‘I adored Jane’s righteous fury, her wild passion, her sense of injustice: I absolutely identified with her.’
Jane Eyre: A Retelling
By Tanya Landman
Published by Barrington Stoke
Retelling Jane Eyre for Barrington Stoke was quite possibly the most enjoyable piece of writing I’ve ever done. I didn’t have to agonise about creating a plausible plot or believable characters because everything was all already there for me – a fully fleshed out world and its inhabitants – to dive into. My task was simply to distil the essence of a 185,000 word masterpiece into a novella a tenth the size.
Could it be done? Was it possible? I had no idea. But I felt compelled to try.
How did I do it?
The answer is, I don’t really know.
In my experience acting and writing are very similar things. To create a believable human being you have to climb inside someone else’s heart and mind and look at the world through their eyes. The process is instinctive and therefore difficult to explain. Very little of it is logically planned.
The reason I can’t write on trains or in cafes – and in fact try to avoid public spaces altogether when I’m in the throes of creating – is because I talk out loud to get the voice and the rhythms of speech right. From the very outset my Jane had a very strong Yorkshire accent. There are sometimes moments of magic when a character becomes three dimensional. They seem to fully inhabit you and start speaking all by themselves and the writing part of you has simply has to type it up. Jane’s voice flowed straight from her/my mouth and on to the page.
Looking back at the process now I suppose I found it easy because I’ve always loved Jane Eyre. In my teens I returned to the book over and over again as a comfort read. I adored Jane’s righteous fury, her wild passion, her sense of injustice: I absolutely identified with her.
Returning to Jane Eyre as an adult I noticed things that I hadn’t as a teenage reader. The portrayal of Bertha Mason – the mad woman in the attic – was particularly problematic. How was I to address Rochester’s vile belief that his wife’s madness and her racial heritage are inextricably linked? My answer was to keep the madness, keep the debauchery and drunkenness, keep the deceit on the part of her father and brother, but break any connection between that and her skin colour. As for the rest of the book – I kept the plot and cut the padding. I kept the passion and cut the piety. St John Rivers – who I found deadly boring as a teen – didn’t even get a name check.
As an adult and a writer it was a rare and delightful privilege to actually become Jane for a while and tell her story as if she was sitting by the fire, confiding it to a close friend. If people enjoy reading it half as much as I enjoyed writing it I’ll be very happy indeed.
Jane Eyre: A Retelling by Tanya Landman is published by Barrington Stoke, priced £7.99