives with her aunt and cousins, the Reeds, who kept her out of respect for her uncle’s dying wish. After experiencing trauma in the family, including being locked in a room as a punishment, a doctor recommends she be sent away to school. At this charity school, Lowood Institution, her treatment continues with the regulations enforced by Mr. Brocklehurst, and her friend dies.
After spending eight years at Lowood, Jane goes to work as a governess for the ward of mysterious Mr. Rochester of Thornfield Hall. Her affection for Mr. Rochester grows throughout her employment despite her brief time away to see the dying Mrs. Reed and Mr. Rochester’s flirtations with the beautiful Blanche Ingram, and after some time, Rochester asks Jane to marry him. Meanwhile, Jane has been hearing a mysterious voice from the attic, and a fire occurred in Mr. Rochester’s bedchamber, both attributed to the servant Grace Poole. Jane has also been made to the strange wounds of a man named Mason, which he received during his visit to Thornfield.
On her wedding night, a strange apparition appears to Jane and destroys her veil; only later, after the wedding is called off by Mason’s lawyer, does Jane learn that Mr. Rochester already has a wife, albeit insane. Jane flees, wandering for several days until she stumbles across the home of the Rivers siblings, who are later revealed to be her cousins. John Rivers, a clergyman, asks Jane to be his wife, apparently only because she would serve well as his companion during his missionary endeavors in India. This, along with her hearing a mysterious voice call “Jane, Jane, Jane,” prompts Jane to return to her beloved Mr. Rochester; she finds Thornfield demolished by a fire, which left Mr. Rochester blind and handicapped and his wife dead. Finally, Jane marries Mr. Rochester.
Independence, Autonomy, and Justice
Corzine’s Jane Eyre demonstrates a considerable amount of determination. While the limitations imposed by her poverty and familial situation are apparent, they hardly prevent her from acting on her own judgment, as apparent in her standing up to Mrs. Reed, her advertising for a governess position, and her fleeing from Thornfield after the marriage disaster, just to name a few examples. Moreover, a pivotal indicator of Jane’s independence is her education; her intelligence is emphasized from the start with her reading, and her education allows her to eventually secure the job that in turn provides her with an opportunity for social mobility. Moreover, her later inheritance allows her to become financially independent. Jane is does not disregard authority, but she makes a point to stand up for herself and cannot tolerate being wrongly treated. This is especially evident in her relationship with Mr. Rochester, as she continually calls him “sir” but maintains her worth and eventually asserts their equality in the eyes of God. Nor can she stand for those she loves to be mistreated; she asks Helen why she lets others treat her poorly, and likewise, she decides to care for and marry Mr. Rochester after the fire that left him handicapped by her own accord.
The narrative of social class and mobility is retained in this adaptation. The class distinctions between the Reeds and Jane and later between Jane and Mr. Rochester are visibly conveyed through the illustrations; however, the image of Jane as portrayed via this adaptation’s illustrations is arguably less limited by social class than one might imagine, as her clothing and appearance is generally vibrant even in comparison to her wealthier counterparts. On the other hand, the crucial moment in which Jane sketches her “Portrait of a Governess” alongside her visualization of Blanche Ingram is given its own panel, illustrating their class contrast and likewise Jane’s self-professed foolishness in developing affections for the wealthy Mr. Rochester, especially when Blanche is a much more acceptable match for him in terms of social status (Corzine 60). Moreover, Jane apparently feels much more at ease both generally and in her feelings for Mr. Rochester once she becomes an heiress, even if she does divide her inheritance amongst herself and her cousins.
This adaptation does not elide the gothic elements of Brontë’s text in its portrayal of the natural or the psychological. Incidents including Jane’s experience being locked in the red room as a child, where she has a ghostly encounter, and her ethereal exchange with Mr. Rochester near the end of the narrative, which prompts her to return to Thornfield Hall, are explicitly treated in this adaptation. The panels are able to convey experiences such as darkness, fear, and uncertainty present in psychological phenomena as well as ecological phenomena, like the lightning striking the oak tree after Mr. Rochester’s proposal to Jane; these occurrences are rather clearly demonstrated to the reader both through the juxtaposition of text and pictures in the graphic novel format. God’s will is also a major theme; since Corzine includes in her adaptation the subplot of the Rivers family, closely mirroring the one in the novel, the Jane in this adaptation must face a choice between becoming a missionary’s wife, as her cousin St. John would have it, or returning to Mr. Rochester, and she herself must decide what is right for her in the eyes of God.
This adaptation does not leave Jane completely alone in the world. In addition to spending a notable amount of time with Helen Burns at Lowood, Jane develops relationships with her cousins, the Rivers, and also inherits her estranged uncle’s estate. Whereas other adaptations omit her chance meeting with St. John, Mary, and Diana, Rivers, this adaptation embraces it, including St. John’s marriage proposal. Jane develops a relationship with her cousins during her stay with them, becoming close friends with Mary and Diana and studying Hindustani with St. John and even in this adaptation, the last panel is devoted to the fate of St. John, much like Brontë’s novel, emphasizing her relationship with her newfound yet biological family. This amicable relationship reinforces its contrast with the Reeds, her only other known relations, and those only by marriage. Another interesting element of Corzine’s graphic novel is its inclusion of an illustrated and detailed Dramatis Personae, which functions as a sort of family tree at the very beginning of the adaptation (Corzine 4-5).
A lack of critical commentary exists at this time to clearly indicate the reception of this graphic novel, but the book sees an average rating of about four stars on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. Reader reviews seem relatively positive and overall seem to support Classical Comics’ goal of enticing young readers to read, which might be ideal considering it is probably the most popular and widely available as well as one of the few graphic novelizations of the Jane Eyre at this time. Burns’ illustrations seem to have been met with some disapproval, as some details are unclear in certain panels, but for the most part, both the textual adaptation and the illustrations seem to be well received.
Significance of the Graphic Novel
Corzine’s adaptation is one of the few, if not the only, graphic novel adaptations of Jane Eyre. Moreover, the “original text” version pulls narration and dialogue directly from the original novel, facilitating a rather true-to-text retelling of the narrative in comparison to other adaptations, which is actually the authors’ goal with this graphic novel; it is meant to share Charlotte Brontë’s narrative in a new way and to stimulate readers’ interest in the original novel. Corzine’s presentation of the text itself highlights important words by bolding them; this feature also allows for a clearer interpretation of the sometimes heavily abridged text by indicating emphasis.
The primary outlet for interpretation in this adaptation, then, is in Burns’ illustrations. His imaginings of the text retain many of the gothic elements present in the original, but present them more tangibly, as seen, for instance, in the panel exemplifying Jane’s experience in the red room at the Reeds’, which attempts to provide physical representation of Jane’s vision of the “ghost” (Corzine 13). Moreover, the fact that graphic novels need not rely on the limited physiques of real-life actors and actress in their adaptation of the characters allows Corzine’s Jane Eyre to feature characters who quite accurately reflect the descriptions Brontë herself provides in the original novel. Thus, this adaptations’ imagining of Jane and Mr. Rochester is quite significant, for while other adaptations like those of stage and film are informed by the original narrative, this medium of adaptation is able to embrace and interpret the text to an even greater extent via a plethora of original, hand-painted artwork.
In addition to the retelling of the Jane Eyre narrative, this book includes a three-page biography of Charlotte Brontë, a Brontë family tree, a timeline of the Brontë family’s lives, and a facsimile of a letter from Charlotte Brontë to her publisher. The authors also include notes on the context of the original narrative and information on the page creation process for their graphic novel, providing even those readers new to Jane Eyre with the tools to understand the text.